Category Archives: Wine / Vino

Mortadella Below Mount Etna

More Proof that Love is the Best Ingredient

I’ve been trying to spend some time in Catania for years, but it has always eluded me.  I had come close last Spring when I spoke briefly at two conferences on venture capital in Palermo and Catania, but that time didn’t count – we had driven through town on our way to a spectacular hotel and convention center in the northern suburb of Aci Castello.  I had the joy of a quick hour spent in barefoot and in dark blue suit looking across the Messin straits before the conference and a quick dash to the airport.  My only consolation for the missed opportunity was a little jar of Bronte pistachio pesto from Nonna Vincenza.

Last friday was another hit-and-run trip to speak at a conference in eastern Sicily’s unofficial capital, but this time the flight schedule in and out of Naples were clement and I had enough time to dip my toes into a sea of potential discoveries, which was not easy because in Italy’s smaller cities even the cathedral is closed for lunch between 1 and 3 pm.  Food for the eyes and soul will have to wait for another visit.

Not so for food, on advice from a friend I had myself dropped off in front Savia, a famous pastry shop and café where I grabbed an amazing aranicino alla catanese (fried rice ball with eggplant, cheese and I believe tiny pieces of prosciutto cotto ham) and strolled slowly down via Etnea towards the Duomo (Cathedral) and university at the other end, taking in shop windows and sicilian baroque facades.

The tiny streets surrounding the covered Sant’Agata covered market between the Duomo and the elevated train tracks towards the sea are a foodie’s paradise:  seafood in a rich variety of colors, shapes and sizes (the tuna and swordfish called out to me saying “grab a big lemon and a knife and just come to me!), local cheeses, butcher shops specializing in lamb, carts full of local produce.  Little eateries were carved small nooks along the stone wall in fish market…but I wasn’t ready to eat just then.

Eventually my wandering took me up the slow slope of Via Garibaldi because I had heard there was a castle up that way (I‘m a sucker for castles) and stumbled upon one of Catania’s many under-appreciated gems: Piazza Mazzini.

Piazza Mazzini’s is a small square sliced into quarters by Via Garibaldi and Via Auteri.  Each corner had an a simple sicilian-style arcade supported by what appeared to ancient greek and roman columns that were a bit worse for wear The winter sun was warm and three of the corners had restaurant-bars with tables outside and a few people milling about.  I chose the Vineria e Trattoria Da Vincenzo because the heavy wooden tables outside were different shapes and colors and spread out like scratched treasures at an old neighbor’s garage sale.

After a bit of give and take with the waiter (the only person working that day) I was talked into a mortadella sandwich with a touch of olive oil, fresh hot pepper and herbs to transform a cold cut that is usually special only up around Bologna (in fact, its poorer, inbred cousin is what we call Bologna – or Boloney – in America).  I had him suggest a glass of white wine from the slopes of Etna because I love the mineral tones of white wines grown on volcanic soils.  But what really blew me away was the panino’s bread – dense, just moist enough, slightly yellow as tough durum wheat and traces of finely ground corn flower had been woven into it.  The bread itself was a full meal and the dough a blend of milled grains.  The waiter told me he had tasted breads for weeks before choosing this bread and it’s bakery.  He also uses it for olive-pate toasted crostini.  He spoke of the bread as though he was telling me about choosing the perfect puppy to take into the family

He also told me that the columns in Piazza Mazzini were taken from ancient ruins when the square was build, long before cars.

 

 

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Scaloppine al Marsala, al Limone, and all’Amore

Real Italian Cooking is Often Simple, But Not Easy.

Guests and fish both stink after three days – the saying is the same in Italian as in English. But unlike aquatic creatures guests can buy a few more days by cooking a special meal or two. This is in part how a very un-italian family like mine (especially my mom) got its first lessons on how Italians really cook. My Grandfather took a trip to Italy almost every Spring and invited the waiters, cooks, doormen and anyone else he got along with to come stay with him in Milwaukee (which included a few days with us in Madison) when they every travelled through America. Enough did to change us.

Emily, Silvia, and the Scaloppine

I was thinking about this as I was organizing my pictures from the last few months. In a few of them there were some pictures of Linda, my mother-in-law who passed away this Spring. It’s impossible to list the many parts of our daily lives that remind us of her. My first instinct to write about food and how it passes through my life came when I watch her make her famous lasagna and I started taking pictures. I needed to ask her how she made the ragout for it before I could write it and now it’s too late to ask her directly. Italians use recipes at home, but for those dishes that they have made their own they follow more memory, sensation and whims than specific measurements.

Scaloppine di Tacchino Generation Transfer

Other pictures were of this Summer, when Silvia prepared our goodbye dinner for my parents and close family in Madison this summer. Emily helped, keeping her eagle eye on every move her mother made and tucking it always for the next opportunity the same way she learned to make her famous crepes. The main dish was scaloppine di tacchino al marsala. The original version are veal filets flavored with marsala fortified wine (or lemon juice). We usually use turkey or chicken filets.

The choice of entree made the evening a bit more emotional. Linda was famous for her scaloppine and it was one of her favorite things to prepare for us at Sunday lunch in L’Aquila – and Emily’s favorite to eat too.

Marcella Hazan, the author of the first cookbook I ever owned, recently mentioned on Facebook that if you have to follow the rules for French cooking but the apparently simpler Italian recipes require that you develop your own sense of it all. I usually don’t print many recipes, but thanks to time spent in the kitchen with my scaloppine provders and Marcella’s books…..

Turkey Scaloppine with Marsala (Scaloppine di Tacchino al Marsala)
loosely adapted from the Veal Scaloppine with Marsala recipe found in Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan – Silvia goes my memory and adapts the oils to what’s available..

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoon olive oil (in the original it’s a mix of vegetable oil and butter, ingredients more common in the north of Italy)
  • 1 pound turkey breast filets
  • Flour, spread on a plate
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine (if you can’t find Marsala, use dry port in a pinch)
  • Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill to taste

Flatten the scaloppini (filets) with a meet pounder, hammering from the center of each piece outwards until each one is evenly thin. Put the oil in a skillet and turn on the heat to medium high.
When the fat is hot, cover both sides of the scaloppine in flour, shake off excess flour, and slip the meat into the pan. Brown them quickly on both sides. Transfer them to a warm plate, and sprinkle with salt (and pepper to taste, we usually do not). If the pan’s too small to do them all at once , do them in batches, but dredge each batch in flour just before slipping the filets into the pan to prevent the flour on them from becoming soggy which would make it impossible to achieve a crisp surface.
Once the filets are ready, turn the heat on to high, add the Marsala, and while it boils down, scrape loose with a wooden spoon all the browning residues on the bottom and sides. Add a touch (tablespoon?) of olive oil and any juices the scaloppine may have shed on the plate. When the juices in the pan are no longer runny and have the density of sauce, turn the heat down to low, return the scaloppine to the pan, and turn them once or twice to baste them with the pan juices. Turn out the entire contents of the pan onto a warm platter and serve at once.

Variation: if you don’t like Marsala, you can always roughly squeeze in a half lemon of juice. Most people here in Italy squeeze a slice of lemon on just before eating, to taste, as with any meat dish.

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Linda, a River Shrimp, and Me

A Summer Take on Italy Most Classic Garlic Dish


Aglio, Olio and Pommodorini

Aglio, olio e pepperoncino (garlic, olive oil and hot pepper) is one of the most sincere and dangerous pasta dishes. Dangerous because so many people shy away from garlic and even I shy away from the hottest of the hot stuff. But also perilous because in its simplicity to make and to devour, a plate of spaghetti doused with these two ingredients lightly simmered in olive oil can tempt more than more complex and expensive pastas.

Simmering Aglio Olio and Pepperoncino


I’m always hesitant to mess with near perfection, but in the summer there’s always another ingredient laying there, calling to you. The heat makes risk taking just that much easier.

Slow-baked tomatoes ready to jump

My friend Fabrizio C was playing with fire a few days ago (and only our tongues got slightly singed). Piccadilly and datterini tomatoes had come into their own on the Abruzzo coast when he invited a dozen friends over to his terrace for dinner. His twist was adding slow-baking breaded piccadilly cherry tomatoes (to dry them out a bit) at the end off the garlic, hot pepper and oil process.

Mixing it up

Slowly baking (about 45 minutes) and breading tomatoes dried them out while keeping just the right amount of juice and sweetness in to keep them slightly chewy but not as much as the al dente durum wheat pasta in which they were hiding.

Friends, tomatos and pepperoncino

This being summer we followed up with local vegetables – roast sweet peppers and above all some of the last great fresh fava beans of the Summer (to be eaten right out of the pod and accompanied by good pecorino cheese) as we washed it all down with some of this years Pecorino white and rich Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo rosè wines from the valleys between Pescara and Sulmona. The wine kept our conversation and appetite for summer dinners growing well into the night.

Friends, tomatos and pepperoncino

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Aglio, olio and pomodorini

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Want to try making aglio olio and peperoncino and don’t want to look for it on the web? My first and favourite guide is “The Classic Italian Cook Book: The Art of Italian Cooking and the Italian Art of Eating” by Marcella Hazan. My hitchiker’s guide to Italian food.

Roast peppers

Also my friend Eleonor’s blog http://www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com/ is inspired.

Garlic on FoodistaGarlic

How Not To Lose weight – Aperitivi at Caffè Venezia

There’s no more free lunch they say, but are they right?

Today Italy celebrates its 150 year anniversary as a unified nation. So everyone had a day off. This weeks forecast of week of constant rain was wrong for the first half of the day at least, so the four of us walked down town to look for an Italian flag.

And of course, around lunchtime, we got hungry. But not enough for dinner. So we decided to toast in Unity Day at Caffè Venezia.

Caffè Venezia prosecco cocktail


I first heard about Pescara’s Caffè Venezia in the months after l’Aquila’s earthquake. It was late April 2009 and tens of thousands of us were dazed April guests in summer hotels and apartments up and down the Adriatic. Our hotel-refuge, “Nel Pineto” was in Montesilvano, a northern suburb of Pescara separated from the sea by a sandy strip shaded by centuries old pine trees. It was much better than the tent cities our former neighbors were enduring back home but, as anyone who has ever visited a major summer sea and sand tourist stop in winter can tell you, it can feel pretty isolated. Evening visits to modern downtown Pescara (Abruzzo’s largest city) was the closest escape from the lobby we had.

Caffè Venezia snackplate

During our first weeks there the legend of the aperitivo at Caffè Venezia had already started to spread, at least in our hotel. And there was one reason – the snack plate. When you’ve been shaken, getting a huge plate of pizza and fried snacks with your drinks can feel like fresh water after a dry desert trek.

Caffè Venezia and Love

Bar Venezia is the city’s downtown food service juggernaut (steamroller). Other places may be cozier, closer to the sea, serve more creative food and cocktails or have a better wine list. But the Venezia wins in size and scope while somehow also being good. Nothing amazing, just good. On the inside there’s a pastry shop with amazing ice cream and chocolates as well, it also has pizzas by the slice and a cafeteria serving local dishes and seafood enticing enough to make me hungry while walking through on a full stomach

Caffè Venezia aftermath

I still, however, have not yet gone beyond eating and drinking what makes it to the sea of tables outside. The cocktail list is long but I usually end up with the fruity house cocktail with a dash or prosecco or an Aperol spritz, but my main goal, like that of my post-earthquake companions almost two years ago, is the complimentary food plate. A mountain of pizzette, miniature panzerotti (little deep fried pizza pockets) and a dozen other fried and oven-baked delights. Not good for the waistline, but comforting.

Work and parenting make my pre- lunch or dinner aperitivo escapes few and far between (Although my teenage daughters do agree to a non-alcoholic escape with there dad from time to time).

But it at least when we want to celebrate after a walk to downtown Pescara we know where we can sit oustide all year round and toast the day.

Pescara’s Caffè Venezia

Caffè Venezia, Pescara

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Going Native – Cococciola on a Sultry Afternoon

A Rediscovered Indigenous White Wine.

Pecorino, the wine not the cheese, is the first varietal indigenous to Abruzzo to make to consumers the world over. Since I’ve moved to Abruzzo at the beginning o the millennium it has gone from an unknown to a sought-after bottle, especially for before dinner drinks and for fish dinners. Wisconsin writer and poet Gillian Nevers has written a guest-post here about finding a pleasant bottle in a Madison restaurant (http://wp.me/pfkhI-53).
Italy has over 350 indigenous varietals (an Italian-language website, http://www.amordivino.net/, has catalogued about 250 of them), according to some sources the largest variety in the world. Many of them, like Abruzzo’s pecorino, are living a sort of renaissance as family owned wine producers and local cooperatives are dragging many of them out of obscurity and consumers are looking for new experiences and getting local by rediscovering wines and gastronomical traditions near where they live.

Cococciola Sesto 2006 from Dora Sarchese

Cococciola, a white varietal, is following in the footsteps of its better known and more easily pronounced cousin. The bottle we opened the other night, and that I finished yesterday during a light lunch of mozzarella and datterini tomatoes, is darker in color than pecorino, more yellow with a hint of rust. Our bottle, Cococciola Sesto 2006 from Dora Marchese had a thick mineral taste which I enjoyed. It also had a fun hint of the same liquor-like flavor associated with drier vin santos and late-harvest whites, but it disappeared a bit too much towards that back of the mouth. Much of this is probably because it was a four-year-old white.
The Dora Sarchese vineyard it came from is, I am told, one of Abruzzo’s rising wine stars. It is family run estate near Ortona. Cococciola Sesto is one of the first of their labels that I’ve been able to try so far. One of the next on my list – if only for the name, is going to have to be Rosè Osè. They also produce their own branded olive oil, marmalade, fruits bottled in their own syrup, sauces, and other toppings.

– Joshua Lawrence

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So many things to try, so little time.

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Little Easter – Big Meal, Italy’s Traditional Post-Easter Sunday Picnic

A feast to make you feel like you’ve died and gone to Heaven

I grew up in the United States where we celebrated Easter this way: an egg hunt in the morning, usually indoors because Wisconsin spring weather rarely cooperated; late morning Church services; and a big lunch with family. Although, I grew up in a Catholic family, I first found out about Little Easter Monday in Italy. Perhaps, because we were mostly German.

Linda's famous lasagna

Pasquetta, or Easter Monday, is, in theory, an important religious holiday. I keep forgetting why. I’m pretty sure it has something to do with the day before––Easter Sunday–– but with all the lasagna, roast lamb, potatoes with fresh picked rosemary, artichokes, wine, and visits from friends and family, there’s never been time to talk about the spiritual meaning of the Monday after. I would like to know what the spiritual importance of Easter Monday is, but for years, just as I begin to recover from Easter Sunday, but before I find the energy to ask, we set out on the annual Pasquetta picnic. Or, because we are in Navelli, the area around L’Aquila, we start setting plates on the long table in the basement taverna. This is because of yet another spring snow storm. Sometimes you can ski in Abruzzo, less than two hours from Rome, deep into May

Pasquetta is Italy’s other picnic holiday, an old-world cousin of Memorial Day or Labor Day in the U.S. Grill-outs with arrosticini (http://wp.me/pfkhI-1W), local pork sausages, bruschetta (grilled bread with olive oil on top–– and diced fresh tomatoes in the summer), fried artichokes, lamb ribs, more lasagna, salami and pizza di pasqua (not really pizza but a semi-sweet traditional bread), aged pecorino cheese, and lots of wine. Pasquetta is one of those occasions when I prefer a chilled Cerasuolo, the rosé made from Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes. It goes well with the slight burning of the mountain sun on your face and the wild mixture of foods.

Easter Dinner 2010, My Plate

Good rosés, like the Cerasuolo’s from Cataldi Madonna (Ofena) or Valle Reale (Popoli) are never compromises.

This year I’ll be going easy on the wine. Pasquetta 2010 falls on the eve of the first anniversary of the disastrous earthquake that hit L’Aquila and over forty surrounding towns. The earthquake that killed over 300 people and routed tens of thousands from their homes (including us). The earthquake that seriously damaged one of Italy’s largest historical centers. The center that is still l mostly off-limits to all but firefighters and work crews clearing the rubble.

Lamb, potatoes, Pasqua 2010

We will celebrate Easter and celebrate Pasquetta. We will commemorate our city and the friends and relatives and daily life we lost at 3.32 in the morning of April 6, 2009.
We want L’Aquila, which means “the Eagle” to rise up and fly again. It’s an obvious metaphor, but then it’s also obvious that L’Aquila should be rebuilt. Not just the buildings, but its economy, traditions, and community.

– Joshua Lawrence

PS: The other Italian picnic holiday, Italy’s traditional picnic per eccellenza, is Ferragosto (August 15th). Although it, too, is an important religious holiday, its spiritual significance escapes me for the same reason––I’m too busy digesting.

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Pecorino, Why Drinking Little Sheep is Better Than Counting Them

Osteria Papavero: As Close As it Gets To Italian Dining in Madison

(a guest post from Gillian Nevers)

To celebrate our wedding anniversary, Dan and I had dinner at Osteria Papavero.

I love Papavero. It’s small, smartly lit and feels very much like a neighborhood restaurant. Eating there is the closest to eating in Italy that you can get in Madison, Wisconsin. That is probably because the Chef and owner, Francesco Mangana, was not only born in Belonga, but studied and trained there. The food is traditional Tuscan, beautifully and simply prepared, with attention paid to using ingredients produced locally.

It was our twentieth anniversary, counting from the first time we got married. We’ll celebrate our nineteenth in June, if you count from the second time. But, that’s another story.

We began our meal sharing a plate of Antipasto di Tartufo, passing up my favorite, Antipasto Misto di Verdure (vegetables are very much apparent on the menu), then moved on to the entrées. Dan ordered the Tagliatelle ai Fungi; I ordered Guancie, one of the specials, mostly because I’d never eaten beef cheeks. I was not disappointed. The house-smoked, then slowly cooked, cheek came served on top of a slice of grilled polenta, surrounded by just the right amount of red wine sauce made with a hint of balsamic vinegar. Of course, we ordered wine: Dan a red, and I a white––a 2008 Barone di Valforte Pecorino from the Abruzzo, to be exact.

Gillian Nevers near L'Aquila

Pecorino has been my wine of choice (if I can find it in Madison) since I discovered it the last time we were in L’Aquila. As was our habit, while in L’Aquila, Dan and I walked to the center before dinner, stopping for a glass of wine before meeting up with family. One evening, we stopped at La Fenice, a wine bar near the Palazzo del Governo, we had first been to with Joshua. La Fenice was also one of Joshua’s favorite haunts for morning coffee, because it had a comfy chair, more or less, hidden away, where he could read the newspaper, and the owner, Maurizio, had a large collection of old jazz tapes. It was also a well-stocked wine store. **

I asked the bartender to recommend a white, preferably on the dry side. He poured a small amount of a Pecorino, and after tasting it, I asked him to fill the glass. The full bodied white had the flavor of a blend of fresh fruits, but without the strong acidity of some Chardonnay’s. I thanked the bartender for suggesting it and attempted to make a joke by telling him it was preferable to drinking formaggio. Or, did I say it was preferable to drinking sheep? After all, a pecorino is a cheese famous in the Abruzzo. It is also a little sheep, and it is thought the Pecorino grape got its name because it was once a favorite snack of sheep as they were driven through vineyard lands on their way to lower pastures.

Whether it was because my Italian was so bad or he just didn’t think it was funny, the bartender didn’t laugh. But, he did bring us another little bowl of potato chips.

**La Fenice has been off limits since the April 6, 2009 earthquake. Maurizio, the owner is looking for a new location. When he finds one, he will need to build his wine stock from scratch. After the government opened the neighborhood to private companies, not just to fire fighters, to build the scaffolding to prop up buildings and make the streets safe, thieves broke into the bar and stole the remaining bottles of wine.

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Ostaria Papavero: http://www.osteriapapavero.net/

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