In honor of national noodle month, I am featuring a little history of Pasta in Italy. The research was done when I attended a food and wine trade mission a few years ago in Southern Italy. We visited pasta factories, farms, restaurants, you name it, if it was edible, we ate it and saw how it was made.
Pasta, Pasta, Pasta !
Campania, Italy is the area where pasta rules. Dry, fresh or homemade, it is the main food. Almost always the basic ingredient of the first course. Served with a traditional tomato sauce (in the region known as â€œragoutâ€ it is complemented with most often seafood.) Always produced with durum wheat. The Torre Annunziata and Gragnano are the largest production areas that have taken pasta from the farmhouse to the factory. Entrepreneurs have never changed their standards with their growth, the quality is always guaranteed by the best selection of wheat.
All pasta is best eaten â€œal denteâ€ which means that it is quite firm and not overcooked.
As our gastronomy odyssey continued, we visited family businesses that had third and fourth generations carrying on the passion of the dream once started many years ago. During the day, we traveled up and down to places I thought only mountain goats would go, they were so high up. But the vistas were breathtaking and we got a real feel for what the countryside was like. Vineyards as far as the eye could see for the most part, dotted with olive trees. They are a good pair to plant together. Artichokes and chestnuts also grow well in the region.
A product that had top billing on almost every table we ate at was the famed fresh Mozzarella.
â€œOnly real mozzarella is true if made from buffalo milk from Campanian Buffaloes” a cheese maker told us. For the expert, all others are just â€œfresh stringy cheesesâ€. Often served very simply on a cutting board as a snack, or with sliced tomatoes (Caprese Salad), the star ingredient on pizza, or even dessert. Once you have the real silky smooth taste and rich texture, you will be spoiled. Although buffalo Mozzarella with the queen of cheese, the region does produce some other beautiful cheeses such as provolone del Monaco, manteca, smoked provola and scamorza. In Duluth, the best Caprese salad is served at the Duluth Grill.
As our travels came to an end each day, we raced back to our rooms to change and head out for a real Italian style dinner- which meant not starting to eat before 9 p.m. and big multicourse affairs to pair our samples from the vineyards to the local foods. In the Campania region, fish based dishes are a separate distinct part of food that may be called â€œtastes from the sea on our tableâ€
The variations of the dishes changed rapidly as we traveled from town to town, but one thing was for sure, it was all impeccably fresh because Italians are true lovers of sea food dishes. Dishes like spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams) for recipe click here insalata di polpo (octopus salad) for recipe click here and insalata di mare (seafood salad) for recipe click here is just a short list of the endless courses of seafood that we ate.
Farm tours and â€œAgritourismosâ€Â are really hot right now in Italy. They are county inns that must produce the foods served to the guests. Agritourismo is extraordinary option for rural tourism. Yes, the frantic bustle of Rome and Naples are nice, but to really relax in get immersed in a totally different culture, the countryside of Campagnia is for you. These farms are almost always run by families which are always interested in sharing their knowledge, and if they find out you like to cook, undoubtedly you always end up in the kitchen cooking something together.