Flu has taken me out of work, and writing blogs, for several weeks, but I knew this week that I was better when I successfully baked a round of double chocolate chip cookies (Hummingbird bakery’s recipe – it’s the best!). I’ve written about this before, but I really do believe baking can be a litmus test for how you’re feeling and where you are mentally. Since I managed to slip into my yoga-zen mode while baking (I had the flat to myself) and the cookies taste pretty damn awesome (even if I say so myself…taste testing is obligatory), I know I am well again.
And since I am back baking, I figured I was well overdue for some blogging too. London is absolutely full of delicious foodie places – Hawksmoor (not just steak) and Nordic Bakery (cinnamon buns!) being two of my latest finds – but my and Ed’s trip to Italy over Easter was a truly standout foodie experience.
I love Italy. Partly it’s the food, the sunny weather, the well-dressed people and stylish architecture, but also it is because Italians seem to get as excited as I do about delicious food. Plus Italian cuisine regularly features some of my very favourite staples – cheese, chocolate, gnocchi, pasta (and all carbs really), ice-cream, pesto, pastry, custard, and cheese. Yes, I said cheese twice.
We left London in the afternoon and were in Venice at our hotel for a late dinner. We stayed on the island of Murano, where the glass blowers traditionally lived and worked, which is about twenty minutes via water taxi from the main island. During the day it is buzzing with tourists, but at night it is very quiet. This left us with limited dinner options, but did give us a very good night’s sleep because it was so quiet and dark around the hotel. The city really does look like a series of postcards, but it is also incredibly touristy and rammed full of Americans taking photos with huge cameras. We had some excellent desserts and gelato in Venice – at Grom (gelato), Il Doge (crepes and gelato) and a buzzing bakery called Fuori – but overall I wasn’t blown away by the food. We fell into too many tourist traps and I also made the mistake of ordering pizza in Venice. Apparently there has been a law in place for many years banning wood fired ovens in the city. So unless the restaurant you go to has been around for a very long time and they specifically advertise having one, I would not recommend ordering pizza in Venice.
Rome, however, is a whole other story and we did have a superb pizza there in the chic Trastevere area, which is just over the river from the main tourist sites. The pizza – a classic tomato, buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil – featured Pachino tomatoes. These are a very tasty variety, which have an almost herbal aftertaste. I discovered that they’re a bit controversial though as a few years ago there were allegations that the mafia had taken over production of these special tomatoes and were driving up the price. Some celebrities in Italy called on Italians to boycott them.
Trastevere is possibly my favourite area of Rome and it really delivered on our last night in the city, when we had dinner at the Michelin-starred Glass Hostaria. Unlike most restaurants in Rome, the decor there is minimalist and modern. We had a five course degustation there – a vegetarian one for me and a standard one for Ed. Each dish was really beautiful, but the standout of the evening was a pasta dish, which I believe was the best pasta I have ever eaten in my life. I know, that is a very big call to make.
It was a ravioli with an almost liquid filling of 60 month aged parmesan, served in a light butter sauce with shaved black truffles. It was very simple, with just a few ingredients, but those ingredients were insanely delicious. It was salty and umami from the parmesan, buttery and rich, yet earthy from the truffles. The pasta was super-thin and soft and almost melted away as you ate it. It was an act of true love that I let Ed try some of this dish. He agreed it was the dish of the night, and the trip.
Our foodie adventures continue again in earnest next weekend, when we are spending a long weekend in Germany, in the Black Forest region.