Italy + Germany Trip

Ciao! Hallo!

Venice, Italy

So, I know it's a been a while since I last posted here. I've been a little busier than usual lately with traveling and the start of a new school year.

I've actually been working on updating the blog a little bit and turning it into a real website with a cleaner design, better layout, etc. I've learned it's a little tricky navigating the whole website-building thing, but hopefully sometime in the near future Apricots & Sage will have a new and improved look!

Like I previously mentioned, I started a new school year in August-- my senior year! For a hefty portion of my elementary school, middle school, and especially early high school years, I dreamed about my future-- where I'll attend college, where I'll live after college, what my occupation will be... Well, I've always imagined working in something relating to the culinary field, but I've never actually been sure what I want to do exactly, until recently... and even now I'm not one hundred percent sure...
Anyway, I've spent so many years dreaming about it, and all of the sudden I'm no longer dreaming about it, but actually (almost) living it... at least the college part for now.

Speaking of my senior year, I just recently went on a senior trip with my parents to Italy and Germany! I can't even begin to explain how incredible it was and how thankful I am for the experience-- I love to travel almost as much as I love to cook! Almost.
And what was just as, if not even more, incredible as the culture and beauty of the cities we went to was the FOOD!
I mean, it's no doubt Italy is known to have amazing food, but my expectations were vastly surpassed.

For some reason, I had in my mind that the dishes were going to be so complex and bursting with all kinds of unique flavors. But that was definitely not the case...
In fact, most dishes only had a couple of complementing ingredients. Pizza, pasta, bruschetta-- all made so simply with purely tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and maybe a little cheese. Fish and steak dishes were so bare... no sauces or interfering components.
But it was the quality of the ingredients that made these meals so incredible. I don't think canned tomatoes even exist over there. Only the freshest and juiciest of tomatoes are incorporated into its cuisine. The olive oil alone was fruity enough to drink. I was amazed that a simple plate of burrata and prosciutto could be so flavorful. And don't even get me started on the homemade pasta and pizza dough.
Basically, from this trip, I learned that sometimes less IS more. And as many times as I've been told that in the past, I never truly believed it until experiencing it firsthand.

So, enough of the teasing... I'm going to take you through most of the meals I indulged in during this trip.

It started in Venice, Italy. We got all settled in our hotel around 3 PM, after a tiring, long day of travel, including a 2 1/2 hour drive and 3 flights (one 9-hour one!)
One thing I LOVE about Venice is that there are no cars... like, at all. Boat taxis take people everywhere and the whole city is built on water. It was by far the most gorgeous city I've ever been to. There was so much history to every single building, no matter what kind. Even the H&M store looked like it held so much culture.

Venice, Italy

We went on a gondola tour and then settled on a restaurant that was empty at the time but filled up as the night went one.
I started out all of my eating endeavors with my favorite pasta of all time- gnocchi. If you can even call gnocchi pasta. It's definitely more of a dumpling-type situation (which is exactly why I love it).

Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Smoked Ricotta
Okay, so I take back what I said earlier about there being no canned tomatoes because I'm pretty sure this sauce was literally just canned tomato sauce. And I know what you're thinking because it was exactly what I was thinking when the waiter brought this plate out to me: You went all the way to Italy to get a plate of canned tomato sauce and shredded mozzarella cheese?
Well, just trust me when I say that it tasted nothing like that. In fact, that shredded cheese was actually smoked ricotta, not Kraft mozzarella. And the smoky cheese with the slightly-sweet tomato sauce all coating the homemade gnocchi like a warm blanket was the perfect way to start off my trip.

After dinner, we hit up a little coffee/pastry shop for lattes and few treats to end the night.

The next day, we shopped around for a while, before wandering into a little restaurant down an alley for lunch.
I wasn't too incredibly hungry, so I just got the classic melon & prosciutto and the bruschetta, thinking they would be two small appetizer-sized plates. They weren't. But it ended up being okay because my parents helped me out with them. This is the perfect example for what I was talking about earlier-- this was just prosciutto and cantaloupe, but both were so fresh that it didn't even need one single added ingredient. And same went for the bruschetta-- the bread was so perfectly crisped up with the absorbed olive oil and bursting with the most vibrant, freshest, juiciest tomatoes.

Prosciutto and Melon
Penne with Red Sauce
Tomato & Basil Bruschetta

Oh, and can we just appreciate these massive slices of pizza we saw???

Very, Very Large Slices of Pizza
Italian street food is my thing...

That night for dinner, we originally had reservations at some "amazing" restaurant on the water, but it started to rain right before we left; since the walk was a stretch, we decided to pop into Bistrot de Venise--just feet away from our hotel--which turned out to be a small, local, gastronomy-style restaurant (I was very excited to find that out, by the way). We had fried zucchini flowers for an appetizer, and we also sampled the "Bigoli in Salsa" (a traditional Venetian pasta dish made with caramelized onions, anchovies, and black pepper). 

Fried Zucchini Blossoms + Tartar Sauce

"Bigoli in Salsa"

THIS. This pasta dish. While it may look minimal, both my parents and I were in shock at how heavenly it was. The anchovies lent the ultimate umami bite and the caramelized onions created a sticky-creamy-subtly sweet binder for the hearty wheat bigoli pasta.
Not too sweet, not too salty. The perfect balance of both. 
OH. And the pistachio-breadcrumb-parmesan crumble that was on top... to die for. I can honestly say, as the lofty pasta-aficionado I am, that this extraordinarily simple and surprisingly complex bowl of noodles is the best dang pasta dish I have ever eaten. No doubt. No argument. No competition. No other pasta has ever come close to it. It was that perfect.

Okay, moving on from my kind of disturbing pasta-crush...
My mom had the Artichoke Bottom Soup, made with charcoal, goat cheese, smoked duck cuttings, white grapes, and pistachios.
My dad had the Raffoli de Herbe; sweet cheese and smoked ricotta herbed ravioli topped with raw sugar wafers... And let me tell ya... the raw sugar wafers completed this dish. They added a much-needed crunch, but most importantly, they balanced out the smoked ricotta and the salty cheese spot on.

Artichoke Bottom Soup

Sweet Cheese & Smoked Ricotta Ravioli 

For my main course, I got the Umbrine & Black Grape; almond-crusted Umbrine fish with a black grape sauce and a yellow garlic/almond pudding.
Yep, a yellow garlic and almond pudding. Imagine a very intense almond-extract infused mousse... but, like, savory. I can't really fully describe how it tasted, all I know is that it worked wonders with the sweet and tangy black grape sauce and the briny, meaty fish. 
And finally, for dessert, we had the lemon-passionfruit semifreddo with mango sorbet, black grape sauce, green ginger sponge cake, and charcoal chocolate "chalk." This whole meal definitely rebelled against the "simple" Italian cuisine I previously glorified, but it was fun indulging in something a little more out of the box than biscotti and espresso.

Umbrine + Black Grape Sauce

Lemon-Passionfruit Semifreddo

Speaking of biscotti... we learned that whether you want them or not, complementary Italian cookies WILL be served almost everywhere you go to get coffee or at dessert at the end of a meal. It's just the way it is. And I'm not complaining about it one bit.

So that wraps up the Venice portion of our trip. Next stop: Florence.

Florence, Italy

Our first food stop in Florence was a leisurely late lunch.
We drank rosé and Americanos and munched on freshly baked bread with balsamic and olive oil, along with a plate of roasted vegetables.
I had a (not-pictured) bowl of Pappa al Pomodoro, Tuscan bread soup. It was my first time ever trying, or even hearing, about this soup, and I feel sorry for the near-18 years of life I've gone without it. 
Okay, it's not that life-changing or anything... but for someone who's not usually a soup-gal, it was one pretty tasty bowl of soup. 

Grilled Veggies

For dinner that night we went to a locally-famous steakhouse called "Il Latini." I never pictured myself eating a steak in Italy, but it would've been a sin had I not tried a Florentine steak in Florence.
Then again, I didn't even order a steak. I got the gnocchi. As usual. 
I did try my parents' steak, and I will admit it competed with one of the best steaks I've ever eaten from a local place in my town.

Florentine Steak
Il Latini
Florence, Italy

Gnocchi with Vegetables and Wine-Tomato Sauce
A little Caprese on bread

The next day, after church at the massive cathedral, or Duomo, in Florence, we had brunch at a place called "Irene." My mom and I split a Tuscan bean soup with ricotta ravioli and pesto, along with a crostini with asparagus, truffle, and poached eggs.

More coffee & treats...
We did a lot of this.

Florence, Italy

Tuscan Bean + Ravioli Soup

Crostini + Asparagus, Fontina, Poached Eggs, & Black Truffle

So, let's talk about truffles, real quick. I think they are so overrated in the states. Especially when chefs drench their food in a cheap bottle of truffle oil in an attempt to make it "fancy." Well, it's not fancy or trendy. It's obnoxious and oily and usually tastes like gasoline. And it definitely doesn't need to be poured on top of every bowl of mac & cheese. Don't get me wrong, a little is okay, but what America really needs to make a trend is using real, freshly grated truffles. Its flavor is much more subtle and earthy, rather than loud and metallic. Almost every restaurant in Italy had truffles of some kind on its menu, and as skeptical as I was at first, I realized how much I really do love the flavor of truffle--when used correctly.

Now that my truffle-rant is over...
For the rest of this day, we just wandered around Florence, enjoyed some more Americanos, snacked on burrata and prosciutto, indulged in ridiculously yummy gelato, and ended our night at a hidden, very authentic dinner place we stumbled across, specializing in brick oven pizzas. And guess what... I had more truffle. On a pizza.
Actually, on the BEST pizza I've ever had. I'm serious. Go ahead and sign me up for "The Best Thing I Ever Ate" because I know exactly what it is.
THIS. Taleggio/Fontina Pizza with Roasted Asparagus, Freshly Shaved Black Truffles, and the perfect runny egg.
It might sound a lot like the crostini my mom and I split at lunch, but it took those flavors to a completely elevated level.
I ate the whole dang thing and savored every bite.

Burrata and Prosciutto

With a little herb-pita on the side

Brick-Oven Pizza + Asparagus, Black Truffle, Taleggio, Fontina, and a Poached Egg
aka the best thing I've ever eaten

One short train ride and we had finally made it to our last stop in Italy-- Milan. Its atmosphere was so different from both Venice and Florence since Milan is much more of a metropolitan area. Every person we passed was dressed to the nines and the whole city seemed to move at a faster pace. I loved it. It felt like a cooler, slightly less-hectic, classier New York. And I love New York.
And I loved the food just as much.

For lunch, I decided to enjoy some lighter fare--a trio of ceviche--which was so refreshing after the mounds of pasta, pizza, and desserts I had eaten.

Ceviche Trio
Tuna + Avocado, Salmon + Mango, Shrimp + Vegetables 

The shrimp ceviche was my favorite, which was surprising considering shrimp is one of my least favorite types of fish. I also might have had a piece of my parents' margarita pizza.

After lunch and more shopping, we carried onto our last meal in Italy at a rooftop restaurant of a marketplace, overlooking the entire city. We ordered a couple of appetizers, and my mom and I each ordered a different risotto since that was their specialty. I had the red wine risotto with sausage and cherries-- such a unique mix of flavors. The red wine left the risotto with a rich, bitter tang, but the sweet cherries and salty sausage helped balance it out.

Poached Egg Appetizer
Parmesan Crisp & Green Pea Purée

Red Wine Risotto + Sausage & Cherries

And that concludes the Italy part of our trip! Well, the food part of our trip... which really was how we spent the majority of our time there, anyway.

Cologne, Germany was a completely new territory with a completely new vibe. If I'm being honest, I didn't expect much out of Germany, but it ended up being my favorite city of all!
The city rests on the Rhine River and is paved with cobblestone streets. Just 10 yards from our hotel was the city's massive and ornate Doma. If you want to get the slightest idea of how gigantic this cathedral is, just look up "Cologne, Germany" and you'll understand.

Cologne Cathedral
Cologne, Germany

One thing that didn't come as a shock to me was the food. I knew what German food comprised of before entering its land: potatoes, strange sausages, sauerkraut, and more potatoes--for the most part, at least. What I didn't expect, though, was how good these foods actually could be.
For dinner the first night, we went to a traditional pub where I had potato cakes with stewed apples and black bread (so hearty and tasty), along with a side of sauerkraut.

For lunch, the following day, my mom and I split more potato cakes with smoked salmon and, also, black pudding (one of those strange sausages I was talking about) stuffed ravioli with paprika sauerkraut. Both dishes were so satisfying and delicious.

Black Pudding in Pasta with Paprika Sauerkraut

Potato Cakes + Smoked Salmon & Pink Shrimp

And then I got my face printed on a cup of coffee.

"My Selfie Coffee"
Cologne, Germany

Around mid-day, my mom and I had tea while my dad was still out working. Along with the tea came a cart full of treats, sandwiches, and chocolates... and we also devoured an earl grey tea crème brûlée.

Tea & Treats

For our last meal in Europe, we walked aimlessly until finally ending up at some restaurant (they all look alike honestly), sitting outside in the pouring rain. In fact, it was the first downfall of rain in the past three months in Cologne so you can imagine how much rain it was. We were under the awning, but it definitely made for an interesting experience. I was still pretty full from our late lunch, heavily-sweetened coffee, and massive tea "snack," so naturally, I ordered the heartiest dish on the menu. A pasta dish with smoked salmon and chanterelles in a cream sauce. The pasta was actually surprisingly flavorful, but it still didn't come near to the fresh, homemade pasta dishes we had in Italy.

Fettuccini + Salmon & Chanterelles

Early the next morning, we made way to the airport to endure another long day of travel back to Mississippi and gritty tomatoes.

Cecilia A.


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