ExperiencePlus! Blog

Per la Cena or What’s for Dinner?

Photo byExperiencePlus! Traveler John Clevenger

An interview with Bea Tassinari who coordinates meals on ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours in Italy.

Bea can you tell us a little about the process of deciding what’s for dinner on a tour? The first step is to ask each restaurant for a list of their seasonal and regional specialties.  Zucchini for example is great for pasta sauces, to grill, with an omelet and are fresh in the middle of the summer. Travelers on our Bike Across Italy: Venice to Pisa, or Venice to Florence trips stop at the farm (our Headquarters in Europe) for a picnic lunch and enjoy our freshly picked zucchini cut in thin slices and dressed with balsamic vinegar, simple and tasty!

Do you have any examples of the process from a specific tour?
Let’s start with a tour that I am currently working on — Cycling the Coast of Sicily Plus! Ancient Mediterranean Cities. The challenge here is deciding what to have because the region has such a rich and delicious variety from both the sea and land. Quality ingredients with centuries of influence from different cultures and traditions offer unique, often simple, but wonderful flavor combinations. Fish plays a large role in the local diet and on our trip because the majority of the towns that we visit are on the coastline. I’ve discovered it is far better to go with the pescato del giorno (fish of the day) knowing the quality of the dinner will be better because the chef will have picked the best fish caught that day.

Perhaps my favorite meal on the Bicycling Sicily tours is a special lunch at a small restaurant/museum  in Caltabellotta that is called: M.A.T.E.S. (Museo delle Antiche Tradizioni Enogastronomiche Siciliane or Museum of Antique Enogastronomic Sicilian Traditions).  It is a very small, family-run restaurant inside a museum that displays a few instruments and tools used by local farmers. The meal here is a real treat, and a unique experience. Typically when I call to make reservations the grandma answers the phone. Though I have a very difficult time understanding her local dialect I believe we both enjoy our “conversations”. We’ve been going here for over 10 years and the homey atmosphere, cordiality, and traditions haven’t changed. The menu is a wonderful mix of local specialties including, primosale cheese (literally “first salt” which is the first stage of Pecorino cheese), caponata siciliana, ricotta, olives, breaded thistles, and lardo di maiale nero dei Nebrodi (lard of the typical black pork of Nebrodi ) and that’s just SOME of the antipasti! The meal ends with cannolo siciliano — everyone’s favorite with flaky pastry and a creamy filling that melts in your mouth.

How do you ensure that our travelers will have a good variety of all an area has to offer on tour? In most places this is a very easy job. For instance in Umbria and Tuscany a traditional menu would be bruschette as a starter, continuing with soups, ribollita, pappa al pomodoro – tomato soup , zuppa di faro –  spelt soup , and in the summer, when it is very hot, panzanella, then continuing with pasta courses like  pappardelle or pici. As a second course, tagliata (slices of Florentine steak)  or beef cooked in Brunello wine or Vernaccia wine. For dessert there are many options including, panna cotta ai frutti di bosco  (made by simmering together cream, milk and sugar with gelatin and then letting it cool until set –the name literally means “cooked cream” and is usually served with a wild berry sauce),  or the classic, tiramisù. We also include some foods that are unique to an area so that our travelers can at least give them a try since they are such an important part of the local culture.

What about the wine? We include local wine with all of our dinners together. Again I defer to the restaurant’s opinion of which wine will go well with the menu we have chosen. There are certainly more expensive wines out there, but we are convinced that a good wine, locally produced, adds a certain something to dinner.

Anything else you’d like to share? What else is there to say…buon appetito!