Well, I have just finished week two of Italian language school. I celebrated by having a gelato – today’s flavours were Zuppa di Englese (based on an Italian custard dessert) and Capriccio (ribbons of chocolate, coffee and vanilla). There is a gelataria just 5 minutes away, so I don’t have far to travel to appease my yearnings. So far, my favourite varieties have been Bacci – whole toasted hazelnuts and shards of chocolate in a creamy chocolate ice cream, the other gelato is yoghurt flavour – a tangy creamy vanilla that is very refreshing on the palate. I reason that it must be good for you as it has yoghurt in it.
There are many shops that sell wine and cheese, fresh fruit and veg in town. Today on the way home I bought six fresh green figs – each delicate fruit wrapped in its own fig leaf – delicious. Also in season are: wonderful flat Sicilian peaches – the perfume of which is unbelievable – sweet, juicy and kissed by the sun; brilliant yellow bunches of zucchini flowers, plums, apricots and the best tomatoes grown on the planet. Great big ox heart tomatoes that are striped green and red, large egg tomatoes that are so red they seem to gleam, the sweetest and tastiest small egg tomatoes that are the size of cherries still all clinging to their vines. There are a number of fresh pasta shops nearby as well. Just a tiny doorway and a counter selling – raviolis stuffed with: pumpkin, meat, spinach and cheese, loops and piles of lovely yellow tagliatelle and spaghetti, pasta of all shapes and sizes.
Orvieto is the centre of a major wine producing area – God be praised! So far, I have worked my way along the bottom shelf at the parents in law enoteca. My pick so far is a Palazzone – Rubbio 2010 a mixture of sangiovese, cabernet and merlot. Euro 9.10 = $11. My new mission next week is to commence my research and work my way along the next shelf. The work ahead of me is daunting!
Also, the Orvieto area produces some of the best olive oil in Italy. Last week I had lunch at a restaurant and ordered an appetiser of crostini con pomodoro. The bread was soaked in the yummiest olive oil. I thought to myself – what does the colour green taste like? And the answer is – Italian olive oil. It is unctuous and like silk on your tongue with a hint of pepper. I followed the crostini with a fantastic spaghetti carbonara – spaghetti tossed in olive oil, a beaten egg, pecorino cheese and tiny cubes of salty, smoky pancetta.
Another dinner highlight, were soft pasta pillows filled with a cream of potato and fontina cheese. This cheese has a very high milk fat content so that just adds to the overall lusciousness of the filling. Then the cooked ravioli is tossed in olive oil, garlic, fresh cherry tomatoes and fresh basil with a dusting of Parmesan cheese.
This is a big meat eating area so I am missing my seafood, which you don’t see on menus here. However – I have compensated with some fantastic veal. Such as a grilled veal scaloppine with a sauce of fresh porcini mushrooms (wild mushrooms that grow in pine straw in the woods) accompanied by a wonderful full-bodied red.
You might think that all this food is costing a fortune. But, it is always a great surprise to receive the bill at the end of the meal or when you are out shopping and see that the cost of food is so reasonable for such fantastic fresh produce, none more so than at the fresh produce market that arrives in town twice a week. Stall holders set up in the piazza selling their own home grown vegetable produce. It is so fresh that the earth still clings to the roots. The cheese van is a major draw card. The padrone (owner) teasing the housewives while handing out little slivers of the cheese that you might to want to buy. The shelf groans under the weight of wheels of perorino, Parmesan, and other hard cheeses. In the fridge are the soft cheeses: mozzarella di bufala or mucca (cow), gorgonzola, ricotta etc. Then there is the porchetta van selling the most delicious roast pork. A whole pig has been boned out and then the inside is rubbed with herbs, salt and pepper, this is then rolled and tied and rotisseried over a fire. The end result is mouth-watering and yummy – juicy flesh and crunchy crackling make your mouth water just looking at it and the aroma is irresistible. There is the honey man with his jars of honey gathered from various herbs/grasses, flowers and trees. Each jar slightly different in colour and flavour and each has a specific food to accompany it or a specific recipe that it is used in. An Italian favourite is to drizzle honey over aged Parmesan; the salty, crumbly Parmesan is magic with an aromatic honey to satisfy that small space in your tummy at the end of a meal.
After a busy round of marketing it is gelato time – today’s gelati were ricotta with yummy bits of glace citrus on top and amarena – a vanilla ice cream that is flavoured with a dark cherry glaze and splinters of chocolate. To enjoy my gelati out of the heat I found a bit of shade in a small pizza. There is always something interesting or beautiful to look at. There is the variety of textures and colours of the walls – as the buildings weather over the centuries they mellow and become a myriad of warm earthy tones. The generations that have inhabited these ancient buildings have shown little regard to modernisation and you can appreciate the original architecture and decoration of the building by the fragments that remain behind. The walls have become a range of beautiful mellow tones of rusty reds, ochre, yellow, and grey, there are areas where the stucco has worn away and the original stones or bricks integral to its construction are showing through.
Amazingly, if you look carefully, you can often see the original roman bricks and roman columns and capitols, which have been scavenged from other buildings and then re used as ornamentation or fillers between the courses of stones or bricks. Those Romans really knew how to make things to last, and now hundreds of years later, new generations of builders are recycling – and we thought that recycling was a modern phenomenon.
The balconies, doorways and windows are embellished with intricate iron work for both an artistic perspective but also to deter intruders. Electrical wires and plumbing and drainage pipes that haphazardly drape outside the buildings like swags of Christmas lights (no safety codes here – if there are – they are plainly ignored).
A real surprise is when you spy the remnants of a wonderful fresco that was painted on the exterior of the building by long past artists whose names and talents are lost in the mists of times. The doorways and windows are surrounded in wonderfully carved stone lintels. Then of course, the doors themselves range from being impressively huge and intricately carved – testaments to the skills of the craftsman, to small shabby home-made jobs, banged together from a variety of mismatched planks that are hanging from one hinge.
Check out the next blog – Studying Italian