One of the things that I couldn’t wait to make when I got back from Italy was Cacio e Pepe. This overly delicious pasta is the easiest dish to make! It only has 4 ingredients! Cacio e Pepe seriously means “cheese and pepper” or in other terms, Italian mac and cheese! I saw Cacio e Pepe on just about every menu in Italy and especially in Rome where it is one of their signature dishes! Be forewarned it is pepper forward with a heavy dose of pecorino romano cheese. For some reason, the flavors come together like peas and carrots! One thing that I learned on my trip and why real Italian food is so amazing is that they try and cook with no more than 3 ingredients. This way each flavor will shine through and you know what you are eating! I think that’s brilliant! As Anthony Bourdain so eloquently put it, “it’s (Cacio e Pepe) like the simplest, nicest thing in the world”! I couldn’t agree more! Give this one a try for sure!
As I continue on my big European adventure, we now head into Italy. We start our Italian adventure in Sardinia. We then headed to Elba Island, Cinque Terre and a final special treat, truffle hunting in Tuscany! This is silly and no “dis” on Spain but when you get onto Italian soil, you will notice the abundance of flowers and it smells good! Spain lacked an abundance of flowers and sadly it was quite “stinky” in places. One thing you can’t avoid in Spain and Italy is a huge amount of graffiti (which is everywhere) and it can be very dirty. I guess you get used to it because it’s a way of life over there but just something to be aware of if you visit!
So let’s get to the good stuff. Sardinia is cool. It’s the largest of the islands in the Balearic and most populated. When I said that Italy smelled good, it’s true. The smell of cooking garlic and red sauce was wafting throughout the old town! We got into the countryside and had a fabulous wine tasting at a beautiful vineyard. The wines were lovely and we tasted delicious with Pecorino cheeses at various stages of aging. It’s amazing tasting wine with freshly made cheese. I’d be a happy gal if I could do that every day! **Dream Job**! Make note if you enjoy “big” red wines. 2017 will be a great year for Italian reds. It’s been so hot there that the grape production is less than normal and the grapes have gotten sweeter faster. When we were there, the vineyards were already harvesting their crops! Keep your eye out for 2017 Italian wines, they will be good!
Elba Island is beautiful. It’s funny that it’s my second time there. We enjoyed some great sightseeing, beautiful vistas, charming villages, a great pizza and a gelato for breakfast. Such a nice place to visit!
On this trip, I was able to check off two items from my bucket list! Cinque Terre and truffle hunting in Tuscany. I had been to cooking school a few years ago in Tuscany so I really didn’t need to spend a couple of days there when Cinque Terre was so close! We met some lovely people on our trip and we all decided to get a car and a guide and head on up! I am so happy that I did. The towns are simply stunning. It’s such an amazing sight to see towns that literally “fall” into the ocean. The ingenuity of the people hundreds of years ago and how they harvested the grapes with the baby trolly cars is just inspiring. You just can’t understand the magnitude of these towns unless you see it. One of the coolest places that I have ever visited.
And then truffle hunting. I knew by 2 weeks without petting a dog that I would need a “dog fix” and since they use dogs now instead of pigs to find the rare treats I knew this would be the perfect thing to do. The Nacci family is welcoming enough to let people in on their property and go truffle hunting in one of the most renowned regions of Italy for finding truffles! Tartufi Nacci is a wonderful thing to do if you are in Tuscany. It’s fairly close to Pisa and I guarantee an amazing time. After meeting the completely excited dogs, you go on a nice walk down a country road. It’s one of the craziest things that you will ever see when a dog smells a truffle. They start digging like crazy and their handler Ricardo would run over to stop them. With a large spade, he would dig down and pull out a truffle. It’s so weird and exciting at the same time. After a couple of hours, we collected 5 black truffles. Pretty neat! We even got to eat them and for a gal who doesn’t particulary “like” truffles, fresh ones right out of the ground were simply amazing!!
One of the greatest things about traveling to Italy is the hospitality. These folks want everyone to enjoy themselves. On all my trips to Italy, I find this the best part. Everyone invites you into their home for a beautifully prepared meal, a bottle of wine, a lot of laughs and quite honestly pure enjoyment. Sitting out on a Tuscan patio at someones personal home with a white table cloth and mix matched plates and silverware eating food prepared by the family is priceless. This experience will definitely be one of my greatest memories!
Next week, Rome! It was my favorite stop on the trip and deserves its own post! Enjoy all the pictures, there are a bunch!
- 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1 tablespoon coarse ground black pepper
- 1 1/2 cups grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1 1/2- 2 cups reserved pasta water
- Cook pasta according to package directions making sure to salt the water before you bring to a boil. At least a tablespoon. Reserve 2 cups of pasta water before draining.
- In the same pot add the olive oil. Put back on the warm stove but don’t turn it on. Combine the pepper and olive oil and add the pasta. Toss in the cheese and about 1½ cups of the pasta water and combine until the cheese has melted. Add more water if necessary, but that amount should do it.
- Transfer to plates and serve with additional cheese and a good drizzle of olive oil.