The Ronco del Gnemiz Six-Pack is officially LIVE over at 2Bianchi.com, Do Bianchi Wine Selections… if you live in California and would like to taste a little bit of the Colli Orientali del Friuli (the eastern hills of Friuli), I’ll be delivering the wines and shipping on Tuesday… Check it out here.
I can get you the wines but unfortunately I can’t deliver the classic Friulian meal to go along with it. That’s soft (as opposed to crunchy) frico above: aged and fresh Montasio cheese with potatoes fried in a pie.
Grilled white corn polenta.
Fresh Montasio and salame, ossocollo, pancetta, and Prosciutto di San Daniele.
Brovada, turnips fermented and braised in red wine.
Sarde in saor, “sour” Venetian-style sardines marinated with onions, pine nuts, and raisins… and baccalà mantecato, creamed salt cod and fried polenta… at Il Calandrino, the bar annex of one of Europe’s top restaurants and home to its youngest 3-Michelin-star chef, Le Calandre, just outside of Padua.
Accompanied by Ca’ del Bosco’s NV Franciacorta Rosé… fan-friggin-tastic!
Le Calandre is a little pricey for Tracie P and me this time around (and our anniversary tomorrow in Venice is our “splurge” night). But we did take a peak at the dining room of this storied restaurant in the most unlikely of working-class neighborhoods in the outskirts of the city. So little time and so many great things to eat!
The baccalà lamps at Le Calandre’s reception. Who knew that stockfish could be so sexy?
Late last year, when I was asked to contribute to a collection of essays dedicated to and inspired by my UCLA dissertation advisor, mentor, and friend, poet, scholar, gourmet, and gourmand, Luigi Ballerini (above), I decided to chronicle the Italian food scene in Los Angeles circa 1994. The Italian regional cuisine phenomenon had yet to explode in the U.S. but the City of the Angels was already awash in a sea of grappa: with Bloomian anxiety of influence, Angelino restaurateurs had embraced two of Italy’s most humble (however beloved) food stuffs — polenta and grappa — and anointed them as queen mother and queen (respectively) of Italian cuisine.
Three of the most powerful and enduring memories of my years working closely with Luigi Ballerini involve food (and/or the lack thereof).
The one is an image in his mind’s eye, a scene he often spoke of: Milan, 1945, the then five-year-old Ballerini watches a defiant Nazi soldier atop an armored car, part of a phalanx in retreat from the Lombard capital, leaving it an “open city”; the muscle-bound German bares his chest in the winter cold, as if impervious to pain even in the moment of ultimate defeat. The Nazis left behind a broken city and people, who had already known hunger for quite some time and would not know prosperity and plenty for many years to come. At five years old, Luigi knew hunger all too well.
“La tovaglia che sazia: Luigi Ballerini the gastronome and his ‘tablecloth of plenty,'” by Jeremy Parzen, in Balleriniana, edited by Giuseppe Cavatorta and Elena Coda, Ravenna, Danilo Montanari Editore, 2010.
O, Luigi, you can be the king and you most certainly are in my cook book. But may we wear your crown?
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