My host dog is, or is supposed to be, on a diet. In light of the fact that all he seems to do all day is lie around, it doesn’t surprise me that he has a weight issue. But, as always, there is more attributed to his poor numbers on the scale than just his lack of exercise. The other culprit: Flavia’s delicious dinners.
Perhaps if Flavia was not such a good cook Charlie would be in better shape. But alas, Charlie is only two years old and already he has been advised by his veterinarian to start eating healthier. The problem for Charlie is that he really has no control over what he eats. Though I am sure he has no qualms about enjoying whatever it is in put in his bowl, he has no way of recognizing that the food he is consuming is contributing to his poor health state. How is a dog expected to lose weight when he is constantly being fed food too good for him to refuse?
During the course of my stay at Flavia’s for the semester, I often felt like Charlie at mealtimes; always hungry and never able to say no to what was on my plate. Like Charlie, this semester has not exactly been friendly to my waistline, but I am leaving Italy having spent the last four months having eaten the best food of my life.
After seeing a glimpse of my normal midday meals at the Villa, one might wonder how I ever had any room to eat again at dinner time. Admittedly, I often did not have an appetite, but the minute I stepped into Flavia’s kitchen and my nose took a wift of the aromas, my stomach always seemed to find room for dinner.
Meals at Flavia’s followed a similar pattern to those at the Villa. It always began with a first course, typically some type of starch or soup. My favorite dishes from Flavia were often the most simple: pasta with ricotta, spaghetti amatriciana, or penne with fresh tomato sauce. Since Tuscans are commonly referred to as mangiafagioli, beaneaters, bean soup often made an appearance during the first course. I have realized since coming to Italy that I could eat pasta every day for the rest of my life and never be tired of it.
Flavia’s second courses were a different story. Besides chicken and fish, I have never been a huge meat-eater, therefore I had no idea what to expect when living in a country that considers tripe and veal specialities. Not one to be rude and refuse a meal, especially considering that Flavia’s pasta portion sizes were less than half of what I was used to eating in the States, I awakened my taste buds to new flavors that I had never tasted. While chicken and pork did appear on the menu, there were many occasions when I felt like I was being served a mystery meat special. I am certain that I ate various steak and veal preparations over the course of the semester, but I am not sure what other parts of the cow my body consumed. I do know, however, that I had the opportunity to try rabbit for the first time. Although I admittedly would not have eaten the protein outside of the house out of fear, Flavia’s plates of rabbit were quite decent. Rabbit meat is one of the leanest proteins available, and thus its low-fat content gives it a taste like chicken. It is the other, other white meat. On the rare occasion when meat was not served, Flavia still prepared a protein-rich dish, such as by serving a frittata or a cheese platter for our devouring.
Also just like at the Villa, Flavia always served her second courses with some type of vegetable. In the first week Emily and I quickly found our favorite: fried cauliflower. If you are not a fan of cauliflower, you will be after eating it prepared by Flavia. Other dishes have included pepperonata (sautéed peppers), fried and sautéed artichokes, and carrot salad.
Fortunately for my stomach, Flavia never went to elaborate lengths preparing desserts for after dinner. After such richness at the Villa, I do not think my body could have enjoyed eating two meals a day with sugar-high endings. Although my waistline appreciated Flavia’s preference to put out on the fruit bowl, I was somewhat surprised that she never baked. Over the course of my four months in the homestay, not once did my host mom bake anything for dessert. Instead, the only times the oven went on were for savory dishes, such as for pizza or baked fish. Although Flavia had a great deal in common with my memories of my great-grandmother Vera, her lack of baking was a major difference between them. Whereas my grandmother loved to prepare egg biscuits, bake pizzas, or mix up pound cakes on a weekly basis, Flavia always preferred to devote her time to the savory aspects of the meal.
Yet even if she did not turn on the oven, Flavia knew how to surprise us with a special treat. Recently, strawberries and whipped cream became a refreshing and light dessert. Sometimes we would even have what Flavia referred to as “panini,” dried figs split in half and then filled with toasted walnuts. Such items were so simple, but yet so satisfying.
On the days when Flavia prepared too much food or Emily and I could not simply eat anymore off of our plates, often the leftovers went into Charlie’s food bowl. With so much great food going to the dog, it is no wonder that Charlie needed to go on a diet. Fortunately for me (or not, depending how you look at it), my body is getting a break as I return home to America. So while there will be no more endless buffet lunches or mystery meat courses, at least now I have no excuses about eating healthfully. Unfortunately for Charlie, so long as Flavia continues to spoil him, his attempts at dieting will always be thwarted.