In February 2015 I was offered the job of a lifetime; to use my skills in theatre and drama to tour Northern Italy teaching at a different school, in a different location each week. The best part of this job was that for each school I worked at, I was hosted by a family of one of my students or teachers!
As you can imagine, this was a once in a lifetime experience. I saw some amazing cities, from Verona to Venice, Milan to Marotta. I also met some beautiful people and enjoyed beautifully authentic, home-cooked meals made for me by the families I stayed with or the quirky, rustic Italian restaurants in a far-off village somewhere like Emilia-Romagna.
My embarrassingly clichéd idea of Italian food was based around the two “P’s” (Pizza and Pasta). Which, to an extent is very much at the heart of Italian dining (although the Pizza’s in Northern Italy are far from a Dominoes Deep Crust! And Spag Bol doesn’t exist!)
But after learning to avoid faux pas such as cutting my spaghetti or coffee with milk after dinner, I settled into Italian dining most comfortably. I learnt to love herbs such as sage which is amazing after being crisped-up in the oven or pan. I tried horse meat for the first time (which was an interesting experience, being such a horse lover). I learnt how to make gnocchi from scratch and which cheeses go best with pasta and how to store them. I found a love for authentic homemade tortellini and which pizza toppings are my favourite to top the crispy stone-baked bread (Quatro Stagioni or anything with rocket, goats cheese and prosciutto).
When I was by the sea in Marotta-Mondolfo, I stayed with a family who owned a sea food restaurant, so one evening we indulged in a fishy feast, something I had never experienced before!
I learnt a lot about “real” balsamic vinegar when staying in Modena. I had no idea that the runny, tangy stuff we buy in the supermarket is not real balsamic! Real balsamic vinegar is thick, sweet and €20-€50 a bottle!
Surprisingly, I enjoyed the best kebab in the whole world overlooking Lago Maggiore, just outside of Milan. I was exploring by myself for the day and found myself in this little kebab cafe near the train station. I took my meaty sandwich to the lake-side and tasted one of the best things I have ever tasted in my life! It was a delicious doner kebab filled with salad and sauce.
I even got to sample the delights of an Italian “school dinner” with my frequent in-school dining experiences with the children. In Italy, Lunch is considered the main meal of the day and usually consists of two courses. The main meal is often carb-based with a meat option. For example, chicken and potatoes with vegetables or salad plus some fruit and bread rolls on the side. And if I was lucky, I’d even get dessert.
Speaking of dessert, I haven’t even mentioned the dreamy, creamy Italian gelato that I often still lust for! From Kinder Bueno flavour in Marotta and Rome, to Vanilla in Venice, I love the Italian ice cream. There are often many flavours to choose from and are extremely inexpensive when compared to a similar shop in London!
After three months of travelling, the most surprising discovery for me, was a new found love for coffee. I had never ever liked coffee before Italy. I had tried it and disliked it from a very young age. However I felt that if there was going to be anywhere I liked coffee, it would be Italy! I found that the “macchiato” was my favourite with a little sugar. I took home some bags of proper Italian coffee along with a moka pot and little espresso cup set!
What an adventure for my career and taste buds! I can't wait to re visit Italy and maybe head further south for a different kind of cuisine.