Italy, the land of gelato and carbs. However, because I now live in the country, I don’t necessarily feel the need to indulge in the carb fest that I might have previously ensued on when visiting Rome. So when I was there a few weeks back I was on the hunt for some slightly more balanced meals. Not that I am saying you shouldn’t eat pasta galore when you visit the eternal city! No, by all means indulge! But if you get to day three of the carbo-loading and want some lighter suggestions here you go!
I don’t know if it was because I was just because I was looking but I feel like the city is definitely expanding on its choice of lighter and healthier eating places. I didn’t get to try them all but there is always next time.
Markets and Grocers
First and foremost visit the markets. Fresh and cheap produce and an insight into how Italians actually eat. Pick up a few bits to snack on through the day rather than getting ‘hangry’ and eating a whole pizza. Warning though: don’t touch the produce. Ask or point to what you want.
This is a slow food restaurant; a concept I hadn’t heard applied to a restaurant but I thought was intriguing. All of the dishes are Italian. focussed on regional dishes with quality dishes. I had ravioli with a wild greens stuffing and a gorgonzola sauce. Now that might sound less than healthy but I think the difference here was the serving size was actually just right. A smallish dish but satisfying. Tim had a traditional chickpea dish which had a broth and was very tasty and incredibly filling.
A healthy ‘fast food’ type place with a few seats and a range of smoothies, salads, soups, quiches, sandwiches etc. We just had a light bite and it was pretty tasty if a little bit pricier than a take away pizza slice. Great to stock up before the train although the vegetarian sandwich options were a bit limited.
Of course eating all the healthy food means I did get to have a calorific but delicious traditional Roman Jewish treat for breakfast one morning! Head to the Jewish quarter, find the place with the queue (I don’t even know the name but it is on Vicolo della Serpe, oppose the Kosher Bistro Caffe which did some lovely falafel and salads) and ask for the ricotta and cherry pastry. We headed there early in the morning and avoided the queue.
So you find yourself in Florence heading towards lunch time. You are getting hungry and you pass a gentlemen eating the most amazing looking sandwich made with creamy fluffy focaccia stuffed with quality looking fillings. You kindly ask him where he acquired this amazing sandwich and he points down to a road to a long queue and tells you it is worth it. It is worth it. You wait in the queue but it moves pretty quickly – only about 10 minutes. This gives you time to scout out whether there are some vegetarian options and a man from across the road walk over with a pile of fresh focaccia. You smile to yourself knowing you have made a good decision.
You get to the front and order a ‘vegateriana’ (with a question mark at the end). A friendly nod and a piece of fresh focaccia is grabbed, a sandwich size negotiated and fresh tomato, rocket, some vegetables and beautiful mozzarella piled on top. You hand over €5 for the biggest sandwich you have ever been given.
You walk happily down the street and find some free pavement to sit on and thoroughly enjoy what must surely be the best sandwich in Florence.
Maybe next time you will get a glass of wine from the help yourself counter.
If you haven’t eaten your whole sandwich (saving some for supper is a good idea) you might want to get some Gelato from Gelateria dei Neri
All’antico Vinaio, via dei Neri 74
Gelateria dei Neri, via dei Neri 22r
I asked a little while ago what people were interested on seeing around here and I hope I am delivering (with more regular posts about Trieste and some more photography tips). Another thing that people have asked about is what I am eating in Italy. Honestly, this has changed a lot. With more time available to me I am cooking more – which I love. On top of that though is the fact that a lot of foods that I used to buy regularly in London just aren’t available here so I have had to change to cooking more ‘Italian’ – although I am sure most Nonne would argue that my food is far from Italian!
One thing that I have been buying a lot more are legumes. Beans were an important food source in the typical ‘cucina povera’ (poor kitchen) because, well, they are cheap and the same remains true today. Currently, as a one income household and in a country where there aren’t as many vegetarian protein options this is great.
I go between canned and dried depending on time and what I want to use them for. The most popular beans available are borlotti, cannelini, chickpeas (cece) and lentils (lenticchie) (normally the green variety). Here are a few of my favourite ways of eating them:
>>> Borlotti are great for homemade baked beans.
>>> I love a cannelini bean spread which is great on ciabatta or crisp bread. All you need is one can of cannelini, a glug of extra-virgin olive oil, zest of half a lemon and a squeeze of lemon juice (or more to your preference) and some fresh salt. You can also add some fresh herbs if you have to hand. Blend with a handblender or masher. You want a ‘rustic’ spread with some solid bean bits still.
>>> I also love to throw cannelini beans or chickpeas in smooth soups to add protein and make them creamy without the cream!
>>> Roasted chickpeas! Better than crisps!
>>> Lentils are perfect for veggie lasagnes and stews and in summer they are a great gluten free alternative to add to salads to bulk them up. I made this abundance bowl this week but didn’t use any rice and just used lentils. I suggest you make it soon because it is delicious.
>>> Lentils are also pretty delicious just with some olive oil and salt.
So do you eat legumes? What are some of your favourite dishes?
[Excuse all the pictures of chickpeas. The light this afternoon was just gorgeous.]
In so many ways (particularly for me) tradition is food. Yesterday my streams were filled with pancakes and I had one myself to mark Shrove Tuesday and the beginning of Lent. There is comfort in these traditions, nostalgia, familiarity. As I am new to Italy I am keen to explore the traditions here, including what you eat and when. Perhaps become more ‘Italian’.
I suppose you don’t realise until you live somewhere what a big deal certain occasions are to cultures. Up until a few weeks ago I thought Carnevale was a weekend in Venice where people dressed up. But it is far more prolific than that. The Venice Carnevale goes on for about three weeks itself! Each region has their own traditions and even here in Trieste people have been dressing up for weeks and kids have been going to the main square and throwing confetti like it is the most fun in the world. Yesterday I went to watch the floats which included every sort of costume from pirates to pigs, young and old and a lot of men in women’s clothing. It is certainly one way to end winter and start welcoming the spring.
As with most events in Italy there are several food traditions associated with Carnevale. The name itself means farewell to meat. Being traditionally the time that you would also give up eggs and sugar there are a lot of ‘sweets’ that have been doing the circuit. Most of it is deep fried and coated in sugar (which equates to delicious right?). Pictured here are what are alternatively called chiacchiere (gossip), bugie (lies), cenci (rags) and guanti (gloves), depending on which region you are in. There are also a variety of doughnut looking things and I tried a Venetian frittella on the weekend which was custard filled and delicious.
Next year, I am definitely going to get involved in more festivities including going to Venice and perhaps trying to bake one of the traditional sweets.
Do you have a tradition outside of the pancakes?