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Ciao Italia!

13 Feb

We’re going to Italy.

Stormy Sunday

In just over a month, Isaac and I, and my entire family, will be winging our separate ways over the Atlantic to the land of wine, cheese, cured meats and truffles. We’ll be shacking up in a little house in a hill town in Umbria for a week, and then the two of us will spend a few more days, over Easter, exploring Florence, Tuscany and Rome.

To say I am excited is one of the greatest understatements of all time.

Stormy Sunday

I haven’t been to Italy in nearly two decades, and that trip was less than ideal. The tour operator was a proud graduate of some Soviet-era apparatchik machine. Rather than floating through Italy on a cloud of culture and food, we plodded from ruin to museum on a bus, like weary soldiers on a forced march.

Upon reaching our destination,the tour guide would bark at us to enjoy the culture and then herd us back onto the bus. We would then be driven back to our cold, grey hostel were we were fed cold, grey meat and told to go to bed.

My memories of that trip involve hunger, sore feet, cold, snow and a rain.

Snowflakes, on my coat

That is, until we befriended the bus driver. He was an older gentleman with wild, movie star hair, golden skin and sparkling blue eyes. One day, as we were being herded back to the bus in Florence, I spotted him lolling on a fountain surrounded by a bevy of the most beautiful women, all at least half his age, flipping their hair and tinkling with laughter.

My friend Brian, whose family was Italian and thus spoke the language, noticed him too (but I suspect he mostly noticed the ladies) and began chatting with him. The bus driver felt sorry for us. He hated the tour guide as much as we did, and so he started instructing us, through Brian, in ways to ditch her. Our bus driver fomented rebellion.

And suddenly, there it was! Beautiful, romantic, cultured, delicious, wonderful, perfect Italia. No cold, grey, sanitized, Disney-fied, fig-leaf covered, flag-bearing-tour-guide-approved Italy.

Nope.

Suddenly there was gelato and grappa, cute waiters and spicy tomato sauces, bare feet in the Adriatic and hidden galleries in Venice. We were free, and it felt delicious. But alas, this new found freedom came at the very end of our ten-day stay.

The World's Best Braised Escarole

I can’t wait to get back to this Italy. I want to try and find that delicious pizzeria in Assisi again, the one that clings to the side of the twisty road down the side of a sheer cliff, to climb once more to the top of that hill in Florence for the perfect view of the Duomo, to again dash madly across a Roman avenue without being squished by a roaring lorry, to sit in a palazzo and sip espresso as the sun sets.

Oh Italy!

But of course, what I really can’t wait for is the food. I’ve read that it will still be truffle season in Umbria. And we’ll be eating dinner each night at the house, so shopping at the local markets will actually be a fruitful activity. We’ll be able to buy vegetables and fish and meats and condiments and not just buy bread and cheese to eat while perched on a wall or on a ferry between islands (which, let’s be honest, isn’t the end of the world and I would gladly do every day of my life for eternity).

Acqua Cotta di Maremma (Olive Oil Soup)

In anticipation, I have become even more obsessed with Italian food than usual.

On Saturday night I whipped up Paula Wolfert‘s Acqua Cotta di Maremma (aka Olive Oil Soup from Maremma) and the World’s Best Braised Escarole. On Sunday night we made Short Rib Ragu with pappardelle (which came out perfect, unlike last time, thanks to you guys).

It’s all I can think about. Sugo and cinghiale and lenticchie and tartuffo and porchetta and strangozzi. Is it March yet?

Short Rib Ragu with pappardelle

But what I really want to know is if you guys have any suggestions for things to do and places to see in Umbria? We’ll have a car and just under a week, so all suggestions are welcome.

As they say in Italy, grazie!

Head below the jump for the recipes for World’s Best Braised Escarole, Acqua Cotta di Maremma and Short Rib Ragu.

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