Happy New Year
The New Year is almost upon us and in Italy people are starting to think about preparing their dinners for the 31 December. Many Italians will go out to dinner on that night, and restaurants up and down the country provide special meals, often quite costly, to celebrate with music and dancing. Whether people go out or stay at home, there is one thing which is usually on the menu: cotechino e lenticchie (a kind of pork sausage served with lentils).
Autumn in central Italy is sagra season. These are local food festivals and with so many typical products coming into season in September and October—grapes, mushrooms, olives, and truffles to name but a few—there’s a choice of sagra to attend every weekend. The two last weekends of October are the time of for the small Tuscan village of Caprese to have its chestnut sagra: the Festa del Marrone di Caprese.
Bigoli in salsa
Even if the legend of Marco Polo bringing pasta back to Italy from China weren’t disproved by the documented presence of pasta in Sicily exactly 100 years before his birth, the fact that there is only one truly traditional pasta dish from Venice might do the job. If the famous Venetian had introduced the delicacy, you’d expect it to be Venice’s national dish. Venetians are always proud of their contributions to general Italian culture and would be telling it to anyone who’d listen. But no. Bigoli in salsa, long pasta cooked in a tasty fish sauce, is the only inclusion of pasta in the city’s traditional cuisine. Sorry Marco Polo fans.
It’s pumpkin season again and the shops are full of all shapes and sizes of squash ready to be made into soups, risotti, gnocchi and so on. Italians love pumpkin, or zucca as they call it, and there seems to be no end to their inventiveness in cooking them. So, I thought I’d share with you one of my (and my dinner guests’) favourite recipes: tortelli di zucca.
So what are tortelli?
Tortelli is a word used mostly in north-central Italy to describe two very different pasta shapes. In Tuscany, it’s used to describe a shape like ravioli. In the province of Arezzo, tortelli di patate, ravioli stuffed with mashed potato—eaten boiled or often deep fried (yes, you read that right)—are a local tradition. Elsewhere, such as in Emilia-Romagna, the word is used for large tortellini, which are often called tortelloni outside the region.
The problem with choosing a restaurant in Rome is that you are spoiled for choice. Much like any European capital you can choose from a wide variety of cuisines, including some of the best Asian restaurants in Italy, but from time to time only authentic Roman food will do.