There’s much to love about Italy (and a few things to hate, like Berlusconi’s do-nothing government) but there are three things in particular—three things I sometimes forget when I’m away but that explode like little bubbles of pleasure every time I return:
1) Coffee: because Italians, even if they didn’t invent coffee, make the best coffee in the world—everything from morning cappuccino (called cappuccio, if you want to show you’re with it) to late afternoon doppio, strong black coffee straight up, no adornments. Dr. Illy, he of the great Illy coffee company, assures me that Italian bar coffee, strong in flavor, actually has less caffeine than American brewed coffee. Why? Because the steaming water passes through the grounds quickly, extracting maximum flavor but not much caffeine. Which is why I (and you too) can drink a doppio after dinner without tossing and turning all night.
2) Red wine: because Italian vino rosso, even simple rosso della casa in a humble trattoria (see below), is almost always genuino, meaning made without any peculiar adulterants, certainly no sugar to aid fermentation. Moreover, it’s almost always made from local grapes (no cabernet sauvignon, no merlot), often from what Italians call autochthonous varieties (Italy has an astonishing spread of these, often unknown outside a particular mini-region) from the gaglioppo that makes Ciro in the south to corvina in Valplicella. And even though some of these are made into grand wines that command high prices – justifiably so – they’re also often the kind of honestly made, light, drinkable wine, intended to be consumed within a year or two of harvest, that is perfect with local fare.
3) Trattoria: a cross between a bistro and a diner, with a bistro’s good, fairly simple food that everyone in the community recognizes and the kind of sociability of a diner, a place where you go because you know most of the people you’ll find there, maybe not know them intimately at all, but recognize them; a trattoria then is a place for recognition and confirmation and simple, family-run trattorie are some of the best places to eat in Italy.