I'm probably the luckiest guy in the world. Not only (*cheesiness alert*) I happened to find wonderful V. to be my companion, but she's also from Calabria, one of Italy's "deep-south" regions, not only on the map but also for its mentality.
As in any other holiday, summer or whenever we feel that we need to breathe a little bit a different type of air than the one of Rome we're heading south. It's not just family time, but also an excuse and opportunity to get into new food adventures since Calabrian food is hearty, spicy and homey. Just like Calabrian people.
Here are some of our recent adventures from our last trip to the tip of the Italian boot.
I must warn you: there are going to be some clichés involved, but as I noticed from my first time I got here - some years ago around Christmas - everything is real here. People and stories and food.
Day #1 - Rome to Calabria
Since we knew that we'll get to Calabria quite late, we didn't want to make V.'s mother work hard at the kitchen (not that she asks us, I dare you to try to discuss with Italian mothers and mothers-in-law on when and how much you need to eat. Good luck.) So we decided to start our food tour at the Mercato Centrale, the covered high-quality-in-very-affordable-prices food market attached to the central train station, a spin-off of the same brand, logo and concept market in Florence.
I have written already about the market shortly after it opened, but since then some changed took place here, and I managed to find my favorite spots around it.
Like the stand of Savini family dedicated wholly to truffles, where Claudio and Antonio, probably two of the nicest people in the world, helped us with a pasta dish. Truffles, remember? A generous plate of tagliolini al tartufo (tagliolini with truffles), one of the classics of the Umbrian, Tuscan and Piedmontese kitchens, the Italian home regions for the platinum mushroom.
We could see it's going to be a pretty nice dish after watching Antonio melting an adult size chunk of butter in the pan. Nothing bad can get from an adult size chunk of butter. Nothing.
We didn't expect otherwise, and Antonio didn't disappoint - the pasta was cooked to perfection, and the hot fumes of melted butter acted as a carrier of the well-defined smell of truffles sliced on top - straight to our nostrils. We were actually quite swirled by it.
Wanting to share a little bit of the smell with the family we took with us two jars: one of Parmigiano-Reggiano cream spiced with truffles, and the other one of whole figs in honey - with truffle, of course.
We will return to them later this week.
Remember, we are still at the central train station.
Even after finishing - not without a struggle - the pasta, we were a little scared of being a little hungry during the almost 5 hours train ride. Nothing a snack from the now already worldly known stand of Stefano Callegari - Trapizzino.
We chose to take with us a piece of Roman culinary legend: Picchiapò - a finely cut beef cooked for hours in a thick sauce mainly composed of tomatoes and onions. There are many traditions why this stew is called like this, but my favorite (and the one that makes the most sense) is that it's a dish made of the beef cuts that were already used for broth. Yet in the poor Roman cuisine, there's always the option of re-use, and that's how the Picchiapò ("beaten", derived from picchiare) was born.
Actually, you are supposed to eat the Trapizzino straight out of the oven when the dough pocket is fresh and crispy on the outside. But I think we got on something here.
When we got a little bored (or hungry), after two hours or so, we took the Picchiapò Trapizzino out, and by then the stew juices got into every hole of the dough and soaked it well. Each bite was a real pleasure, and I'm pretty sure that I couldn't help myself from recreating some moments from the classic Meg Ryan of "When Harry met Sally" scene.
If you thought it was over for the day I remind you that in Calabria no one asks us how much we should eat. Not long after we arrived the dinner table was already covered with plates and bowls filled with the best Calabrian home-cooking has to offer, ruled by the local royal couple Patata-e-Pipi, which in the local dialect means Potatoes and Peppers. Fried, of course. In olive oil, of course. So so delicious, of course. Without photo this time, unfortunately.
Bar Roma that operates at Lamezia Terme's center since 1912 provided the dessert: rich ice cream of bittersweet chocolate, hazelnuts and "Setteveli" ("Seven layers") cake, named after the winner cake of the World cup Championship for pastries in 1997 and based mainly on chocolate and hazelnuts in different textures. A real champ!
And that was just the first day…