One hot summer weekend, Mimi and I made our way down to the Amalfi Coast. After a harrowing bus ride that involved more then a half a dozen almost collisions, many reverse maneuvers by the bus driver and a constant fear of going over the “guardrail” and plummeting into the Mediterranean, we arrived in the tiny village of Atrani (Amalfi was far too upscale for our student budget). Apparently, our attempts to blend into the culture were not as successful as we had hoped. The minute we turned into the main piazza, a gentleman rose from his chair at the café and said “Ahhh, you must be the girls”. That would be us. He was the owner of the hostel and he accompanied us through a labyrinth of streets to the dormitory like residence. Our room was basically a converted closet. There was room for an IKEA bunk bed, a row of hooks and a tiny bedside shelf next to the upper and lower bunk. No matter, we were on the Amalfi Coast and we did not plan to spend any time there anyway. There was a communal kitchen that we were allowed to use and on our way out to explore, we met a fellow traveler, a lovely Australian woman. As we chatted with her, she opened up a brown paper sack and offered us what was inside. This may be embarrassing to admit, but before I went to Italy, I had never seen a fresh apricot. I actually thought that you only consumed them dried. Fresh apricots are one of the most delicious fruits I have ever tasted and it took a great deal of constraint not to polish off the entire bag.
My semester abroad began in Florence in January, the height of citrus season. I remember stopping at a café and asking for a fresh squeezed orange juice. I waited and chatted with my friend until the juice arrived. I thought the barman had misunderstood because the juice in front of me was more red than orange. “Excuse me,” I said in my broken Italian. “I think there was a mistake. I asked for orange juice.” The barman replied that it was blood orange juice. Blood orange juice?! Sounded suspicious. He urged me to taste it and it was delicious. I had never seen a blood orange before that time but now I seek them out and love the flavor which is less sweet than a navel orange. If you are a fan of blood oranges, you will love the new recipe in our cookbook which is coming out in March: Olive Oil Cake with Sugared Almonds and Blood Orange Glaze.
There are so many delicious fruits that I have had the occasion to try in Italy: nespoli (loquats), fichi d’india (prickly pears), figs. All delicious and new to me when I was a student in Italy. These days it is definitely easier to find many of these fruits in the US but they never seem to taste quite as good.
Have you tried any new foods on your travels in Italy? I would love to hear about them in the comments below.