Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Soups, Spaghetti, Meats, and Sweets: Molto Buono!

Today is our 3rd day in Siena.  We spent our last day in Rome visiting Ostia Antica, a quiet little town about 30 miles outside of the city.  Within its borders lies an entire town of ancient ruins open for the public to climb through, touch, and explore.  We spent the better part of our day there, walking around and imagining what life must have been like in the 4th century BC.

The next day, our challenge was figuring out how to take the train to Siena.  Tourists beware in airports and train stations!  We had several people approach us in an attempt to forcefully help, then demand payment in Euros.  They wouldn't take no for an answer.  When this happened the final time, we caused a scene on the train, and the man was escorted from the station by the polizia (police).

Sienna is a beautiful town straight out of medieval Italy. We are staying at the Hotel Duomo at the top of the mountain. (A duomo is a church). All medieval towns were situated at the top of a hill or small mountain so that the people could defend themselves against invading armies.  Walls were built around the buildings and the gates were closed and guarded. Should their town be attacked, the elevation gave the people an advantage against the enemy.  It's difficult to fight uphill. :)  The sights of the city are breathtaking.  Here are some pictures to show you what we are seeing.
The town of Siena from the surrounding wall.

We are standing in the piazza in the town center.

I'm standing on Via Stalloreggi (via means street)
Last night we took our cooking class and it gave us a new appreciation for the amount of time it takes to prepare Italian cuisine.  We were taught by Lella, a fantastic chef who spoke no English and looked like the quintessial Italian mama.  In Italy, people take food seriously.  Meals are to be savoured and it is a time for relaxation and conversation.  Breakfast is usually light, or not at all, and true Italians do not drink milk in their coffee after 11:00 am.  By the way, the coffee here is delicious.  It is heavy and thick, but smooth with no bitterness at all.  Dinner usually consists of at least 2 courses, but a full traditional meal includes 4.  First is the antipasti. Antipasti means appetizer and is most often some sort of cold cuts/cheese combination or vegetables like tomato slices. This is followed by the primo, or first course. The first course is either soup or pasta. Then the main dish, or secondo, is served.  This is your meat like steak, pork, or seafood. The meal is finished with a light dolce (dol sheh), or dessert, with espresso. Of course, we prefer gelato, italian ice cream, and have eaten our way through many flavors! My favorite so far was cream, but I haven't tried pistachio yet.  The gelato back home isn't quite as creamy as it is here, but it's comparable. Enjoy! It is ice cream after all, and ice cream is always good!

Italians drink wine or water with every meal - never milk. It seems like A LOT of food, but the one thing I've noticed is that all the food we've eaten has been fresh. As Lella and her interpreter, Francesca explained, the people eat very few packaged foods, and Italians cook with olive oil, not butter. Each region has its own specialties, just like in the US, but the food is prepared fresh and is very healthy.   We've tried wild boar, deer sausage, sheep cheese, spicy mussels, and the calamari, or baby squid. Also, from what I've observed, fast food means pizza. We've only noticed a couple McDonald's and one Burger King, but we've seen lots of pizzerias!
Spicy steamed mussels as an antipasti

wild boar and deer sausage as an antipasti
In our cooking class, we learned to make several dishes.  First was the Pappa col Pomodoro, a soup made from tomatoes (pomodoro) and stale Tuscan bread. It is a traditional dish and, honestly, tasted like heaven in a bowl! Next we began the dessert. We made cantuccini (can tu cheeni), small almond cookies that look and taste like biscotti.  However, Italians do not eat biscotti with coffee in the morning like Americans do.  They are for after dinner with espresso or sweet wine and lots of conversation. :)  Our primo, or first course, was homemade pici, a very thick spaghetti.  Lella taught us the secret to making good pasta.  The added water should always be 60% of the amount of flour and never add oil to your cooking water - only generous amounts of salt and stir often!  She made the process of preparing the dough look very easy, but making pasta by hand takes a lot of effort! I did get a "perfecto" from Lella on my pasta dough, but my handmade spaghetti left a lot to be desired. According to Lella,  I made the noodles too thick and had to redo several.  I guess a B+ in pasta isn't too bad. :) My family and I had a lot of laughs trying to get it right!
The main course was arista di cinta senese in porchetta con patinie arrosto (I can't pronounce it either), but it is roasted pork loin with potatoes on the side.  All and all, I think we did pretty well on the meal, even if we aren't Italian.  Both Lella and Franscesca told us "molto buono" which means "very good" when complimenting food.  Hooray for us!
pappa col pomorodo or tomato soup

Our homemade pici - mine was a little too fat!

the roasted pork, or porchetta

Our cantuccini - yum!
Chelsea is rolling out the cantuccini dough.

Alex and I got stuck with peeling the potatoes!

Chelsea and Eric were concentrating on getting their pici (spaghetti) the right thickness.  Their noodles were far better than mine.  Rats!

Our chef, Lella, on the right and her interpreter, Francesca, on the left.
Afterwards, we rolled back up the mountain, which wasn't easy, and went to sleep, full and happy.


  1. It all sounds so fabulous. Pictures are great! How very fun!!

  2. Oh, Kate. I can just taste it now. Thanks for sharing.

  3. YUM! I'm loving all the pictures of your beautiful family! The tomato soup looks like it might be easy enough for me to make and would love the recipe!