“Don’t tamp it this time,” my son says.
“With my Gaggia,” he says, “I’ve stopped tamping. I get better crema. Try it.”
The coffee, he means, in the filter basket.
It’s a Saturday morning. I’m making him an espresso in my Delonghi Dedica Deluxe Pump Stainless Steel Espresso Machine. When you make espresso with a machine, tamping is a thing. It’s part of the process, the ritual. I’ve always tamped. The pros in coffee bars tamp. Every machine I’ve owned came with a tamping tool. When I tell him with this machine I only gently tamp, just leveling the coffee off, he says I might get better crema leaving it loose. Continue reading
A friend asked once: “Are you one of those people who makes his own breadcrumbs?”
No, I’m not.
I had just pulled a sheet of roasted tomatoes out of the oven. Topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, they perfumed the house, then ravished the palate. Continue reading
I’ve got wellness on my mind.
“Canducci Tiziana.” That’s how they call my wife when it’s her turn. Last name first. We’re at the Repubblica di San Marino Instituto di Sicurezza Sociale (aka the hospital), where she’s here to see an orthopedic doc. A few weeks ago at the Bargello museum in Florence, while I was in the gallery at the top of the stairs, the one with Donatello’s David and Giambologna‘s Mercury, two fleet-footed guys, looking with new-found interest at theirs and other sculpted feet, while she was climbing the stairs to join me, something happened and she tumbled down six or eight steps, injuring a few of her appendages. To wit: a knee and a wrist. Continue reading
These days, when I make reservations in Italy I give my wife’s maiden name. A table for four at 7:30, for Canducci. Same thing when I call the heating repair man (it’s cold in the apartment or there’s no hot water). I say, “This is Canducci on Via Olivella in Serravalle. Can you come and check out our boiler?”
Always last name, Canducci.
I never say Bailey. Ever.
Names are essential. And they can be complicated. How hard do we want to work at them? Continue reading
“Breakfast of champions,” I say to the kid sitting at the next table.
We’re in the hospital bar. It’s nine in the morning. I’m here with my wife, who’s going to have some stitches pulled. (She fell down a stairs, sliced her knee, broke her wrist. No, we say when someone asks, and everyone seems to ask, I didn’t do it.)
The boy takes a big bite from his breakfast pizza, tomato and cheese, and leans toward his father, who’s reading the pink sports gazette men in Italy love. I nod toward the pizza. I imagine he’s thinking, “Weirdo.”
Pizza is a common breakfast food over here. You see them, the size of pancakes, in the pastry cases at the coffee bars.
For me pizza in the morning was always hangover food. Leftover pizza, that is, obviating the need to busy yourself, providing the spicy, oily bulk that seemed to soothe and stabilize a woozy stomach. Usually washed down with a coke.
Both here and at home, we usually opt for pizza on a night no one wants to cook. Over there it comes to the door. Over here I walk two minutes up the street to the main piazza. The bar is called L’insolito Posto, the usual place. Think Cheers, the bar from the television show, only in this tiny village in San Marino. Weekends, if you want to eat inside, you need to make a reservation.
Once it was a coffee and breakfast pastries bar. Now it’s doing what lots of bars do. Coffee and pastries (and probably pizzas) in the morning; aperitivo (a pretty sumptuous appetizer banquet) and drinks in the early evening.
And pizza. Thin crust. Wood burning oven. Last night was one of those lazy nights. It took 5 minutes to cook my pizza margarita, which costs 5 euros. I walked it home and ate half of it, thinking I would eat the rest in the morning. But didn’t. Maybe it’s age. Or I wasn’t hungover.
The statute of limitations on leftover pizza is about 48 hours. Something tells me reheated or cold, that margarita will be the best thing I eat that day.
We’re on our way to Ro e Buni for a fat pasta lunch. This restaurant (called a “tenuta,” meaning an estate), is off the main road that passes through Villa Verucchio. A sign says there’s a golf course back here somewhere. I’d look for it but I’m totally distracted by the orchard next to the road. Orange fruit heavy in the branches. Looks like oranges. But, no, these are persimmons. In Italian called “cachi” (pronounced “CAH-cky”). Continue reading
Twice now I’ve chosen not to eat polenta. My wife and I are in restaurants. It’s a choice between tagliatelle and beans or passatelli in a vegetable sauce, or polenta, I reluctantly say no to the polenta.
Last night it happened again. This just has to stop.
Oh, polenta. It comes to the table vivid yellow, this cooked corn flour mush with a sauce ladled over the top of it. Last Sunday, at Osteria del Pisello, their polenta with pea sauce.
You eat it with a spoon. It’s still hot. The red sauce, peas or beans or ragu or whatever, is likely to leave an reddish-orange olive oil sheen, as you stir, mix, spoon, and lift this wonderful food your mouth. To borrow a phrase from Raymond Carver, it’s a simple, good thing. That’s the dominant culinary principle in this region. Simple is good. More likely, simple is perfection.
When she was a kid, my wife says the practice was to pour out the polenta on a large cutting board and put it in the middle of the table, cover it with ragu. No plates. No servings portioned out. Each individual, spoon in hand, having at it.
In one of my undergraduate psychology classes I learned about what researchers call “the just noticeable difference.” We’re talking levels of perception. At what point does one lose the ability to distinguish one sensory input from another that is a measurable gradation less or more in strength. What is the just noticeable difference between the pleasure you take in one dish you love over another you love? That’s the fix we are in when we eat over here.
As we say these days, indulging in cliche, It’s all good. (This is cliche I can live with.) Seen below, last night’s polenta from Trattoria Rinaldi.
Polenta, I’m coming.
And I do mean truffle, the white ones and the black ones, those gnarly, earthy nuggets of delight, the ones you dream about, their shavings falling like heavenly snow flakes on your tagliatelle. Yes, those truffles. Continue reading
In Italy they sometimes extrude the food. In the case, for example, of passatelli.
Eaten in broth or with sauce, passatelli are a mix of breadcrumbs, egg, a grated hard cheese such as Parmigiano or pecorino, lemon zest, and nutmeg, all mixed together into an “impasto” and then extruded. Passatelli would be a quintessential farmer or contadino food, the base being dry leftover bread. (Ribolitta, a typical Florentine and Tuscan dish with leftover bread as its base, also comes to mind.) Continue reading
My wife’s cousin sat a few chairs down from me. It was Christmas 1984. We were having cappelletti in broth, a typical–and beloved–dish we look forward to at holiday time. After spooning (scarfing) for a few minutes, the cousin looked up, turned to me, and said, “I could kill myself eating these things.”
They’re that good. Continue reading
Fish lasagne? Don’t think about it. Just try it.
We’re eating at Trattoria alla Rivetta in Venice. We’ve been coming here for over 20 years—for the seafood risotto, the moeche (soft shell crabs), the branzino, and whatever else they have that day that’s fresh. And always, in addition to great fish, there is a generous assortment of fresh vegetables that are boiled, sliced, and served with a generous anointing of olive oil. Was ever a potato so good? Continue reading
“Signorina?” I say. My wife and I are in an airport restaurant in Venice, waiting for a friend to arrive. We have an hour or so to kill. There’s no better way to do that than by eating.
I’ve ordered the pasta; my wife has the prosciutto and mozzarella. We need some bread. Well, my wife needs some bread.
She shakes her head. “You really should call her signora,” she says. Continue reading
Is there a more guilty pleasure than a fritto misto (frittura, as they say here)? You can see what you’re eating, sort of–rings of sliced calamari, curled shrimps, spongy scallops, a stray chunk of fish, and, if you’re lucky, some thinly sliced or shredded zucchini–all lightly covered in a crispy brown batter, lightly salted. Continue reading
When I was in college, on many a drunken evening roommates and I ordered a thing called a “faz” from a local pizzeria. It was pizza dough loaded with a ghastly tomato sauce and grated domestic mozzarella, folded in half, sealed, and baked in the oven. When a faz arrived at your dorm room door, its gooey molten interior oozed out on your first bite. It was dangerous. Of course we scalded ourselves every time. To a nineteen-year-old, a faz was nothing if not delicious. Until recently I had blotted this culinary error from memory; now, having retrieved it accidentally, I wish it back to oblivion, where it belongs. Continue reading