This is an update to let you know where you can find me eating and drinking around for the next several days. For years I have been wanting to visit and finally the stars aligned for me to impulsively buy a ticket and book a room to just…go! Continue Reading →
I live in Florence and summer has indeed arrived. Except for today. Which is why I am not a sweaty mess and why I can even stand to be near my computer. It’s so funny to see my friends in Seattle through the social media webs wearing light spring jackets and here I am pushing the envelope basically trying to see how much I can get away with notwearing and pondering how sheer I can really get away with because I feel like I am going to die if I wear anything other than a gel pack of ice. I am exaggerating, after all I could be in Cairo where it’s like 110 degrees. Anyways, I digress as usual.
I am very weary of red wine in the warmer months in Florence, not only because to me red wine says cozy sweater and fireplace recounting the days I spent backpacking through Europe saving baby kittens from olive trees, but because most shop keepers are infuriatingly aloof about how they store their wine on the shelves. A wine shelf near the door is a horrible idea. And unless it is a super market, or a very smartly designed shop (that is not ever in direct sunlight) or has the luxury to invest in air-conditioning I don’t trust poorly stored red wine to be anything but vinegar or acidic grape juice at best.
Apart from that, I honestly can’t fathom consuming something that isn’t cold. I recently had a dilemma where I wanted to make an eggplant parmigiana but didn’t want a red wine. In normal weather circumstances, I would usually go for like a Negroamaro from Puglia or a Barbera from Piedmont for a baked cheese, vegetable and tomato dish like an eggplant parmigiana (or even for like a cheesy lasagna too) but I wanted to figure out how I could pair with some white wines. So I went to the wine shop at Eataly on a Sunday to stare at all the bottles hoping my food and wine pairing classes would flood my memory. Here is what I managed to pick out after many minutes scratching my head and having a lot of “oh yeah!” moments:
I wanted to stick to a white wine from Southern Italy because I am obsessed with gastronomic identity, meaning to pair local wines with the local cuisine. In theory, an elegant white wine from the Langhe (in the Northern, Slow Food capital region Piedmont) such as Marin by Fontanafredda could have sufficed just as easily as a rich, aromatic yet balanced Sauvignon by Bastianich from Friuli. But I wanted to go down south where the dish originates. You should still try these with something cheesy or creamy like risotto, the traditional Piemontese vitello tonnato (which is boiled veal in tuna mayonnaise) or anything with seafood, of course.
In the end, this is what I found and which I suggest for a baked cheese and tomato dish like Eggplant Parmigiana:
COS Rami Sicilian White (as early as 2012) This is a very unconventional winery which specializes in local, indigenous grape varieties and abides by biodynamic production methods. The particular grapes showcased in COS’s Rami are Inzolia and Grecanico.
But what I ended up choosing was a Sicilian Viognier by Calatrasi & Miccichè. This would be good also with a chicken dish in a cream sauce or a creamy mushroom risotto- perhaps not exactly Sicilian foods but just to give you an idea what Viognier could also match well with.
I picked this because Viognier tends to be a richer white wine, what I like to call a greasy wine which give a nice full mouth watering start and long finish but not too fruity or aromatic, with just a tinge of petrol on the nose which for me is also why I call it greasy. This was a great wine pair for a saucy, creamy ricotta filled Eggplant Parmigiana which I proudly made, by grilling (not frying) the eggplant, and whipping up the tomato sauce from scratch with heirloom umami rich tomatoes, garlic, herby olive oil from the most recent fall’s pressing and fresh basil.
In my posts regarding food and wine pairing, I don’t go into the tasting notes too much because I just want readers to know what’s good in my opinion and to find out for themselves. Wine is all about opinion. And these are my suggestions that you can take or leave. This is my blog and this is what I think.
If I ever had a bad day in Seattle, the grey skies, weird overly awkward people, cold, splattery rain and stop and go traffic or a parking ticket would make a bad day even more excruciating. Italy, however, is a kinder friend to you on such an occasion. Over the past nearly 2 years, I have broadcasted my love hate relationship with living in Italy.
I imagine it like an “I Love Lucy” episode where Italy does something so despicable like make money disappear in a bad gambling bet with Ethel that I want to chase her around, shaking my fists while yelling “why I oughttaaaaaa!!!”
I also imagine us as 2 teenagers picking on each other, putting glue in my hair and me crying, swearing off this godforsaken place forever. But when push comes to shove, all jokes are put aside and she sits by me and takes care to soothe my woes and shows me all her practical jokes of lost in translation mind games, mean petty vandals and bureaucratic hoops are just done in jest and that deep down- she is really there for me to shower me with sunshine, flowers, beautiful art and above all- pizza and gelato.
Florence is especially a great place for a pizza pick-me-up because there is O’Vesuvio. It is basically a Neapolitan style pizza pie joint in the city center which was also the same pizza hut that The Jersey Shore worked at when they filmed their “Florence” season. It’s an instant reminder that life can’t be that bad- you are not one of the members of the Jersey shore and you aren’t one of the chumps that had to work with them. Life is good again. And the pizza is semi-edible.
Not only that, Italy will snuggle you with coccoli (fried, salty foccacia-like bread balls) spread with stracchino cheese for just a euro. Not to mention cheap, delicious wine. Artistic nooks laden with history and beauty (i.e. the Accademia gallery which hosts the David statue) And the nice, smiley plump jolly cheese monger who throws in some fava beans to go with that farmstead organic fresh, creamy pecorino (sheeps’ milk cheese) that cost less than the 2 euro gelato you had just 6 minutes prior.
Italy may test your nerves, try your patience, chew you up and spit you back out. But when you need it- she will be there. For 6 euros or less. Having the kind of bad day where you don’t even have chump change? She’ll take care of that with beautiful sunsets, warm afternoons and fragrant spring flowers to lift your spirits.
Just be aware, just as soon as you’re nursed back to strength after a few pizzas, countless gelatos, romantic walks, sunny bike rides with the wind caressing your hair (or bald head)- she’ll be back tormenting you with some random backdated overpriced gas bill, a law change that requires you to submit 12 thousand new applications that will take 16 years to register, the local crazy will throw a box at your head, the tax rate will increase by another 8 points and the pharmacist will prescribe you cat tranquilizers or butt plugs instead of enteric-coated ibuprofen. Until then, enjoy your rose and white chocolate gelato among the backdrop of the most wonderful, beautiful country that is: Italia.
My life revolves around 3 things: Italy, food and hooch. Food being my first love, Italy second and Hooch the last but not least! I knew one day I would move to Italy but I didn’t have any clue I would have been this lucky. In a country as paradoxical as Italy, I somehow managed to make a way for myself without knowing anyone. In exactly what I wanted to be doing. Believe me, I took odd jobs, had my patience tested and I did whatever I needed to do to. So now that I’ve bored you all to tears with my Dr. Phil Opera book club ego stroke fest, I will tell you that I do plan on writing a book about this experience, it will include of course the token romantic scandal. Stay tuned!
I recently visited a local farm for a cheese and wine tour in the Tuscan town Montepulciano, (just 1.5 hours south of Florence) and I have to say I had my mind blown just a little bit.
The farm I visited has a little over 100 sheep and goat to produce the typical pecorino toscano cheese that is so fundamental to Tuscan cheese culture. Pecorino is Italian for sheep milk cheese (although some mix in some goat milk), and Tuscany is not the only region that has its own pecorino cheese. Like you may have heard of pecorino romano (from Lazio) or pecorino sardo (from Sardinia). History of sheep’s milk cheese dates back several centuries as the food was a luxury item for the nobility but also at the same time a form of sustenance for pastoral peasants as the cheese packs a lot of flavor when aged (perfect for enhancing a peasant vegetable soup) or a lot of nutrition when fresh (like fresh pecorino).
What was interesting to me is that the farm was completely organic and produced also grains (which they use for pasta and bread making), olive oil (like everyone in Tuscany- olive trees are everywhere here), wine and apiculture (honey!). I was happy to see some young people working the farm because this today is sort of trendy but realistically, a self-sustaining farm is how Italians have survived in historically poor eras and how many rural societies operate today.Rural communities produce and exchange (or sell) with their neighbors and on a small (organic) scale, it can work.
However, more and more people are becoming less and less interested in working in the fields and migrating to cities for office jobs. Part of this has forced big farms to become the norm and thus increased their thirst (and need) for profit by using non-organic means. There is no way the world can produce natural, organic small scale produced food for what like 7 billion people especially when agronomists and farmers are dwindling and land grabs for urban sprawl are increasing.
As much as I am a huge proponent for sustainable, organic food- I also realize that at this current time it is impossible to expect. However, in a small country like Italy- it could make sense. Except the fact that people are generally poor here and it makes sense for a family to buy a kilo of breakfast cookies for €4 euros by a huge multinational who is probably sourcing flour from several countries (whose quality standards I question) than buy organic whole grain locally baked ones for more than triple the price. There is no way a bag of cookies that weighs a kilo could cost €4 without cutting corners, and in my opinion- safety.
More and more I see the importance of organic food production. Digesting agri-chemicals which leave residue on our food undoubtedly is unhealthy and increases our risk for disease when constantly exposed. It’s not just consuming the food with chemical residue- it’s the production plants that undoubtedly pollute the air and water of nearby towns. It’s a risk to the farm workers breathing in the sprays in the fields. It’s the petrol chemicals being refined in order to produce them. It’s the fracking for oil which then pollutes our environment (water included) which is then needed to extract energy to produce agrichemicals. But as much as I am lecturing on about this- I don’t see any other realistic alternative at this time. Unless of course, we all go back to nature and learn to be somewhat self-sufficient. Or until green energy becomes profitable. Organic food is definitely profitable but that means only a select few can actually afford it. And that’s not right. Everyone has the right to clean and healthy food that won’t poison them. But something has got to give. We need to learn how to even just grow herbs on our windowsill. I have friends in Italy who are letting their family vineyards be demolished because they have no interest in carrying on the tradition of family wine production. We need to somehow bring back interest in self-sufficiency and pressure our elected officials to invest more in organic agriculture and divest in agribusiness. We decidedly depend too much on the market to provide things we can’t be bothered to produce and demand too much from it to be perfect.
So I didn’t talk so much about the amazing cheese flight, floral thick honey and the lovely homestyle organic wine…because well, these topics impressed me more. That a group of people have chosen to go against the grain and live a rough, rural lifestyle for the sake of clean food. These people have to work hard to maintain an organic production site- it’s not always rosy. They have to decide to live in the inefficiencies of the countryside in total isolation. But it is a sacrifice that creates beautiful foods that nourish not only the people that visit, but keeps the idealism alive that the world can be a healthy, organic and green planet.