GELATO GALORE!

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream, but the differences between these two dairy products highly impact the taste, texture, and experience of having gelato in Italy and eating ice cream in the States. While containing the same ingredients, ice cream is much more fluffy and airy, as compared to gelato. Ice cream contains more cream/more fat which allows for the increased trapping of air.

I have had 24 different flavors of gelato on 15 different occasions.  One of the my favorite flavors, I had very recently in Arezzo: cremino. While other gelato is stacked a little higher, looks whipped and creamy in its tin, cremino is different. A smooth, flat designed chocolate layer sits on top of a vanilla (fior di latte) base. When ordered, the server will mix the rich chocolate topping with the gelato underneath to create a marbled texture that taste oh so delicious. The chocolate was just slightly thicker than syrup, and the gelato was still creamy like normal. The chocolate ganache was so amazing paired with the plain vanilla. My other favorite flavor was a tiramisu that I had in Pisa. This texture was the most interesting, as there was cocoa powder dusted on top of the gelato metal tin, and there were chocolate chunks embedded in the coffee gelato. As a person that prefers fruitier desserts, I was surprised that I loved these two more chocolate-y flavors the most.

The most amazing combination I concocted was definitely the salted caramel and apricot. The apricot was fruit and sweet, and the caramel was slightly salted. This salty and sweet combination was perfectly balanced, and neither flavor overwhelmed the other.

My favorite gelateria was Hedera in Rome. Supposedly, they are the people who create the Pope’s birthday cake. The strawberry gelato I got there was absolutely divine, and I have not have strawberry gelato that compares. There were so many seeds in the gelato–it was extremely fresh. It was so refreshing on that hot day in Rome. They were warm and welcoming in the tiny box of a store. It was clear that all of the workers knew each other well, or were even related. Their kitchen was easily seen behind large windows behind the counter. I was able to see a large bowl of cantaloupe, and I knew I had to try the melone flavor, just to see exactly how fresh their gelato tasted.

 

EAT TOGETHER

A characteristic Italian meal is later, longer, local, seasonal, and social. Before I left for Italy, I went to a sermon that talked about how meals are important to developing faith and blessing your neighbors, and that is something that really resonated with me on my trip.

Befriending tax collectors and prostitutes, Jesus sets an example for us by sitting down with people that were supposedly far from God.  Sharing a meal with them is a very critical point in scripture and says so much about his character. Jesus, friend of sinners. When forming relationships with other people, eating together is a fairly common step that everyone looks to take. Inviting someone over for a meal with your family is a very precious invitation.  I think that college students especially feel this way when sharing meals with other people. It feels weird to eat alone sometimes, and in college, it really means something when someone wants to meet with you for a meal or coffee. It means that they have gone out of their way to meet you and carve out some of their time to accommodate you. I think that anyone can agree that feeling of appreciation is unique.

“The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:19

In Italy, it is not uncommon for meals to last hours on end, letting people laugh and talk and savor both the food and each other’s company. One Friday night in Arezzo was spent getting late night crepes at Crepes di Lune, and walking through town at 23:00 or so, there were so many people out at dinner. The town felt alive. I felt warm inside, as I watched people eat with their families, or sip on some wine with their friends, or enjoy some live music with their significant other. As I ate my crepe alongside two of my new friends, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of spending precious time with loved ones and slowly eating my crepe.

I have found that I and a lot of my classmates eat much, much faster than Italians. Perhaps it is because we are absolutely famished all the time, but I think it is also something that we have become acclimated to. Most places in Italy do not serve anything “to-go”, and it is fairly hard to find a fast-food restaurant anywhere. Bars (coffeeshops) generally do not serve coffee in to-go cups, and there is only one Starbucks in all of Italy. Americans always seem to be in a hurry in comparison, and that even shows when we walk 10 times faster than the locals here. Sitting down and enjoying your food is something that I have fallen in love with here. Dinner has more than one course, and things are served very slowly sometimes, allowing you to focus on one course at a time, and chat with your friends and family in between courses.

Eating means so much more here than it does in the United States, and I hope that I will be able to retain some of the values that I have learned here when I return.

A CHEF INSIDE EVERYONE

I have always loved baking and cooking; it has always been a form of a stress relief. Without it, my first year in college was hard, and this coming year, I will have to go without it as well. I think that a lot of people will agree that the kitchen is a safe and beloved place. In our fast paced digital world, we miss out on seeing a lot of concrete progress and time to slow down for a while. I like making food as a retreat from all of that. Spending two hours on recipe, you have a different kind of focus than you do on schoolwork or on Instagram. Cooking takes a lot of patience and attention to detail. In Italy, we are surrounded by so much amazing food. The pasta here is very different from macaroni and cheese we eat in the States. In OU’s Santa Chiara Monastery, we were lucky enough to have an instructor teach us how fresh pasta is prepared from scratch.

We made 3 different kinds of pasta: tagliatelle, ravioli, and gnocchi.

The tagliatelle and ravioli were made from the same dough: 100g of flour to 1 egg. On large wooden cutting boards smothered in flour, we poured the 100g and created a mound of flour. Using your fingers we then created a hole in the middle of the pile, like a volcano. Next, the egg was cracked into the flour with a dollop of olive oil and a healthy pinch of salt, and a fork was used to whisk the egg and slowly incorporate the flour. Once the mixture begins to become solid, you can use your hands to knead the dough. Make sure there is enough flour on your hands to avoid the dough from sticking to you. Knead until it is thoroughly mixed into a yellow ball. The dough will be very elastic. Place the ball on the cutting board and slightly flatten. Use a large rolling pin to roll out the dough into a large slightly oval piece. Sprinkle semolina flour onto the dough every once and awhile to prevent stickiness. Roll until the dough is translucent. The dough will be cut in two and one will be smothered in more flour. This will be rolled and cut to make tagliatelle. The other will be folded and used to make the ravioli. Our ravioli filling was the traditional spinach and ricotta cheese. The gnocchi was made from potatoes, mashed and then mixed with flour. There was no ratio, as we watched Fabio, our instructor, just knead and add as much flour as he thought was correct. After the dough was completely kneaded, we rolled pieces of dough into long “snakes” and then cut the shapes into very small cylinders. Afterwards, we rolled the pieces on forks to create textures, allowing sauce to better stick to the gnocchi. We watched as Fabio cooked the pasta, salting the pasta water a lot, and always leaving the water on a rolling boil. This prevents from the pasta from sticking together and the salt gives the pasta dough flavor. The ravioli was added to a simple butter and sage sauce, the tagliatelle to a pesto, and the gnocchi to a tomato. The ravioli was amazing with parmesan and the sage smelled so fragrant. I love the gritty, green pesto sauce with the tagliatelle. Lastly, Fabio’s tomato sauce was the most amazing tomato sauce I have ever tasted.

Dinner was delicious, especially after spending time to make it ourselves and cleaning up the mensa afterwards. And not having to spend limited meal vouchers to eat.

AREZZO

Arezzo is a smaller city in the region of Tuscany. Only 45 minutes and €8.40 away from Florence, the city is actually quite larger than you would think, but much calmer than the bustling tourist centers of Roma or Firenze. Still, like the rest of Italy, Arezzo has a rich history, and I am enamored by this city.

Rome was so breathtaking and amazing, but it was extremely overwhelming. I loved how busy the city street got at night; however,  I was also rather nervous and scared in the city, as exhilarated as it was. I was exhausted on our bus ride from Rome to Arezzo, and I do not remember much, but arriving in Arezzo, I felt much safer. It felt much homier and less touristy than Rome did. The only overwhelming part of Arezzo was all the hills–which is why most of us were winded pulling our suitcases up to the monastery from outside the walls of the citadel. Even further up the hill, you can find the Church of San Domenico and a Medici Fortress. An important part of Italian history is tangled in a power struggle between the Emperor and the Pope. The Medicis controlled Florence and were large supporters of the Pope, while Aretini were historically ghibelline, against Florence and the Medici. Between the Fortress and the Church is a large park with an overlook that is breathtaking. Our first day in Arezzo was the monthly first Sunday antique market, creating a much different atmosphere than any of us were used to.

The biggest event in Arezzo, is the Giostra del Saracino. Jousting  began during the crusades during raids of the Saracens and declined into the 18th century. In 1931, it was reinstated as a historical reenactment of the Saracen Joust. Arezzo is separated into 4 different quadrants: Porta Santo Spirito (4 time consecutive as of this year), Porta Crucifera, Porta Sant’Andrea, e Porta del Foro (where the OU Santa Chiara Monastery is located). The Joust takes place the second to last Saturday of June (and again on the first Sunday of September), but the party and celebration begins the weekend before. Parades will go through town as they practice for the Giostra, with trumpet players, drummers, horses, and people historically costumed. The Aretini begin to wear scarves of their quadrant around their neck, in their hair, or even just tied on their purses. Friday night, mostly all Aretini remain in their quadrants, and large “block parties” take place in a large common area. Wandering after dinner, Jena, Sam, and I found ourselves walking towards the fireworks and flares of the del Foro block party, after hearing chanting and singing. Tables (slabs of wood) with plates on them were carried out again and again. As we walked into the piazza, there was a man standing on top of a table with other people fervently waving the del Foro flag and singing along with him. People talked and laughed with one another, and there were so many people gathered together to enjoy themselves before the Joust the following night, scarves all tied around their necks of course. We were waved at by several people for our scarves as well. Walking back at midnight, we were surprised to see so many people still eating dinner, drinking wine, and talking each other’s ears off at the party, in restaurants, or on patios. The next day was completely different from the Arezzo we had come to know. 

The Saracen Joust is “the greatest, most fantastic event that Italy has to offer,” as told to us by a British man we met on a patio, now living in Italy. The Joust was so different than what I had imagined, and the pride that the Aretini had for their city, history, and quadrants showed as we sat and watched the largest event in Arezzo. Excitement filled the air, and it was easy to tell that both tourists and locals were enamored by the event. It started with traditional processions of each quadrant, and flag throwing! (After watching Under the Tuscan Sun that afternoon, the flag throwing was so exciting to see in person.) Then the joust began. We watched as horses galloped towards a wooden target, and awarded 1-5 points based on where the jouster’s long lance would hit the target. The crowd leaped to their feet to see the point of impact, and scorekeepers would quickly cover the target to bring back to judges. Minutes later, when the announcer began to speak, the crowd would become dead silent, ready to hear the score. Cinque!  or Tre! or Quattro!  This year, Santo Spirito scored two 5’s and won the Joust for the 4th time in a row. As the joust ended, people swarmed towards the Church of San Domenico to see the Archbishop of Arezzo bless the Jouster, and see the Golden Lance prize be paraded through the Church. We made haste and quickly found spots with our del Foro scarves hidden away, and watched excited groups of Santo Spirito pile into the Church. They yelled, grinned, laughed, and waved their scarves in the air in triumph. They sang their chant and reached out to touch the Golden Lance for good luck as it was carried down the aisle. Their excitement was overwhelming; the moments in the church surreal. There is no greater moment than this that showed me the passion and pride of the Italian people and more specifically, the Aretini of Arezzo.

We leave Arezzo in under a week and a half, and I dread that day. We have been here for so long, and it is just started to feel normal, like home. There is still so much here that I want to experience, and I will desperately miss the entire culture here.

Spero di rivederti, Arezzo. I desperately hope to see you again, Arezzo.