It was a special birthday for A and after months of changing where we wanted to celebrate it, we finally settled on Italy. A knew that she wanted to be on the Amalfi Coast for her birthday so we worked our trip around this and a quick weekend trip to Barcelona to meet up with our friends G and Pepa, who live in London.
I couldn’t help but document the dishes I tried while in Italy. I can confidently tell you that I arrived in Italy with open arms, ready to try as many dishes as possible. The end result – I’m a few kilos heavier (no exaggeration here) and I may have developed a slight carb addiction. Eating pasta and bread for nearly 3 weeks will do that to you!
Here’s my summary of my eating and drinking adventures. As always, I love hearing from you as to what your favourite Italian dishes are and what I may have missed.
Pizza in Napoli – We were lucky to stumble across the famous Napoli pizzeria, L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. This old-fashioned pizzeria only serves two types of pizza: margherita (tomato, basil and mozzarella) and marinara (tomatoes, garlic and oregano). I now understand why the Italians believe that the simple pizzas are often the best!
Caprese salad in Capri – This region is known for its silky buffalo cheese and this salad was a highlight for me – it was a perfect mix of cheese and ripe tomatoes with fresh basil.
We saw this combination quite a bit throughout Italy and I had one of the best panini’s of my life in Amalfi, where a sweet lady made us a basil, mozzarella and tomato panini in fresh bread and then drizzled it in olive oil. It was divine!
Steak alla pizzaiola at Trattoria Il Mulino in Amalfi. We headed to this eatery after finding it on Trip Advisor. We noted that the majority of the reviews were written by Italians. Thinking this was a good sign, we headed away from the touristy section of Amalfi where we found this little trattoria tucked away. This amazing dish was simply steak with a cherry tomato and garlic sauce for a bargain price of €9.
Antipasti plate at Cumpa Cosimo in Ravello. This mixed Antipasti plate was amazing and consisted of artichoke, a zucchini salad, fresh tomato, lettuce, cheese, beans and spinach. Each element had heaps of flavour and was seriously perfect!
One of Italy’s best street foods, found mainly in Southern Italy, is the famous Arancini. While we were travelling by train from Salerno to Catania, our train had to catch a ferry to get to Messina. While we were on the ferry, we were able to roam around and A found a Aranicini vendor. The arancini I had on this day was the best I had all trip and featured rice, mince, peas and tomato. Magic!
For A’s birthday we did a seafood degustation at Ristorante Marina Grande in Amalfi. Trying out a selection of the local seafood in a five course setting while drinking a bottle of Billiecart was pretty special. An added bonus was hearing the waves crashing onshore literally right under the restaurant.
Pollo alla cacciatore in Taormina at Trattoria Il Nino. I love making chicken cacciatore at home and I was surprised to see that this dish featured a lot less tomato than usual recipes. Such an amazing dish that I’ll be making again soon!
A and I stumbled upon the amazing Cipollina while we were in Sicily and after one bite, we were hooked! The Italians love eating sweet flavours for breakfast and after a while, I needed a savoury breakfast dish. Cipollina is made with puff pastry, onion, ham and tomato sauce and is the perfect snack anytime of day!
I didn’t expect to fall in love with one particular pasta dish while I was in Italy but have to say that this typical Sicilian dish took my heart at first bite – Macharoni alla montanara featuring tomato sauce, a mix of mushrooms and sausage. Simple ingredients but the perfect combination of flavours for me.
Thank goodness the Italians discovered the magic combination of ripe tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar, otherwise known as Bruschetta. We love making this at home and had a few versions throughout our trip. We really enjoyed trying the Sicilian version, made with eggplants, capscium tomatoes, basil and ricotta.
A and I visited Syracuse for a day and were so lucky to stumble upon Trattoria Il Cenacolo within one of the alleys away from the touristy section. I initally ordered lasagna but was told that it wasn’t ready for lunch yet. Instead, they offered Spaghetti al ragu, which was the bolognaise sauce of the lasagna served with spaghetti. This was better than any lasagna I could have ordered and was one of my favourite dishes of our trip!
Since I’ve been with A, I’ve heard her speak of one of her favourite pasta dishes – Spaghetti alla vongole (vongole being the Italian word for clams). This was my first experience of this dish but again it shows how simple ingredients turn out to have amazing flavours! Pictured below is the Spaghetti alla vongole we had in Catania in the south of Italy which is known for their Seafood dishes.
Another typical Sicilian dish is the Spaghetti alla norma. We had a few versions throughout the south but the one pictured was my favourite in Catania from Trattoria Don Turiddu. I loved how the eggplant was left in strips so the eggplant flavour was the hero of the dish.
Squid Ink pasta in Venice at Antica Ostaria Ruga Rialto. We met up with one of A’s friends in Venice who calls herself a typical Venetian. She was keen to show us some highlights of Venice and took us on an amazing backstreet journey around Venice. The night entailed prossecco at a closed bar within a backstreet, drinks at a local bar, an impromptu boat trip and then this squid ink pasta, which was devoured in the closed restaurant. This night will remain etched in my memory!
A and I did a progressive tapas dinner while we were in Venice to sample the many varieties of ciccheti, also known as Venetian tapas. We headed to Cantina Do Spade, Cantina do mori, and All’ Arco, with my favourite place being All’ Arco as it was a casual venue with good food and relatively well priced.
The ciccheti are small snacks found in small bars (or bacari) in Venice. They usually consist of a variety of meat, seafood, cheese and pickled veggies served on slices of bread. Other ciccheti include fried seafood on skewers or fried fish and they usually cost around €2 or €4.
A and I ate a lot of Panini’s during our trip. Pictured below was my favourite of the trip – a simple ham, cheese, lettuce and tomato panini.
While in Catania, we also found a street stall serving fresh panini’s. Pictured is a Panino alla porchetta cotta forno a legna (Panini with wood roasted porchetta) with fresh tomato. Yum!
We did a quick side trip from Florence to Pisa to check out the leaning tower. While we were in Pisa we dined at Biosteria 050 which uses only local and organic ingredients. The Asparagus, Almonds and Ricotta Cheese Risotto was delicious.
For the best meal of our Italian journey, I have to thank Di from Traveletto for a great tip – Bistecca alla florentina (Florentine-style T-bone steak, which fetches €40 a kilo). This amazing steak is cut very thick and cooked over hot coals. It is heavily salted and the end result is a delightfully rich, flavoursome and rare meal that is super tender. This was better than any steak I’ve had and Rockpool now doesn’t seem to cut it in the world of steaks after trying this amazing version. If you’re heading to Florence – you have to go to All’Antico Ristorio di Cambi.
In Lucca, I was a little peckish and saw this through the shop window – Caramelised Onion pizza. Who knew a whole pizza covered in onions would be that delicious?! There was a mix of sweet and tangy. I loved it!
During our weekend in Barcelona, Pep taught A and I a little about Jamon Serrano. While we were in Rome, we tried the Italian equivalent – Proscuitto di Parma (also known as Parma Ham). There are different varieties of proscuitto depending on the region – pictured below are proscuitto from Florence and Sicily. The Italian proscuitto we tried was a little chewier than the Catalonian versions but were enjoyable.
Tiramisu at Amalfi’s famous Pasticceria Pansa in the Piazza Duomo. Strong coffee taste, equal distribution of cream and mousse. Perfect!
We also tried Delizia al limone (Lemon cake) at Pasticceria Pansa. This is Amalfi’s local cake and features limoncello. Delizia al limone are mini sponge cakes filled and topped with a smooth lemon custard. I was a little apprehensive at first but they are delicious.
Cannoli Sicilia in Taormina at Laboratorio Pasticceria Roberto, a famous patisserie. This cannoli is made with ricotta and are super decadent but were amazing. I had to break the Italian etiquette of eating while standing on the street because I could not wait until we were back in the hotel. Delicious!
We loved the natural Gelato from Gelaterie Stecco Natura, Catania. We tried strawberry and natural chocolate popsicles. They were great!
Gelato from Gelateria La Carraia in Florence. The line was long but definitely the best gelato I had in Italy.
Buccellato from Taddeucci in Lucca, which is famous for their buccellato bread (traditional lucchese fruit bread). This bread contains aniseed and raisins, is usally made in the shape of a circle or crown and is a symbol of good luck. The aniseed flavour is strong but surprisingly works well with the raisins. A was particularly fond of this bread.
Picce are Italian rum balls and words can’t express how excited I was to find these treats. Picce reminded me of my childhood, as I would often help my mum make rum balls. This recipe was similar – strong on the rum and rich in the chocolate! Perfection!
Orange and lemon granita – Throughout the South of Italy you can find stalls serving up fresh orange and lemon granita. Both are tangy and the lemon is usually a strong mix of sweet and sour.
Perfectly refreshing for those afternoons you need a non-alcoholic pick me up! I found myself craving a granita throughout our trip – especially on a hot afternoon!
At close to the end of the trip, I realised that I hadn’t tried Grappa yet. You can usually find a selection of different grappas available at restaurants, as grappa is typically enjoyed after dinner. It is very strong – both in taste and in alcohol. I can now see why this is nicknamed ‘firewater’!
I fell in love with Limoncello while I was in Italy. This lemon liqueur is zesty, syrupy and delicious. I wish I brought a bottle home with me!
I really enjoyed the local wine while we were travelling in Italy. A and I made an effort to try as many red wines that were local to the regions as we could and the Italians certainly know how to make wine. We particularly enjoyed Chianti’s, which are made with sangiovese grapes mainly.
A and I enjoyed quite a few cocktails while we were in Italy but our highlight were the Cosmo’s and apertifs at Le Sirenese in Positano. The view is amazing and there’s something special about being in Positano’s prime location and enjoying a cheeky lunch cocktail. A and I celebrated her birthday lunch here after walking around tourist-crazy Positano.
Drinking macchiatos, cappucinos and espressos at the coffee bars throughout Italy was one of my favourite experiences. Italians love their coffee and I love the Italian way of coffee drinking! €1 typically gets you a coffee and sparkling water at the bar, whereas if you sit you pay more.
When we met up with our Venetian friend in Venice, she introduced us to pairing Prosecco with ice. This ended up being A’s favourite drink while we were in Venice.
In our first week in Italy, A and I kept seeing this uniquely coloured drink but didn’t know what it was called. After meeting an English speaking waiter in Catania, I found out that it was called a Spritz and is a typical aperitif in Italy. Spritz’s are made with prosecco, a bitter liqueur (such as aperol or campari) and then topped with mineral water. The end result is a strong and unique flavour – not neccessary bad but definitely depended on individual tastes (A loved it whereas I wasn’t a huge fan!).