Breakfast in Bressanone

Yes, we’re in the road again. This time in  the Italian town of Bressanone. We’re surrounded by mountains nestled in the Tirolean countryside. Breakfast just consisted of prosciutto, salami, mozzarella balls and a delicious soft boiled egg.

Mrs. NH has a stop planned for Trento today and we’re both confident in the prospect of pasta and red wine in our future. It’s my first time in Italy in the winter. This country never disappoints no matter the season.

International Truffle Festival, Alba, Italy

One doesn’t need to linger long at this site to know that Mrs. NH and I have acquired a real taste for truffles while living over here in the old country.  Of course, while many of my readers see this as just another example that NH has gone all high-falutin’ euro-style, I see it as more of a matter of supply and demand.  You see, over here, they charge a premium for crappy tacos.  Brisket?  Can’t buy it.  Cheeseburger?  $15.  Oreos?  No way, José.

But truffles are relatively plentiful in some of the places we frequent.  For example, you can’t go to a restaurant in Istria without finding several truffle dishes on the menu.  So, since eating locally is in fashion these days, we’ve worked the truffle into our home menu.  We have a cabinet full of them, to be exact.  We’re truffle hoarders.

Interestingly, that came in handy last month while we were in Piedmont at the exact same day that they were having the International Truffle Festival in the quaint, rustic town of Alba – in the heart of the Italian Truffle basket.  The fact that our cupboards are already full of truffles meant that we didn’t have to fork out any dough other than the 2 Euros for entry and a few more Euros for wine tastings.  But we got to witness some of the biggest and most beautiful truffles in the world in a unique, “how did this become my life” setting.

Up until my recent trip to Moscow, this was the most fun I had ever had at a trade show.  Truffles were the main attraction to be sure but another 50% of the show was devoted to regional wines, pasta, meat, cheeses and desserts.  The best part, they were giving out samples.  Truffle cheeses, goat cheeses, truffle sausage, chocolate truffles, wines and even some cheeses that looked like things that had been scraped of the bottom of my shoe.  I tried ’em all.

Then, there were the people.  Let’s not forget, these people are Italians.  They take their food and drink very seriously.  They’re also quite engaging after you ask them a few cursory questions about their product.  Americans seemed in short supply at this show and being one might have actually helped us score an extra nibble of sausage or a little taller pour of wine.  (The myth of Americans being hated in Europe is happily just that, a myth.)  I picked up some of the best Barolo’s and Nebbiolo’s I’ve tasted for a hair over $10 a bottle.  Italian’s know how to do wine.  They make sure it’s all very good.  Then they charge a reasonable price and make their money that way.  By selling all of it.  If it is exceptional wine, they charge a little more, but generally in this part of Italy, wine snobs are the exception to the rule.  With two college education funds to contribute to, I’m thankful for that!

If you’ve ever entertained the slightest thought of visiting this festival – do it.  If you’ve entertained the thought of visiting Piedmont but aren’t a hard-core truffle head, plan your visit around the time of this culinary trade show and you will be a convert before you drive out of town.  It’s a real European curiosity and a particularly awesome part of Europe.

Pesto Filled Panzarotti

I totally lucked into the meal pictured above after a morning strolling around the International Truffle Festival in Alba, Italy.  It was probably one of the best tasting days of my life.  Truffles the size of your fist in the morning, Panzarotti for lunch and wine tasting all afternoon long topped off with more pasta and veal for dinner.  But I digress.

The pasta pictured was a delicate, hand-made Panzarotti with a perfectly smooth cheese and pesto mix in the center and a rich, creamy, sauce to coat.  Mrs. NH looked longingly at my plate all meal long – even with her delicious meat-stuffed ravioli in front of her.  I had ordered the best meal.  But, since she’s carrying the 4th member of the NH clan, I gave her a fair share.

Since eating this pasta I’ve been dreaming of it.  Ravioli is hard to make.  I still haven’t found a recipe that I’ve perfected.  But having eaten this dish, I feel the inspiration to try again.  Any hints or recipes to recommend?  Leave ’em in the comments.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

It is Tuesday morning here and Mrs. NH is out walking the wall around town and I am having coffee while Little NH catches up on some cartoons via the Zune.  We figured Little NH would have no patience for a 2 hour walk around a wall so I opted to sleep while she rested up. 

Dubrovnik is really a beautiful city.  With all the gear we are carrying, it was tough to park and get into, but once you are in it, it is a feast for the eyes.  As a matter of fact, all of Croatia has been wonderful.  So much so, that I keep chiding Mrs. NH that Italy better “step up its game” or risk losing top status in our book.  Seriously.  Everything from the service, sheer beauty of the locales, right down to thick toilet paper in the hotels.  It is all really nice.  And it is very affordable.  We had a good meal, right on the harbor last night for a little over $30.  Incredible.

I liken this country to a late bloomer girl who does not yet know how beautiful she is.  Consequently, she is not hung up on herself but just concentrates on being the best she can be.  I can only tell you, in the case of Croatia, she is a real sweetheart.

Pizza al Volo – Venice, Italy

Pizza al Volo is a bit of a Venice institution.  Some friends told us about it a few years back when we went to Venice but we didn’t manage to find it on that trip.  On this visit, Mrs. NH had it on her itinerary an Little NH and I were happy to be along for the ride.  After a twisting, turning walk through the streets of Venice, we arrived at Campo Santa Margherita.  The campo (or plaza) is really neat in and of itself.  Cafes line the periphery and you get a pretty authentic feel.  It’s definitely not as full of white tennis shoed tourists as much of the rest of Venice and that’s a nice change.

Having arrived, we took a look inside of Al Volo.  About three different pizzas were on display, all were incomplete.  I decided to let Mrs. NH and Little NH go inside and investigate further and I stayed outside to people watch and guard the stroller.  “I’ll be happy with whatever,” I told them.  (I also completely neglected to take any decent pictures of the place which explains the cropped, crummy picture.  Sorry.)

They came back with a couple slices of Margherita pizza and a slice topped with zucchini.  Both were very good.  Was it the best pizza I’ve ever had?  No.  I had probably become jaded on Italian pies by that point in the trip.  That said, it was tasty.  And when Mrs. NH went back inside for another piece, I was glad to see her come out with another one topped with zucchini.

So, would I recommend it?  Sure.  Is it the best pizza ever?  No.  Is it better than most?  Yep.   For Pizza al Volo, two out of three ain’t bad.

La Zucca – Venice, Italy

If I am a seeker of delicious food, Mrs. NH is a “Dog the Bounty Hunter” of it.  She found the best restaurant in Venice, made reservations, and made darn sure we got there on time.  This, on the second-to-last day of our trip, all while dragging an over-caffeinated NH and road-weary Little NH with her.  She rules.

The destination on this outing was La Zucca, a largely, but not totally, vegetarian restaurant in the back streets of one of the least touristy areas in Venice.  She had seen it written up in review after review on the Internet and managed to get a reservation before we left Prague.  It’s an unassuming little corner restaurant, right next to a tiny canal, small bridge and skinny pedestrian street.  It’s just about as cozy as it gets in Venice.  There were about 6 outdoor tables and two ladies taking orders.

Service was friendly, efficient and they even offered to make a half portion of pasta for Little NH.  Since little NH had consumed 1/2 a bag of bagel chips on the way, we took the server up on her offer.  On the other hand, Mrs. NH and I were starving.

We both ordered the Lasagna with Zucchini and Pumpkin Flowers and split an order of the Broccoli Aglio Olio.  The lasagna was rich, gooey and striated by fresh, perfectly cooked pasta.  The pumpkin flowers gave the dish bright highlights of orange amongst the cream and green of the zucchini.  It was earthy and full of good texture.  I could have eaten a whole pan of that stuff.  It was perfection.  The broccoli was simple, straightforward and equally tasty.  That’ll be a dish I’ll try at home very soon.

After all of this and a liter of wine, the caffeine edge was worn away leaving a blissed-out, pleasantly full, food-lover sitting across from a food bounty hunter on a mission.  Next stop, pizza.

Twist my arm.

Matricianella – Rome, Italy

Some day in the future, when I make bazillions on some great idea that I have in the middle of the night, I’m going to buy houses and apartments all over the world.  One of them will be in Rome and it will be just down the street from Matricianella.  Not because the neighborhood is any better than any other place in Rome, but because I know Mrs. NH will want to go there all the time.  At least if I have an apartment near it, it won’t take long to get there.  Not to mention the fact that I’d hate to miss a meal there.

Matricianella is nestled in a side street just down the way from the Spanish Steps and features a steady yet unobtrusive promenade of scooters and delivery vans just off its skinny front deck.  What happens on the other side of that deck, however, is the creation of some of the most delicious, classic, Roman food I have ever witnessed.  Mrs. NH discovered it in Food and Wine magazine about five years ago and we haven’t missed a stop there in any trip to Rome since.  Of course, that’s not always easy.

If you don’t speak Italian, good luck trying to get a reservation.  Mrs. NH tried twice.  As soon as she called and English words escaped her mouth, “Click.”  Both times.  Pshaw, I though.  She’s just not doing it right.  “Buon giorno! May I make a res…” “Click.”  So, we took our chances and walked over with Little NH hoping to score an open outside table for lunch on a weekday without a reservation.  The gods smiled upon us and we got a nice table outside.

After the reservation fiasco, I was a little worried that the previously friendly service had been replaced by some snooty staff that hated gringos with only a passing knowledge of Italian.  My fears were unfounded, thankfully.  Service was quick, courteous and even extra sweet to Little NH.  They’re pros at Matricianella.  No wonder they don’t take reservations in English over the phone.  It is Italy, after all.

The food is rustic, hearty and not at all fussy.  It’s just excellent and perfectly executed.  We started out with the fried ricotta and bresaola salad.  The fried ricotta was like eating little pillows of pure epicurean pleasure.  I had never had the dish before but I intend to never miss it on a menu again in my life.  The bresaola was elegant and perfect, served with a good slab of lemon, peppery arugula and savory chunks of parmesan.

For the main course, I had the Veal Saltimbocca and Mrs. NH had the Gnocchi alla Romana.  We ended up splitting the dishes and it was a great combo.   The Saltimbocca had a rich gravy and excellent cuts of meat.  Melt in mouth.  Mrs. NH’s pillowy pasta was amazingly rich and incredibly comforting.  Kind of like something mom would have made if she was Italian.  Just yum city.

That and a bottle of wine and we ended lunch as two happy patrons.  Little NH didn’t fare too poorly, either.  She had penne with tomato sauce and lots of grated parmesan and she, too was in a pretty big food coma by the end of lunch.

Topped off with a little biscotti and life-giving espresso, we were ready to tackle the afternoon in Rome.  It was the perfect Roman lunch.

Now, I can’t wait to get back there.  Say, maybe the next time we go, we’ll be apartment hunting…

Civita, Italy

There are a few places in the world that look like they belong in children’s story books.  Civita, Italy is one of them.  Perched on an eroding bluff in the middle of a wide open Italian canyon, Civita should be the model for every fantasy movie set ever.

Fortunately, it is real and you can visit it.  Just about 1 hour outside of Rome, it beckons you.  I’ve been there every time I’ve been to Rome.  It’s just that cool.

About 15 or so people live there.  The dusty streets are filled with beautiful, weathered stone buildings.  The long metal bridge that leads to the town gives you a great view of the countryside and leads you up a path, directly into the main gate of the city.

Once there, seek out the old, donkey-powered olive press.  Once inside the building, ask for some bruschetta with tomato and an order with cheese as well.  If it’s cool, sit inside and enjoy the smell of always-on fire or, if it’s sunny, sit in the courtyard and sip local wine with your snacks.

The more adventurous can seek out the path that circles the bluff and tunnels below the streets of this ancient town.

Whatever you do, bring your camera. Pictures manage to capture at least some of the beauty to take with you.  Or, if you’re really creative, you could use them to make your own story book.

Bottega Vini – Verona, Italy

We’re fairly unorthodox when it comes to parenting.  We think our kid should adapt to what we want to do.  Some would call that immature, others would realize that no parent, no matter how patient, ever wants to watch Barney.  So, this is our way of doing things.

On an early spring evening in Verona, Italy, Mrs. NH, Little NH and I headed to the Bottega Vini smack dab in the middle of Verona.  It was a beautiful restaurant/wine bar that came recommended on some web site or other that Mrs. NH found.  It was worth the trip.

There is no outdoor seating save for a banqet nestled into the outside wall but once inside, you’re transported to a really cool Northern Italian experience.  There’s vino alla spina (wine on tap), and a chalk board full of several other varieties, ranging from Soave to Barbera. The guys behind the bar were getting ready for the evening dinner crew but treated us well and even found a chocolate filled cookie in the kitchen for Little NH.

We spent our time trying two or three of the wines while Little NH was anticipating the chime of the cuckoo-clock overhead.  By the time our 30 minutes in Bottega Vini were up, great wine had been consumed and a little cuckoo-clock had chimed, delighting a 3-year-old.

In my book, that beats Barney any day.

Cala Luna – Sardegna, Italy

We headed out of Cala Gonone today on a small boat toward the beaches that dot the coastline.  This area of Sardegna has some great beaches – deemed the best in Italy.  We took a direct boat as the “mini cruise” boats were sold out by the time we got to the harbor this morning.  We were told we didn’t have to reserve in advance, but it was not to be.  This turned out to be a blessing, however.  The “mini Cruise” boats were glorified rafts and taking little NH on one of those would have been an exercise in really bad parenting.  Instead, we took the 2-way boat to the Cala Luna beach.

Enormous caves line the beach – about 7 or 8 in all.  The beach itself is a mix of sand, pebbles and stones.  The waters are a clear chilly blue and give the whole stretch of beach a beautiful blue hue.

The beach itself was fairly full of people.  Ferries from different tours came and went most of the day.  People splashed in the water, undertook various rock-climbing activities on the sheer cliffs that lined the beach and others just took naps like beached whales.  There were lots of people there but not too many.  I can imagine it would be another story in the high season.

So, was it one of the most beautiful beaches in Italy?  It was gorgeous, to be sure.  But, I like the ability to come and go at my own speed.  I also like to take a mid-day break from the beach to go gorge myself on some great Italian meal to better facilitate the afternoon nap.  There is nary a restaurant here, save for one that appears to be over a small pond and behind some bushes.  (We brought our own beer and sandwiches so we didn’t have a look.)  So, if you like just beach – this is definitely one of the most beautiful.  But if you like the occasional beer or Negroni with (or as) your afternoon snack, this may not be the place.

Oh, one more thing on this beach – there were cows.  As soon as we pulled up and disembarked, cows.  Life is full of surprises.

Cala Gonone – Sardegna, Italy

We’ve headed south a bit to a more relaxed area.  We’re in Cala Gonone and it resembles a fishing village turned tourist mecca.  There are the requisite gelato stands and cocktail bars serving the necessary Italian beach drinks accompanied by plenty of chill out cocktail music.  But it’s small and totally without pretense.  Far away are the yacht yards of Costa Smeralda surrounded by sparkling strip mall style settlements.  This is much more of a family place.  As I sit on my balcony in the Miramare Hotel, I only see one boat that could be considered a yacht and several smaller boats that would classify as rubber boats with motors.  Frankly, it’s a nice change.  With my 5 t-shirts per trip maximum, I really didn’t fit in up the road.  Here, I look like just another comfortable, scruffy, road-warrior dad.

Dinner was on the balcony of our hotel room overlooking the harbor.  It was 9 euros and in the form of 2 Margherita pizzas.  Well, that and extraneous bottles of wine.  Great company on a great night.

3 By Sea – In Sardegna

We’re a little over a week on the road today and part of that road was in the form of an overnight ferry from Rome to Sardegna.  The ferry ride was a new experience but nothing too wild after all was said and done.  The cabin was spacious and all three of us had a decent night’s sleep.

The time in Verona (pictured above),  Rome and the Amalfi Coast with family was a hoot.  We’ve been lucky to see the NH Grandparents in quite a few cool locales over the past 5-6 years and this time was no exception.  The food was great, the wine and lemoncello were excellent and the company was even better.

I expect to have a few more casual, non-road days coming up so be on the lookout for some new posts from this part of the world.


Headed to the Boot

I always laugh when I call Italy the boot.  I first heard it around the first season of the Soprano’s.  Tony asks a love interest, “What part of the boot you from, hon?”  Funny and it stuck in my vocabulary.

Anyway, we’re headed to the boot.  For the last couple weeks, Mrs. NH has been planning the trip within a trip to meet up with my folks in the Amalfi coast.  I’ve just been trying to get stuff wrapped up at the office to a point that I can manage them from my phone if need be.  Little NH is simply looking forward to a country where it’s possible to get pasta at every meal.   Kind of hard to blame her.