Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Gelato a Day!

Where to start? So much to let you know about, I just don’t know where to begin! But gelato seems like a good place. In Italy, the gelato is so good, we sometimes had it twice a day!There is no such thing as too much gelato, is there?

Gelato cart in Manarolo
In September, we traveled to northern Italy, where I’ve never been before. As part of the pre-trip, we spent four days in the Cinque Terre, Italy’s five beautiful hill towns perched (some rather precariously) on the sides of mountains. But for the massive crowds that poured out of the trains every hour (and this was the off-season), these towns are just gorgeous. Set along the water, they are famous for their fresh seafood, delicately fried. Lead by our trusty guide, Giuseppe, we traversed these towns via train, boat, and 4x4 jeeps. In Monterosso, we found a gelato shop so good, we stopped there every night. But as good as it was, it did not compare with the gelato from a vendor dispensing her wares from an adorable little cart in the town of Manarola, where I had the most delectable pistachio gelato. It is the standard by which now all pistachio gelato is compared!
Milan's Duomo at night

On to Milano! The city was still buzzing from Fashion Week which just ended the day before we arrived. Many fashionistas were spotted near the high-end Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping mall, hunting their prey at Prada, Gucci, Armani, Vuitton, etc. The highlight, though, for us was visiting Milan’s beautiful Duomo (cathedral), where work began in 1386. It is the largest gothic building in Italy. With only one full day in the city, we were unable to visit the famed La Scala opera house, but we did manage to find Milano’s best gelato at Cioccolat Italiani, where the line snaked down the block. We persevered.

The main part of our trip took us on an almost three week journey (with our new guide, Alice) through the region’s beautiful vineyards, apple orchards, and olive groves. Along the way, we learned how to make feather-light gnocchi at Trattoria del Gallo a charming restaurant in Rovato; we visited the small village of Teglio where a dedicated group of volunteers is keeping alive the tradition of growing and harvesting buckwheat with age-old techniques, and then making pasta from the ground flour. They combine the pasta with cabbage, onions, potatoes, butter (LOTS of butter), and a local cheese to make a hearty dish called pizzoccheri (pitz-sock-kari) - it’s absolutely delicious!

The city of Verona, made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was next on our itinerary. Verona was a bit too touristy for me, but a visit to the Juliet Club made even the cynics in our group melt just a bit. Juliet’s “secretaries” have been reading and responding to letters from the lovelorn since the 1930s (they handle over 50,000 letters per year). 

The magnificent Dolomites!
There’s no way I can condense three weeks down to a single blog post, but I must tell you about my favorite town: Bressanone/Brixen. Positioned near the Italian/Austrian border, for hundreds of years locals in these towns have spoken both Italian and German, and all signage is in both languages. This town had it all: lovely architecture, wonderful butchers and bakeries on every corner, charming restaurants/cafes, terrific wine shops (more on that later), and within a couple of hours drive to the breathtaking Dolomites. The Dolomites are a spectacular mountain range in northeastern Italy, and on a crystal-clear, picture-perfect, bright and sunny day, we spent a few hours hiking with a terrific guide. Every few minutes, as I stopped to admire the view, all I could say was, “omg - this is incredible!” Our guide has lived in that area his whole life, and speaks the local language known as Ladino (the Ladin people have lived in these mountains since the Bronze Age). Take a look at the photo above of these gorgeous mountains.

Ricotta Dumplings with Plums
Spaghetti con Olives, Pesto, and Burrata
A perfect day, topped off with a real find back in town. Not really hungry for dinner, but needing a nosh, we stopped in to a small enoteca for a glass of wine and a cheese/salumi plate. The wine and snack were superb - the owner obviously knew his stuff. As we chatted, he mentioned that on certain nights, they offered a limited dinner menu. And as luck would have it, on our last night in Bressanone, he had one table left, which we immediately reserved. With the unassuming name of “Vinus, Peter’s Wein Bistro,” you might not expect much in the way of food, but as we later found out, this man was more than just a guy who owned a wine shop, he was formerly the owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany. Jackpot! We arrived the next night to enjoy an outstanding meal. Peter’s wife is the chef and she put out a delicious dinner. I sopped up every morsel of the fresh spaghetti with perfectly-ripe olives, pesto, and burrata. Peter paired wines for everyone’s dinner, along with a lovely dessert wine to go with the sweet ricotta dumplings with fresh plums (another “omg” moment). Peter’s Wine Shop is the kind of place I could go to every week (who am I kidding, probably 2-3 times a week!) Must. Go. Back.
Buckwheat Cake in Teglio

Our visit to northern Italy was delightful. It was the perfect combination of spectacular sights, “real” farm-to-table meals (in real farmhouses!), wonderful farmers and craftspeople, amazing cheese, breads, desserts, and plenty of “omg” moments! 


PS: coming soon, a photo essay of our trip, complete with all the glorious food and scenery that I couldn't fit here!