Friday, June 21, 2013

Italia - Milano

Milano is not on most people's Italian itinerary. Apart from the Duomo (there is one in every city), DaVinci's Last Supper, and of course the shopping, there is not a ton of super touristy things to do here. What it does offer though is a glimpse of normal Italian life. People are going to work, lounging at cafes and enjoying their city (just like we do!) in a way that isn't as easily accessible in the more popular destinations. It's so much simpler to assimilate into the scene here and not feel like you are just an observer. And really, isn't that the point of travel anyway?

What a fabulous way to start Italia. Just off the plane, checked into the hotel, showered, and HUNGRY. Time for a coffee and a snack before we start exploring. How about a caprese salad and a cappuccino? Perfecto. First lesson of Italia - there is no such thing as a "cup of coffee". Italians mostly drink either espresso (café) or cappuccino. Café is usually at a coffee bar - and when I say bar, I mean exactly that. Standing up, you drink it like a quick shot. They'll do this multiple times a day, in and out in just a few minutes. Cappuccino you sit and savor a bit more. What they don't do is a big cup of brewed coffee that you just sip on for an hour. They will make you an "Americano" which is espresso that is then watered down. It's kind of gross and speaks to what they think of our coffee.

The caprese had the most amazing chunks of mozzarella (di buffala) I'd ever tasted (it would get better along the way). Super soft and almost still milky. It is rich and luscious and salty and melts in your mouth. Beautiful ruby red tomatoes. You don't even need olive oil on this. This was the first of many caprese salads to cross our tables as we make our way through Italia.

Side note here - mozzarella di bufala IS NOT the same thing as regular mozzarella. The di bufala version is made from, you guessed it, buffalo milk! But, these are not the big, hairy, horned versions we have in the US. These are Italian water buffalo and usually from Campania. It is domain controlled (like champagne) so only the real thing can be labeled as such. The milk from these water buffalo is almost twice as rich as cow's milk.  It only takes 5kg of buffalo milk to make 1kg of mozzarella, whereas you would need 8kg of cow's milk to make the same. Mozzarella di bufala is so incredibly good, I don't think you can even put it in the same category as cow's milk mozzarella. 

After a walk around the city and a look at the duomo (cathedral) it was time for lunch. We found a great little cafe on a quiet street just a few blocks from the buzz of the main square. 

Fried zucchini blossoms. Wrapped up oh-so-cute in a little paper. Cut into them cross-wise like you're dissecting a frog in high school and you get a side view of the delicate blossoms and the rich stuffing of ricotta. Crunchy, salty, delicious. We had these several times in Italia, but these were by far the best version. 

When you're in Milano, you eat rice. The farther south you go, it turns to more pastas. They are rightfully famous for the risotto. Above was a perfectly cooked plate (just toothy) with ribbons of fresh asparagus and so much melted cheese it was nearly pulled like polly-o.  

Some fresh papparadelle with huge hunks of funghi (mushrooms).

Our first apertivo! This is such a wonderful Italian concept. You buy a drink - usually a negroni, aperol spritz or vino - and you get all you can eat access to a random selection of the day's offerings. The one above was mostly little bites of pizzas, but other places will have cheeses, breads, pasta salad, sandwiches, etc. Pretty much whatever is left over from the day and easy to serve in bulk. It's a great way to eat cheap.

A small little salumi appetizer. This is not meant for one person, but what the hell, it's delicious. Mounds of prosciutto, mortadella & deep dark speck. I could just eat this and go to bed with a smile on my face (and a clog in my arteries). 

Stracciatella stuffed burrata. Fresh cream inside a little shreds of mozzarella. Sitting on a bed of arugula. Incredible.

This is my salumi face.

Spaghetti carbonara. Another staple of the menus. Huge chunks of pancetta mixed with a fresh cracked, yolky egg dressing up pasta so rich it's nearly orange. Amazing. 

Artichokes are abundant and fresh in the spring. They should be the special on almost every menu. These were grilled and then sliced super thin on a mandolin. Dressed with just a bit of olive oil and black pepper, it's pretty much the perfect side dish.

Our first pizza in Italia! Note that it is not sliced. This is apparently a thing here. You order a whole pie for yourself and go at it with a knife and fork. They are sized for one, so you're not being a totally gluttonous fatty. The crust was very thin, which is a trait of pizzas in the northern part of Italia. As you move south the dough gets thicker and fluffier, with Napoli being the center of the pizza universe.  

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