You might be wondering what the heck happened to this blog!? Well, I've been off in Italy for 5 1/2 weeks... pretty much without much access to the internet, and with no way to blog. So, here I am - home again, with copious jet lag, and loads of pictures to share with you!
What is the first thing you think of when you think of Italian food? PIZZA!
Followed shortly behind by PASTA! and then, of course, GELATO!
I can assure you, great quantities of Pizza, Pasta & Gelato were consumed.
I won't bore you with all the details, just a few representative pictures & highlights:
This isn't technically pizza, it's more like foccacia, or schiacciata... but whatever you want to call it in Italian, I call it YUMMY in Amey-language. This delicious snack was from Naples, where we had quite a lot of good pizza... most of which was gobbled down without pausing for the camera. But this was an amazingly good find, from a wonderful little bakery, covered with totally amazing flavor-bomb cherry tomatoes and just the right amount of olive oil and salt. This is the sort of thing I really miss from Italy... simple, straight-forward, super-fresh ingredients, and somehow totally magical.
Usually, at your average pizzeria, a friendly vegan is required to find something on the menu and remove the cheese. Occasionally you'll find a very simple pizza with just olive oil, garlic, & oregano or something like that... but that's not really a super great dinner now, is it? So, I usually go with a pizza "Vegetariana" and ask for it without cheese. This one here was sort of an oddball combo - artichoke hearts, peas, spinach, eggplant... honestly, not really all that delicious, but it did the job of getting me something to eat. By the way, I ate this pizza around midnight, at an outdoor pizzeria in Modica (Sicily), that was completely full with people and children and families. Ah, la bella vita!
That said, every once in a while, a hungry vegan gets really lucky. This cheeseless Pizza Vegetariana was a real highlight. It's from the amazing little town of Pizzo (!! Pizza in Pizzo!!) - and as you can see, the veggies were grilled first, and had so much flavor, and even without the cheese, this pizza was full of flavor and served with much love.
I'm not sure what kind of expression that is on my face, but it must be something having to do with "Let's get this photo over with, and start eating!" By the way, did you know that in Italy, the usual drill is to order a whole pizza per person? Pizzas in Italy don't come in sizes, it's just 1-pizza-per-person-sized, and that's that. Also, most Italians eat their pizza with a fork and knife, not in slices. Unless you're specifically getting just a slice to eat for a snack, of course.... which is sort of a different thing.
This sweet little number was my last meal in Italy, and was probably the best pizza of the whole trip... except maybe tied with the very first meal we had - which was also pizza, in Naples. This is the pizza "Pasquale" from a great place in Florence called "Pizza Man" - naturally vegan straight off the menu! - with tomato puree, black pepper, olive oil, cherry tomatoes, basil and fresh oregano. Oh MAN this was good. I'm so grateful for my awesome friend Cecilia who buzzed me around the hills of Florence on her scooter and then took me out to Pizza Man for dinner. All the ingredients on this pizza were super fresh and the end result was magically delicious. There is a little Pizza Man-shaped hole in my heart now, which can only be filled with another trip to Florence for more Pizza Man pizza.
I AM A PASTA MONSTER!
Dear friends. I ate so much pasta on this trip. Phew. I love pasta, but really now... some times a vegan just wants to eat some vegetables, you know? However, there were a few pasta highlights worth sharing:
When we were in Sicily, we spent one day at Agrigento - enjoying the amazing and beautiful ancient Greek ruins. First we went to museum, which was quite wonderful, and we decided to have lunch there at the museum. The museum cafe was a very sweet little outdoor area in the shade of the pine trees, and I ordered some totally lovely pasta for lunch. Vegan as is! This may not look very exciting, and I suppose it isn't really, but it was another example of how the freshness of the ingredients can really transform a simple dish into something surprising. This pasta was totally scrumptious - not in spite of the simplicity, but rather because of its simplicity.
I am a happy chicken.
Back in Modica, we went out for dinner at a lovely restaurant that had a few nice pasta dishes that were vegan. This was a really beautiful soup with homemade pasta (eggless! *) and fava beans. Mmmm. The favas had a great earthy flavor and the pasta was just perfect - chewy and soaking up the flavor of the broth. Also, what a great serving dish, huh?
* vegan traveller side note: If you are a mindful vegan, it's helpful to check which pastas are made with eggs, since most fresh pasta does have eggs. Apparently some shapes are not usually made with eggs, however. Also, I found that pretty much every restaurant has dry pasta in the kitchen, even if it's not mentioned on the menu... and restaurants were happy to switch out the dry pasta for fresh pasta without any hassle.
At the same restaurant we also got this lovely dish - with a tomato & eggplant sauce. I really loved this one. It had a much brighter, higher acid flavor and it was a great compliment to the earthy fava bean dish. Although I am happy to ask for dishes without cheese or track down the pasta with no eggs, it's always a special joy when traveling to be able to order something straight off the menu and feel that I am enjoying a local dish the same way the locals enjoy it.
Of special note: I bought this pasta at a little shop in Ragusa... First of all, this is one of my favorite shapes (little rings), and not an easy shape to find in the states. Second of all, this is a special pasta made in Sicily on with crops and production entirely free of mafia influence. It says on the top "from land liberated from the mafia"! Wow! Not a pasta consideration that I usually think about... but seemed like a very appropriate vegan purchase - another way to contribute to the elimination of suffering and injustice through dietary choices. This project even has quite an extensive website, if you're interested.
The gelato situation in Italy is really fantastic. Everywhere you go, there are gelato shops. And it's not just a tourist thing... it's downright legitimate. At all hours of day and night you will find people eating gelato - kids, old people, business people, tourists... everyone loves gelato. And, luckily, you will also have many vegan options. Sometimes you'll find soy-based gelatoes, which is always a treat, but pretty much always in Italy the fruit flavors will be vegan. Also, I found that very often the dark chocolate was vegan (cioccolato fondente), much to my delight. This is one of my favorite combos: dark chocolate and frutti di bosco (mixed berries). Mmmmmm.
Here I am in Pizzo, having finished my pizza, and ready for some more gelato. Looks like another dark chocolate + fruity combo. I think I got strawberry that day. And I recall that this dark chocolate was especially powerful - just the way I like it!
Here's something silly. I know I should be more excited about the fancy little glass jars of fresh artisanal-made gelato, but I was really really excited about finding these vegan ice cream cones at the Coop supermercato in San Casciano. They came in a 4-pack, and I ate those little babies up all by myself! (though I did manage to make them last for 4 days). These sorts of pre-made cones and ice cream treats are a real phenomena in Italy and I really associate them with my time in Italy over the years. So, finding a vegan version meant a lot to me.
Plus, there is the special joy of peeling away that paper wrapping and uncovering this glorious creation! Swirls of frothy ice cream! Chocolate topping! Roasted peanuts! Glory hallelujah!
And then you get to dig in with vegan-abandon! What fun! The best part of all is that the inside of the cone is coated with chocolate, and when you get down to the very bottom of the cone there is a big chunk of chocolate, which guarantees that your last bite will be wonderful and satisfying. It's probably a good thing that I was only able to buy one box of these, and that they aren't available at my local hippee store, because otherwise I would be eating them all the time. Yumzo!
Last but not least - Sicilian Granitas! We had these amazing creations in the lovely little town of Noto, which is famous for its granitas. They are pretty much like an super high class icee/slurpee. We got lemon and almond flavors - both of which were vegan, and both of which were totally glorious and delicious. I would be hard-pressed to pick a favorite. Both lemons and almonds are big crops in that part of Sicily, so these are the traditional flavors, along with coffee, which we didn't try. If you ever find yourself in Noto, looking for something to eat, don't skip the granitas, they were really fantastic.
more posts from my Italian travels coming soon,
it's great to be back!