Student Blog: Food Science Course in Italy
vanessa malanga '10 - musical theatre
"As if the day couldn't get any more exciting, we next traveled to an Italian woman's basement to make pasta from scratch!"
Verbum Volant, scriptum manant.
Words are fleeting; what is written stays.
My excursion to Italy would not have been possible without the help of a few very valuable people:
I would like to thank my parents, who are responsible for infecting me with the "travel bug". They have been so supportive not only monetarily, but also in encouraging me to go out and explore the world. Without this support I would not be the well-traveled and cultured person that I have grown into, and I appreciate their contributions and love more than words can say.
Thank you also to: Debbie and Dyke Messinger for graciously donating funds so that students they have not met can fulfill dreams of visiting Europe. Sheila Brownlow and the Honors Program at Catawba College for making this trip possible via the desire to assist students in exploring education through means not found in a classroom in both personal and monetary assistance. Delores Imblum for going above and beyond her role as secretary in lending advice and communication to students. Carl Girelli for much-appreciated distributing loans.
Finally, thank you to Dr. and Mrs. Sabo, who journeyed with us across the ocean, for having the students' best interests at heart, keeping on eye on the whole whilst understanding European behavior, and facilitating the learning process while abroad.
I am grateful to have known and received support from such individuals who cherish traveling as much as I do. Salute!
Day 1: On the way to Italy!- Saturday 6 March 2010
The group collected at 1:50PM this afternoon, excited and suspenseful for our upcoming trip. The van ride to the Charlotte airport took so long, but was nothing compared to the wait at the airport itself and then the layover in Munich. All I wanted was to see some Italian countryside and hear the lilt of the relaxed language delivered by locals.
Although I have been to Italy twice before, my excitement is not diminished. In many ways I prefer Italian culture to that of America. However, it is a long journey.
I have never been to Germany except the airport in Munich, where we had our 3-hour layover. It was fun walking around the international airport, looking at the shops and people watching. I have yet to get that beer-and-schnitzel lunch, but I have high hopes to one day. My favorite part about Germany (not knowing much outside of the airport) is that they all drive German cars. I am a Volkswagen lover and really enjoy seeing all the cars parked outside.
I just can't wait to get to Italy.
Day 2: Italia! - Sunday 7 March 2010
We arrived at the airport in Milan successfully and safely! Once we rounded up all the luggage we boarded a large coach, which was thankfully big enough so that each person could have two seats to themselves. We drove through Milan into Parma. Once in Parma, we spent the night at the Tricolore Hotel. The hotel situation was a lot nicer than I thought it might be; I have stayed crammed into rooms like sardines before, but it wasn't too cramped for Katie, Carrie, and me.
Our tour director is Giorgio Osimani. He is one of a kind with a fantastic sense of humor. I sat next to him at dinner; we had a nice conversation, between all of the insults (in jest). He is apparently a cheap drunk and pours water into his wine!
For dinner we had prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano for antipasti, pasta with red sauce cooked in beef – absolutely delicious!, and veal with fried potatoes. I had never tried veal before, as I have a problem with the idea that veal is a baby cow that has been slaughtered. My father, however, loves veal; so does Giorgio. I gave it a try, but I don't think the cut was very good; I didn't particularly enjoy it. Dessert was apple pie, very moist and balanced. I am so excited about the food here!
Day 3: Parma, Bologna - Monday 8 March 2010
Just toured the parmigiano reggiano factory! Our tour guide was Melanie, a Brit who moved to Tuscany in the 1970s. She married an Italian man and raised her children in the country – what a dream! To enter the factory, we had to wear a lot of "sanitary gear" – face masks, hair nets, shoe covers and plastic robes – even though the cheese sits out in the open air and the cheese masters don't wear any of the above.
The cheese is curdled via steam heat in whey. Whey is originally from milk, but lacks milk product once fully mature. The cheese is steamed in hot tubs of water, eventually forming a semi-solid mass. The cheese master cuts the huge glob of cheese into two halves, each of which becomes a separate wheel.
The cheese air dries for two days in little cylinders in order to settle into the shape and solidity of the standard wheel.
After this, the cheese sits in salt water for approximately 24 to 26 days.
Then it sits out on wooden shelves to air dry, typically for three years.
I purchased two ½ kilos of parmigiano reggiano for my parents.
Next we toured a prosciutto factory in the mountains. The process for keeping hams is thus:
Hams are salted at least three times – I think the number was 8? – and left to rest for long periods in between. Like with parmigiano reggiano cheese, you cannot rush this process. The smell of the factory was distinct – raw meat in the first room, slowly turning into that recognizable hammy smell by the last.
Also like the parmigiano reggiano cheese, the ham is branded so that the consumer will know from whence it came. Raw ham hocks kind of creeped me out but I was really intrigued by the whole process. Afterwards we tasted salumi: neck, bacon, and salami.
We ate lunch in a little restaurant up the mountain. Salumi, parmigiano reggiano, bread, flavored jams and lambrusco wine. Lambrusco is carbonated and served cold. It is not good if aged past one year. We toured the winery out back; I enjoyed watching the technology of it all.
We also toured a vinegary and learned how balsamic vinegar is made and aged. This vinegar takes 30 years to age well. Personally, I think it's too bitter; I couldn't even finish my vinegar ice cream! We learned that the vinegar ages in one barrel for twelve years, then moves down to a smaller barrel every year afterwards before it is ready to be bottled.
We headed to Florence for dinner. After we checked into the Hotel delle Nazzionale, I split off with Ryan, Carrie, and Katie in search of quality dinner. We journeyed across the river to a restaurant that Ryan had been to on his previous visit to Florence. It was a pretty, seemingly upscale place… that played only poppy ‘90s pop music a la "Xanadu", Queen and Madonna.
I ordered the house red wine for the table and got to taste it first. I decided to have carbonara – it was absolutely delicious! Very creamy, made with both cream and eggs, and had bacon in! I cannot say no to bacon. I also ordered salmon in red pepper sauce, which Carrie deemed "heaven sauce". It was really good too, but my stomach didn't quite have enough room for all of the splendor. Despite the freezing temperature and chilling wind, we sprang for gelato anyway. We ended the night with a bottle of Chianti at the hotel bar. Michelle was the best roommate.
Day 4: Firenze - Tuesday
9 March 2010
Toured the duomo in the morning. We arrived 45 minutes early, and instead of standing like lemons outside of the closed church in the cold wind, we decided to go for another cappuccino. The cappuccino here is fantastic. I wasn't yet a big coffee drinker on my previous trips to Italy, but now that I have the taste for cappuccino I cannot let it go to waste. This was my second of the day, having had one at breakfast. Found a really cute cappuccino/pastry bar around the corner from the duomo.
The duomo was beautiful but the spark has been kind of lost to me after already visiting twice. We also toured the piazza and looked at all of the status, including the replica of David. It was rain-snowing and the wind was chilling – not exactly an exciting time to be outside.
We went as a group to the leather shop, where Patrick, whose mother is from Buffalo, gave us a demonstration of how leather is molded and stretched to cover jewelry boxes. I bought a wallet for my brother and had his initials printed on it in gold. The printer was an Australian girl. I am amazed at the number of transplants I have met so far and think that it must not be incredibly difficult to insert yourself into this culture, especially if you have an Italian as a significant other.
We walked through the open-air market to the fresh food market. It was huge! There were little rooms selling wine, cheese, ham, meat cuts, fish, vegetables, rabbit and bread. Decided not to eat there, but headed to a little pizzeria with flashing twinkle lights. Got a spicy sausage pizza, not unlike American pepperoni, and another cappuccino. Afterwards we visited the open market, where I bought two scarves for 10€. Today was the day that I lost one of my favorite earrings to the streets of Florence, where I hope it is happy and shiny still.
We stood in line for the Uffizi museum. Although I have been to Florence before, I had never been into the Uffizi. Instead I had always opted to see David, check out the Dante museum, climb the duomo. The line for the Uffizi had us standing around for more than an hour. Thankfully we were protected from the gross precipitation and wind. Once we entered the museum, I realized that I wasn't very impressed with it. It touted original works by Michelangelo and Raphael, but only held maybe one or two by the actual artists while dedicating the rest of the room to like painters.
It was too late and we were too exhausted to climb the duomo, so I went back to the room for an hour before the entire group headed out for a slow-cooked meal at Il itini. I sat at a table with Quinn, Zach, Danielle, Lizzie, Claire, Crystal and Jarrett. Together we enjoyed a delicious Chianti. Antipasti was comprised of salumi, bread with olive oil, caprese (mozzarella, tomatoes, lettuce), sausage and spiced ham. The pasta was ravioli in red sauce, penne in beef, thin pasta in wild boar, vegetable and bread stew, and barley bean soup. The entrée consisted of entirely meats: rabbit, lamb, beef, veal and chicken! By this point I couldn't eat very much at all, but I did try rabbit just to say that I have. It was actually really good, tender, tasted a bit like turkey. Dessert was a plate of panna cotta, profiteroles, chocolate pie, fruit cake, and what we know
as biscotti with vino santo. We finished the night off with a glass of moscato. All in all, I had a lot of wine – a very good night!
Day 5: Firenze - Wednesday 10 March 2010
Very slightly hung over, but totally worth it. At this point in the trip I am extremely done with waking up at seven in the morning just to eat some cereal and bread. We aren't leaving until nine; I'm going to take my sweet time waking up!
Today we walked across the bridge to meet cans that would take us out into the country. The countryside was absolutely beautiful. The plans are somehow still green in this terrible weather, but the further up we traveled the more we saw snow covering the vineyards. Steve, the van driver, is originally from Wilmington, NC. He moved to Florence to pursue vocal music performance. He ended up falling in love and moving here permanently. He has toured throughout Europe but mostly teaches between Firenze and Pisa nowadays. His accent is flawless. It is really inspiring to meet him and hear his story.
Once we reached the winery we learned about the history of the people who owned it and its wares. We learned about olive oil: how the olives are harvested and how the oil is extracted. We got to taste some and it was heavenly. Apparently this winery makes olive oil with the least amount of acidity possible. It was so light.
We also toured the wine section, learning how the recipe for Chianti came about, which grapes are in it (varies depending on the winery), and the aging process. This aging process was very like that of balsamic vinegar in that the wine changed barrels too. The wine ages in two ways to become a Chianti ruffina, more to become riserva, and even more for gran riserva. We got to taste all three of these wines, as well as a vino santo which was thankfully less harsh than the one at dinner last night. Between tasting the wonderful wines we nibbled on piece after piece of delicious bread soaked in that light oil. It was heavenly.
As if the day couldn't get any more exciting, we next traveled to an Italian woman's basement to make pasta from scratch. Steve led us in combining flour, one egg and salt to create dough. We kneaded the dough with our hands and added more flour until it wasn't sticky anymore. Then we flattened the dough and put half of it through the pressing machine. We pressed the dough out several times until it became long and thin. Then we cut out circles. In the middle of each circle we placed a dollop of the ravioli filler: cooked spinach, mozzarella and parmigiano reggiano stirred together to create a sort of dip or paste. We folded the circle of dough over the filling, creating little half-circles. Then we cut the perimeter off of each circle to create the cute pattern often seen on ravioli. The extra dough got pressed the same way and put through the machine
as angel hair pasta.
After we finished the preparation of the pasta, we went upstairs into the kitchen to drink wine and smell the pasta cook. Cristiana, whose house we were in, served us amazing authentic pizza, stuffed tomatoes, and this absolutely fantastic zucchini frittata. The meal was served with Chianti, of course, and Zack was the wine master. Next we were served our very own ravioli, cooked delicately with butter and parmigiano reggiano. We also had the linguini in oil with peppers, olives and herbs. Dessert was homemade tiramisu, and although I didn't have much room for the pasta, I definitely had room for that heavenly cake. At this point I was exhausted from the wine and eating so late. Food coma!
We took the vans back down into the city. Michelle and Jarrett very kindly agreed to bring my bag and purchases (two bottles of olive oil for the parents and one bottle of ruffina for me) back to the hotel for me so that I could attempt to climb
the duomo. However, we had arrived too late, and the church was already closed. Instead we went back to the open market and I bought a pair of rabbit-lined faux suede gloves.
After a rest, I went out for gelato and dinner things with a few people. I got a panino and two bottles of Becks – I needed a break from wine. We hung out in the hotel; it was a good time.
Day 6: Siena, San Gimignano - Thursday 11 March 2010
I was sad to leave Florence but it was time to move on to a change of scenery. Siena is a city that I have not been able to visit before, so I was very excited! The weather was awful though – very wet snow, so almost like rain. Ironically, this was the day that I left my umbrella in my suitcase. Thankfully I had a coat with a hood and wasn't too wet or cold, and a couple of people very nicely let me duck under their umbrellas when the precipitation got to be too much.
Siena is such a beautiful city! The city is made up of sloping hills and buildings constructed with yellow bricks that give the names of "burnt sienna" and "raw sienna" to the artist's choice paints that we use in the scene shop. The view was really lovely in spite of all of the fog.
We got to step inside of a cathedral with really lovely décor. The stripes of Siena covered the columns and decorated the floor. We learned about the exciting horse races held in the city twice a year – in July and August. Bribery is a must for these races, and the population of each of the city's seventeen regions get involved in the competition. The jockeys are brought in from outside the city in order to eliminate favoritism, but it gets pretty serious – they're threatened with beatings for accepting bribes, although how can one not? One day I would love to go back in the summer months to see the city in nice weather under the anticipation of a race. It is a city that I could really see myself living in.
I took lunch at a sit-down restaurant with a few people. Our main concern was getting out of the wet and cold. The restaurant was cute. We sat in the back near a drafty door but also near some interesting artwork, including a "map" of Siena's seventeen regions with flags. I ordered a walnut and apple salad – the cheeses made this salad exemplary. They don't have that cheese at Port City Java, that's for sure. Katie had wild boar, which was surprisingly sweet. We spent a long time in the restaurant to stay out of the elements.
Eventually we left the restaurant to window shop for a few minutes. Then we took the coach to San Gimignano. San Gimignano is, not surprisingly, an old, stone, hilltop town. I wandered the cobbled streets with Ryan and Katie. Our first stop was to get a cappuccino to warm our cockles, and then we spend our time journeying down side streets and up viewpoints to get a look at the spectacular scene below.
The wet snow/rain was left behind in Siena but there was quite a bit of snow still on the ground. We walked down quaint, brick-paved roads that sloped at various vertical degrees – slightly scary in ice. We climbed a small tower. I was wearing my red coat, and while we were up there we heard the Sabos yelling for us from the huge tower itself! It was very funny.
On the way back down we stopped at one of the museums – the medieval torture death penalty museum, to be precise. It is terrifying how into torture and public execution people in the middle ages were. Impaling, skull crushing, bone breaking, flaying, sawing in half… UGH!
We stopped by the supermarket to buy some dinner to eat at the hotel. I invested in mozzarella, thinly sliced salami, a baguette and moscato wine.
The hotel was truly in the middle of nowhere. We had to take the bags up a walk way to the main building because there was no way that the coach would fit. All of the rooms were outside of the main building. I was assigned to a villa with Carrie, Katie and Crystal. There were two beds, a day bed and a trundle… guess who got the trundle! Not that I remember sleeping there anyway.
The resort was really nice; I wish that we had been there longer in the daytime and in a warmer month! The pool was really pretty, accentuated by twinkle lights. The bar/lounge was cozy, with a fire and a billiards table. The rooms were pretty spacious too. I had dinner in Ryan, Zach and Quinn's room with them, Crystal and Katie. We shared meats, cheeses, bread and olive oil. My wine was, unfortunately, atrocious, but Katie very kindly let me drink hers. Dinner was fun and very yummy! Ryan had boar, which was interesting to try uncooked. We finished all of the wine and I had a wonderful time with my lovely girl friends – Danielle, Katie, Carrie and Crystal!
Day 7: Perugia, Civita de Bagnoregio, Rome - Friday 12 March 2010
The resort in the morning light is breathtaking. The birds are chirping and I am excited to leave the snow and cold behind. I slept for a long time on the coach ride, but woke up in time for arrival at the chocolate factory!
Parmaggina makes most of the chocolate in Italy, European Nestle products, and is the only producer of yummy Baci candies, which are my absolute favorite mass-produced Italian product. We toured a small museum with the history of the company and Baci, and then we toured the factory itself. It was really interesting to see the technology that assists in mass-producing. I was especially impressed with the robot arm that picks up individual candies and puts them into boxes – the speed and precision blew my mind. However, despite the large presence of robot technology, the factory still employs women to double-check the wrapping of candies, especially Easter eggs. The sugar really made my day.
We continued on to Civita, climbing great stone steps into yet another old stone city. The weather was actually beautiful! Blue skies, warmer, sunny. We trekked down the slopes of the city to the valley, at which point sat a long, narrow, stone bridge stretching across the canyon. It looked like there was a castle at the top of the mountain, stretching out from the mountain itself. It was actually a tiny, ancient, walled city. The colors of the mountains were breathtaking orange rock against the green vegetation, which changed hue under the sunlight. The bridge was OK if one didn't focus on one's feet… or the mountains.
The city on the other side was really cool though. We had forty-five minutes to wander around and grab some lunch. I ended up splitting off with Carrie, Danielle and Crystal. We walked around a bit but decided to go for lunch sooner rather than later. The girls followed a sign that read "bruscetta and vino" and ended up peering into the dark window of a door which suddenly opened to reveal a man and a dark room. He gestured them in, and I followed behind hesitantly. The room was a dark cavern of a restaurant fashioned from the stone inside of the mountain. There was still the preserved remains of a "fount" which a donkey would travel around in a circle to press grain and the like to provide energy. Fabrizio, the owner, was the descendant of a family that had owned this restaurant since the 1500s!
He served us his specialty, bruscetta. I got tomato on own and artichokes on the other, which I have now tried and am certain that I do not enjoy. I traded Crystal but wasn't really sure I liked the smell of whatever paste it was. Fabrizio forced his homemade wine on us, even when I explained to him why I had to decline. It was pretty good, although a little acidic. He also makes his own grappa and olive oil on his farm. Fabrizio turned out to be really nice and friendly. He kept making conversation with us, even though there was a definite language barrier. He invited us to his house for carbonara that night; I wish we could have gone! The kicker of it all was that he was wearing a Baltimore Orioles t-shirt!!! Carrie freaked out – what are the chances? There was also a family of tourists walking around who knew her – so freaky. This
was clearly her city!
The girls peed in hole-in-the-ground urinal on the outskirts of town – pretty hilarious, especially when we discovered that the real toilet was just on the other side of the building.
The walk back was rough; almost completely uphill. Then we took the coach into Rome! I stayed with Michelle and Crystal. I went out on the town with Ryan, Carrie, Katie and Danielle. We visited the Trevi fountain – my favorite place in the city – and the Piazza Navona. We ate dinner at a posh place and I got carbonara again. Delicious!
Tortellini in Chicken Broth
Prior to World War II, my great-grandparents married in a small town in southern Naples, Italy. The village was predominately populated by Malanga's and Difilipo's. After the first son was born, they took the perilous, long journey across the Atlantic and settled in Newark, New Jersey. Great-Grandpa Malanga was an entrepreneur and founded his own milk delivery business by horse and cart. Great-Grandma Difilipo was way ahead of her time. Although she eventually bore four sons and a daughter, she worked full time at Schickhaus meatpacking plant. They saved enough money to not only buy a home in the city of Newark, but also a home by the ocean in Asbury Park. One of their songs, my Pop-Pop, married an Irish girl. The shore house is where my Irish grandmother, Colleen, learned to make lasagna, which was even better than Italian Great-Grandma's, to her chagrin! On
Sundays, Great-Grandma created a feast for her family, extended in-laws and grandchildren. My father is the first child of the third son. He has passed these memories to me. My great-grandparents had passed prior to my birth.
Every Sunday on her day off, Great-Grandma was at the shore house cooking for the family. She made pasta from scratch, rolled it on her marble counter, and scored both vertically and horizontally squares to form tortellini or ravioli. The marble was cool early in the morning and the floured pasta didn't stick. She would use fresh meat from work and spice it up with Italian herbs and cheese, and then she would dollop each square with filling. For tortellini, she would roll it in a circle that left a hole in the middle to cook faster. For ravioli, she would top the meat square with another piece of pasta and press the sides together with a fork. This pasta cooks very quickly because the ingredients are fresh. Of course, she had fine cheese products from her husband. They made their own mozzarella and Great-Grandpa made wine in the basement. Grandma's
sauce went on the stove at daylight and simmered to perfection until the noontime meal. My father would be called, along with his cousins and siblings, to come in from the waves at the Jersey shore because it was time to eat. Some heavy sauces and rich platters would be served. The tomato-based pasta sauce was Napolitano, dark, spicy, and full-bodied. To this day, we all agree the best bread is found in New Jersey. Sawing off a hunk of Italian bread and sopping up the sauce left on a plate was the final action before napping.
My mother was taught to cook Italian style by my father, who is half-Italian, half-Irish. Mom makes a heavy red meat sauce with homemade meatballs, sausage, and typical Italian meals. Yet, she enjoys the lighter hand also. On Mondays she established "a night off." After running around to sports and play dates, homework, volunteering, etc., we were exhausted. On weekends, our schedule was topsy- turvy. On Sundays, we, too, enjoyed the full Italian noontime meal after church. So, on Mondays after school and work, she created meatless meals—something light, comforting, and easily digestible—to help her family get on track for the week. One favorite meal is cheese tortellini simmered in chicken broth, seasoned with fresh ground pepper and shaved Parmesan cheese. On the side is a salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing, along with a warm
loaf of garlic bread. For dessert, we'd have a lemon ice sherbet. Then we were ready to hit the sack and feel refreshed for the long, upcoming week of responsibility.
Tortellini originated in Bologna, Italy, which is northern Italian cuisine. However, we Americans enjoy multi-cultural epicurean delights. I can easily make Mom's Monday night special in less than 15 minutes. Simply, I heat a can of chicken broth on high while the oven preheats to 400 degrees. Once the broth is hot, I add the frozen or fresh (if it is on sale) tortellini, turns down the heat to low, cover, and simmers the pasta until plump and soft. I open a bag of greens, preferably Italian mix, take out the cruets of oil and vinegar, and place the frozen loaf of bread in the oven. Uncover the pasta; spice it up pepper and cheese. Take out the bread and slice. Sometimes, my father adds a little red pepper to his plate. Now, we have a balanced, healthy, inexpensive, and fast dinner of cheese pasta, dressed salad with tomatoes on the side, and warm, sliced, seasoned
bread to mop the leftover broth. A little cool, light sherbet cleans the palate, and I am ready to shower for bed.
Eating tortellini in chicken broth is comforting to me because the tastes and warmth of the dish bring back memories of family dinners in my childhood. This meal was a staple in the household, eaten once a week, and was simple enough to satisfy even my picky appetite. My parents are pretty accomplished cooks, especially through the Italian Malanga tradition, and this easy-to-make dinner Is a perfect starting point for me learning to cook real meals on my own.
- 1 14oz. can of reduced sodium chicken broth.
- 1 16 oz. bag frozen cheese tortellini, or 2 8 oz. packages fresh Buitoni tortellini.
- 1 loaf of premade garlic bread or a box of Parmesan Cheese Texas Toast.
- 1 block of Parmesan/Reggiano cheese
- Black pepper (freshly ground)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Open garlic bread loaf and place on cookie sheet/or place Texas Toast on cookie sheet. Bread only takes about 5 minutes to cook.
- Medium heat chicken broth in a saucepan until hot. Add frozen or fresh tortellini. Stir, cover, lower heat to simmer.
- Serve in bowls topped with fresh ground black pepper and grated cheese. Place bread on side to mop up seasoned broth. Yum!
PHOTOS: Food Science Course in Italy