I travel to eat. My Dear One not so much, although he takes pleasure when we hit the culinary jackpot. Eating is not just about finding those restaurants you want to keep secret from Tripadvisor and Yelp. It’s about the idea of food, the way local ingredients might be prepared, and what one might discover at the butcher shop and bakery, at the market stalls and on shelves at the enoteca. Finding time for cioccolato calde at a grand old tourist trap like Café Pedrocchi, however, will always be a treat. It’s not just hot chocolate that is closer in identity to a cup of steaming chocolate pudding or the somewhat disdainful attitude of the servers, especially toward tourists. It’s the decor that is a little over the top and the luxury that rejuvenates the soul. Besides, its our tradition when we are in Padua.
The Veneto and particularly the Colli Euganei, were our gastronomic Land of Oz. It was funghi season in a place where people forage for the tastiest wild mushrooms. Chestnuts were in season and roasted to smoky sweetness. Vines fill the terraces and plains and the wines of our commune of Teolo are justly praised. We arrived, jet-lagged and peckish, in Teolo’s Piazza Tito Livio having been misdirected up a dirt road that closely resembled a donkey track (best to forbid your GPS from taking you down unpaved surfaces). Our host Maurizio greeted us and we all agreed that it was best to eat lunch first, check into the apartment second.
Jacopo the server at the Bar-Ristorante-Enoteca La Piazzetta was the one who told us funghi was in season. He asked if our preference in red wine was for something a little younger or a bit more mature. At a table in the autumnal sunshine, against a backdrop of pink begonias and old stone buildings and with a glass of young wine and a glass of an older one, we savored plates of tender homemade linguine garnished with four kinds of sautéed mushrooms, buttery and herby. Then came the coffee, the hot, bitter-rich espresso in tiny cups. By this time I had relaxed into the mesh of
But Teolo is hardly more than a village that can be walked in a few minutes. La Piazzetta is in the building adjacent to our apartment and that meant fresh cornetti arrived Tuesday through Saturday mornings at seven-thirty. The best, in our opinion, are cornetti di crema, overflowing with filling that is not quite custard, definitely not whipped cream, a little bit crème anglais. Occasionally we cooked hot oatmeal, let a pat of butter melt on the top, added a generous sprinkle of sugar and good Italian milk.
Our habit is to eat lunch out and dine a casa. Our appetites are rarely big and at the end of the day we only nibble. Thanks to my Dear One, who requested carpaccio, and a charming lad behind the meat counter at the Famila grocery store in San Biagio, we invented a perfect dish. Take some very good olive oil, a drop or two of equally good vinegar and a scraping of pepper. Whisk briskly. Place a few leaves of crisp, tender lettuce—may I recommend Bibb?—on a plate. Drizzle each leaf with a few drops of the vinaigrette. Place a whole or half paper-thin slice of veal, depending on the size of the leaf, on each piece of lettuce. Now the meat really must be cut paper-thin, not pounded out that way. Scatter capers around, enough of them for a bud in each bite. Splatter with a tiny bit more vinaigrette. Serve with an excellent red. Or white. Or prosecco. Whatever you like. Roll up the leaves, Korean-style, around the veal and capers and eat with your fingers. If this sounds like not quite enough supper, add some good crusty bread slathered with butter.
Yet we, too, are on the lookout for that utterly memorable meal. We had a couple of excellent panini. Hot zuppa was just the ticket one cold rainy day. There were several plates of indifferent pasta. A picnic, whose ingredients we bought at the shops in Teolo and thought we would eat in the Botanical Garden, came back to the apartment with us when we determined that the gardens were too barren of bloom and the skies too threatening to stay. Delicious anyway.
And my Dear One still yearned for spaghetti alle seppie nero. That memory of our first encounter, some fifteen years ago in a restaurant in Venice that no longer seems to exist, lingers still. On our last day, a wander through some of the Biennale under a brilliant sun (aqua alta was still two or three days away), we paused at the gates to the Arsenale and opted for a break at the Trattoria da Paolo. It was ordinary; some big lads were filling up on pizza and beer at one of the tables. We debated. I knew I wanted some Caprese. It’s the buffalo mozzarella more than the tomato, the mozzarella, a slurp of olive oil, a basil leaf. I added a bowl of vegetable soup to that and knew I would be happy. My Dear One dithered. Is this the right place to order seppie? Probably not, but this was the last lunch in Venice we are likely to have for a long time. A really long time. And while we waited, all happy in the warmth, we watched some very aggressive pigeons launching attack on the tables. Apparently, this flight is a chronic problem. They attacked baskets of bread rolls and knocked them off the tables. Some felt entitled to the meal on the guest’s plate and boldly walked up. The server came out armed with a sort of whip, a stick with a string tied to it, and swung vigorously at the birds. They scattered. For a few seconds. They came back. The string lashed through the air. The process repeated.
The best glass of house wine was the barbera served in Bar Ciak in the Campiello san Tomà on a damp, chilly Venice Wednesday, to go with our lasagna Bolognese and parmigiana di melanzane. I am going to have to make eggplant parm that way one day. No bread. Nothing fried. Just a short stack of thin rounds of eggplant with the most delicate tomato sauce, mozzarella and a sprinkling of parmesan.
The most extraordinary meal—and it took some to outdo La Piazzetta’s funghi on day one—was at the Osteria Ristorante Jodo on the outskirts of Maser. I had noticed this plain, pinkish building as we headed to the Villa Barbaro. Deciding to trust to luck and find an eatery on route to the next destination, Villa Emo in Fanzolo, we happened to drive back down that same road. A few cars in the parking lot reassured us that this osteria isolated on an unprepossessing road might be okay. It was quiet inside and no staff or guests spoke English. The tables sported white tablecloths and the glassware was elegant, but the atmosphere was informal and familial.
A half-carafe of their red was a good start. Once again we headed to the primi list. I knew immediately what I wanted: tagliatelle di zucca su crema di porcini con crudo croccante e noccioli. They had me at noccioli. According to Google Translate that is “pumpkin noodles on porcini cream with crispy raw and hazelnuts.” Not precisely sure what was raw but everything about this dish was utterly spectacular and utterly unlike anything I have ever had. My Dear One went with ravioli di patate ripieni al morlacco con burro, erba cipollina e speck. That would be “morlacco stuffed potato ravioli with butter, chives and speck.” I had a bite. If you think stuffing ravioli with potato and Morlacco del Grappa cheese and serving it in a puddle of butter is caloric overkill, I can only wish you so sublime a death. We ended with coffee of course. The best espresso. The best.
“But what about dessert?” you might ask. What about it, indeed. We prefer to enjoy our lunch, continue with walkabout, and find a scoop of gelato. My Dear One always goes for limone; I am similarly addicted to nocciola. We can announce with confidence that the best gelato, possibly in the Veneto, is found at Vaniglia-Cioccolato in Este on the southern edge of the Colli Euganei. We dropped in three times; it’s only about twenty-five minutes from Teolo. Gelateria Giotto in Padua was good, but there was a slightly bitter edge to the limone, as though the zest had included too much pith; and the nocciola could have been milkier. The limone was very good at a Venetian gelateria we don’t remember the name of—but neither it nor the nocciola met the standards set by Vaniglia-Cioccolato.