Tuesday, July 19, 2011


We have been so excited to get to Italy for months now… the pastas! The gelato! The wine! The cheese! The tomatoes! The fill-in-the-blank-delicious-things-to-eat-and-drink!

Our first stop was Cinque Terre, on the Italian Riviera. Some of the cuisine here is similar to what we were already getting exposed to in the French Riviera because, after all, Nice (on the French Riviera) used to be part of Italy. Pastas and seafood are a great way to go here. Focaccia is from this region too, making for great snacks and sandwiches. 
Foccacia with tomatoes, pesto, and fresh mozzarella. Others of my favorite
toppings include carmelized onions, or artichokes.
For our first meal in Liguria, we were in Monterosso al Mer, one of the five towns of the Cinque Terre at Ristorante Via Venti. We had a seafood ravioli in a seafood sauce… the raviolis were comprised of a white sheet of pasta and a dark sheet of pasta (typically dyed with squid ink, which doesn’t really add much in the way of flavor but makes the sheets an attractive contrast) stuffed with a white fish filling and served in a sauce with shreds of squid and flakes of fish. The other dish was house-made gnocchi in a crab sauce. The gnocchi were the perfect tender consistency, but of a much more substantial texture – almost grainy like cornmeal but without the crunch of any grain. The crab in the sauce was shredded so finely that I almost at first thought it was cheese, but it gave the dish a very light and of-the-sea aroma that paired nicely with the creamy potato dumplings.

Crab gnocchi from Via Venti.

Seafood ravioli - we loved how the two sheets of the ravioli were made from different pastas
- one traditional plain, and the other squid ink.
For snacks, we ate lots of gelato which was all made fresh daily at each place we selected, and so much less expensive than anywhere in France. We tried flavors from pineapple and mango, to “ambrosia” which was hazelnuts and chocolate in a cream base, and tiramisu.

Focacceria is our new favorite boulangerie. Focaccia is from Liguria (the Northwestern sea-side region of Italy) and a focacceria bakes it fresh with various toppings. Standard is just olive oil and salt, but more substantial versions can include onions, or olives, or tomatoes, or the version we tried had pesto and cheese for a great late-morning snack. It also makes great sandwiches when stuffed with meats, cheeses, or vegetables and grilled in a Panini press.

One thing I saw that I didn’t get to try was a lovely tart topped with figs, walnuts, and marcona almonds. I would love to try to recreate it at home. It also looked like it may have been glazed with honey. How about trying that with a lightly sweetened ricotta filling?!?

We tried two beverage specialties of the region, an orange version of limoncello made locally in cinqueterre, as well as sciacchetra, a wine made in this region from a particular kind of grape that has aged almost to raisin stage, giving it a very ripe, sweet, and pungent flavor that I can only describe as being close to port. It is quite expensive, because the grapes must be aged before the wine can be made, thus requiring more grapes to produce the same quantity of wine. All sciacchetra are made from the same type of grape, but other wise can vary just like any other wine based on the age, the vineyard where the grapes were grown, the winemaker, etc. Because it is so sweet and strong compared to other wine (it is about 18% alcohol instead of about 11%) it is served in 2-ounce cordial glasses as a digestivo – an after-dinner drink. We tried two versions – a cheap one and a more expensive one ($8 and $12) and noticed a significant difference in favor of the higher-priced variety.
Orange liqueur, made like limoncello but with arancia.
Our two glasses of sciacchetra, the slightly darker one on the left was the more expensive variety.
Both were the same age, but it had a smoother, less alcoholy flavor. It is traditional for this wine,
as with vin santo, to be served with a cookie. In this case, almond biscottis.


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