Sampling the local food is a big part of what turns a plain trip into an experience to remember. The new book Biba's Italy: Favorite Recipes from the Splendid Cities, by noted chef and author Biba Caggiano, combines food and travel for those who want more from a cookbook than, well, simply how to prepare a dish. Biba's Italy is cookbook as experience.
Caggiano gives her culinary take on five great Italian cities: Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan, and Venice. She lists her favorite restaurant picks (Rome's Rosati, a local legend since 1923), and gives tips on markets and cooking schools. For each city, she mixes in her cultural memories of eating Italian-style (In Venice, we "eat progressively from one bacaro to another...") and practical advice on technique, such as how to refrigerate Ragu. She also includes a glossary of Italian terms to help you find your way around Italian dining. Add in 100 delicious recipes from appetizer to dessert, and you've got a cookbook you can sit down, read, and enjoy.
Read it before your trip to plan an itinerary of great tastes. Then prepare the recipes when you return to keep that aroma of memory alive. Or if you can't actually get to Italy, these recipes do what all really good food does -- transport you there gastronomically.
Don't know the difference between a Paninoteca and a Rosticceria?
To get you started, we've excerpted helpful definitions from the Introduction, "Eating in Italy: Types of Eating Establishments" from Biba's Italy.
Eating in Italy
TYPES OF EATING ESTABLISHMENTS
So, you are finally in Italy, tired but hungry. You took a walk in the center of town looking for a place to eat, and you found more than you bargained for. You probably know what a ristorante and a trattoria are, but what is an osteria, a tavola calda, a paninoteca, or an enoteca? Although these are all eating establishments, they often differ in the type of food they serve and in the style in which they serve it. The following list sorts out some of Italy's most common eating establishments.
Ristorante: Italian restaurants are as diverse as the Italian landscape. Some elegant, expensive restaurants are the domains of celebrity chefs who specialize in creative cooking. Others are simpler establishments that serve the traditional food of the area. Restaurants will provide the customer with a printed menu and a wine list (see "A Typical Restaurant Menu" on page xv).
Trattoria: A small, unassuming restaurant, generally family owned, that serves traditional homestyle food at reasonable prices. A trattoria is often a home away from home for many; students, young families, and people on a budget are ardent patrons. A trattoria usually serves a limited number of dishes. The service might be less polished than restaurant service. However, the bonus is that eating in a trattoria is like eating with an Italian family, whose basic, simple, and honest food tells the story of a people and a place. Often, trattorie do not have menus. Instead, the owner or the waiter will recite the menu of the day and suggest dishes and wines. Stay away from trattorie that offer a a menù turistico, which is a set meal for tourists that offers very standard, often uninspired food.
Osteria or Hostaria: Generally a tavern or a wine shop that serves wine by the glass and offers a limited number of homey dishes. Soups, cheeses, cold cuts, savory breads, and pickled vegetables are some of the offerings, generally listed on a blackboard. It is a great place to relax over a glass of wine and some snacks, and to connect with your fellow man seated next to you.
Enoteca: An urban, more gentrified wine bar than the humble osteria. Enoteche serve wine by the bottle and by the glass, and many have added more ambitious dishes to their menus. These are great spots to visit.
Tavola Calda (hot table): An informal eatery that serves a selection of hot dishes to eat informally, standing up or to take out.
Rosticceria: A shop that sells food to go, primarily roasted and spit-roasted meats, roasted potatoes, and sautéed vegetables at reasonable prices. The rosticceria is where Italians shop when pressed for time. A great place to visit and to pick up something for a picnic.
Pizzeria: Pizzerias are divided into two categories: shops that make pizza and sell it by the slice or by square pieces (Italian teenagers seem to be eating pizza to go constantly), and regular pizzerias where you can sit at a table and choose from the many toppings. For Italians, the best pizzas are thin-crusted and crisp, and topped with only a few outstanding ingredients. Today these informal establishments often serve a small selection of pasta, salads, calzone, and savory pies as well as pizza.
Paninoteca: A sandwich shop. But, boy, what great sandwiches. Panini (thus paninoteca) stuffed with seafood, ham, vegetables, and cheeses, alone or in appetizing combinations, can be bought there. These places are very popular in the larger cities, where most workers have only a one-hour break at lunch.
Gelateria: An ice cream parlor. Italians rarely make gelato at home, nor do they regularly order it in restaurants or trattorie, for they prefer to walk to any gelateria or caffè and choose from a large number of flavors. Sitting at an outdoor caffè with a large glass of voluptuous gelato is a great Italian experience.
Pasticceria: A pastry shop where pastries can be purchased to eat there or take away. Often a pasticceria also has a bar area that serves espresso, cappuccino, tea, and so on.
Bars and Caffès: A bar is a place to stop for a quick espresso, cappuccino, tea, pastry, or an aperitivo, which are generally consumed standing at the counter. (An Italian bar has nothing in common with an American bar.) A caffè is a bar that has the addition of inside and possibly outside tables, and has waiter service. For Italians a bar also becomes an extension of home, a warm, comforting, hospitable place where you can, for a while, escape the pressure of daily life. The bar is also an important social institution that allows its citizens an active participation in simple everyday rituals where people of every walk of life mingle and pause, waiting at the shining counter for their beloved espresso.
Excerpted from "Biba's Italy" by Biba Caggiano. Copyright 2006 by Biba Caggiano. All rights reserved. Published by Artisan. No part of this book may be used or reproduced without written permission from the publisher. "Biba's Italy" is available for purchase at Amazon.com.