We went to Italy worried about packing on a few pounds after hearing many stories about the fabulous food. We loved the country, the people, the history, the museums, the countryside: the food, not so much.
We began the trip in Venice, moved on to Florence, and finished in Rome. We had a meal that was pure perfection in Rome, including a French onion soup, Italian-style, that I still dream about and have never been able to fully duplicate. The other meal that lingers in our memory is the one we made during our cooking class with chefs Anna and Jacopo in his mother’s flat in the heart of Florence.
We loved having the opportunity to see how a real Italian family lives. The kitchen was fascinating to me. Everything was in sight; everything was in reach. The refrigerator was tiny. Just as the French do, the Italians buy their food very fresh and cook it within a day or two. Jacopo was well-organized. All the ingredients were out and pre-measured, all the tools were at our disposal. For the next two hours, Michael and I, Michele, and Michele’s daughter Megan, chopped and diced and mixed while listening to Anna and Jacopo talk about their country, their cooking, and their philosophy of food.
One of the first dishes we made was an uncooked artichoke salad on a bed of arugula. The artichokes were young and tender. We cut off the points, then sliced them into extremely thin slices and mixed them with minced parsley, minced shallots, aged parmesan cheese, diced celery, and a dressing made from lemon juice and olive oil. We have never been able to duplicate it here because we haven’t been able to find the special young artichokes. I’d make it again in a heartbeat if we could.
One of the secrets was to stir and stir the salad with the dressing before placing it on the plate, thoroughly coating and marinating the salad in the lemon juice/olive oil dressing. The nest of arugula greens and the parmesan shavings added to the top (in addition to shaved parmesan in the salad itself) completed the look.
The salad was probably the prettiest thing we made that evening. The menu could best be described as rustic Italian. It tasted better than it looked. It smelled so incredible that you would have had a difficult time, as we did, waiting until the entire meal was ready before sampling anything.
I burned off a few calories chopping and dicing. Evidently I was far too busy to properly part my hair. Eek!
I have reached the conclusion that it’s not possible to make caramelized cippolline onions pretty. Their sole mission in life is to taste good, and they smell fabulous, too, of course. Remove the onion skins. Heat a heavy skillet. Put a little olive oil into the hot skillet. Add the onions. Cook, stirring constantly, until the onions begin to carmelize. Keep stirring while the onions carmelize further, then add a dash of balsamic vinegar and cook just a bit longer to heat through. Serve.
The pork roast tasted incredible. The plating didn’t do much for the looks, but honestly we were so overwhelmed by the glorious aroma that we didn’t care. I’m sure you can imagine that it didn’t stay on the platter very long anyway. We took the pork roast and made a hole all the way through the center with an ice pick, then wallered the hole out a bit so it was thicker. We finely chopped parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme leaves, (surely you’ve heart the Simon and Garfunkel song?) mixed them with a bit of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt, and lots of minced garlic, then stuffed the mixture into our center hole. We slathered olive oil and garlic on the outside of the roast and browned all sides in a hot frying pan for about 10 minutes before putting the roast into the preheated 250 degree oven. We baked the roast about 60 minutes (use your meat thermometer, people — your roast may be a different size or shape than ours!), removing it when it reached 150 degrees. Then we took it out, covered it with foil, and let it set so that the temperature would rise a few more degrees, sitting on the cutting board, prior to slicing. While the meat was resting, we deglazed the pan with a little white wine, cooked it down a bit, then added a bit of cream for a sauce.
An authentic Italian meal and like the old Shake ‘n Bake commercial said, “and I helped.” (Be sure to adopt a southern accent when you say it, okay?)