The Knack for a Snack, Tempo per Il Spuntino

Merende….is the melodious, sophisticated name for the afternoon snacking in Italy.  The Italians have carved out this time of day to refresh and recharge.  Merende is much like “le gouter” in France, in that they are both daily cultural rituals, and let’s face it, they are both really fun to say.  ”Spuntino” is another word that means snack, but while usually a spuntino is a cold meal, merende is anything.

Ever so posh, the Italians enjoy a myriad of foods for le Merende.  Here are some ideas if you are tired of vending machine candy.

Nutella and Focaccia bread:  Nutella is a hazelnut spread with cocoa in it.  It’s very much like peanut butter, but a more sophisticated flavor.  Foccacia bread is flatter and denser than regular “white American bread”.  It makes for a delicious flavor and texture that will satisfy you until La Cena.

Pizza bread with Sea Salt and Rosemary:  With a gentle hint of tomato paste, this chewy bread tastes even better with Sea Salt and Rosemary.  There is a briny flavor that goes perfectly  with an Italian Iced Tea, (Lemon Italian Ice with unsweetened tea poured over it.)  There’s a great little bar near Campo Fiore that makes a delicious one!

Arancini (fried rice balls) with Campari and Soda: Arancini means “little orange” and they are extremely popular street food in Italy.  You can go into an

Nutella -by Cynthia Dite Sirni

alimentari (like a corner grocer) and they will have them in the deli case.  I’ve noticed that some of the bigger supermarkets here are carrying them in the frozen section.  They are made with risotto and are stuffed with something fabulous, cheese, a bit of lamb, peas.  (You can even do all of the above.)   This is a heavier treat, so one would suffice as a snack.  Paired with the bitter tang of the Campari and diluted with soda water, it is both refreshing and satisfying.

Gelato:   Ice cream…but not.  There are flavors for any appetite….”Nocciola”, (hazelnut and chocolate),  ”Risotto”, (kind of like rice pudding, but creamier, Vivoli’s in Florence is famous for theirs.)  ”Stracciatella” (Striped….chocolate and vanilla) to Olive Oil Gelato.   While there is no wrong time to have a gelato, 4:30 seems to be about the perfect time.  (Or in Italy, it would be 16:30.)  The sun is past its strongest heat.  This time of day is also fantastic because there is special glow of the sun that Italy has….it isn’t orange, it isn’t red, it isn’t pink.  It’s just….Italy.  Take a “passeggiata” on those cobble stone streets with someone special.  The gelato lends itself to walking arm in arm.  Italians, who are so demonstrative with their affections will walk this way with anyone they love.  Men with men, women with women, men with women, children with dogs, (the dogs are really smart there.)

I’m kidding.

Gorgonzola cheese with pear wedges and walnuts This combination is just delicious.  The heart healthy fat from the nuts will keep you satiated until dinner and the tart sweet flavor of the cheese and fruit will make your taste buds sing.

Even something as simple as an espresso with a cookie can be elevated to a higher level.  Don’t order a Cappuccino though, Italians feel the hot milk is bad for your stomach so close to dinner.  The important thing is to take the time and ENJOY what you are eating.  Put it on a plate, wrap it in a pretty napkin.  Put the phone down, turn the t.v. off, engage yourself fully in the joy of eating and sharing with someone you love.

Now. THAT’S Italian.