As with my French adventures, I found the Italian food culture inspiring for their use of seasonal, local ingredients. As I mentioned before, wild boar was on almost every menu in Florence, because apparently boars run rampant in Tuscany this time of year. The olive oil at even the humblest restaurants is delicious enough to eat straight, because it is remarkably fresh, as it comes from nearby producers. There were plenty of springtime flavors that I saw popping up on menus again and again, but here are some of the ones that I found most delicious.
We ate some (chicken) liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti. Silence of the lambs… anyone? During a long lunch in Tuscan wine country, we ate a huge plate of these beans. They were served raw, and you dipped each bean in salt before eating it -- kind of like edamame on steroids. It was a simple, but extremely crisp and fresh way to start the meal.
Holy. Truffles. We visited Italy right in the peak of truffle season and definitely reaped the benefits. Now, if your'e like me, you probably associate "truffle" with ruffle fries, a trendy American bar snack (french fries drenched with truffle oil and parmesan). Truffle oil is heavy and gross and not at all the same as fresh truffles.
This is a red onion custard with a truffle-scented foam, fresh truffles and a parmesan tuile. The dish was light but rich and had just the right amount of earthiness from the truffles.
Then, we hit the MOTHER LOAD of truffles in Rome at Ristorante Tullio.
There is pasta somewhere under there. Literally this entire dish was buttered pasta with a giant mountain of black truffles shaved on top. At first we didn't order this because of the absurd price tag, but hey -- when in Rome, right? It was totally worth it. It was hard to believe such simple dish could have such complex flavors.
Finally, we ate an amazing dish at imago that featured black truffles. It was a pan fried scallop stuffed with mozzarella that had black truffles shaved on top. I didn't take pictures at this restaurant because it was really fancy, but I'm kicking myself because the food was gorgeous. After a week of delicious but rustic cuisine, we sat down to a nine-course tasting menu of immaculately plated, modern cuisine. Maybe one day I'll be a big time food blogger and then I'll have no shame in whipping out my camera at fancy restaurants.
We also hit the high point of artichoke season. I was jumping for joy because artichokes have been my favorite food since I was a little tot (followed by lamb chops and chocolate mousse, obviously). I ate them at least once a day on our trip. Here are some examples:
Pizza toppings. I'm not going to waste too much time discussing this, as I plan to devote an entire post to pizza. It is one of my great loves, after all…. but let's just say that artichokes are a baller pizza topping.
Roman style artichokes. Drenched in olive oil. So tender that you can even eat the stems. I could easily eat ten of these. (By the way, artichokes are one of the naturally highest-fiber foods, so that would be a terrible idea).
Fried Artichokes. Admittedly, this is not my favorite way to prepare artichokes. I find that the artichokes are a little watery to work as a fried vegetable. I think you lose something of the delicate texture once it's battered. I had the urge to dip them in ranch dressing, which would have been a travesty.
Stuffed artichokes. These were stuffed with ground beef and tomato sauce. They look pretty unattractive, but the taste was amazing and one of the only artichoke dishes I've ever had that could be described as "hearty".
Artichoke pasta. Simply prepared, again with just olive oil, artichokes, and the pasta. The freshness of the ingredients truly elevated this simple dish to something awesome -- this was one of the best things I ate all week.