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My Ultimate Italian Meal, Part II: Pasta and Meats

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Dec 31, 2014

My Ultimate Italian Meal, Part II: Pasta and Meats

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Every year, I lead hiking and touring trips to Italy, and since this is Italy we’re talking about, one of the highlights is the food. I think Italians have the best cuisine in the world.

Roasted pork with potatoes - nice and simple, fresh, and perfectly cooked.

Roasted pork with potatoes – nice and simple, fresh, and perfectly cooked.

The thing about Italian cooking, the way we eat it on our trip, is that it’s rarely fancy. It’s not covered in elaborate sauces, and it doesn’t have long titles with a huge list of spices. You just get good, fresh ingredients, cook them right, and serve them with love and community. As the trip leader, I live for the looks on people’s faces when they sink their teeth into something like this:

Wild Boar with white beans, served at a private family winery in Tuscany.

Wild Boar with white beans.

So, following up on Part I (Setting and Antipasta), let’s move on to the second and third courses of my Ultimate Italian Meal: pasta and meat. In Italy, by the way, the salad often comes out last, and sometimes vegetables don’t even come with the meat course. They like to say that you put the light food on top of the heavy.

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Okay, let’s talk about pasta. On one trip we visited the home of a shepherd family, on the edge of a national forest reserve, and she made pasta for us. It’s a local specialty called tortelli, which looks to us like ravioli but is filled with mashed potatoes and a few spices, rather than spinach and ricotta cheese.

But the best thing was, we got back from a walk in the forest to a 1,000-year-old monastery, where St. Anthony himself once stayed, and we got to watch her make it!

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

Rolling out the pasta with her grandmother’s 100-year-old rolling pin.

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

She applies the filling, which was in the bowl above.

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

All ready for the flip!

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

Look how thin it is! And how easy she makes it look. By the way, she has done this every Sunday forever, basically.

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

Pressing down the individual portions. Need I mention that she made the pasta by hand, and the filling ingredients are all from their garden?

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

Cutting out the individual portions — the only part I felt I could handle.

tortelli6b

And into the water they go!

When I asked this woman what she was going to put onto them, she looked at me kind of funny, as if to say, “What do you think they need?” Then she pointed at this pot and said …

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

Just butter and sage! That’s sage from the garden and butter from the cow down the road.

And the final result, with a little parmesan cheese on top. It makes me nearly weep every time I’ve eaten it.

Our Italian friend makes us tortellini, a local specialty, in her farm home on the edge of a Tuscan forest reserve.

Buon appetito!

In other pasta adventures during the trip …

We had this ravioli with spinach filling and just a little cream sauce on the streets in Cinque Terre.

We had this ravioli with spinach filling and just a little cream sauce on the streets in Cinque Terre.

Pasta with nettles, and a pork ragu, in a mountain village family-run hotel we'll stay in on the 2015 trip.

Pasta with nettles, and a pork ragu, in a mountain village family-run hotel we’ll stay in on the 2015 trip.

Pici pasta with pesto, in the Cinque Terre. The Liguria region is where pesto was invented.

Pici pasta with pesto, in the Cinque Terre. The Liguria region is where pesto was invented. I ate this within yards of the beach.

We had this hand-made pici with olive oil, bread crumbs, and cheese in a private family wintery in Tuscany. I cannot convey the magic of how this tasted.

We had this hand-made pici with olive oil, bread crumbs, and cheese in a private family wintery in Tuscany. I cannot convey the magic of how this tasted.

My favorite restaurant in the world is a little place in Florence, where I had this tagliatelle with duck ragu.

My favorite restaurant in the world is a little place in Florence, where I had this tagliatelle with duck ragu.

Sometimes, we might have a soup instead of pasta. It could be one of these options:

Chickpea soup, with a little spice thrown in for good measure.

Chickpea soup, with a little spice thrown in for good measure. Private home in Lucca.

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan soup of leftover bread, cannellini beans, and root vegetables.

Ribollita is a traditional Tuscan soup of leftover bread, cannellini beans, and root vegetables.

And now, on to the meats. The meat course isn’t always such a big part of Italian cooking, but it’s there. The trick with these meals is to go easy on the bread, antipasta and pasta — which, believe me, is much easier said than done!

Two different roast pork dishes, with potatoes, at the family hotel in Corfino.

Two different roast pork dishes, with potatoes, at the family hotel in Corfino.

Mixed seafood grill from a restaurant on the beach in Monterosso al Mare, Cinque Terre.

This mixed seafood grill followed the pesto, above. Again, this is within yards of the beach!

Wild Boar with white beans, served at a private family winery in Tuscany.

Wild Boar with white beans. Another example of simplicity, done so well, that words fail me. At the family winery in Tuscany.

Steak Florentine, a portherhouse cut about 1.5 inches thick, cooked five minutes on each side, cubed, and rolled in olive oil, salt and pepper. Sausages on the side.

Sometimes our hosts just go crazy and roast meat over the open flame. This is a steak Florentine, a portherhouse cut about 1.5 inches thick, cooked five minutes on each side, cubed, and rolled in olive oil, salt and pepper. Sausages on the side.

Well, I think we’ve had enough to eat for now, don’t you? Next time I’ll come back at you with the side dishes, salads, and of course, dessert. And espresso.

Until then, let me know if you want to go hiking and touring in Tuscany with me. It’s an awesome trip, with awesome food!

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Paul Gerald

I am the author of several books on hiking, camping, eating breakfast and chilling out. I am also a freelance travel writer, publisher, hiker, and inveterate traveler.

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