The best meal I had during Vinitaly: polenta e baccalà

As much as I love what I do and as fortunate as I feel to work in wine and get to travel to Europe for work, a career in the wine business is not as glamorous as it may seem. When I go to Verona for the annual trade fairs, I get up very early and taste wine all day, running from one “stand” to another, trying to keep with appointments, hoping to see all the people I need to see. It’s exhausting and and by no means as fun as “getting to taste wine all day” may sound.

Above: There wasn’t enough sausage to go around at the dinner I attended on Sunday night in Breganze, near Vicenza in the Veneto. When it was served, they piled the other meats on top of it and all of the juices mingled to make a rich “tocio” (TOH-choh) or jus, as they say in the Veneto dialect. The grilled polenta sopped in the tocio was as good as it gets.

And the worst part is that I was a stone’s throw (an hour or so drive) from so many of my very best friends, like Steve and Sita and Gabriele (aka Elvis) in Padua, Stefano and Anna in Milan, and Corradino and Puddu in Bologna. But when I attend the fairs, I am bound to use my time there to taste as much wine as possible (taking notes on new vintages and learning about new labels) and talking and schmoozing with as many “suppliers” as possible.

Above: Roast guinea hens.

Another thing that really sucks is the food. There I was in Italy, one of the world’s greatest food destinations, and imprisoned in the trade fair grounds in Verona where the only chance for something good to eat is stopping by Alicia Lini’s stand for a snack of erbazzone and mortadella.

Most of the dinners you attend are held in cafeteria-style restaurants where you sit at long tables with sales reps and suppliers. For the most part, the conversation is boring, everyone is tired of tasting and running around, and all you want to do is to go back to your hotel room and crash.

Above: I sat with Chris and Cynde Gangi, a delightful couple who own and run Josephine’s in Frisco (Dallas), Texas.

The one good meal I had during the fair was a dinner I attended with Italian Wine Guy in Breganze near Vicenza. The Veneto is the Italian region to which I feel the greatest bond since I went to university there (Padua) and I spent three summers playing music there (Belluno). The menu that night included some of my favorite dishes, Veneto comfort food: baccalà mantecato (creamed salt cod, a classic Venetian dish); radicchio di Castelfranco (a type of red-spotted white leafy chicory, dressed with olive oil, salt, and a drop of traditional balsamic vinegar; Castelfranco is a town not far from where we were); homemade tagliatelle tossed with radicchio trevigiano sautéed with bits of prosciutto (radicchio trevigiano is a type of long-leaf, red chicory from Treviso, also not far from where we were); Bassano white aspargus risotto (it was white asparagus season in Bassano, also not far); grilled sausages and chicken thighs (bone-in), and roast guinea hens; and the best Veneto comfort food of all, grilled polenta.

It reminded me of a song that I love and used to sing many moons ago:

Se il mare fosse de tocio
e i monti de polenta
oh mamma che tociade,
polenta e baccalà.
Perché non m’ami più?

If the sea were made of gravy
and the mountains of polenta
oh mama, what sops!
polenta and baccalà.
Why don’t you love me anymore?

— from “La Mula de Parenzo,” traditional folksong of the Veneto and Friuli

Thanks again, Alfonso, for hooking it up…

In other news…

It is SO GOOD to be back in Austin!

4 thoughts on “The best meal I had during Vinitaly: polenta e baccalà

  1. Jeremy:

    Isn’t it always the case in Italy? The simplest, most traditional dinners are the best! You certainly made my mouth water with your descriptions and photos.

    Buona Pasqua.

  2. The Trentino has some unbelievably amazing food & wine. I went ape for Canederli, ate it every day, drank Marzemino/Lagrein, etc. Definitely a region that deserves to be spotlighted, or spotlit.

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