Sirius XM satellite radio launched the Beatles Channel (channel 18) this past week and other Sirius stations joined in the celebration. One in particular was XM Channel 88 NFL Radio who asked listeners to call in and name their Fab Four of Football. This got me thinking what would my choice be for Italy’s Fab Four. The top 4 most fabulous experiences you could have it Italy. It almost seems impossible to choose 4 distinctive touchstones that define the “fatal charm of Italy that can be found nowhere else” but here are mine.
Driving through the iconic landscape of the Tuscany’s Crete Senesi and Val d’Orcia
Florence, Rome and Venice
Assisi and the Franciscan Santuario of La Verna
The mosaics of Ravenna
An amazing list to be sure but here are a few more things in Italy I think are over the top, the star of the group, the best travel investment you can make, the cherry on the sundae, the most dominant person, place or thing you can see in Italy.
Like Brutus in the Roman Forum on that fateful Ides of March the ubiquitous Caesar Salad came out of the least expected place. Not a traditional Italian dish never to be found on any true restaurant menu in Italy, its name often associates it with Italian cuisine.
The salad was originally created in 1924 by Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. Cardini immigrated to California from Italy’s Lake Region after World War I. Cardini relocated his San Diego restaurant to Tijuana when Prohibition left a gap in the cocktail dining crowd.
Gastromythology tells the story that the salad was created on a busy summer weekend at Caesar’s restaurant with what was on hand and tossed at the table for effect. Popularized by celebrity diners traveling across the border (Clark Gable and Jean Harlow where said to enjoy it) Cardini’s Caesar Salad became a signature dish and was once voted by the International Society of Epicures in Paris
as the “greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in fifty years.”
So the salad of Caesar gets its drama not from the Roman forum but from the streets of Tijuana via an Italian immigrant with Italian sprezzatura. Over the years the recipe has evolved into many adaptations.
Here is one.
Caesar Salad Skewers
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 (2 ounce) tin anchovies, drained
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 heart of romaine, trimmed and cut crosswise into 1-inch strips
16 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground pepper
For the dip. In a blender, combine the mayonnaise, 1 cup of cheese, lemon juice, anchovies, mustard, vinegar, garlic and Worcestershire sauce. Blend on high until thick and creamy, about 20 seconds. Place the dip in a bowl and top with the remaining 1 tablespoon of cheese.
Divide the romaine strips evenly among 16 skewers and thread them onto the skewers through their center rib, keeping them close to the tip. Top each skewer with a cherry tomato, garnish with pepper and top with a crouton. Serve with the Caesar dressing dip.
I surely have more than 11 but here is my Italy in 30 Seconds List.
- Tagliatelle and ragu’ from Bologna
- Panzerotti from Milano
- Wild boar ragu -pappardelle al cinghiale ragu’ with a glass of Brunello from Montalcino
- Shopping at Santa Maria Novella Farmacia in Florence
- Pizza al taglio in Rome
- Bistecca alla fiorentina a/k/a the Tuscan T-bone with a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva
- A glass of Sagrantino wine from Montefalco in Umbria
- Cioccolata Calda – hot Italian Drinking Chocolate in almost any piazza in Italy
- A dip at an Italian terme (hot spring)
- Cappellacci di zucca and glass of sweet Albana di Romagna wine to end a meal in Ferrara
- A glass of Vin Santo with cantucci in Tuscany
Easter in Italy is a celebration of food and tradition. One inedible food memory for Italians and Italian-Americans who grew up celebrating Old World food traditions is Pizza rustica (Italian Easter Pie), a luscious and filling pastry stuffed with meats and cheeses. Mixed in with assorted Italian meats (sausage, pepperoni, salami or prosciutto) and hard-boiled eggs is a special type of cheese only made during this time of the year. A unique ingredient, basket cheese is made from pasteurized cow’s milk and rennet, an enzyme that causes milk to become cheese by separating it into the solid curds and liquid whey. Basket cheese gets its name from the plastic basket in which it is formed and the indentations that give it a distinctive name and look.
Meant to be eaten seasonally, after the Good Friday fast, basket cheese is part of the tradition and ritual of an Italian Easter.
If you need a visual image to keep you focused on your Lenten journey you might consider the Italian Renaissance artist Pinturicchio’s Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom (1504). The Greek philosophers Socrates and Crates are caught in a rather tricky balancing act on the top of a steep hill with the Roman goddess Fortuna. A desperate band of travelers are shown trudging upward on a difficult path, supposedly a path we humans have to undertake if we want to reach wisdom.
To view Pinturicchio’s Allegoria del Colle della Sapienza you have to look downward rather than upward as it is part of the floor intarsia in the Cathedral of Siena. A masterpiece underfoot, Giorgio Vasari called the floor of Siena’s Duomo “the most beautiful, big and magnificent that has ever been done”. Normally covered by carpets to protect it, the floor is uncovered for a few months each year when stories from antiquity, biblical scenes and allegories come to life through intricate patterns and designs created in marble as vivid and alive as any Renaissance sculpture. Siena cathedral floor
Siena is one of my favorite cities in Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must see when traveling in Tuscany. Siena is located in the Val d’Orcia, a breathtakingly beautiful part of Italy that makes the journey all the more memorable. A perfect image in my mind’s eye to reflect on life’s journey. Pinturicchio’s travelers to the Hill of Wisdom find their fortunes cast from the top as if to say Fortune is fickle and Wisdom lies in knowing so.
Our grandmother came to American as an Italian immigrant so we are particularly fond of immigrant stories like this one about Antonio Pasin who like our grandmother lived in a small town outside of Venice.
Our Nonna circa 1919
Coming to America in the early 1900s was a complete cultural shift. Nothing was familiar everything was foreign and new. Yet our Italian ancestors were committed to becoming a part of the American experience and making American their new home.
Antonio Pasin standing in his workshop in Chicago (Radio Flyer)
For Antonio Pasin that meant saving enough money to rent a one room workshop, where he began building phonograph cabinets and wooden wagons to haul around tools. His wagon would eventually become the flashy red Radio Flyer, an American icon and a true American toy. Pasin’s success as an American entrepreneur is best measured by a 1973 advertisement for the Radio Flyer as the “only wagon that outsells Ford station wagons.”
The accomplishments of the many immigrants that came to America during the early 20th century could often be measured in extraordinary accomplishments in business, commerce, science and the arts. But just as many contributed to the fabric of American society by raising families and creating communities of worth with hard work and determination to make America their new home.
Not the cylindrical, furry, tunneling subterranean kind but the word element in Moleskine, Milan’s iconic little black notebook. Co-opted as a travel journal, planner, diary and sketchbook the notebook with the famous blank pages of ivory-colored paper is waiting to be filled with your thoughts.
Each notebook page is kept in place with a ribbon bookmark and then collectively tucked away between the covers with a signature elastic band. Used by Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse and Hemingway moleskine notebooks have a devoted following worldwide and can now be found in a variety of covers, colors and digital versions for a new generation of artists and thinkers.
Bring or buy your Moleskine on your next trip to Milan and meet with other like-minded writers and sketchers while sipping an espresso at the Moleskine Cafe in Milan’s Brera district. The cafe, art gallery, store and library is described as a clean-lined, minimalistic space designed with neutral colors “like the pages of a Moleskine notebook” waiting to inspire you to tell your story.