I have been in a food coma for nearly three months.
Living in Italy is like living in gastronomic heaven. From the Nutella to the cheese and the pasta to the pizza, not a single day has gone by that has left me unsatisfied. The food is perhaps one of the best benefits of Georgetown’s program at Villa le Balze. For students who want their tuition money to include a good meal plan, the villa is the place to study.
Equipped with its own kitchen staff, the villa serves the students and faculty the most genuine and satisfying meals each day. Lunch is a three course, hour-plus experience that affords diners the opportunity to explore the regions of Italy through their stomachs. The meal typically begins with a starch, such as risotto or pasta, made with the best in-season ingredients. When was the last time risotto with speck or pasta con i pomodori secchi (pasta with sundried tomatoes) was on the menu at Leo’s?
The second course incorporates some preparation of meat accompanied by an assortment of contorni, side dishes, such as vegetables, salad or cheese. Well-known dishes like Eggplant Parmigiana and Chicken Marsala have made appearances on the menu, but the most delicious items have also been the most interesting. Chicken with dried prunes and capers and pizzaoilo, meat prepared with tomato sauce, oregano and garlic, are just two of the villa’s signature recipes.
If two courses are not enough, dessert is always served at lunchtime. While I’m often too full for any more food, a plate of tiramisu or a slice of Nutella pie is hard to resist. Made with mascarpone cheese, a richer and fattier version of cream cheese, cheesecake in Italy is nothing like its American counterpart. One of my favorite desserts is chocolate salami. Although similar in appearance to its meaty cousin, it is made with chocolate in place of red meat and broken cookie pieces instead of fat. When served with whipped cream it is perfection on a plate.
There are, however, some things in the Italian diet that my tongue and stomach refuse to enjoy. Fennel is at the top of this list. A staple of Italian cuisine, this vegetable is enjoyed both raw and cooked. Fennel seeds, like the seeds of the salami known as finocchiona, are also a common ingredient in Italian cured meats. The defining flavor of fennel is anise, which tastes like licorice. Even though the villa serves it often, the fact that this vegetable tastes like one of my favorite candies has kept me from becoming a fennel convert.
In addition to fennel, rabbit is also one of those items I have shied away from eating. Although it has not (yet) been served at the villa, rabbit is a common protein on restaurant menus throughout Italy. While in the U.S. one finds it only at high-class restaurants, the meat’s consumption and availability is much more widespread in Europe. Even so, the idea of having my neighbor’s white, furry pet on my plate kept me from trying the protein. That is, until the day my house mother prepared it for dinner.
I probably never would have known I was about to eat rabbit until my host mom apologized that “il coniglio è bruciato” (the rabbit is burnt). Not knowing how to justify eating veal and other meats but not rabbit, I — wearily — accepted the ingredient on my plate. My best summary of the experience was that it tasted like chicken. Though I can now say I have tried the “other” other white meat, I do not see myself rushing into any restaurant to try it again.
So while I have not been won over by fennel or rabbit, Italian cuisine has taken my heart. Now if only the Italians could share their recipes with the chefs at Leo’s….
Bethany Imondi is a sophomore in the College and is currently studying abroad in Florence, Italy. Livin’ La Vita Dolce appears every other Friday in the guide.