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It´s a pizza, I’m sure!

16 Oct

Beneath a shady tree, the hero spread
His table on the turf, with cakes of bread;
And, with his chiefs, on forest fruits he fed.
They sate; and, (not without the god’s command)
Their homely fare dispatch’d, the hungry band
Invade their trenchers next, and soon devour,
To mend the scanty meal, their cakes of flour.
Ascanius this observ’d, and smiling said:
“See, we devour the plates on which we fed.

These are the translated words of Virgil (70-19 b.C) in the “The Aeneid”, describing the legendary origin of the Roman nation and their cakes or circles of bread, probably the first written record of this amazing culinary creation, the pizza.

After “It’s not a pizza! Or is it?“, I just can’t go on for too long without writing about the real pizza. At least if you define pizza as a “shallow bread-like crust covered with seasoned tomato sauce, cheese, and often other toppings such as sausage or olive (take a look at Pizza, History and Legends“).

Although of uncertain origin, the standards of what became known today as pizzas were probably set in 1889 by Raffaele Esposito in Naples. In that year he prepared tree kinds of pizzas: one with pork fat, cheese and basil; one with garlic, olive oil and tomatoes; and another with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes (in the colors of the Italian flag – yellow, green and red) which were offered to the Queen Margherita di Savoia. The Queen really enjoyed them, particularly the third type, which than became known as “Pizza Margherita” and is today considered the most basic and traditional type of pizza.

Travelling around Italy you will certainly find thousands of pizzerias, offering pizzas that range from heaven to complete hell. In my last trip to Italy, the third one I had the pleasure of making, my son Thiago, who just loves pizza, decided to try them in almost every meal. We travelled around Liguria, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio, Marche, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto, thus, from the center to northern regions. I’d like to highlight two of them:

1. “Tonno e cipolla” (Tuna and onions) from the restaurant “Il Vecchio Dado” in Pisa/Tuscany – The city of Pisa has for quite a long time been known for one single thing, its Leaning Tower, which in fact became a symbol of Italy itself. Although an impressive building, the Leaning Tower is just one component of the beautiful “Campo dei Miracoli” (Field of Miracles) which also includes an amazing church, a baptistery and a cemetery.

Pisa flourished mainly around the XIth to the XIIIth century, declining after it was defeated by the Genoese in 1284. It was also governed by the Medice, from Florence, who re-established the famous University of Pisa were Galileo Galilei served as a teacher.

Campo dei Miracoli, in Pisa/Tuscany, with the Leaning Tower and part of the Dome.

Campo dei Miracoli, in Pisa/Tuscany, with the Leaning Tower and part of the Dome.

When looking for a meal please, run away from the restaurants around the “Campo dei Miracoli”. They are expensive and usually of low quality – real tourist traps. Take your time and walk towards south, in the direction of the Arno river. It should not take more than 5-10 min (a little more if you stop for pictures and to admire the nice architecture along the way). Then just walk along the river and look for “Il Vecchio Dado”, at Lungarno Antonio Paccinoti, 22 (if you came through Via Santa Maria, which starts at the “Campo”, just turn left and walk a couple of blocks).

Walk along via Santa Maria towards the Arno river

Walk along via Santa Maria towards the Arno river

“Il Vecchio Dado” is a 200 years old establishment serving good quality pizzas right on the waterfront. It also has a good selection of fish and seafood dishes.

Pizza Tonno e Cipolla from Il Vechio Dado - Pisa/Tuscany - According to my son Thiago the number 1 in Italy

Pizza Tonno e Cipolla from Il Vechio Dado - Pisa/Tuscany - According to my son Thiago the number 1 in Italy

2. “Tartufo Nero” (Black truffles) from the restaurant “I Monaci” in Assisi/Umbria – Assisi is well known as the birthplace of St. Francis, the first Italian saint and the founder of the Franciscan Order. It’s a beautiful medieval town, filled with tourists and pilgrims during most of the year, but worth of visiting for at least a couple of days.

Basilica of St Francis - Assisi/Umbria

Basilica of St Francis - Assisi/Umbria

We had an amazing pizza at “Il Monaci”, whose entrance is in a stepped alley (Scaletti del Metastasio) off the north side of Via Fontebella, a few steps down from Piazzetta in downtown Assisi. I had never had truffles before, but will not comment on that now, as it believe it deserves a special blog entry.

"Tartufo nero" from "Il Monaci" - Assisi/Umbria

Pizza de Tartufo Nero from Il Monaci - Assisi/Umbria

These two pizzas had a few things in common: (a) first quality ingredients, specially the tomatoes, the mozzarella cheese and the olive oil; (b) they were baked in wooden ovens, acquiring a natural and unique smokiness; (c) a crunchy and delicate crust and (d) abundant toppings.

Have you had a similar experience? Wanna share your favorite pizzas with us? Get in touch.

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Pizza on Foodista

Uruguay, more than “parrillas”

25 Sep

If you’ve been following this blog you must have noticed my appreciation for a neighbouring country, Uruguay (I live in southern Brazil and only around 200 km from the Uruguayan border).  I’ve written about “parrilladas“, the national Uruguayan dish, as well as about my fishing experience in the Salto Grande dam.  Let’s return to this lovely town.

Salto (official site here – sorry, only in Spanish), was stablished in 1756 by the governor José Joaquim de Viana, who was on a mission related to the settlement of frontiers between Spanish and Portuguese colonies.  Salto faced a great population increase after 1860, with the arrival of  European settlers, specially  from Italy, Spain and Portugal.  Around Salto, one of the largest touristic destination in Uruguay, you can find several hot spring areas, particularly “Termas de Dayman” (around 15 km south of Salto) and “Termas de Arapey” (around 90 km north of Salto).

"Termas de Dayman" (hot springs around 15 km south of Salto/Uruguay)

"Termas de Dayman" (hot springs around 15 km south of Salto/Uruguay)

Today, with around 100,000 inhabitants, Salto maintains a charming and relaxing atmosphere.

Downtown Salto/Uruguay

Downtown Salto/Uruguay

Walking around downtown with my wife and some friends (Renan and Leila), on a beautiful  summer day, my attention was called by a small restaurant called “La Trattoria” (Calle Uruguay, 754 – GPS:  S31 23.245 W57 57.969), a clear reminder of the Italians who arrived after 1860.

La Trattoria - downtown Salto/Uruguay

La Trattoria - downtown Salto/Uruguay

We walked in and let me tell you, no regrets.  The food was very well prepared and the house wine just up to the Uruguayan tradition.  One distinctive feature of Uruguayan wine production is the Tannat, a red grape generally ignored in the rest of the New World but very important in this small and wonderful country.  It matched just fine the meat lasagna (a la Bolognesa), plenty of muzzarela and a rich tomato sauce.  Final price? Around US$12,00/person, wine included.

Lasagna form "La Trattoria" - Salto/Uruguay

Lasagna form "La Trattoria" - Salto/Uruguay

The whole experience in Salto was a definitive proof that Uruguay has much more to offer than just “parrilladas” (although they continue to be my favorite Uruguayan creation).

Tannat Grapes on Foodista
Lasagna on Foodista

Chicken Korma

15 Sep

“Korma” (also kormaa, khorma or kurma)  is a dish from the Muglai area, now partitioned between India and Pakistan.  It’s made with yogurt, nuts, several spices (cinnamon, cardamom, garlic, red pepper, coriander, cumin, and turmeric yellow, among others), coconut and coconut milk.

Vegetarians and non-vegetarians kormas exist.  I had chicken korma, at Raja Rani (Friedrichstrasse, 15, Heidelberg/Germany), a restaurant I’ve mentioned in an earlier post.

Briefly, diced onions are fried in clarified butter (“ghee”) to which the spices are added.  The chicken,which in some variations is previously marinated in yogurt, is then added and left to cook until tender (keep it moist adding water as needed).  When almost ready it’s time to add fresh coconut and coconut milk.

Chicken korma over Basmati rice

Chicken korma over Basmati rice

The dish was served over Basmati rice with some sliced almonds on top.  The overall impression was very nice, although I believe the chef abused a bit too much on the coconut, which dominated the dish almost entirely.  It was a bargain though, only about US$ 5,00 for a “small”dish (enough to feed one hungry traveller – as a matter of fact the difference between “small” and “large” seemed to me to be the size of the plate itself, as food portions were rather similar).

Korma on Foodista

Fresh oysters

10 Sep

I’ve already said (see A paradise in Southern Brazil) that Florianópolis is one of my favorite places in the world, not only because I was born there, but simply because this island is, in fact, a place not to be missed.  If you happen to come to Brazil follow my advice and spend a couple of days visiting Santa Catarina Island (where the city of Florianópolis is located).  I’m quite sure you won’t regret it.

Once in Florianópolis go to the “Mercado”, the city market, situated in the heart of the city.  Take a seat in one of the existing bars, grab a beer and try some of the local specialities.  I personally recommend Box 32, owned by chef Beto Barreiros (we went to highschool together), a place also recommended by internationally recognized French chefs like Claude Troigros and Laurent Suadeau.

External view of the "mercado" (city market) in downtown Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

External view of the "mercado" (city market) in downtown Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

Inside the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

Inside the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

The market is rich in seafood, offering a variety of crustaceans, molluscs and fish.

Blue crabs, prawns, fish, mussels....The price? R$ 11.00 = US$ 6.00 (price per 1.0 kg = 2.2 pounds)

Blue crabs, prawns, fish, mussels....The price? R$ 11.00 = US$ 6.00 (price per 1.0 kg = 2.2 pounds)

This time my eyes were caught by the fresh live oysters, which were costing only R$ 4.00 a dozen (around US$ 2.2).

Live oysters at the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

Live oysters at the city market in Florianópolis/Southern Brazil

For dinner?  Oysters, of course.  Although I also like them raw, as it’s when you can really evaluate the freshness and have a taste of the sea filling your mouth,  my sister-in-law (Manuela) prepared them gratiné with some very mild cream cheese sprinkled with a generous amount of parmesan. Each oyster was followed by a drink of a cold sparkling wine (we had the Spanish cava Freixenet).  The perfect end for a perfect day in my hometown (or a perfect beginning, for this was only the first dinner of a long weekend).

Ready for the oven, with some cream chesse and parmesan

Ready for the oven, with some cream cheese and parmesan

Oysters on Foodista

Red Deer

19 Aug

Red Deer (Cervus elaphus), one of the largest deer species, are held in captivity for a variety of reasons, including its meat, which is called venison. It is not generally harvested for human consumption on a large scale, though speciality restaurants seasonally offer venison, which is widely considered to be both flavourful and nutritious. Venison is higher in protein and lower in fat than either beef or chicken.

We had the chance of trying venison when travelling in northern Italy, more specifically on Cortina D’Ampezzo, at “Ristorante Lago Scin” (Via Lago Scin, 1 – Cortina D’Ampezzo/Italy).  The restaurant is beautifully located right at the lake from which its name is derived, a small body of water at 1,336 m of altitude, in the center of Belluno Dolomites, province of Veneto.

Lago Scin - Cortina D'Ampezzo/Veneto/Italy

Lago Scin - Cortina D'Ampezzo/Veneto/Italy

Ristorante Lago Scin - Cortina D'Ampezzo/Veneto/Italy

Ristorante Lago Scin - Cortina D'Ampezzo/Veneto/Italy

As you can see by the images, we reached the restaurant on a rather beautiful summer day, ideal for occupying one of the outdoor tables, what in fact we did.

Among the ordered dishes was the already mentioned Red Deer, which came as a nice dark stew with a beautiful yellow polenta (Spezzatini di cervo con polenta).  Polenta, as you may know, is made from boiled cornmeal, and along with tomatoes, constitutes one of the most amazing Latin American contributions to the Italian cuisine, if not to the whole world (if that is not borderless cooking then tell me what is).

Both, the deer and the polenta, where very nicely prepared by Chef Carlo, and even though venison retains a “gamy” or “wild” taste, considering it tends to have a finer texture and is leaner than beef, the overall experience was rather enjoyable.  Something to be remembered and, if possible, repeated.

"Spezzatini di cervo con polenta" from "Ristorante Lago Scin"

"Spezzatini di cervo con polenta" from "Ristorante Lago Scin"

Venison on Foodista

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