Italy: Natale Festa

As many of you know, from October to December 2015 I went on a little Soul Searching trip overseas. I traversed many countries…Italy being one of the main ones. I stayed in Venice for 3 nights, Riomaggiore on the Cinque Terre for 2 nights, Florence for 3 nights and Rome for 4 nights. It was one of the most incredible experiences to date and I loved every minute of it (apart from when trains were delayed when I was trying to get to the Cinque Terre and I cried in the McDonalds).

Just like in Eat Pray Love, Italy was definitely the ‘Eat’ part of the journey. I ate pizza, I ate pasta, I drank beer (lots of Birra Moretti), I drank wine, and I ate Gelato, 8 scoops of deliciousness in a cup. I did a cooking class in Rome with Chef Andrea Consoli, one of the most beautiful looking gentlemen I’ve encountered, and one of the nicest. He really made each person there feel like they were an expert (except when one of the ladies held up her plate with Ricotta pie for a photo and the entire thing fell on the floor), and his use of ‘Ciao Bella’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ made for a really authentic experience. I learnt certain cooking techniques, and about the different areas of Italy, and how the food differs. I also learned that the pizza and pasta I had eaten up until then was not really authentic enough for his liking!

Tom and I decided to cook Italian food on Christmas Eve because he wanted to make a pasta. We established it would be perfect because the Christmas and Italian flag colours are identical…red, white, green.

I used two of the recipes from my cook with Chef Andrea – the Involtini Alla Romana (Roman style meat rolls in tomato sauce) and the Torta di Ricotta e Visciole (Ricotta and homemade sour cherry jam pie). I also used his recipe for pasta but we did different toppings and sauces to the ones I made in the cooking classes. I was a little bit disappointed with the Involtini to be honest. I know I used different types of meat, and I don’t think my tomatoes were ripe enough (in hindsight I should have used tinned tomatoes). They came out a bit tougher and a bit anaemic. When I made them in Rome they were dark red, in a dark sauce, and very tender. But the family seemed to love them and I was still chuffed that I had completed the dish.

The Ricotta and Cherry Jam pie was to die for! I ran into some complications with my dough. It looked way too tough when I took it out of the fridge and looked like it would just crumble. It did get softer after sitting outside the fridge for a bit. I was able to line the pie dish with it, but ran into complications when trying to place a layer on top of the pie. Eventually my dad came up with a solution – we rolled it onto wax paper and then turned that upside down on the dough. Perfect! It turned out incredibly. Because of the Ricotta which is quite light, it’s not rich and it’s not super sweet. I will definitely be making it again.

Tom and I made 4x Chef Andrea’s recipe for pasta dough. And we wanted to do it properly so we placed the flour (1.2kg) on the counter, and then broke 12 eggs into the hole we made in the middle. We were super chuffed with ourselves. However, as we started whisking, the flour dam wall broke and the eggs began escaping all over the counter. Luckily we didn’t lose any to the floor, but it was a mad scramble (get it?) to contain all the egg mixture. After much near-pants-wetting laughter we got a beautiful dough together. We split it into 3 and started with it through the pasta maker. We made tagliatelle and hung it over hangers to dry out. Our kitchen is pretty big, but not big enough for 11 family members and a drying rack with hangers of drying pasta. The floor looked like it had just experienced a pasta disaster after a while, with people knocking the rack as they walked past. Tom made a Chorizo pasta, and Mom made two different pesto pastas. They were so delicious. The actual pasta cooked wonderfully and the flavours of the sauces were amazing. We made some lasagne sheets for Tom to use a few days later but they got mouldy – which I see as a good thing. No preservatives in this mixture. Just pure Italian goodness!

I also made pizza dough from scratch – my favourite recipe can be found here, and everybody who I’ve made these pizza for absolutely raves about them. The bases are thin and they crisp up easily. The novelty has not yet worn off for my family who continue to marvel when I throw the dough up in the air!

Although not part of this feast, prior to Christmas eve my mom and I had made a Pistachio gelato too. It was also delicious, although not as soft as gelato I ate overseas. It also had a very interesting bite to it, which I couldn’t quite work out. In any event it was delicious, and we loved using the ice-cream maker (despite some initial technical faults). The recipe can be found here. I struggled with the custard part and think it’s possible that I cooked the egg a bit – making it a bit lumpy. But it was still super tasty and moreish.

Italians are big on family and big on food, and this is exactly how this Christmas Eve and Christmas period was spent. I feel most excited about this cook (my last country for the year by the way). Not because it was my favourite (as there were others that I loved too), but because of the intensity of the day, and the amazing outcome of all the dishes. I always feel so proud when I’ve accomplished so much, even if I was run off my feet for most of the day. Thanks to my sous chef (Tom), bottle washer (Mom) and pizza extraordinaire (Dad), and to the rest of the family for their compliments and tasting notes.

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