I couldn’t think of a better way to honor 2013 than by sharing a round up of the food we ate this past year.
I initially wanted to write a post about our top 5 or top 10 dishes of 2013, but I found the task of narrowing down our favorite foods next-to-impossible, not to mention offensive to all of the foods that didn’t make the cut. We’ve cooked a lot at home this year and experimented with new dishes in our own kitchen, but this list doesn’t go there (I had to cut it off somewhere). This list highlights the regional cuisines we’ve encountered and enjoyed while dining about — around Bologna, during our travels to other Italian regions, and on trips to Paris, Barcelona, and Brussels.
One thing I’ve written about here before is that the food in Italy is very regional. Every region has its own typical dishes, often that people who live in the region have been cooking a certain way for the last 500 years. What you find on the menu at restaurants in Bologna is usually the same as what’s on the menu at other restaurants in Bologna, but different than what you’ll find at restaurants in Tuscany, Umbria, Liguria, Puglia, Calabria, etc. Because of this, when we travel to a different region in Italy it often feels like we’re traveling to a new country entirely. This makes it very fun to go out to eat (and stealthily photograph our plates with our phones if we remember before we dig in).
Surprising and good
First up, here are some dishes that really wowed us, largely because we had never heard of them before. (Mouse over the photos to see the captions or click on a photo to enter slideshow mode).
Cavatelli con ceci neri e bianchi e peperoni cruschi – Pasta with black and white chick peas topped with dried, then fried sweet peppers. I had no idea there was such a thing as black chick peas – Eaten at La Gravina in Materia, Basilicata.
Garlic scapes – We showed up at the restaurant near out B&B in Molise only to find that they were closed. The owners were serving family and kindly agreed to feed us too. I ordered a vegetarian antipasto for my meal and they brought out these scapes as part of the spread. I had no idea what they were and the owner made me keep guessing until he finally told me what they were after we’d eaten them all – Eaten at Il Casale di Clesilde in Guardialfiera, Molise
Testaroli al pesto – I’ve never seen a pasta like this. First, something like a crepe is made using an ancient cast-iron or stone griddle, called a testo. Then the crepe is cut up into pieces and boiled like pasta. It’s typically eaten topped with basil pesto – Eaten at Antica Trattoria Pelliccia in Pontremoli, Lunigiana, Tuscany
Canederlo – Dumpling made from ricotta, parmesan, and semola flour on a bed of pureed chard and topped with a butter and sage sauce. The traditional canederli from the Trentino region are made with stale bread and speck. This is a vegetarian take on the dish – Eaten at Pian di Stantino, Tredozio, Emilia-Romagna
Friselle – A typical bread from the Puglia region of Italy – part of the cucina povera or peasant cuisine. The bread is double baked so that it becomes hard and it can be stored for several months in the pantry. When it’s time to eat, the bread is rehydrated in water and then topped with yummy toppings: my favorite is juicy diced tomatoes, a splash of olive oil, and a pinch of oregano.
These are dishes we got to try for the first time in 2013.
Sicilian Oranges – Okay, I didn’t eat oranges for the first time this year. But I did volunteer on an orange farm for the first time and got to eat oranges fresh from the tree. I especially enjoyed the Tarocco (half-blood oranges). I also fell deeply in love with bitter orange marmalade. I baked two really good cakes with oranges this year: a chocolate cake with orange marmalade in the middle and chocolate ganache on top and an olive oil cake with bits of blood orange in the mix and on top.
Cavatelli pasta with pistachio pesto made with pistachios from Bronte, Sicily – Eaten at Zenzero, Bologna
Cappellacci di zucca – pumpkin-filled pasta topped with butter and sage sauce – Eaten at Il Sorpasso, Ferrara
Raviole alla mostarda bolognese – this traditional Bolognese cookie has become one of our staples. It is filled with mostarda bolognese, a sweet jam made from quince. Eaten at La Bottega di Un Chicco, Bologna
Risotto Milanese – with chicory and a cheese sauce (if my memory is correct) – Eaten at Da Abele, MIlan
Pitta di patate – a Pugliese potato pie
Focaccia al pesto – focaccia with pesto and cheese in the middle is irresistible – Eaten at Affittacamere La Tortuga, Portovenere
Sfogliatella riccia – Pastry filled with orange flavored-ricotta – I had solely traveled to Naples to eat a real pizza napoletana and this delicious pastry *almost* spoiled my appetite – Eaten at La Sfogliatella Mary, Naples
Pizza margherita – They’re not lying! The pizza in Naples is as good as they say – Eaten at Pizzeria Di Matteo, Naples
Spaghetti al pesto trapanese – We’ve always loved the traditional pesto genovese that’s made from basil, but we’d never heard of the Sicilian pesto trapenese (“from Trapani”), which is made from tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, and toasted almonds – Eaten at La Tavernetta, Scopello, Sicily – photo via flickr by sabotrax
Eggplant caponata – typical Sicilian side dish or appetizer including fried eggplant, celery, capers, bell peppers, and raisins in a sweet and sour sauce – Eaten at La Tavernetta, Scopello, Sicily
Cannoli – fried pastry filled with sweet ricotta – the best we ate was at Pasticceria Capriccio in San Vito lo Capo, Sicily
Tortelli di patate – potato filled pasta – Eaten at Fattoria il Palagio, Scarperia, Tuscany
Pane con lievito madre – on numerous occasions this year I had the opportunity to learn how to make bread from natural starter (aka pasta madre). There’s no yeast packets involved but rather the process makes use of naturally occurring yeasts in the air and flour. Baking your own bread this way will give you a whole new appreciation for bread and the people who bake it.
Black truffles – Risotto with black truffles and egg with truffles and tigelle – Eaten at Sagra del Tartufo Bianco (White Truffle Festival) in Savigno
Zuppa della suocera – soup made from pumpkin and fagioli (beans) del purgatorio. – Eaten at Armando al Pantheon in Rome
Pizza bianca -focaccia-like white pizza – Eaten at Antico Forno Roscioli in Rome – photo via flickr creative commons by jonny.hunter
Zuppa Imperiale – this is a traditional dish of Bologna – the crouton-looking bits are made from eggs, butter, parmesan, and semolina flour. The mixture is baked in the oven, cut into squares, and served in chicken broth.
Zeppole – Savory fried bread balls filled with a variety of fillings, like marinara or anchovies – Eatenat Tana del Lupo, a pizzeria in Varapodio, Calabria while visiting my great grandfather’s hometown nearby – photo via flickr creative commons by emilydickinsonridesabmx
Passito di Pantelleria – A sweet dessert wine made from raisins on Pantelleria, an island off of the coast of Sicily – Enjoyed at a pizzeria in Taurianova in Calabria while visiting my great grandfather’s hometown nearby – photo via flickr creative commons by Navnetmitt
Oldies but goodies
Here are some foods we met in 2012 but continued to enjoy in 2013 (often on a regular basis).
Tagliatelle al ragù – one of Bologna’s signature dishes – Eaten at Agriturismo La Fenice
Tortellini in brodo – another signature Bolognese dish typically eaten on Christmas day – one of our favorite places for tortellini in Bologna is Ristorante Biagi
Typical antipasto – this is the antipasto plate at Agriturismo La Fenice where they raise a rare bread of pig, the Mora Romagnola, and make all their cured meats onsite
Crescentine and tigelle – two typical breads of Emilia-Romagna. The cresentine are fried and irresistible – Eaten at Osteria dal Nonno in the Bolognese hills
Piadina – typical flatbread sandwich of Emilia-Romagna – our go-to spot for piadine is La Tua Piadina
Spritz – Luke’s favorite cocktail – 2 parts Aperol, 3 parts prosecco, a splash of sparkling water, and a slice of orange
Traditional Balsamic Vinegar of Modena – Modena’s traditional vinegar is aged for a minimum of 12 years in wooden barrels. This is a 25 year-old-vinegar aged in cherry barrels from Acetaia di Giorgio. We love putting a drop on top of small cubes of parmesan for a simple, but tasty appetizer or snack
Extra-virgin Olive Oil – this year we started buying our olive oil in bulk from the olive oil cooperative in Brisighella
Farinata – thin bread made from chickpea flour
Pasta e fagioli – this is Italian comfort food at its best. A young couple runs a food stand at the Wednesday night farmers’ market in via Orfeo and you can often find them serving up pasta e fagioli on the cold, winter days
Gelato – our new favorite flavor combination: chocolate and wild blueberry from La Sorbetteria in Bologna
Granita – a refreshing dessert made from fruit or nuts, ice, and sugar. My favorite is the almond granita at Cremeria Funivia in Bologna
Any dessert with mascarpone
Torta di Noci – this cake is dangerously good. Both times we’ve visited Portofino with a friend’s family we’ve ordered more of this cake than we’d like to admit – Eaten at Panificio Dama in Santa Margherita Ligure
Pizza al taglio – pizza by the slice from the legendary Pizzarium in Rome
Spaghetti alla carbonara -pasta in a sauce of eggs, pecorino, and pork guanciale – Eaten at Armando al Pantheon in Rome
During 2013, we traveled together to Paris in April; I met up with a friend in Barcelona in June; and Luke did a couple of business trips to Brussels (among other places). The highlight of all of the trips was the food. After living in Italy this long, it feels like an exotic treat to eat something other than Italian cuisine.
Pain au chocolat – basically a croissant with bits of chocolate. I could eat one of these everyday – photo via flickr creative commons by joyosity
Luke went to Brussels twice this year and each time he brought back chocolate from Neuhaus, chocolate company that’s been open since 1857
Galettes – buckwheat crêpes, one topped with eggs and veggies and the other served with a cup of buttermilk – Eaten at Breizh Cáfe in Paris
Tapas – Fried padrón peppers and the classic pa amb tomàquet (bread with tomato) – Eaten at Paco Meralgo in Barcelona
Tapas – Patatas bravas and crispy camembert (rolled in sliced almonds, lightly fried, and topped with lingonberry jam) – Eaten at Cerveceria Catalana in Barcelona
Churros con chocolate – Eaten at Xurreria in Barcelona
As you can see, 2013 was full of deliciousness. We’re giving our bellies a break after a busy fall and holiday season, and so, w’ere cooking at home a lot these days. But we’re looking forward to planning some more trips and culinary adventures in 2014, which bittersweetly might be our last year living in Italy. Are there any dishes in Italy or nearby we shouldn’t miss in 2014?
Thanks for reading — especially to our moms, family, and friends.
Happy New Year and buon appetito!