During my stay in Rome, few years ago, I spend the days exploring the city but late evenings were spend eating pizzas and pastas on the tables that overflowed on the streets outside the restaurants.
Eating pastas and pizzas are fun food and most of us think that Italian cuisine means just that. But there is more to it. Every region has its own specialty, its’ own distinct set of flavors. When you live in the city for longer stay, you begin to see the difference in taste.
The northern Italians love their rich cream sauces and stuffed meat, but people in the south prefer tangy, spicy flavors, olive oil and fresh steamed seafood. Northern Italy runs on butter, southern Italy make the most of its abundance of olive oils.
This week, an invite to Southern Italian food festival at ‘Mezzo Mezzo’ at J. W Marriott brought back many of those memories.
I would like to make a special mention on the Calamari salad that I relished a lot.
Calamari is tricky meat, if not treated properly, it could become rubbery and hard.
I enjoyed the flavors and asked chef Davide the trick behind such a delicious salad. Was surprised to learn that marinating of calamari was just olive oil, saffron, red chilies powder and white wine. A lime is slit; not squeezing out the juice, just kept inside the bowl to lend its flavor.
For vegetarian there was sprout beans salad too.
In Italy, if you were to ask to be directed to salad dressing aisle at the grocery store, be ready for blank stares because there isn’t one. Italians use authentic olio e aceto (oil and vinegar) in a perfect balance as salad dressing. Preferred choice would be cloudy green oil and aged, balsamic vinegar.
There were Pizzas of course, thin crusted and oven fresh.
Fresh tomatoes, creamy mozzarella and few leaves of peppery sweet basil made it delicious feast. There were also traditional pizzas with anchovies, black olives, diced peppers, onions, etc. Splashing a tobacco or chilly sauce over the pizza is not a good idea; just sprinkling red chilly flakes should do the trick. Condiments should be added to enhance the taste, not to cover the flavors.
Breads occupied the center stage of the bar counter with cheese on one side and olives and cold cuts on other side.
Visitors to Italy often complain about the flavor of plain Tuscan bread, because it is made without salt. It is because they do not know that Italians don’t use it as eat-alone bread. It is often used to mop off the deliciousness left on your plate after a meal, or whatever your fork can’t pick up during one.
Southern Cheeses are also worth mentioning; they tend to be firm though Mozzarella is a wonderful exception, soft and stringy.
Chef Davide was proud of his Italian cuisine and was eager to please. He shared with us many stories of Southern Italian taste, while we enjoyed the sit—down-meals of great varieties of pastas and risottos that was prepared with utmost care.
Italian Food Festival at Mezzo Mezzo (at J W Marriotte) is on till 3rd November 2013