It comes as no surprise that the first several dishes I made for this challenge came from countries I’d previously traveled to. I can definitely point to my sense of wanderlust being stifled due to travel restrictions and the pandemic. Perhaps, in my own way, this culinary trip down memory lane was my way of looking back at more than a decade’s worth of yearly international adventures.
When it comes to Italy, I’ve had the opportunity to travel there twice. The first time was in 2011 and it was a whirlwind of a trip following a few days in Croatia. We managed to visit Venice, Florence and Rome in about 5 days which is kind of insane. But then again, I was 30 and perhaps that pace was far more manageable for me at the time. I will say that I found the food in Rome to be a bit underwhelming but, and I’ve heard this from others as well, there are so many tourist traps in the city it’s not an uncommon experience. Plus I think by the time I went back to Italy in 2018 I was a bit wiser when it came to spotting the best places to eat. Or my amazing hosts had something to do with it. 🙂
In 2018 I revisited Italy but for this trip, while I did have a brief stop in Venice, my time was focused in Trieste and Duino for a dear friend’s wedding. Her family is from the region so it was like having the best kind of tour guide built in to a fabulous wedding weekend. We ate at amazing restaurants with meter long pizzas and phenomenal seafood. The food at the wedding was unprecedented and I still dream of the table of 39 varieties of appetizers. To this day, even back home in Arlington, VA, I know if I have the pleasure of being invited to a gathering at her family’s home, I will be extremely well fed and liquored. Her father’s Negronis are the stuff of legends.
Now on to the cooking for this task. That same friend bought me an Italian cookbook, Marcella Hazan’s “Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking” for a holiday gift exchange so I was ready to dive in. There were countless recipes to choose from but I was really craving a Bolognese sauce and “something with prosciutto” so this is where I landed. The overall texture of the meat fell more into the traditional ground beef arena than the very finely ground beef that I think may be achieved by going to a proper butcher to get the meat ground down further, or maybe going to an Italian grocer (note to self for next time). I thought the flavors were there but the overall look was not as I envisioned. Looking back at the recipe, I can only surmise that the cut of meat might not have been right or I should have gone longer than the three hours of cooking time to really let it break down. The Prosciutto & Cheese Wrapped Asparagus bundles? Perfection.
Overall Level of Effort: 2 (namely because of the time it takes to cook, but the preparation is relatively straightforward)
Skill Level: Beginner (though something can be said that I didn’t feel my end result was quite right and I consider myself relatively advanced at cooking. And humble! :))
Additional Notes: This cookbook is kind of amazing and covers so many bases. While I find that this cooking challenge will keep me busy enough over the next three years that the thought of cooking other countries might seem to go overboard, I believe I will revisit this cookbook a few times a year as it truly is an Italian cooking bible.