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Ann's Italy Food Journal - Part One  Ann's Italy Food Journal - Part Two    Judy's Italy Food Journal The Reluctant Parisienne    


What I Ate on My First Visit to Italy......Part One

Some people go to Italy to see the beautiful churches, Roman ruins, and other historic sites and yes, of course we did see some of the historic sites which were stunning to see in person, like the Coliseum and  the Trevi Fountain - but this journal of my first visit to Italy is mostly about the food and wine that we consumed.  I'll leave writing about the other stuff to travel writers as I admit, with no regrets,  that it's the food of Italy that most enticed me to visit that country.


We arrived in Rome in the late afternoon in mid-September - the driver we arranged to pick us up at Ciampino Airport was late so we had no choice but to wait for him - we arrived at the apartment we rented located in a working class section of Rome called Testaccio (lower left on map below and click for a larger view). I noticed that on the map of Rome we had been studying, that just like New York City's five boroughs, Rome has names for different regions within the boundaries of that ancient city. 

Click here for larger viewThe person we rented from gave us the grand tour of the place - he spoke excellent English which was very helpful as my Italian language skills are mostly limited to food words with the occasional "grazie" ....  but what I was more interested in was the kitchen and how to work the stovetop!  The kitchen had a sufficient number of pots and pans, but alas, only one knife - and a serrated one at that! As my intention was to cook a few meals and pretend to live like a native Roman, I was determined to make it work and so I did all of the chopping, dicing and cutting that was needed with the one serrated knife!  My knife skills were tested to the hilt and I'm happy to report that I managed to chop garlic and parsley with good results and of course a serrated knife is the ideal knife for slicing tomatoes and  bread - it even sliced the soft and luscious Buffalo Mozzarella quite well.

When our temporary landlord pointed out the window and said "oh yes, there is a market with fresh fruits and vegetables and cheeses and meats right at the end of this street"....I was so thrilled to hear that I didn't have to go hunting for food stores - and then he pointed out the window in the opposite direction and said "there is also a supermercato two streets away and around the next corner".... I had read through my handy phrase book enough to know that supermercato meant SUPERMARKET so my fears of not finding any food stores were put to rest.  By the time we ended our conversations it was 6:00 pm and as the indoor farmers' market  closed at 2pm, we had no choice but to search out the supermercato.  We found this neighborhood supermercato with an interestingly Anglo name of "Pam Club Diva Market"  to be very busy with what appeared to be people shopping for food and other items on the way home from work.  It was a small store nothing along the lines of any food store Americans would call a "supermarket", but it had everything we needed for our first evening meal in Rome so despite the age old argument, size doesn't really matter.  I reminded myself that I had heard or read somewhere that supermarkets are a fairly new addition to Italy and I was definitely pleased at the quality of the food they were selling.

My first food shopping experience in Italy included the basics for breakfast, eggs, pane integrale (whole wheat bread) cereal, milk, Lavazza espresso.  The ingredients  for dinner that first evening included a packaged sliced prosciutto by a well known producer sold in the U.S. "Citterio" to eat on a slice of the ciabatta bread (#1) along with a bowl of extra virgin olive oil to which I had added some torn fresh basil leaves for dipping or drizzling onto the bread.  I made a simple yet filling pasta dish  with a package of fresh/refrigerated ready-to-cook spinach and cheese ravioli.  I made a sauce using Pomidorini which are canned cherry tomatoes with the brand name of "Cirio" which had such a tremendous fresh tomato flavor, fresh  basil and dried oregano (#2).   The brand of ready made ravioli was a local brand and the quality of the pasta and the filling had what I can only describe as a homemade taste.



The fresh basil deserves a special mention and photo all its own (#3) This supermarket basil, packaged in a plastic container, is the most fragrant and brilliant green basil I have ever had the pleasure of eating! I can only assume that it must be something in the Italian soil and water that makes Italian basil so green and fragrant!  


Other ingredients we purchased to have on hand were Parmigiano-Reggiano costing a lot less than we pay here, and the extra virgin olive oils at this supermercato were also inexpensive compared to what I'm used to paying.  But the biggest surprise was  when I saw the price of wines - well, I nearly fell over ....that first evening  we chose a delicious Primitivo wine for 2.79 or just a little over $3.00 and we bought a few bottles!

Needless to say, we had our hands full walking back to the apartment and luckily we remembered where it was!

The next day, after breakfast,  we made a visit to the indoor farmers' market (#4 and #4a) - this market was filled with a variety of farmers/vendors selling everything from the gorgeous fruits (in the bowl are peaches, plums  pears and lemons from the vendor in (#4) and vegetables to cheeses and salamis, fresh fish and meats, a bread stand, and one particular personal favorite - a charming man selling only tomatoes....(#5 and #5a) at least 20 or more different varieties of tomatoes - and I think we tasted them all  - but don't ask me what they are called - all I know is that each one had a different burst of flavor as we gobbled them up. The photos of the tomatoes in the white bowl were on the counter in the kitchen and it was impossible to pass by without snatching one from its vine and saying "wow - what a flavor"! 






For lunch we decided to try some mozzarella di bufala (#6) and salami from the cheese and salumi stand (#6a) along with ciabatta from the baker's stand, and so many tomatoes I lost count of how many different varieties we ate!  The man selling the tomatoes apparently noticed my enthusiasm for them but even with my sorely lacking Italian language skills and the vendors lack of any English skills we somehow were able to communicate our mutual love of these tomatoes and he kept adding different varieties of tomatoes to my purchase at no charge!  The wine we drank with lunch was yet another inexpensive Chianti Classico from the supermercato.



We chose to have pasta for another evening meal (#7) but this time we decided on buying a dried pasta and found the supermercato aisle full of Barilla brand pasta - Rigatoni was the shape I wanted to eat!  For the sauce, I thought that  sweet fresh sausage would make a delicious meat sauce for the rigatoni.  In the meat department of the supermarket, there were packages of fresh sausages - or salsiccia -  realizing that being in Italy they have no need to name them "Italian Sausages" as they do here! There are so many more shapes of Barilla dried pasta in Italy than what we see on the shelves of our supermarkets in the U.S. - I must also say that I preferred the  taste and texture of the Italian made Barilla dried pasta better than what they are producing in the U.S.  I can only surmise that the difference in the taste of the Italian made pasta compared to the U.S. made pasta is due to the ingredients used in Italy which are just different from those same ingredients Barilla uses in the U.S. to make their pasta.  We asked a lot of locals about which dried pasta they preferred and the majority of those we asked told us that De Cecco brand is their favorite - luckily for us, De Cecco is available here in the U.S. - I'm not sure about how widely distributed it is in the U.S. but most major supermarket chains will carry it as well as specialty food stores.


Rigatoni & Sausage Meat Sauce - here is the method I used to make the sauce. Use your instincts and your own judgment as to the quantities of the ingredients - I've suggested a quantity of sausage meat but, by all means, if you'd like to add 4 links to the sauce, please do!

For the Sauce

your favorite extra virgin olive oil
small onion, finely chopped
2 links of sweet (Italian style) sausage, casings removed
dried red pepper flakes
grinding of black pepper
small can of whole tomatoes (San Marzano variety are best)
fresh ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in halves
fresh basil leaves, torn into bits
salt (remember that the sausage may be salty enough)
splash of red wine


Serve pasta with slices of warmed ciabatta or other Italian style bread;  a small bowl of extra virgin olive oil with several torn basil leaves for dipping and a grinding of sea salt.

1.  Heat oil in a saucepan - add onion and cook until it softens; add sausage meat and with a wooden spoon, break it up into smaller pieces and cook until browned.  Add dried red pepper flakes and a grind or two of black pepper.  Add the remaining ingredients, stir to combine, cover the pot and simmer over a low heat for 30 -45 minutes.  Stir the sauce occasionally during this cooking time.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil and then enough salt so that the water tastes salty - add the pasta, stir and cook as long as the package suggests or a few minutes less to insure al dente texture.  In Italy pasta is always cooked al dente.   Drain the pasta, reserving some of the cooking water,  and toss the pasta in a serving bowl with some of the meat sauce to coat it - add the remaining sauce and if the pasta seems too dry, add a little of the reserved pasta cooking water and toss again.  Serve immediately.   Shave or grate some
Parmigiano-Reggiano over each serving.  Yield:  2 or 4 servings (depends on how much pasta you've cooked)

End of Part One




NYC Culinary Tour  Ann's Italy Food Journal - Part One  Ann's Italy Food Journal - Part Two  Judy's Italy Food Journal The Reluctant Parisienne