Pomodoro crisis

Above: Tracie P and I have been thoroughly enjoying Chef Esteban’s housemade Tagliatelle with tomato sauce and housemade ricotta at Vino Vino in Austin. I think that Esteban could go a little lighter on the heat in the sauce (my only lament) but this is Texas after all.

Although Italy’s recently installed agricultural minister Giancarlo Galan (from Padua) claims there’s no crisis in the Italian wine industry (see his comments in our post today at VinoWire via Mr. Franco Ziliani’s blog), he is planning to convene a “task force” to address Italy’s tomato crisis — yes, tomato crisis.

The issue is not the sale of tomatoes in Italy (go figure) but rather fraud and counterfeit of Italian-grown tomatoes. The so-called “agropiracy” vehemently battled by Galan’s predecessor Luca Zaia.

Contemplating the Italian tomato crisis as I drank my tea early this morning, Aldo Cazzullo’s 2009 L’Italia di noantri. Come siamo diventati tutti meridionali (The Italy We [Southerners] Remember: How We All Became Southerners, Mondadori) came to mind.*

In it, he writes: Today, “Italians all eat the same things. Two generations ago in Piedmont, they used meat or butter to dress their food. Today, tomato is found in every sauce… The tomato has become a national symbol. If an Italian has a spot on his shirt, it’s a tomato spot.” (p. 43)

Leaving the racist and separatist (and even futurist) implications aside, I do think it’s interesting to note (probably to the surprise of many) that tomatoes were not widely consumed in Italy until the 1960s. I found hard proof of this when I researched my post on the origins of the name puttanesca.

There’s much to be said on this topic but, alas, my work duties call… I’ll leave you today with one of my all-time favorite scenes by one of my all-time favorite Italian actors, Alberto Sordi, in Un americano a Roma (An American in Rome, 1954). In the scene, he plays an Italian-American who claims that the food in America is better and better for you, drinking milk instead of wine. But in the end, you can imagine what happens. Note that the “macaroni” are NOT dressed with tomato. The year is 1954.

* The title of the book plays on the fact that the Roman inflection noantri for the first person plural has been commonly absorbed by the northern dialects (in the Piedmontese of the author’s grandparents, he writes, the first person plural was nuiautri).

Produttori del Barbaresco 89 (and Mafioso)

Every once in a while you come across one of those truly special bottles, like this 1989 classic Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco,* at a price you can afford. I found it the other day in a wine shop in San Antonio (where I’ve been spending a lot of time these days) and although it gently pushed the envelope of my pricepoint ceiling (sorry for the mixed metaphors), I just couldn’t resist.

The 1989 harvest in Langa was one of the greatest in contemporary memory and I’ve had the great fortune to taste a lot of Nebbiolo from both 1989 (a classic, slow-ripening vintage) and 1990 (also a classic, but with slightly warmer temperatures). This gorgeous wine is still very young: the nobility of its tannin and earthy flavors were adorned by delicate notes of berry and red stone fruit, the way Laura’s noble, alpine beauty is dressed by her golden hair and her delicate veil as she sits by the stream in Petrarch’s songs.

Many would fetishize a wine like this but we always open them with food. After all, the people who made them intended them to be consumed with food.

At the urging of our friend Howard, Tracie B had Netflixed Alberto Lattuada’s 1962 social-commentary/thriller/comedy Mafioso, starring one of the all-time greatest Italian actors, Alberto Sordi.

Lattuada doesn’t make it as often into the syllabuses of Italian film studies in the U.S. as does, say, Pietro Germi (with 1960s classics like Sedotta e abbandonata), but he should. His Mafioso is 1960s social-commentary comedy at its best, at once poignant and hilarious, bridging the Messina Straits of the paradox of the country that never was — Italy. Alberto Sordi is a Sicilian who’s moved to the industrial north and has made a life for himself and his beautiful blond alpine wife. Lattuada’s camera follows him has he fulfills his peripeteia in a journey home to visit his family. The backdrop is the “economic miracle” of the 1960s in Italy, where the north flourished while the south continued to languish. I won’t spoil it for you but the final thriller scenes had us on the edge of our seats as we sipped the last drops of that gorgeous wine.

Here’s the great scene where Sordi’s character’s family welcomes him home with a classic Sicilian luncheon. Coppola ain’t got nothing on this baby!

* Many erroneously distinguish the “cru” or single-vineyard bottlings of Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco from the classic Barbaresco (made with fruit sourced from multiple vineyards) using the ignominious qualifier normale. Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco that has been made by blending wines sourced from different vineyards is classic Barbaresco or Barbaresco classico.