Carpaccio Plus More

By Christine Meyer

Ah, the study abroad scene.  It’s that time in the typical Elon student’s college career when he or she travels to another nation, participates in the country’s zesty activities and traditions, dives into the exploratory opportunities, drinks the yummy wine, tastes the awesome food, and simply acts in the ways a young American abroad would.  If you have studied abroad, you understand these experiences.  And, I am no exception to this Elon norm and prominent college experience.

Travelling to Assisi, Italy with an eclectic group of twelve the summer in between my freshman and sophomore year, I engrossed myself in such Italian ventures.  I danced with the Catholic monks, travelled to old-timey festivals, conversed-or attempted to-in the city pizzerias, took multiple shots of espresso, and finally I ate a lot.  And then after I ate a lot, I ate more than a lot.  I simply did not want to be that one girl on the trip who sticks her nose up at the customs of the city and distances herself from the group.  Hell, I’m in Italy, why not try it?  Whatever, that it might be.

So, that was the approach I took towards many of our programs’ plans, especially when we all went to a cooking class/ food tasting.  Lezione di cucina aka this cooking lesson was one of our very first gatherings as a group.  We had only been together a couple days when we walked through hilly Assisi to arrive at our destination in the basement kitchen of a hotel overlooking the luscious shrubbery of the Umbrian countryside.

There the famed Chef Marco Gubbiotti was waiting for us.  Chef Gubbiotti looked like an Italian Casanova in the purest sense.  Dark eyes, dark skin, and dark hair, the women of our group were more than pleased to have this man teach us how to cook such fine Italian dishes.  There were just some minor leaps to hurdle: the master chef spoke to us in only Italian and at this point, my Italian was limited to meager words like dove, ciao and bellissima.  I could barely handle the kitchen lingo he was spitting at us in his fast native tongue.

Yet, Chef Gubbiotti cooked with Umbrian flair, skillful but simple and speedy.  They were classic Umbrian dishes.  Historically, the food in Umbria and Assisi are characterized as peasant cuisine meals tied to its pastoral roots, resembling the town and environment itself as nature’s gifts appear to prevail in these intensive fields of green and olive trees.

But there Gubbiotti was, just chopping away, all the while giving us a play by play as if he was Michael Kay to our group of bobble heads with the classic I have no idea what you’re saying to me nod and smile.  I could handle the first couple of items on the dinner menu.  He started with a mixed salad accented with breadcrumbs, olive oil, lime, and salt- looked tasty and normal enough to me.  But as we went to reach for the plates, Gubbiotti signaled for us to hold and began stirring up another concoction.  This time he went for a thick red sauce made with two day old focaccia bread which thickens its texture, similar to a cooked sweet potato, and added it to a sizzling pot full of tomatoes, olive oil, basil, and herbs.  The sauce was covered with a cheesy topping of ricotta and olive oil and subsequently slapped with more olive oil on top of that.  Oh, I am in the clear.  I can totally eat this.  But darn, Chef Gubbiotti told us to hold one more time.  Out he brings some sort of circular substance with a pinkish hue and slaps it atop our bread crumbed salad.  Finally, one of our group members informs the rest of us that it is raw but apparently okay according to Gubbiotti because it’s salted.  Say what?

So here I was in this tiny, Italian kitchen about to taste this dish in front of me that appeared as some kind of raw substance.  I believe it was beef carpaccio, but I am still not entirely sure to be honest.  Now, I don’t even eat the Sushi from Simply Thai so when I just starred at the meal in front of me, my stomach seemed to sort of flop over inside my body.  But I was not alone.  The rest of my fellow Italian-venturing companions were alongside me.  And, I’m sure we all looked ridiculous as the nervous laughs seemed to pile up with increasing intensity like a slow clap.  Who was going to try it first?  Should we trust this foreign man who made foreign food that was foreign to even an oven?  My stomach still held that uncertain floppy feeling.

I dug in despite my nerves as well as the rest of my group members who I would get to know increasingly well over the next month.  And though I had no idea what I was eating and it’s still a mystery, the grub was tasty.  And to be honest, I was surprised that I actually ate and tried my “squezzal.”  The gracious amounts of wine Gubbiotti provided us with probably helped with my hesitation and looking back I can say for a fact that it undoubtedly did, but it was simply a fun meal with fun people that bonded us quickly.  It also allowed us to be much more adventurous with the food tastings to come complete with medieval cooking and food.  But, the unknown, uncooked, and undoubtedly scrumptious dish was my first squeezal.