Or Meeting the Shrimp (The Wine and the Willows III)
If you’ve been reading “Carbonara” you’ve discovered two things: I have not yet published a recipe for pasta alla carbonara and my family really loves eating Italian river shrimp. We may not be culinary experts, but we love food, live in Italy, and above all, we are curious. Especially Silvia.
Silvia doesn’t just want to know how something is cooked, or the origin of a dish (she does teach Modern Italian History at the University of L’Aquila, after all). She wants to know the very basics – how do you tell if it’s a boy or a girl shrimp, for example, and where do they come from, and are they alive when you cook them, like with lobsters. This is what happened after eating the last of the platefuls of Italian river shrimp saltati in white wine at Il Salice between Capestrano and Bussi (http://wp.me/pfkhI-2G). We asked Fernanda, who runs the restaurant with her family, to come out of the kitchen, so we could express our appreciation for the wonderful meal. Then, Silvia started asking questions. When she got to “do Italian river shrimp have a sex and how can you tell?,” Fernanda, apparently, thought it was easier to bring out a little bowl of survivors. And yes, you can tell which are boys and which are girls. But, I wouldn’t want to date one.
Whenever, I meet my previous meals’ next of kin after a big dinner, I always feel a bit full and in need of a digestivo, the Italian name for an after dinner drink meant to aide the digestion. The choice is huge – sambuca, grappa, nocino, centerbe and limoncello are among the most common. The last four are often homemade. Limoncello, a chilled liqueur made from lemon peels, cane sugar and, of course, alcohol, is the most accessible to people who don’t usually appreciate drinking anything stronger than wine. Anyone with a relative in a place famous for lemons says their limoncello is among the best.
Fernanda offered us an interesting version of limoncello, –– sugar cubes soaked in pure limoncello. Usually, limoncello has about the same alcohol content as whisky (40%), the rest is aromas, water and sugar. When it’s made at home, lemon peels are soaked in pure alcohol until ready for mixing with sugar and water and bottling. In this case, water was omitted from the lemon-alcohol mix to prevent sugar cubes, in a jar, from melting when the liquid was poured over them.
Fernanda passed me a cube on the saucer of an espresso cup. I popped it quickly into my mouth and, following her
instructions, crushed it immediately. Chewing gum commercials advertise “taste explosions.” This was the real thing. The fresh taste of lemons was everywhere, the aroma somehow snuck up into my nose from inside. I felt a little less heavy. And, glad I wasn’t driving.
by Joshua Lawrence
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