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Bella Italia Part 2

Since I had mentioned that dinner was our main meal for the day, it was with great delight that we were able to relish our meal. Dinner for many restaurants start at around 7:30pm to 8:00pm and usually lasts about an hour and a half to two hours, which seemed a normal practice for Italians. I also observed that many restaurants had only one sitting for the night, which I thoroughly enjoyed, because it gave us the opportunity to discuss at length the days events and plan for our next excursion without having to rush. Diners seemed to make a delightful affair of dinner. Take your time, it will last about 2 hours... such a great change from our usual everyday quick meal at home.
Grilled Prawns with Orange Vinaigrette

I also noted that Italians may eat three to four courses for dinner. This may not be an everyday occurrence, but something they enjoyed on a regular basis. Starting with an Antipasti, then a Primi Piatti, followed by a Secondi Piatti and ending with a Dolce. As I had mentioned before, ingredients were mostly light and fresh, so it was quite easy to see why it was possible to enjoy so many courses. Portions were also smaller than we are accustomed.
Brie Rolled in Bacon, Fried and Drizzled with Olive Oil
Patrons would sometimes share an Antipasti which is an appetizer, then follow with a first course or Primi Piatti as it is called, that are primarily flavorful pastas, risottos and hearty soups.
All types and shapes of pasta are used. To name a few, spaghetti, tagliolini, tagliatelli, ravioli and heavenly light gnocchi that are small dumplings, were usually fresh and homemade.
Gnocchi with Spinach and Pancetta
Spaghetti with Ragu (Meat Sauce)
Ragu, which surprisingly, was not made with a lot of tomatoes was featured on a few menus. However, fresh asparagus, truffles, spinach, uncooked bacon and fresh seafood were offered very often as sauces for the pasta.
Flavorful Risotto with Asparagus
Risotto, a flavorful rice dish, made from Arborio rice, was also popular as a Primi Piatti with asparagus, smoked duck or truffles.

The season for truffles had barely ended, so I was still able to enjoy the delicacy of black truffles shaved and grated in my pasta, even generous heaps, sliced on top of beef grilled on a fire, right in front of us at dinner with a truffle sauce.
Pasta and Bean Soup
Hearty soups with chickpeas and noodles drizzled with olive oil and cracked black pepper or a farro soup was offered on most menus.
Meats being Grilled by the Hearth
Grilled Steak with Truffle Slices and Hearty Truffle Sauce
Grilled Meat with Shaved Salt
Main courses or Secondi Piatti were mainly pieces of grilled meat, beef or lamb, with a wedge of lemon and shaved salt, seasoned with fresh rosemary, fresh fish, grilled shellfish or stewed meats, like Osso Bucco. Osso Bucco is a veal shank stewed with tomatoes, celery, carrots and onions.
Osso Bucco
Featured as a side, or Contorno as it is called, were grilled vegetables, eggplant, zucchini or sweet peppers, a plate of fagioli beans with olive oil, spinach or a side salad. Very rarely did we see salted potatoes, which were potatoes boiled with the skin, then halved and generously sprinkled with salt or potatoes sautéed in olive oil and rosemary.
Grilled Eggplant, Zucchini and Radicchio
Dinner was always accompanied with wine that came from the area, either from well-known houses or from local vineyards. We were lucky to have always had a good and large number of choices.
Panna Cotta with Mixed Berries
Unfortunately, we were rarely able to make it to dessert, but when we did, we went light. A light panna cotta that is made with milk, cream, sugar and gelatin, which is set to cool, served with fresh berries to cool the palate just before my final espresso for the evening.

Please check back on Friday as I come to the end of my Italian culinary journey! 

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