In the middle of our June 2010 Europe trip, we spent the night at a Best Western in the seaside town of Pescara, Italy. Pescara is the kind of Italian town that Google maps quite doesn’t understand. Instead of having us walk a block from the train station to the hotel…we walked more like 14. Luckily enough for me, Cristina can hold a basic conversation in Italian that we were able to find the hotel.
While checking into the hotel, the people on the streets were going nuts. It wasn’t a riot, but it wasn’t a normal Sunday. Well, as everyone knows, soccer is huge in Europe, and in this tiny seaside town it is matter of civic pride. The professional soccer teams in Italy play in different leagues much like the major and minor leagues in baseball in America. However, in their league, the best teams from the minor leagues take the place of worst teams in the major leagues and vice versa.
Pescara, which was in the C league, won the right to enter the B league right when we entered into the town. Now that I think of it, this explains why the streets were so deserted when we were lost. We decided to go check out the celebration. It was crazy, much like when the Saints won the Superbowl, but on smaller scale…and not in English. It was a great travel moment that obviously couldn’t be planned.
After the celebration and dipping my feet in the Adriatic, we were starving. We went back to the hotel and ate in the little café which had a nice view of the town square. The meal was nice and the star of it was the gnocchi in prawn and pumpkin sauce.
The sweetness of the pumpkin contrasted beautifully with the saltiness of the fresh prawns. Seriously, the prawns tasted like the sea. It was the first time I had gnocchi. It was filling without being heavy and wonderful end to a very unique day.
The next day we took the slow train to Sulmona. We were accompanied by Cristina’s sister and brother-in-law, Cara and Darin, who were doing their own Europe trip. Slow trains in Europe aren’t necessarily a bad thing; it allows you to see the country side, write in your journal, and nap. We were met at the train station by Emilio, Cristina and Cara’s uncle. Over a dinner of pizza topped with hot dog slices and french fries (yes, french fries…but that’s going to be another blog), we told them we had gnocchi the day before. Well, the next day for lunch we were treated to a home cook meal of gnocchi. Amazing gnocchi…gnocchi of magical powers. Really, it was great to have a home cooked meal. Darin and I were drinking some of Emilo’s homemade grappa. Straight. No water to cut it. It wasn’t until I was completely sloshed that I realized Emilo had cut his down with water even though the entire time he was telling me wine was for drinking, water was for cleaning.
We also had a culture clash during this meal. Being Americans, we normally would eat bread with our gnocchi to make sure we got all the sauce. This was treated with the similar disdain I have for people when they mention Olive Garden as an actual place to eat. You can’t have bread with pasta. It makes no sense to them to have two flour based products at the same time. It wasn’t until we were finished with our gnocchi and were served the meatballs (the most amazing meatball ever) that we were allowed to touch the bread.
The next day when we went to Cristina’s cousin’s restaurant, her aunt Lydia hid the bread from us until the proper time for the bread. So, if you are in Italy, no bread with pasta. Bread goes with meat.
While I haven’t tried to make gnocchi from scratch at home yet, we have had it a couple of times. We usually buy the dried kind found in the pasta section of the supermarket. I’ve tried to recreate the meatballs a couple of times, and while I’m close, I’m not there yet. We also order it every chance we get. Herbsaint’s gnocchi with pancetta and oven dried tomatoes is the best version we had yet…this side of the Atlantic.