My detox is underway. After two weeks in Italy during which time I rationalized trying a bit of everything, it is time to pull back the reins and stock up on rabbit food. But although much of my trip was centered around the culinary traditions of Italy - wine tastings, cooking classes, special dinners etc - the damage was not quite what you might think it would be. And to be honest, the Italian approach to eating is much healthier and holistic than our modern day, on-the-run, microwave diet. Sure, the Italians have their share of indulgences: salami that can’t be resisted, cheese glorious cheese and pizza bianca that one can only dream about. But these indulgences are exactly that - something to be savored in small quantities and appreciated without guilt or remorse. Italians eat in a way that we should strive to emulate. We would be healthier and happier. Because a high fiber, low fat protein bar is not what I call dining. Here are the tenets of the Italian diet that were reinforced over and over again on this trip:
- Breakfast is overrated - yes, the hotels I stayed in offered an extensive buffet of homemade goodies, cheeses, hams, eggs, yogurt and fruit but they are appealing to their foreign clientele. The true Italian breakfast consists of an espresso or cappuccino and a newspaper. Not exactly the breakfast of champions but my suspicion is that they are saving their calories for the better meals of the day.
- Eat Your Veggies - Italians like their meat but they eat it sparingly and they eat a great deal more vegetables than the average American. Italians are much more likely to embrace the advice of nutritionists that half of your plate consist of healthy vegetables. I had a dinner with a lovely family who own a small inn in Tuscany while I was traveling and had one of the best meals I had all week: sauted zucchini, sauteed beet greens, roasted potatoes and roasted red peppers served cooked with tomatoes. Alongside this (almost as a side rather than a main course) was roasted chicken. All of the vegetables came from the garden on their property and the flavors were exceptional. Simple and nourishing but NOT diet food.
- Lowfat = Low Flavor - at one of our cooking classes a question came up about the use of lowfat milk. The chef was beyond puzzled as if he could not even comprehend the idea of this. The look on his face was priceless. Italians don’t eat low fat food. They just eat less full fat food which satisfies completely.
- Savor Your Meals - meals are an event in Italy. They are not to be rushed through and as such you will never be rushed out of a restaurant. This is the time you spend with friends and family. The food is important but the camraderie is the point. I must say, we all truly embraced that idea while traveling.
- Eat Seasonally & Locally - what did I eat? Porcini mushrooms, lots of them. I had them fried (to die for), with filet, in pasta, on crostini. This was a good year for mushrooms as there has been a lot of rain. We also sampled a lot of pecorino cheese as we found ourselves in the area of Pienza, known for making the best sheep’s milk cheese in Italy. In Venice I went on a late afternoon tour where I embraced the local tradition of ombre e cicchetti. These are little tastings of wine and appetizers made with local specialties such as cod fish salad, squid and pumpkin. All delicious and unique to the area. The food is as important as the tradition and it was a great way to experience the city.
The bottom line in Italy and the main difference between the way Italians and Americans eat comes down to this: Quality over Quantity. It is what I hope we are beginning to do with the farm to table movement here in the US. It is indeed the way to truly nourish ourselves. I would love for you to share your dining experiences in Italy with me. Please leave a comment below and tell me about your most memorable meal.