October 18, 2014

SICILY: The Mediterranean Diet

Dear Marlz,

If the island of Sicily were a human organ, it would be the stomach. The root of unforgiving desire, the persistent awareness that even after a binge there is STILL more space to fill.

I ate entirely too much food in Sicily.

Of course, it was GOOD food. And when I say GOOD I mean regional, fresh, natural, traditional. In line with rationalizing the act of consuming more calories than I could hope to burn in a triathlon, I will now give you the highs and lows of my cucina siciliana experience, in hopes that you all can save a few inches on your waistline thanks to my tested methods:

Il Cannolo
Where should I begin with cannoli. I’ll begin with grammar. In the United States, people refer to a single pastry as ‘cannoli’… possibly because we’re already thinking about inhaling the second and third delicacy into our greedy little mouths. More probably is the fact that we often refer to Italian foods in the plural tense (think “panini”), when we are speaking about a singular item. This is one of those things that makes Americans great. Keep doing you, America.

The origin of cannoli is open to interpretation, however it’s generally agreed that the pastries were first made near Sicily’s capital city, Palermo, during the Arab rule some thousand years ago. Stuffed with sweet fresh ricotta and sugary, chocolate toppings, these flaky fried pastry-shelled beauties were offered in celebration of Carnevale. I enjoyed my first Sicilian cannolo on the eve after my 25th birthday, in celebration of finding out just how much formaggio I could consume in one sitting, as well as losing the festering worry that such life pursuits could be a bad idea. 

Il Calzone
In my hometown of Cortland, New York, there’s a calzone shop called D.P. Dough. It’s target customers are drunk college students with dead taste buds, but I’d like to pay homage to my roots - because damn it all if I didn’t start my love for calzoni here. But time marches on and one day you find yourself eye to eye with a deep fried, tuma cheese-filled monster and you think - my goodness - nothing could have prepared me for this. 

In the Catania region these babies come DEEP FRIED. That's right. And you thought only Americans did that.
La birra
So to pull you back down to the fertile but jagged soils of the Sicilian earth, I’ll attempt to explain the beer. In short - it’s awful. Keep in mind I have been fortunate to live kiddy corner to Lagunitas Brewing Company in California, as well as frequent Berlin’s most deliciously fermented east side bars in the last years. So maybe this is just another righteous critique of an island that truly yielded passionate culinary abandon to much of Western Europe, South America, and everyone’s favorite NEW YORK NEW YORK, but it must be said. Don’t go to Sicily for the Italian beer. Go to Sicily to drink Belgian beer while drooling into a margarita pizza, like any good traveler could hope to do.

Arriving back to mainland Italy, I found Roma exactly as I had left it - in beautiful chaos. I borrow this term from my friend who resided here for years, but who moved north to Belgium where transportation maintains a plausible sense of a schedule. ‘Coming home’ to Roma reawakened my adventurous spirit - an energy that had been draining as the summer drew to a close, burst with a renewed sense that, yes, there is more space to fill.

With good fortune I've come into great friendships with people here in Roma, locals and travelers alike, to share in the discoveries of beer opportunities in our little town of crazy. It turns out the brew scene in Roma is molto buona. A couple recent finds:

It’s a wall of microbrew bottles. It’s overwhelming. It’s expensive. It’s ROMA. I drank a Saranac Legacy IPA both in the name of my homeland of upstate New York, and my profound obsession with hoppy brews that make my head spin after 7 minutes.

BONUS: Beerland pours your specialty crafted brew from the pretty labeled bottles into plastic cups so you can get the hell out of their shop and go drink on the fountain steps without threat of broken glass in your shoes at the end of the night. Berlin, take notice!

Porto Fluviale
Rumored to be one of the best new neighborhoods to drink in, I’ve naturally become a frequent visitor. I suggest two spots: Bibere Bistrot and.. the place next to it. I cannot for the life of me remember the name (do we see a pattern forming from previous posts?). Luckily my senile ways do not prevent me from recalling the brew-consumption memories: All of the following are IPA local brews- when I find an Italian place that brews their own American IPA I just melt (and become very intoxicated). I'd like to highlight  another NY favorite, Brooklyn Brewery. This here is sheer hoppy bliss. With a side of bread and honey.

Finally, to leave you on a yeasty note:

Making pizza dough is easier than I had originally thought. All you need to do is find a capable Italian friend, tell them you are hungry, and supply him with flour, salt, sugar, yeast, oil and a bit of warm water. Watch, appreciate, devour. Repeat.

Buon appetito, and remember: Rome was not built in a day, but in a day you can set yourself back thousands of calories and give yourself two weeks worth of guilt just from eating ricotta cheese. It is always worth it. Always.

Indulgent love and warm greetings from Roma <3

- Elizabeth

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