Back in November, I wrote about the advantages of off season travel. If the lack of crowds and low fares didn’t get you, here is a list of 5 dishes that make a trip to Italy in January worth it. You can’t eat this stuff during the dog days of summer- they are cold weather stick to your ribs beauties or they involve seasonal ingredients are only (or only should be) available in winter.
Artichokes - January is a challenge for many - cold, dark days along with unrealistic and harsh resolutions welcoming the new year makes for some pretty grumpy people. Believe me, I see them around. My answer to this is to bundle up in my warm woolies with a great glass of red wine (oops, there goes resolution #1 down the drain) and wait for artichoke season which is just around the corner. In fact, just this week I saw native artichokes in the Campo dei Fiori market via Elizabeth Minchilli’s Instagram feed. It made me want to hop on a plane and make a beeline to da Giggetto in the Jewish Ghetto of Rome for carciofi alla giudea. Or to da Camillo where they pair the Jewish artichokes with thinly sliced prosicutto....now I’m drooling.
Fritelle - I was invited to go to Venice this week for a blog tour and it was with great regret that I had to decline but I was at peace with it because I am doing what I need to do. And then, the naughty girls who are on the tour started posting incessantly on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. I suffered through the gorgeous risotto, the cheeses, the bottle after bottle of prosecco and the tiramisù. But then Monica, Liz and Carmela started posting the fritelle for Carnevale and I almost lost my mind. Gorgeous little fried balls of dough stuffed with chocolate, cream or Nutella. Only available before the Lenten season starts (it really is unfortunate that the last call for gluttony before the spartan diet of Lent coincides so perfectly with resolution time....). I was so jealous that I made fried dough tossed in cinnamon sugar for dessert for the family last night. No comparison. Though last year I did make castagnole, another Carnevale treat and they were delightful. Here is the recipe if you would like to give them a try: Castagnole
Pasta alla Norcina - Carbs, Cheese, Sausage and Cream. Sounds like a nightmare I know. But believe me, after walking around the hilltowns of Umbria on cold cobblestones, there is nothing better than this incredible pasta. One bite brings me back the winters I spent at the Hotel Sole in Assisi. I was at home there and always cared for by Emma who worked in the dining room and always made sure that I had plenty of rigatoni and red wine. Here is a great recipe from my friend Anne who lives in Assisi.
Ribollita - savoy cabbage, kale, carrots, white beans and onions and stale bread are the key ingredients in this peasant dish from Tuscany. Certainly, it can be made in the summer months too but it is a hot, stick to your ribs dish that is served in terra cotta crocks, drizzled with gorgeous green olive oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. Never has getting your veggies tasted so good. My favorite place for this when I was a student in Florence was Il Cantinone di Gallo Nero on the Santo Spirito side of the Arno. It’s changed a bit in recent years so I am not sure how it is anymore....road trip anyone?
Hot Chocolate - When I studied in Florence in 1992, my first field study trip for my Art History class took place on a old and blustery day in January. I was bundled up but was ill prepared for the hours I spent standing on cold slabs of marble while our instructor Elaine discussed the nuances of fresco painting and medieval iconography. By about 11 am I was chilled to the bone and had stopped taking notes because my fingers were no longer functioning. It was at that time that Elaine suggested we stop for a hot chocolate. Delightful I thought, imagining the styrofoam cups from the hockey rink filled with a beige colored steaming liquid topped with marshmallows. We marched into the Gilli Cafe, unimpressed with the stunning elegance of this institution. We were too focused on thawing out and finding a bathroom. A round of hot chocolate (cioccolato caldo) was ordered and what arrived was nothing short of nirvana - elegant porcelain cups filled with dark (DARK) brown liquid. The chocolate was so thick that the spoon moved slowly through it and could almost stand up on its own. Hot chocolate in Italy is an experience not to be missed, be it at Gilli Cafe or any other bar on a cold January day. Believe me, you won’t be getting Swiss Miss.
If this post has not convinced you to get to Italy this winter (or at least make some of these delightful treats), I encourage you to go back to your gluten free, dairy free, protein shake existence and call me when the ground thaws. Sure, I won’t exactly be bikini ready, but I will be happy!
Have a great weekend!