Ciao! Welcome to my Italian inspired day!
I say “inspired” instead of “themed” because like France, I’ve never actually been to Italy so I ended up employing the help of many of my Italian friends on FB and people whom have actually been to Italy. I wanted to make this a non Olive Garden version (no offense to the big Olive). Thank goodness for them! They were life savers. Truly.
One thing brought to my attention that I had never thought about before were the different regions of Italy and their cultural influences – especially in regards to food. So I was left with questions such as: Do I want fare that is more stereotypical of the southern regions? Such as tomato sauces? Or do I want more basic, sauce-less style cuisine of the central/north?
After many hours of research online and bombarding my friends with questions, I came up with an evening for Terri and I to attempt to transport us to the central/northern regions of Italia; A land so rich in history, food and art how could anyone not want to be there?!
Whether truly authentic or not, we had SO MUCH FUN! I achieved everything I wanted which was a night filled with food, wine, laughter and new experiences. I even made homemade pasta for the first time! If you’re looking for a party theme for friends and family, I think this could be a winner!
Sidenote: A good source for true Italian recipes can be found on the English version of La Cucina Italiana magazine which can be found here.
So let’s get started!
Food & Wine
Let’s face it. This is what most of us care about anyway. Right? HaHa! So this is going to be the longest portion of this post.
After a bit of research and taking our eating habits into consideration, I came up with the following menu:
Primo: Zuppa de Legumi
Secondo: Linguine e Gamberi
Wines consisted of:
Red #1: Nebbiolo
Red #2: Barbera
The reason why I had so many wines for only two people was because I couldn’t decide what the pairings were supposed to be. I kept wracking my brain and it was getting to the point that it was stressing me out. Then I decided to stop geeking out about it and just do a “wine tasting”. I had been wanting to try these wines, and we all know that they were ALL going to be consumed be the end of the evening anyway. So did it matter WHICH wine was served with WHAT? I think not. 😉
Making the Pasta:
I’ve been itching to try my hand at making pasta from scratch. I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to give it a try.
I started this process before everything else (hours in advance) in the event I messed it up so much that I needed to run to the grocery store and purchase pre-made. LOL! I don’t have a pasta maker or cutter so I knew I was in for one helluvah ride.
Here is what the process looked like:
If you think you might want to try this, DO IT. Making my own noodles was the most fun part of the entire evening and they tasted 100x better than store-purchased pasta. Homemade pasta is AMAZING and worth the work! If you have kids, this would be a fun family project for them!
After I made the pasta, I decided to relax and have a little snack with Terri in the kitchen before I started on the Bruschette.
We snacked on goat cheese which was infused with black truffle (run – don’t walk – to your nearest Whole Foods and grab some), along some prosciutto (“pro-shoo-toh”). It is a dry-cured ham that is thinly sliced. It is very popular in central/northern Italy, especially in Parma. It is also sometimes referred to as “Parma Ham”.
For anyone who knows us, we stay away from pork 99.9% of the time. However, I am really big on trying to experience something as authentically as I can. Considering we are skipping a meat based “secondo”, I thought it was alright to compromise with prosciutto, and I REALLY REALLY wanted to try it. It was light and delicious. I fully understand why people love it.
The beverage for this portion of the meal was Prosecco (“pros-ecko”). Prosecco is a sparkling wine from the Treviso region which is northeast Italy. I am not ashamed to admit that I loved it much more than Champagne. It’s also usually less expensive! Double score!
The Bruschetta! (Bruschette is the plural version).
A lot of you probably recognize this dish because it’s a very common appetizer in Italian restaurants. However, I would guess this is probably the most mispronounced dish. Even I didn’t know how to properly pronounce it until I started looking for recipes. So for those of us that didn’t know: It’s pronounced “Bru-sketta” and not “Bru-shetta”.
This little dish is SO EASY and so mouth watering. I can even picture this being the most perfect summer dinner. Grilled ciabatta bread, fresh cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, salt and basil. MMMM MMMM MMMMMMMMM! DAMN! I obviously highly recommend. hahaha
We continued to sip on the Prosecco while we snacked.
I found so many recipes that I wanted to try, so I ended up picking the one that I knew would be the easiest. Zuppa de Lugumi is simply a “bean and lentil” soup.
This one is a combination of cannelloni beans with garbanzos and lentils. It also uses crostini mushrooms and tastes great with a little shaved Parmesan on top. Oh, and a little left over grilled ciabatta never hurts anything either. 🙂
Linguine e Gamberi!
This was going to be the biggest moment of truth for me. Mostly because I wasn’t following an exact recipe for this and it was also going to be the true test on how my first-batch-ever-made noodles were going to taste. Fortunately everything turned out well, and we scarfed this dish down very quickly!
I browsed the recipes at www.lacucinaitalianamagazine.com and ended up taking two recipes that looked fabulous and combined the best of both. That process gave birth to my “Linguine e Gamberi” which means “Linguine and Shrimp”.
This dish is also very easy to throw together as you don’t use a formal sauce for this. It’s simply sautéed shrimp in olive oil, garlic and white wine tossed with linguini noodles. I used an anchovy to season everything while sautéing, but removed it from the mix before I tossed with the noodles. I wanted a little extra “sea” flavored kick, but you obviously don’t have to use an anchovy if that’s not your thing.
The best part of any meal! LOL As much as I wanted to make a homemade tiramisu, I thought it would be better if I didn’t potentially ruin my favorite dessert of all time. LOL. So staying with the theme of simplicity, I purchase a chocolate and hazelnut gelato. It’s amazing how much dessert one can consume regardless of how full you get from the meal. We somehow ALWAYS seem to be able to make room. 😉
The Wine Flight:
Although we drank wine through the entire meal, I saved this part of the post for last because we never stuck with one wine. I absolutely loved the Nebbiolo while Terri leaned toward the Barbera. We both agreed that the Orvieto was the star of the evening.
Here’s a breakdown of each so you can decide if you would like to try any of these in the future. They are listed from left to right:
• Orvieto (white): This wine is produced from grapes of the Procanico, Verdello, Malvasia, Grechetto and Drupeggio varieties.
We thought it was outstanding because of its delicate, light bouquet, and its light but mellow flavor with a pleasantly bitter after taste. I actually liked this more than any Pinot Grigio I’ve ever had. If you can find it in your local wine shop, give it a try.
It goes well with: appetizers, soups, cheeses, white meats, fish and truffled dishes.
• Nebbiolo (red): Is native to the Piedmont region (north western Italy) and is the key grape in the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco. As a matter of fact, the Nebbiolo is a “baby Barolo” because it’s the same grape, but aged for a shorter amount of time.
If I had to compare it to an American/French wine, I would say it’s similar to a Cabernet Sauvignon because of it’s tannic, big and bold flavor. However that description just doesn’t do it justice. You must taste it to appreciate it.
We loved it.
• Barbera d’Alba (red): Also from the Piedmont region. This is smoother in tannins and has a bright fruity flavor of blackberry, cherry and a chocolatey spice. It is also one of the most widely planted grapes in Italy.
Although it can bottled as a single varietal (such as how we’re drinking it), it is also a blending grape that can be found in California wines.
And of course no theme night would be complete without movies to go along with it.
In an effort to keep this an educational experience for Terri and I given Italy is going to be our first international vacation destination with each other, I chose two documentaries in addition to a drama that was filmed mostly in Italy. So for our evening viewing pleasure I chose:
• Discovery Channel’s “Atlas-Italy Revealed”: This is easily purchased through iTunes or Apple TV under the “TV Show” category.
It is a documentary following the lives of six Italians from different regions of the country. It is narrated by the one and only Isabella Rossellini and runs for approximately 110 minutes.
It was enthralling with beautiful scenery and a great snapshot into the lives of Italian locals. If you’re wanting to watch a documentary on Italy – this is a great pick.
• Samantha Brown’s Passport to Europe – Florence: This is also easily purchased through iTunes or Apple TV under the “TV Show” category.
This a much shorter 22 minute TV Show specific to the Toscano region with an emphasis on Florence, Italy.
• The Talented Mr. Ripley:
This movie gave me the creeps when I first saw it many years ago (LOL), but I wanted to watch it with a fresh pair of eyes given that it was filmed in multiple cities in Italy. Who doesn’t love Jude Law, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchette and Gwenyth Paltrow? It’s an intelligent movie with a diverse scenic tour.
And there you have it! A little taste of Italy right in our house! We are more excited than ever to save up to go (one day soon).
I hope you enjoyed our Italian day, and I hope you also have your very own!