Discover more from Elizabeth’s Newsletter from Italy
May 2023 News from Elizabeth
I was recently having a chat with someone about what a typical Italian meal is. Specifically a typical Sicilian meal. But if you know anything at all about Italian food you know that there is no such thing. Dishes change not only from region to region, but also from town to town and from season to season. This is a very difficult idea to explain to someone who is coming to Italy on their first (and possibly only) trip and wants to make sure to eat all the greatest hits. The problem is that playlist is most likely based on a lifetime of going to Italian restaurants outside of Italy.
I do think it’s normal to have a romanticized vision of a typical Italian meal. Our preconceptions are definitely influenced by viral images we all see on social media (and I plead guilty to adding to that ). Does a fish-filled feast under a lemon-bedecked pergola looking over the Amalfi coast sound familiar? Or maybe it’s a heaping plate of cacio e pepe in a Roman piazza with the Pantheon in the background? I’m not saying these experiences and dishes aren’t real (they are) but they are not the whole story.
Personally I think that a typical Italian meal is the one I get when I’m invited to a friend or neighbour’s home in Umbria (or where ever I happen to be). I never know exactly what I am going to get, but I do know that it will be seasonal, local and straightforward. This is the way that 99% of Italians eat every day. And these are the types of meals and experiences that I not only seek out for myself, but try to share with our guests on our tours and with readers of my blog and books. Chances are you’ll see pasta al pomodoro pop up more than once. But each and every time it will be slightly different (different pasta, different tomatoes and different cheese.) This slight variation on endless themes? That’s typically Italian to me. And endlessly fascinating.
I’m just back from another trip to Palermo and, if possible, I love that city even more than I did a month ago. Each time I go back I make new discoveries and this time I brought along Domenico with me to explore. Domenico hadn’t been to Palermo in about 40 years, so seeing it through his eyes helped me choose what to include for the new tour we are planning. I think a lot of people expect Palermo to be a bit gritty and somewhat challenging. What they are not prepared for is how sophisticated it is. Also, there is so much to see! I still haven’t found time to visit some of the major sites like the Cappella Palatina, Teatro Massimo, and the Cathedral since I was too busy popping into museums, markets and private palaces. Anyway, I’ve got the itinerary just about fixed now, and will be announcing the new Palermo tours for 2024 in the premium newsletter in the next few weeks.
Sophie and I are always trying to balance and recalibrate our tours. Since our weeks are food-focussed we always run the risk of over-feeding everyone. I know, I know: there is no such thing as eating too much in Italy. But we are always trying to fit in more culinary experiences. For instance if we have a big lunch will people even be hungry for dinner? Probably not. But how about an aperitivo? Everyone is always ready to end the day with a Spritz or a Negroni, right? So we’ve decided to add on at least one aperitivo rinforzata (that means extra nibbles) to our tours in Puglia and Sicily where sitting in an outdoor cafe is mandatory.
If you’d like to join Sophie for an aperitivo and more in Puglia in 2024, we have a few spots left on her tours to Puglia and Basilicata. This tour is based in Bari where you’ll be staying in a room with a balcony overlooking the sea. You’ll have time to get to know this city that most visitors to Puglia often overlook. Besides exploring the town of Bari itself, day trips will take you to the small port town of Monopoli, the white washed village of Cisternino and to the Unesco World Heritage town of Alberobello. A highlight of this week is a morning in Matera, located in Basilicata followed by lunch in a surprise location.
Available dates for this tour:
March 11-16, 2024
April 15-20, 2024
May 27 - June 1, 2024
Let us know if you’d like to hear more and we’ll send you the brochure
Almost all of our tours for the rest of 2023 are sold out. We do have one last spot left for tour to Parma in October 22-28, 2023 with radio host and chef Evan Kleiman. You can read all about the tour here, or just click the button below to receive the full brochure.
Our complete schedule is here and as you can see the tours sell out quickly. To make sure you hear about them first, make sure you are signed up for the Premium version of this newsletter. I’ll be announcing new tours for 2024 in the next few weeks and months.
WHAT I’M READING
It was fun chatting about a little known Roman dish with the Washington Post.
Receiving a designation as a World Heritage Site from Unesco can be a blessing or a curse.
I’m always looking for new ways to use lemons. This focaccia recipe has my name on it.
Here are some new books by friends I’m excited to read and that you should definitely pre-order:
The Olive Oil Enthusiast: A Guide from Tree to Table with Recipes by my friend Skyler Mapes
Pomegranates and Artichokes: A Journey from Iran to Italy by my friend Saghar Setareh
National Dish: Around the World in Search of Food, History and the Meaning of Home by my friend Anya von Bremzen
WHERE I’VE BEEN
I’ve been going to Palermo a lot recently and eventually I’ll write up a long list of my favorite places to eat. But in the meantime, just in case you are headed there sooner, rather than later, here are a few places that will definitely make it onto the list:
Corona Trattoria - Sleek and elegant fish restaurant run by a father and son. Located in the Politema-Liberta’ neighborhood.
Sardina PastaBar - Tiny restaurant with some of the best seafood in Palermo. In the Castellamare neighborhood.
Aja Mola - Right next door to Sardina PastaBar, it also has excellent fish. Their raw antipasto is an perfect series of small dishes to share.
Trattoria Ferro di Cavallo - Rough and tumble old fashioned trattoria with traditional Palermo dishes. In the Monte di Pieta quarter, not far from the Vucceria Market.
WHAT I’M EATING
I love it when I learn a new recipe. During our cooking class in Ortigia last week our teacher, Alessia, taught us how to make arancini, stuffed squid and fried artichokes. But it was the side dish she had made ahead, to serve us for lunch, that blew me away. Her version is the version of eggplant parmigiana that will now be served at our home all summer long.
Rather than layer the friend slices of eggplant with lots of sauce and mozzarella, she delicately spreads out the thin slices and coats them with a light slick of intense tomato sauce. A dusting of grated ricotta salata and few basil leaves to finish. That’s it! I’m not even going to include a formal recipe because that is all there is to it. If you don’t feel like frying the eggplant, you can also bake it. Just make sure you cut it super thin, since this makes all the difference. Also: it’s served room temperature so it couldn’t be easier.
Don’t be fooled by this photo of me gathering wild flowers. I’m still 100% foraging for wild asparagus for at least another few weeks. But I’ve also decided I want to learn to forage for other greens. In Sicily this past week we had something I am pretty sure is wild hops. I know there are lots of plants (besides wild chicory) to look for in the fields and woods up here in Umbria. If anyone knows of any great resources (books or websites or apps) to help me forage in central Italy let me know in the comments below.
Do you forage? If so, for what and where do you do it?