Written by Ariel Goldenthal, Student, CET Intensive Language and Culture Studies in Catania.
First of all, let’s be honest. The reason for the large number of students who choose Italy as their study abroad destination is the food. Sure, the weather is heavenly—especially here in Catania—and the history, art, and architecture are beautiful, but Italian cuisine is legendary.
Having been here for a month now, the five other CET students - Tess, Sam, Angela, Julie, May - and I have gotten to experience quite a range of pasta. The pasta that dreams are made of. Admittedly, our first night cooking was not particularly successful. For a few of us, this is the first time living in an apartment with other students. We quickly realized that cooking for eight people was going to be a challenge. We started out simply, just pasta with sauce (or salsa, as it is called here) and spinach (spinaci). Our table was set, we had bought bread from the local panificio (bakery) and we were quite proud of ourselves.
The pasta wasn’t perfect; there was a bit too much spinach and just not enough sauce. We gobbled it up anyway.
But we have improved since then. Our resident chef, Julie Hooper, maintains that cooking is relaxing, therapeutic, and, simply, what she wants to do. And try as we might to keep up, the rest of us can’t compare. Several conversations regarding dinner have consisted of us trying to explain to Julie that we don't know how to just throw something together! But we keep trying, and hopefully soon we will soak up Julie’s culinary knowledge through our stomachs.
Over the past month, we've moved beyond pasta and sauce. We are trying new things; after all, that’s what study abroad is all about! Our first step was to branch out and start buying food the Italian way: at one of the outdoor markets in Catania.
On a recent Saturday morning, we decided to brave the famous fish market. True to the stories, we started to smell the fish market as we began to cross the Piazza del Duomo and head down the steps into the extremely crowded mercato.
We tried to dodge the puddles of questionable, fishy liquid on the cobblestone ground as our minds reeled from the crowd. Although we couldn’t quite understand what the fishermen were shouting in Sicilian dialect, we did understand that, much like learning to cook for eight people, this too, was going to be a challenge. As we eyed the abundance of fish: skin, bones, eyes, and all, we all wondered how on earth we were supposed to cook it.
While we considered what we would cook that evening, we split up and wandered through the meat, fruit and vegetable sections of the market.
Finally, we rendezvoused with a plan: artichokes and swordfish for dinner. Since the cuts of swordfish available were in steak form, we felt confident that we could cook them.
Well, the other students felt confident. I keep kosher, and so I was exempt from the swordfish venture. I assigned myself to artichoke duty.
About an hour later, we were all sitting happily at the table. Our neighbors probably heard the compliments that filtered out of our kitchen: the swordfish was a hit. It turns out that while learning to cook in Italy, it’s best to take Miss Frizzle’s advice: “Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!”
As long as we don’t end up inside a swordfish, I’d say we’re doing a pretty good job.