A picture comes to mind: a goose being held by the neck and force fed, the better to produce pate'. Only it wasn't a goose, it was me. The meals served to us on our tour of Italy weigh heavily in my memories as well as on the scale.
The hotel breakfasts were buffet so I can't blame anyone but myself for any overstuffing there. But, looking forward to a morning of touring uphill and down, one had to fortify oneself for that exertion. Right? So a body accustomed to a bowl of Cheerios and a glass of milk now routinely feasted on a hard roll, cheese, yogurt and granola, and perhaps a croissant. Sometimes, scrambled eggs and bacon replaced the yogurt. I could pass by the assorted plates of cold meats and the cereals, which were often served with warm milk. Coffee, called rocket fuel by our tour guide, could pass for American espresso. Well-fueled for the morning's excursion, we filled the bus. Weren't the seats a bit smaller each morning?
At an Italian Market
Italian lunches are the main meal of the day. Children are home from school about 1:30; shopkeepers and bankers, pharmacists and beauticians close up shop and head home for the family repast which Mama has spent the morning preparing. After planning her meal, she has gone shopping for the freshest ingredients and today's bread. That entails visiting several shops before she stands before her stove.
Lemons and Grapes Grow Above
Our tour group was hosted by a local family for a traditional mid-day feast. The first course was a salad topped with olive oil. After that, a variation of a Minestrone soup, with crusty bread, of course. Next came linguine prima vera and risotto with mushrooms. On the table sat bottles of red and white wine. Just as we were declaring what a great meal it had been, the hosts brought forth the entree: roast pork, potato wedges fried in olive oil, and red peppers sauteed in oil with a touch of vinegar and sugar. Following that, it was lemon cake, soaked in Limon cello, and a final treat for the strong--a shot of Limon cello to wash down the cake. This liqueur is one of the main products of the Sorrento region. Everything on the table, except the meat and pasta, came from the garden, the orchard of lemon and olive trees, or the grape arbor. After this meal, we fully appreciated why there's a mid-day lull in the business world of Italy. Shops won't re-open until late afternoon.
Some Varieties of Pasta
That meal introduced us to Italian cuisine. In later days, we could only sample a few of the pastas available--spaghetti in red sauce, raviolis in white sauce, pasta carbonara, lasagna, and spiralled pasta. Had we stayed longer, we might have tried the seventy-some varieties of pasta forms available. Sauces are mild. Spices we equate with American Italian foods like oregano are not often used. Fresh tomatoes, olive oil, and perhaps some basil or garlic produce the sauces. Freshly ground cheese tops the dish. Veal scaloppini, chicken scaloppini, chicken with a walnut sauce, roast pork, and roast turkey graced our tables as entrees. Near the Bay of Naples, fish appeared; in Tuscany, beef steaks are a specialty. Each city seems to have a dessert or a bread specialty. We tried to sample them all.
Chianti on the Table
Grapes in the Vinyard
In Tuscany, a welcome light peasant's lunch filled the bill. The salad was followed by only a hearty bean and lentil soup served with crusty bread. Tuscan breads, the only carbs I bypassed, remain salt-free, the result of a long-ago tax on salt. Gelato rounded out the meal.
At a Taste of Tuscan buffet served by the hotel in Montecatini, a long table of antipasto held crostinis topped with all kinds of cheeses and veggies, French-fried nuggets stuffed with olives or cheese, pasta salads, fruits, and pickled veggies. The hot course offered a macaroni dish and a choice of soups, a bean and lentil over stale bread cubes or a delicious tomato over the bread. And then--tiramisu!
At a restaurant, on our own one evening, I found a most welcome plain, flaked, fresh tuna sandwich served between two thin slices of white bread with no crusts, a dab of mayonnaise, and a tomato. My husband found a hamburger and enjoyed its simplicity as well. Our stomachs appreciated the rest because for two long weeks, we had been stuffed. We indulged in cappuccinos for morning breaks, gelatos or granitas for afternoon breaks, espresso or Limon cello-filled chocolates or pan forte or other local pastries for bus-time breaks. Those seats definitely grew smaller as the days passed.
But it was the farewell dinner that exceeded all other presentations. Those Italians must still have a bit of the Roman orgies in mind when they serve their guests. This time, the antipasto was a sub-sized puff pastry filled with ham and cheese, then bean soup, followed by a slab of lasagna as big as two squares from my 11 X 13 pan. Roast pork in pastry, roasted potato wedges, and spinach arrived as the entree. The topper was a chocolate eclair.
Still Hungry? Shop a Deli.
Tomorrow is Weight-Watchers. How can I ever explain?