I (Jen) can safely say Minestrone Soup will be a new staple in our home. I love it for many reasons. First, it’s something that I was eating as a baby when my Mom and Nonna (Grandma) would prepare it for me before I even had teeth. For that reason it’s a soup that not only warms the belly, but also warms my heart.
Julia enjoying some vegetables – pre-soup
I also love that it’s a hard dish to mess up. You can throw in whatever you have in your pantry and fridge and even though it may not taste exactly the same as the last time; it will always be good. I also love that I feel good about serving it to my family. It’s a healthy, complete, meatless dish that tastes good and leaves everyone feeling satisfied. I love that it works for all ages. As I mentioned I ate this as a child. This is a perfect dish to blend up for your baby once they start eating real food. And I love that now my daughter asks for this soup by name, nearly every day “mom-mom… ZUP!”Continue reading A Healthy and Hearty Minestrone Soup Recipe→
No, we didn’t oversell it in the title. This meal was
LEGEN…wait for it…DARY!
Like Odysseus who fought heroically in the Trojan war and embarked on a long journey rife with cyclops, lotus-eaters, sea monsters and hostile giants; we too fought our own heroic battle of hunger and embarked on a journey rife with wrong turns, communication challenges, unpaved roads and hostile baby cries. In the end however, it worked out better for us than Odysseus.
We decided to visit the neighboring town of Lecco and grab a bite to eat. When I quickly opened my browser and selected a restaurant from Trip Advisor based solely on someones comment “good food, family friendly” – we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. We plotted our course in the GPS and set out to eat at Osteria Belvedere Montalbano, a thirty minute-minute drive.
Lecco – a lake town on the east “leg” of Lake Como
A panoramic of the lake that I stitched together – the view on our way to the restaurant
Thirty-five minutes later, we pulled up. To a house. This couldn’t be right. We tried again. Twenty minutes later we ended up in the woods. Hmmm??? Twenty five minutes later we pulled up again. To another house. How many Via (Street) Montalbano’s could there be?! Jen dug a little deeper and translated a few google posts. She discovered that the restaurant is in fact, in the woods. So we were right when we were in the woods??? We tried that route again and hit a dirt path that looked to be traveled only by horses. As frustrated as you are reading this, you can imagine our displeasure. We’d had enough… time to throw in the towel. Continue reading A Culinary Odyssey of Epic Proportions!→
We made a discovery recently about Italians that contradicted an earlier belief of ours. So it got us thinking… what other misconceptions do many Americans have about Italians? Let’s dig a little deeper and see what we discover. This is a collection of observations we’ve made since we’ve been here and we will likely have additions over time (and possibly corrections).
*Disclaimer - this post is meant to be fun and in no way itself, factual! These are simply things that we have observed [and this is important] in this region. One of the first things that we learned is that there are dramatic differences throughout the country - cultural, culinary, lingual... you name it! So, while something may be fact or fiction based on what we've noticed; it's highly probably that it could be the opposite somewhere else.
FACT OR FICTION – ITALIANS LOVE GARLIC…THE MORE THE BETTER!
While garlic is prevalent in many dishes, like most other things… they prefer it in moderation. In fact, what appears to us like a little amount of garlic in a dish is probably already far too much. Interesting Italian tidbit – eating raw garlic is good for you, but cooked garlic has no impact. Vampires beware, I’ve been gulping the stuff!
Answer – FICTION
FACT OR FICTION – ITALIANS LOVE THEIR COFFEE?
Given the name of this blog, you most likely have already surmised that coffee is enjoyed several times throughout the day. However, the experience is very different than the US. Instead of going to any Starbucks in the morning and ordering a 20 oz coffee that you’ll guzzle in your car on the way to work, Italians prefer several small cups of espresso throughout the day. Sometimes with milk (con latte or a machiatto), sometimes very small (corto) and occasionally a bit bigger (lungo) – but always in an espresso cup and never “to go”. An enjoyable custom is visiting various “bars” throughout the day, ordering your coffee, chatting with your friends, plunking down your €1 and heading out only to return a few hours later. CAREFUL – one of us (and it wasn’t your author) learned a couple years ago that you NEVER order a cappuccino after a meal.
Answer – FACT
FACT OR FICTION – ITALIANS HAVE TWO HOUR LUNCHES?!
Pranzo circa 2006 when we were here for Jens cousin’s wedding
Perhaps not two hours exactly, but pranzo (lunch) is an event that is not to be missed or rushed. In most households, pranzo is the most important meal of the deal – a wonderful moment to spend time with family. You’ll find most shops close around 12:00 and don’t re-open until after 2:00 in order to allow shopkeepers and workers time to make it home and eat. Many households will regularly serve pasta as a prima (first course), sometimes followed by a secondo (second course of fish or meat) and usually rounded out by a salad at the end. Of course, wonderful bread and cheese are present and many households will happily open a nice bottle of vino (wine) and finish with caffè (coffee). With a younger generation and big box stores ushering in new norms, pranzo may not have as much emphasis as it did in the past – but the act of eating an enjoyable lunch will always have a place in Italian culture.
*We have the benefit of wonderful cooks both upstairs and in our own home – we have enjoyed many wonderful two-hour lunches ourselves; even though my waist line isn’t too appreciative. Future posts on Claudia and Jen’s delicious cooking to come.
Answer – FACT
FACT OR FICTION – “SPAGHETTI AND MEATBALLS” IS ALWAYS ON THE MENU?
No meatballs here
While pasta is very common (and spaghetti, a type of noodle is one of the most popular varities) – polpette (meatballs) are never served on top of spaghetti and oozing with marinara. In fact, the only time we’ve ever had polpette was a second meat course and they tasted very different than what we’re accustomed to.
Answer – FICTION
FACT OR FICTION – ITALIANS DRINK TONS OF SAN PELLEGRINO SPARKLING WATER?
This was something Jen and I assumed, not necessarily something that is commonly thought of. Every time we have gone out to eat in the states with Italians, we order aqua frizzante (sparkling water) and 9 times out of 10 they would deliver San Pellegrino to the table. Given Jen’s Italian upbringing, we actually became quite accustomed to stocking the delicious “bubbly stuff” in our own home (thank you Costco for selling cases). So, naturally we assumed that the big player in the US market would dominate on their own turf. But the truth is – we haven’t seen a single bottle! Not at a restaurant, not at a friends home, not at the supermarket. It’s like they bottle almost exclusively for export! Don’t get me wrong… there is a bottle of frizzante at every table we’ve graced – just not San Pellegrino.
Interestingly enough, Illy and Lavazza (the two espresso brands most dominant in the US) are not only very prevalent in Italy – they are regarded as the best quality.
Answer – Fiction
FACT OR FICTION – ITALIAN SUBS ARE BETTER IN ITALY?!
Well, this just seems like common sense. We’re in the mecca for the cured meats, wonderful cheeses and incredible bread that could make the world’s greatest submarine sandwich. We have access to carefully aged vinegar and the most delicious olive oil. The lettuce and tomatoes… well, OK – they’re pretty much the same. So, of course they should put them all together and give it the namesake of their own country, right?
I dare you to go into any restaurant and order an “Italian Sub”. You’ll get a look like you have three heads, because for some strange reason twelve inches of layer after layer of mixed meats, cheese, vegetables and oil smashed into a piece of bread doesn’t sound appealing to them at all. Weird – I’m getting hungry just typing!
Italians prefer to keep most things separate, so that they can taste each item. Sure, they have sandwiches (post on our sandwich adventure), but not of the “sub-sandwich” kind. In fact the place we went in Milano is quite rare. Most places simply put one type of meat on bread (salami or prosciutto or prosciutto cotto) sometimes accompanied by cheese and maybe some arugula.
Sorry Jared – we have no use for you here.
Answer – FICTION
FACT OR FICTION – ITALIANS ARE VERY LOUD…YOU CAN HEAR THEM A GREAT WAYS AWAY?!
“I already TOOOOOLD you!!!!”
I feel as though I am credible to be able to write about this, as I have known a great many Italians over the years and been privy to many, many conversations. As it’s been explained to me… they’re not loud – they’re passionate! And they’re not always passionate – only when topics of conversation requires it. Like politics or religion…. or what to cook for lunch, or who’s right or wrong, or what the temperature is, or if the sky is actually blue, or if breathing is important, or whether the neighbors can hear them. That sort of thing.
Answer – FACT
Well, we hope you had as much fun learning about what’s Fact and what’s Fiction in this great country as we did creating the list. We’re hoping to learn a lot more so we can continue to add to the list.
Well, we have heard a lot from Greg so I thought it was time for me (Jen) to give this blogging a go. I have had a lot of people ask me how to make sauce. Growing up in an Italian family this was a staple in our house. I didn’t even know until college that most people buy pasta sauce from a jar! Sorry, but… yuck.
I am by no means an expert cook but I have had many very talented woman in my life that have taught me a lot. Until recently everything I know has been taught to me by my nonna (grandma), my mother and my mother-in-law, who are all incredibly talented in the kitchen.
Even though my Mom isn’t Italian she learned from the best Italian cook (my nonna) how to prepare all of my Dad’s favorite Italian meals. In the beginning of their marriage she made all the foods she grew up eating – good Ohio cuisine. This consisted of meat and potato cooking such as meat loaf and casseroles. Don’t get me wrong, all these foods are delicious… just not to my Dad. It wasn’t until maybe a year or so of eating this food that my Dad admitted he missed his mother’s cooking and my Mom’s path to creating mouth watering Italian dishes began. One of the best things she learned from my Nonna was how to prepare Sugo (sauce). My Nonna’s recipe requires a lot of chopping and it is time consuming to make. Since I have been living in Como I have had the opportunity to learn from another very talented woman, my Zia (Aunt) Claudia. She recently taught me a quick and easy way to make delicious sugo with ingredients you probably already have in your pantry and refrigerator. I hope you enjoy the sauce as much as everyone here enjoys eating it. Continue reading Easy and Delicious Marinara Pasta Sauce→
The requests have been flooding in by the virtual truckload…
“Now that you live in Italy… what are you cooking?”
Well, we’re here to tell you two things:
1) Not a single person actually asked the aforementioned question (I just thought the subject might make a fun post).
2) Some things are not that different – some things are very different.
And since I’ve thrown myself headfirst into this “blogosphere” and haven’t posted in a couple days… I’m starting to feel like an addict without an outlet. So here we go – we’re going to let you into our kitchen and show you our pantry and refrigerator. You’ll be able to get a first-hand glimpse at what we’ve been eating (when we eat at home that is)!
I had originally come up with an inventive and funny way to start this post. I was going to draw a parallel between myself and Joey Tribbiani from “Friends”, as we both share an intense love of sandwiches. I scoured the internet for a clip I can so vividly remember, but could not find it. When quizzed about his favorite food (which many people assume is pizza), we learn that his favorite food is in fact, sandwiches!
For those of you that weren’t fans of the show, “Friends” (all 3 of you) – Joey Tribbiani is a fun-loving, womanizing, “foodie” who craves [among other things] sandwiches. Perhaps this love of meat and cheese folded between two pieces of bread comes from his Italian heritage, because as I’m learning – Italians have perfected the art of the sandwich (hereafter referred to as panino or the plural – panini).
On Sunday, Jen and I decided to go to Milano – a forty-five minute drive from our hometown in Como.
Julia playing with pigeons in front of the Duomo in Milano
Jen had heard about a wonderful flea market that is only open the last Sunday of every month. We bundled up with lots of layers and departed at the wee-early hour of 11:00am (and that was rushing to get out the door). On the way, we consulted the internet to tell us what else to do for the day and found out about a wonderful restaurant with over 100 types of panini. We cross-referenced Trip Advisor and read some wonderful reviews of the food. In my mind, it was a lock we were headed to Bar della Crocetta for lunch! By the time we finally got to the flea market (after a few wrong turns), it was already time for lunch – so instead, we re-routed the GPS to Bar della Crocetta. Continue reading The World’s Greatest Sandwich→
What a wonderful tradition happy hour is! A time when friends can gather and join in a few post-work drinks and perhaps a little nibble to eat. We’ve always known happy hour to be a 5:00pm – 7:00pm (ish) time to partake in a few cocktails at a discounted price.
Caffè Mazzini – Our favorite Happy Hour in Como
We were pleased to find that the tradition of “happy hour” also exists in Italy and it’s even called the same thing (just imagine saying it with a funny little accent… drop the sound the “h” makes). However, it’s a bit different here.
Instead of discounted drinks and food, you usually pay the same price for the drinks (which always tends to be low anyways… between $4 – $6) but get a big bonus. ALL YOU CAN EAT heavy hors d’oeuvres – Italian style!!! Imagine a bar full of pasta, pizza and other wonderful treats. If you’re not to embarrassed to fill a plate – you can easily have enough for dinner. Continue reading Happy Hour – Although This One Was Unhappy!→