Good (and unusual) things I ate in Italy where the gastronomic landscape is increasingly globalized

These days, my trips to Italy are all about maximizing my time on the ground and making the most of the days that I have to spend away from Tracie and our girls. Long gone are the times that I would indulge in wandering the halls of a crusty museum or poring over an incunable in a dark seminary library. Instead, it’s always a mad rush to the next tasting, event, meeting, or seminar, with little time to soak in Italy’s rich cultural landscape and to visit with my old university chums there.

A boy’s gotta eat though!

Those are nervetti above: slow-cooked chunks of veal cartilage served at room temperature. That was at old-school Osteria La Colonna in downtown Brescia.

Japanese cuisine is one of Italy’s new culinary trends. It seems that every urban landscape is dotted with “sushi” joints these days, each with menus not dissimilar from the commercial style we grew up with in the U.S. I’ve been impressed by how good these places are. Who would have thunk it? That sushi/sashimi platter was served at Yoshi in Brescia.

Burgers are king these days in Italy. Everywhere you go, cityscapes are dotted with American-style hamburger hamlets. But there’s a big difference. The myriad pubs and brewhouses use higher quality meat for the burgers than you typically find in the U.S. The buns are also a lot more tasty, more wholesome, and less sugar-driven. This burger was at Red Dog in Rezzato (Brescia province).

I never thought in a million years that I would be served a jalapeño popper in Italy. But this happened at Red Dog. Italians seem to think that jalapeños can be red. I’m cool with that. This popper was SPICY!

I’ll never get tired of eating the casoncelli at Genuisì in Coccaglio (Franciacorta) where my bromance Giovanni Arcari and his partner Nico Danesi have their vineyard and cellar. Stuffed with bread, cheese, and meats, these ravioli are topped with bacon crumbles at Genuisì, making the dish even more decadent (beyond the butter and fried sage dressing).

No Saturday aperitivo would be complete without fried cod and anchovies at Osteria al Bianchi in downtown Brescia. Can you think of a better pairing for do bianchi? We drank Lugana that day.

Vitello Tonnato is the ultimate “Jewish boy stomach” dish. At Ristorante Battaglino in Piedmont where I teach each year, they have Chionetti Dolcetto by the half bottle, the perfect pairing for the lonely traveler having dinner for one.

I wrote recently about how much I love cognà, the Piedmontese relish made from grape must. It was an excellent accompaniment for a cheese I’d never had before, brus da latte, a crumbly and very stinky cheese (in the foreground). Not everyone loves Ristorante Battaglino as much as I do but my experiences there have only gotten better, especially now that Michele the wine guy is on the floor there (he used to be on the road doing sound for some band).

Also at Battaglino, I treated myself one night to a dish of tajarin with sausage ragù and a bottle of 2014 Barolo by my buddy Ferdinando Principiano. This wine, from a challenging vintage, is still very young in its evolution but showed really nicely that night, especially toward the end of the evening when it had had proper aeration. Ferdinando’s Barolo is always distinctively monfortino in character, with earth and wild mint flavors.

I didn’t eat any but wisteria was in full bloom across northern Italy where I was schmoozing and teaching. It’s the perfect antidote to the humdrum din of modern living (who can guess what 1970s ad that line comes from?).

The classic northern Italian flatbread piadina used to be served folded over, like a quesadilla. But now it’s rolled up like a burrito. My, how times are a-changin’!

The foods Italians eat have changed radically and drastically over the last decade. It’s part of the unstoppable march of progress, I guess, for better or for worse. More on that in a post to come… Thanks for being here.

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