Italy would seem to be a well-trodden tourist destination, but Matt Goulding, author of “Pasta, Pane, Vino,” begs to differ. There are still wonderful, off-the-beaten-track finds in the small villages, on side streets and in the countryside. We recently interviewed Matt for Milk Street Radio and he has provided a list of some of his favorite and lesser-known destinations and eateries. For more information, grab a copy of “Pasta, Pane, Vino.” You’ll want to take it with you.
Once a vibrant community of 16,000 living in an intricate system of caves, the Italian government forced the people of Matera to move to government housing in the 1950s. Today, the abandoned caves are alive again and residents have returned and begun building businesses in them—charming bed and breakfasts, bars and restaurants. While you’re there, pay a visit to L'abbondanza Lucana, a multi-level restaurant built in a cave.
Bros' in Lecce, Puglia
The city of Lecce, sometimes called the Florence of the south, is famous for its ancient limestone buildings. It also has a burgeoning food scene. Bros' is run by a 24-year-old chef and his 22-year-old girlfriend, and they show off the future and potential of modern Italian cuisine.
S'Apposentu in Siddi, Sardinia
The only Michelin star restaurant in Sardinia, S'Apposentu is in a renovated pasta warehouse and its chef, Roberto Petza, lives and breathes Sardinian culture. He shops in the markets and deals directly with farmers to source the ingredients for his dishes, such as raw shrimp and raw sheep with wild herbs, sea anemones crisped in semolina and calf’s liver pâte.
If you’re visiting Italy for the food, you can’t miss the country’s culinary capital, Emilia-Romagna. Make sure to stay in one of the region’s agriturismi, which are essentially bed and breakfasts run by farmers. They make their own olive oil, cheese, charcuterie–and you’ll be right there to experience it all. Within Emilia-Romagna, you’ll definitely want to visit Savigno, a little village renowned for its white truffle industry and ragù. At Amerigo dal 1934, the Bettini family have been perfecting their ragù for 80 years.
Osteria Da Gemma in Roddino
Run by 70-year-old Gemma Boeri, what was once a social club is now a restaurant open to the public with long, slow-cooked, leisurely meals brought out at a consistent pace, leaving no moment to stop eating. Veal-stuffed agnolotti and stewed rabbit are some of the stars on the menu at Osteria Da Gemma.
San Giovanni, near Lake Como
The Lake Como area gets a reputation for being swanky and full of celebrities, but like the rest of Italy the magic really lies in the towns nearby. Ittiturismo Ristorante Mella is in San Giovanni, where the owner goes fishing in the lake every morning, and his wife cooks the fresh catch in the restaurant. The menu is roughly 90 percent fish, and it’s all from the lake—trout, perch and char, all given the level of respect usually reserved for salmon and tuna.
Trattoria Cesare al Casaletto in Rome
Located in the Monteverde neighborhood of Rome, Cesare al Casaletto lovingly serves each of Rome’s four iconic pastas—Amatriciana, gricia, carbonara and cacio e pepe. The restaurant has been around since 1950, and when the new owners took over in 2009, they brought a Michelin-star attention to detail—but it’s still a regular Roman trattoria at heart.
Pizzaria La Notizia in Naples
At Pizzaria La Notizia, top-quality ingredients and extreme care go into each pizza, and traditional techniques are applied to innovative flavors—for example, a pizza with burrata, smoked eel, toasted walnuts and fresh basil.
To learn more about Goulding’s path through Italy, check out Milk Street Radio’s episode, Insider's Italy: An Off-The-Grid Travel Guide with Matt Goulding.