Italy

lunch-view-300x224.jpgThere are few more beautiful places in the world than the Amalfi Coast. Ancient villages vie with lemon groves for the prime real estate on the cliffs – with views that take you over the rooftops, through the fresh laundry flapping in the breeze, out to the blue sea. Truly gorgeous.

But when you try to walk in those quaint little streets, all you can see over the heads of the tour groups are stores selling t-shirts and limoncello. That’s the trade-off – at least in the big-name towns like Amalfi, Ravello, Positano, and Sorrento – there’s truly beautiful scenery but you’re going to have to share the view with a lot of other people. A lot of other people.

We stayed in Amalfi in a lovely, funky hotel up above the town – The Villa Lara. We ate in town and very well. My favorite was a place called Marocco where I had spaghetti with shrimp and lemon. I’d never tried that combination before and Amalfi is the place for it. The local lemons are famous – and unbelievably large – like the size of your head – and they carry a lot of taste. That’s it, I think: just toss the pasta in oil and lemon (probably juice and a little grated peel) and toss in the shrimp. It was totally satisfying with a glass or two of the local white wine.

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Image“You know, I once saw an American TV show where someone was eating a fried Oreo.” This was the phrase that poured out my host in Torino’s mouth as we discussed the difference of food in each culture. I couldn’t help but laugh. Instantly, an image of Oreos, fries, chocolate, and dough being deep-fried at a county fair entered my mind. ‘In America, we can fry anything…even cheesesteaks,’ I thought.

“America, home of the fried,” I said out loud to my host.

As someone who was always on the bigger side, growing up, I made a vow two and a half years ago to give up deep fried foods. My only exception to the rule was tortilla chips. However, for two and a half years, fries and funnel cake never graced a single plate placed in front of me.

But my fast of fried food recently came to an end in Milan, Italy as I stepped into Luini, a famous shop in the heart of the city. The shop, recommended to me by the few people I knew to have spent extended amounts of time in Milan, is home to the very special panzerotti—fried pizza dough filled with deliciousness.

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al-duello-roma-italia.jpgI just spent my first night in Rome and wanted to share my dinner from last night. It was at Al Duello, a place a friend recommended. It was absolutely incredible.

It's a cute little place off a random side street between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona. It wasn't too busy and they were super sweet with me. Not only did they bring me a free glass of champagne, but a free desert, as well. I had sadly decided I couldn't quite muster eating it after the other three delicious courses; however, they insisted. Man, whatever it was it was worth shoveling into my mouth and overindulging.

It wasn't the cheapest meal, but given all I ate, how good it was and, oh yeah, two large glasses of wine, it was well worth it. I can only hope the rest of meals are this good.

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2 ponte vecchio.jpgThe first time I ate at Coco Lezzone in Florence, it was at the invitation of film producer Dino De Laurentiis, who knows a thing or two about Italian cooking:

(1) He created the gourmet Italian DDL Foodshow Emporiums in New York and Beverly Hills about 20 years ahead of their time,

(2) His lovely granddaughter Giada, with many of her family’s recipes and great charm and skill, has become a best-selling cookbook author and very popular Food Network chef, and,

(3) He is Italian and always has been.  

We were in Florence because that’s where Hannibal was being filmed, and Dino asked my wife Elizabeth and me and some others working on the film to join him at Coco Lezzone for dinner.

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ImageWhen I first heard the phrase “ZaZa,” I thought it might have referred to some strange dance move created decades ago, possibly performed by the Tracy Turnblad character, played by Ricki Lake, in the original Hairspray (John Waters, 1988). I imagined Lake’s character flailing her arms in the air, shaking her bum from left to right, tapping her feet to the drum, and exclaiming, “ZaZa!” on a certain beat. Thankfully, I had thought wrong: Instead of the ZaZa referring to a dizzying dance stunt, it was the most tremendously tasty Trattoria in Tuscany—a restaurant in Florence, whose food is so good, it may make you want to flail your arms up in the air and yell ZaZa!

In the far back of a square, just beyond the San Lorenzo, in the Piazza del Mercato Centrale, a neon “ZaZa” sign hangs above the big Trattoria. Immediately, I was attracted, not only to the bright sign, but also the outdoor seating that the Florentine workers at ZaZa refuse to put to rest for the winter, despite the chilly weather. As my roommate and I approached the hostess stand, I thought to myself ‘Tonight, I will be eating dinner in style. Tonight, I will be eating true Italian cuisine,’ something I had not done yet since returning to Italy for the first time in two years.

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