Virtual trip to an Italian kitchen
By Marisa Romano
A social game that I played a few years ago asked participants to answer puzzling behavioural questions. One was about a life sentence. “Would you choose a perpetual exile from your country or a life confined within it?” The question provoked an animated discussion. While I could not settle on a definitive answer back then, the choice seems easier today – after one year of restricted movement and limited travel, I can hear my gut scream, “Let me out of this cage!”
With that in mind, I chose (virtual) travel as the Christmas present for my family. We embarked on our trip on a cold day in January. The destination was Ravenna, a beautiful, cultured and elegant city located a few kilometres from the Adriatic Sea in the Romagna region of northeast Italy.
In Ravenna, we met our host, Silvia Giogoli, an experienced, licensed tour guide who helps visitors from all over the world explore the monumental treasures clustered in the city’s core. Among them are eight UNESCO heritage sites known as the Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna, a series of religious structures that are testaments of the city’s historical, social-political and cultural landscape between the fifth and sixth century. Ravenna was then capital of the Western Roman Empire, a prominent Italian Ostrogothic and Byzantine centre.
Ravenna is also the resting place of Dante Alighieri, the most celebrated Italian poet. Born in Florence, he received a life sentence of perpetual exile for his vehement involvement with the losing Florentine political faction. Dante chose to remain in exile even when Florence granted an amnesty to those expelled. He spent his last years in Ravenna where he died in 1321. This year, the city marks the 700th anniversary of his death.
Like many cities worldwide during this pandemic, Ravenna is in lock-down, “zona rossa.” People go out only for essential needs and cannot leave the city limits, visitors are not allowed and all monuments are closed to the public, so Giogoli cannot guide tourists around her treasured city. Instead, she hosts travellers in her house and leads them through culinary experiences. After all, this corner of Italy is the birthplace of Parmesan cheese, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and stuffed pastas like cappelletti and tortellini. There is a lot to taste here!
Zoom connection established, six of us from three locations in Canada stepped into Giogoli’s kitchen in Ravenna. On the menu, piadine and crescioni, the typical street food sold by kiosks along the city’s main roads.
With the list of ingredients on hand, we carefully shadowed our tour guide in the preparation of the Italian flat bread that we filled with spinach or cheese and tomatoes. While mixing the dough, we exchanged news about our lives in Canada and Ravenna and peeked outside each other’s windows as Giogoli introduced us to her monumental city and its surroundings.
Then I asked the question: “Silvia, which life sentence would you choose?” Giogoli’s answer was not surprising. She could never leave beautiful Ravenna, the city where she was born, grew up, graduated from the Accademia delle belle arti and where she lives with her long-time life partner, the owner and manager of a bed and breakfast with whom she shares travel adventures, a passion for food and a welcoming attitude towards visitors.
At the end of our trip, we said goodbye and made an appointment for a future tour of Ravenna’s monuments, at a time when the city is ready to welcome tourists again. Then we sat at our tables, far away, and enjoyed the freshly made tasty tidbits.
Silvia Giogoli offers a variety of live virtual culinary tours through ToursByLocals.com. She shares her recipe for a special condiment for your favourite pasta.
Marisa Romano is a foodie and scientist with a sense of adventure who appreciates her Italian heritage and interesting foods that bring people together.
Silvia’s Pesto al Cavolo Nero
150 g lacinato kale (cavolo nero)
150 g gorgonzola or blue cheese
25 g butter
30 g walnuts
1 garlic clove
20 ml cooking water
Remove the central rib of the kale leaves and cook the tender parts in boiling water for 15 minutes. Drain and keep the cooking water.
Mince the garlic and sauté in a pan in butter until fragrant.
Add the cheese and let it melt.
Blend together the kale leaves, their cooking water and the walnuts. Add to the cheese mix in the pan.
Warm it up and pour over cooked pasta.
Serve with Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil.