Clearly one of the alluring aspects of Italy is the food. We have not been disappointed! For the most part we have not been eating in any restaurants. The food here is so good and so simple to prepare it is amazingly easy to make something utterly exquisite at home. And with fresh pasta so readily available it’s hard to want anything more. We have been dining on gnocchi, ravioli, pesto, cheeses, grilled eggplant, chestnut honey, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil. Henry has been indulging in the meat he’s been finding at the local macelleria. Gabriella has been to two different gelaterias and finds it hard to say which is better – both experiences were divine. There’s something about the hazelnuts here that makes them so much tastier than the ones in the US, so we’ve been gobbling those by the handfuls too. Oh, and the wine. Yes, the wonderful – and inexpensive - wine!
In the grocery store there is an entire aisle devoted to different types of pasta. And that’s just the dried stuff. There is also another equally large section of fresh pasta. And of course there are all the local shops and weekly markets selling their fresh produce. We are slowly getting acclimated to the routine of buying what we need fresh from the local market on a daily basis, rather than shopping for an entire week the way we typically do in the US.
Since we arrived we’ve been blessed with bouts of unseasonably beautiful weather. Did we say that we have a south facing balcony? We have enjoyed many of the above mentioned foods and wines while sitting on our balcony – in fact we just ate lunch there before finishing this blog entry. It is heaven! Getting this apartment was worth all the anxiety, stress and waiting we went through to find it.
Recently Gabriella made ribollita – it’s a Tuscan soup that was cleverly developed to make use of stale bread. Sound good? Well, it is - and it’s easy to make! We found the recipe in a guide book to Arezzo that was written by Scott Tiezzi Grabinger, one of the former students at the language school where we are taking classes. It’s a great guide book, and if you ever come to Tuscany we suggest you get yourself a copy (no, Scott didn’t pay us to say that – we haven’t even met him!): www.createspace.com/3554695
· You will need to soak the beans overnight before making this soup.
· The traditional recipe calls for 4 oz. chopped pancetta. As a mostly vegetarian, Gabriella omitted it from her soup, and it is not included in the ingredients below.
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 cups vegetable broth
1 medium onion, chopped into bite sized pieces
2 carrots, chopped into bite sized pieces
2 stalks of celery, chopped into bite sized pieces
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 small zucchini, sliced
¼ cup Savoy (or other) cabbage
1 bay leaf
2 cups tomatoes, chopped into bite sized pieces
2 cups cannelloni beans (see below for bean preparation)
1 handful of fresh parsley, chopped
4 cups of dense, dry bread, chopped into ½ inch sized pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
· Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium high heat. Add onion, carrots, celery, and minced garlic and sauté until tender.
· Add cabbage, zucchini, cooked beans, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, and stock.
· Cook slowly for 1-2 hours adding more broth or water if necessary.
· Add salt and pepper to taste.
· Five minutes before serving, add bread and stir until mixed into the soup.
To prepare the beans:
· Place 1-2 cups of cannelloni beans into a pan and cover with water, making sure that the water level is about two inches over the beans. Set aside to soak overnight.
· The next day drain the beans and place in a large pan. Add enough vegetable broth to cover the beans, about one inch over the top.
· Add two smashed garlic cloves and two bay leaves.
· Bring to a boil then simmer gently on low heat until the beans are tender but not mushy (about 1-2 hours).
· When the beans are done you can add them to the Ribollita. They are also delicious on their own.