Eat Your Way Through Italy
From noshing mozzarella-laden pizzas in Naples to hunting rich white truffles in Tuscany, Sara D’Souza serves up a guide to binging throughout the Boot
Pizza has a royal legacy in Naples. Legend has it in 1889, Pizzeria Brandi created a special pie with the colors of the Italian flag--red tomatoes, green basil and white mozzarella--in honor of a visit from Queen Margherita. A legend was born (or baked). You can still get that slice of history in the piping hot wood-fired pies of the original kitchen.
Aperetivo, Italy’s answer to happy hour. The cocktail hour (well, ok, three) stretches from 6pm to 9pm and is as much about the noshes as the tipples. Head to Milan’s trendy Navigli area to Roialto, a former industrial warehouse that dishes up dry cured meats and cheeses, or to Ricci for a full-on smorgasbord of pizza, pasta, sushi, sashimi and cheeses.
Espresso: Naples and Rome
Not content with just creating the world’s most loved pizza, Naples can also lay claim to the cuccumella, a Neapolitan flip coffee pot that led to the invention of the espresso machine. Sip some history at Caffe Gambrinus, which has caffeinated everyone from Oscar Wilde to Mussolini with its namesake espresso and cacao concoction.
The low-lying regions of Lombardy in northern Italy lend themselves to the cultivation of rice paddies and here you’ll find many a risotto. The creamy, indulgent dish emerges slowly and painstakingly from constant gentle stirring. Invest similar time in exploring all its lovingly made variations, from the saffron-tinged Milanese to Pavia’s adventurous Risotto con le Rane, made with fried frogs found in the rice fields.
Genoa: Though once home to Christopher Columbus, it’s probably more well-known as the birthplace of pesto. Pesto in all its tangy, nutty deliciousness is taken so seriously here they have an annual world competition. The traditional Ligurian recipe uses a pestle and mortar to grind fresh basil, garlic, pine nuts, sea salt, olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. It’s most commonly dished up simply, with a squeeze of lemon on trenette (a flat linguine) or trofie (a Ligurian gnocchi).
When life gives you lemons… make limoncello. Typically you’ll be given the sweet nectar as an after-dinner digestivo, but you can also head to I Giardini di Cataldo in sunny Sorrento, a citrus grove where you can wander while sipping the homemade liquor. The region is said to have the largest lemons with the most perfumed peels, thus yielding the best limoncello. It’ll also yield you a hangover if you’re not careful.
Aperol Spritz: Venice
The peachy bellini always gets top billing in Venice, but our favorite canal-side cocktail is the aperol spritz. Veneto’s fizzy favorite with prosecco, aperol, a splash of soda water and an orange slice has been around since 1919. Sip the fiery orange tipple at teeny Al Timon as the sun sets and a jazz band plays aboard a boat moored in the Ormesini Canal. Talk about a happy hour.
Poor Roma. Colonized by an army of schlocky tourist joints, visitors could make it through an entire stay without tasting its true carbo gems. But the Eternal City knows from pasta. So leave your belt at the hotel and pasta crawl through its hidden gems, from the richly simple cacio e pepe at Roma Sparita to the truffled fettuccini at rustic Santa Lucia.
Puglia is a bit of a showoff. Two hundred types of pasta. Nicknamed the breadbasket of Italy. And then there’s the nearly 60 million olive trees blanketing the land. Sip Prosecco while you nip through the buttery Cerignolo olives or the lightly fried Minnella versions at Osteria Perricci in the idyllic fishing village of Monopoli.
Truffles: Tuscan Countryside
Just in case you haven’t already been completely romanced by Italy, she offers up truffles. The indulgent (and reportedly aphrodisiac) fungi hides in the rich soils of the Tuscan countryside. True truffle fans head to the medieval village of San Miniato for November’s truffle fair. But the charming town serves the treat year-round, generally unadorned on fresh tagliolini. She is a natural beauty, after all.