Going into my seventh week abroad in Italy, I am quickly realizing that I am more and more becoming an “Italian food snob.” This means that when I do eventually get back to the U.S., I will be the girl that is sitting at Gio’s with my friends who takes a bite of her pizza and throws it back to her plate saying, “GOD, this tastes like absolute crap compared to the pizza I would eat in Italy.” Then I would probably go into all the differences between these two slices of pizza and how no one will ever understand. Trust me — I am not happy about this. I don’t want to be that annoying girl that comes back to school and only talks about how much better Italy is than the U.S., but if any one of you could try some of the food I have been exposed to, you would think that God personally reached his hand down to you and brought you up to heaven for a few seconds.
I think that I officially crossed the line to becoming an “Italian food snob” when I went on a field trip to Bologna with my program last weekend. Bologna — also known as “La Grassa” or “Fat City,” — is known for its fresh tortellini, aged Parmesan cheese and balsamic vinegar, and a combo of all three of these things will bring you to your knees. On these program-sponsored field trips, the one thing that everyone looks forward to the most (besides walking around and taking a million pictures of different churches that look exactly the same) is getting the outlined schedule for the weekend that tells us the menu for our included lunches (which — I kid you not — are no less than five courses each).
These lunches are the most amazing thing; the program rents out an entire restaurant, has tables perfectly set with antipasti (appetizers) and wine, and not more than 10 minutes after you have sat down, poured yourself your first glass of wine (and for us Santa Barbara kids, chugged it), the waiters are bringing out the first course. The first course usually includes some type of pasta, which might be a penne, pesto tortellini, mushroom risotto or a spaghetti dish with a mixed vegetable red sauce. On our last day in Bologna we went to an organic winery that was perfectly situated upon the rolling hills of the countryside of Bologna.
If you’re hungry right now, you should probably skip these next paragraphs, solely for the fact that everything I am going to describe will make you want to drop everything you’re doing at this very moment and find an Italian restaurant that will probably never be able to provide you with any food this good. When we got to the restaurant, we were greeted with the winery’s own organic chardonnay and a squash soufflé that had me on the verge of picking up my plate and licking it if the waiter had not been waiting for it. The next course, a creamy, cheese and pumpkin risotto topped with a sprinkle of balsamic vinegar, my personal favorite of the whole lunch, left me speechless. I was the first one to get this course at my table and as I sat there rudely shoveling my face with what was the most amazing thing I have ever tasted in my life, the others at my table asked me what it tasted like, and I seriously sat there just shaking my head with my eyes closed in complete shock that I was actually experiencing such intense flavor.
Life just got even better when they brought out our third course, which for vegetarians like myself was penne pasta topped with garlic sautéed porcini mushrooms, and for the carnivores, was a plate of baked spinach and prosciutto lasagna rolls. Not seconds after we had all finished scraping our plates with the rosemary wheat bread they gave us, they were bringing out round four, a rigatoni pasta with tender beef spiced with nutmeg and what they called “fall spices,” a.k.a. heaven. The vegetarian option was a massive plate of baked pears with cinnamon and baked brie cheese topped with walnuts and a sprinkle of honey. Even though the girl sitting next to me had, by this point, unbuttoned her jeans, the waiters continued to bring two more courses which included a beef with roasted rosemary potatoes, then another course of vinegar marinated beef with cheesy cauliflower and fennel. Although any more food at this point may just seem gluttonous, they insisted on bringing out a huge dessert plate that consisted of crème caramel, baked tarts, meringues and fresh fruit.
As you can imagine, I didn’t feel very hungry over the next two days, and the pain of feeling uncomfortably full on the three-hour bus ride home was well worth it. I hope that this has given you some insight to the utter greatness of the food I have been eating here and hopefully will allow you to give me some sympathy when I sit at home trying to force down a slice of pizza at Gio’s.