GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT
After several months of traveling back and forth and back and forth to the USA, when David needed to return … yet again … to Los Angeles, I decided to stay at home and be a cat mom. Duchessa had developed arthritis, and the tube of medicine that said just “put it on their paw and they will lick it off” had been sorely mistaken. Duchessa was just sore … and it’s a diligent and dedicated cat sitter who can deal with the dosage. I was happy to stay home. And Allegra was maybe pregnant. If not, she’d go into heat again … and it’s a patient and perfectionist cat sitter who can deal with that drama.
Petra wanted to make sure I wasn’t home alone.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
CASA DEL PROSCIUTTO sits on the rive gauche of the Sieve River, next to the Ponte Vicchio. The Ponte Vicchio. It’s a lovely setting in the spring and summer, with large umbrellas and wooden picnic tables sitting along an old stone wall that overlooks the river. The sun seems to set slowly in golden hues behind the trees at the end of a hot day … Or maybe that’s just the wine.
This summer, the owners started having semi-live music and a fixed menu on Thursdays. Semi-live … a DJ with turntables, varying degrees of skill and similar levels of dB. I can’t say I’m into Tecno (which I think a cat could duplicate with better results), but there were evenings when the DJ had picked licorice pizza of an unnamed singer whose song stylings were more enjoyable. In this small town, it was the place to see and be seen.
We ordered glasses of Vermentino.
Apericena … a new category combining APERitivi (drinks) and CENA (dinner). Tapas. A selection of pork products and cheese and prepared goodies arrived, charmingly, on a wooden plank. Everyone gets the same selections, which vary from week to week … including, but not limited to, couscous salad OR warm eggplant OR french fries OR fried polenta topped with mushrooms OR cheese OR fruit and nuts. This Thursday, we enjoyed papa pomodoro, served in all of its tomato-y and bread-y goodness in a mason jar … prosciutto, as the trattoria’s name would suggest, it’s the best in the neighborhood … speck, smoky and flavorful … grissini, buttery than most, and better than many … half a tomato topped with tuna puree and an arugula leaf … crostino with sheep milk ricotta and a dollop of blackberry jam …. crostino with peperonata (a blend of sauteed sweet peppers and onions, possibly with bits of tomato or cubes of potato, depending on the cook) … crostino with chopped tomatoes and a slice of mozzarella. And then, when you are well satisfied with food and drink, you can go inside to get a bowl of fresh strawberries with whipped cream. With as much cream as one desires.
One of the people at our table asked if David minded that I was going out. I said that he could go out, too. True dat, they nodded in agreement.
Petra and I agreed that the next time, we’d order a bottle of wine.
A COMIDA TONIGHT
MATTAGNANO is close by, and when we go there, I prefer protein to pizza. Petra chose a bottle of 2016 Torrevigne Greco di Tufo to drink. It was an excellent choice, with nice minerality. We waited and sipped.
We began by sharing a big bowl of mussels. They were steamed with garlic and tomatoes, moist and flavorful, with broth that was so flavorful. The bruschetta was perfect to dunk and savor. Then chicken breast. Simple, yes … good, yes. Plus a mixed salad. And then, for no reason other than we wanted dessert, we shared tiramisu. It’s the reason I included an ordinary meal in this story [smile]. It was served in a mason jar … the layers of thick ladyfingers saturated with espresso and creamy, eggy custard and bitter cocoa melded together wonderfully. No, we did not order another one.
HERE’S TO THE LADIES WHO DINNER
It was through Sandra that I met both Petra and Sandra’s BFF, Giovanna. Sandra was an Italian teacher before she retired … and David was in her last class. Giovanna owns one of the best bakeries in town … and if we go to an event I know they catered, I’m happy to savor some of their sweets selections. In fact, I will defer to her … because when she brings bongo (profiteroles filled with whipped cream and generously draped in a thick, indulgent chocolate sauce) to a party, nobody wants carrot cake, even with vanilla-infused cream cheese frosting. It had been too long since we had gotten together … so we were excited to find a night when the four of us could go out.
There are those who don’t eat seafood when you cannot see the sea … point taken … but LA GRIGLIA (in Borgo San Lorenzo) is the exception to the rule.
To begin, Petra ordered a bottle of Grillo, a D.O.C. white wine from Sicily. It reminded me of Kim Crawford in its grapefruitiness … but Giovanna and Sandra didn’t like it as much as Petra and I did. (When the bottle was empty, we switched to Vermentino).
We began by sharing an antipasto platter … and it was wonderful. There was black rice topped with sauteed calamaroni, tender filets of a calamari cousin sitting on top of savory and toothsome rice … three triangles of flaky and buttery sesame puff pastry layered with guacamole and smoked salmon, two of my favorite flavors paired in one panino … tuna tartare topped with sprouts, tenderness from the sea paired with crunchiness from the land … steamed ombrino (sea trout) served warm on an arugula-red onion salad was an excellent combination of warm/cold and delicate/piquant … melba toast topped with warm octopus and chopped tomatoes was crunchy and flavorful and juicy all in one bite … shrimp tossed in a light-in-texture lime mayonnaise, served in a mason jar, was great, appropriately chewy with the bright acidity of lime.
As my main course, I opted for gamberetti (which I don’t eat too often because of David’s allergy to shrimp … and our habit of sharing food) and calamari. They were in an ultra-light dusting of cornstarch, and perfectly salty. Just a squirt of lemon … great. (I even brought some home for the next day. Who am I kidding? … to share with the kitties.) I also got a taste of risotto di ricci di mare … sea urchin! … it was fabulous, and made me want to go back to the restaurant so I could have a whole bowl for myself.
No dessert tonight. We chatted and finished our wine … and vowed not to wait so long for our next dinner.
We had one more more night before David came home, and Petra felt like bistecca. Who was I to argue. We went to O’ PER BACCO.
To pair with the red meat, Petra ordered a Sangiovese Superiore … a 2015 Solano. Full-bodied and bold, it was the perfect partner of our beef. Mirko brought over a bowl taralli … the crunchy little rings from Puglia, tender with olive oil and often flavored with fennel, that I find irresistible. My culinary kryptonite. (I make mine with a buckwheat-whole wheat flour blend, and include turmeric powder and chia seeds so they are healthy … “healthier” … with a denser texture.)
We ordered bistecca’s cousin … tagliata, which is a smaller steak that is grilled, sliced, then served with arugula and shreds of parmigiano. This tagliata was worthy of bistecca … one of the best either of us ever had. The potatoes that shared the plate were browned and crispy/tender. A salad of tender lettuce, radicchio, and carrot strips was all we needed.
Petra and I exchanged glances. One dessert, two spoons? We nodded. We picked a semifreddo of yogurt, draped lovingly and seductively with dark chocolate glaze … we were oh so happy. It was not too cold, with a gentle texture and creaminess reminiscent of panna cotta, the chocolate was rich, and a sprinkling of butter cookie crumbs gave it just a hint of crunch. No, we did not order another one.
Then … Mirko brought over the bottle of pear brandy … Poire Williams & Cognac de Grande Champagne and two glasses. I’ve had this liquid gold before, and despite its alcohol level, it doesn’t taste too strong and the pears make it flavorful, but it not too sweet … just A M A Z I N G.
The perfect end to our meal … the perfect ending to our meals.
Use whatever looks good in your garden or at the greengrocer. And use any quantity you have or your favorite flavors. Yellow or red onions … any kind of tomatoes … red and/or orange and/or yellow peppers … Peruvian or Idaho potatoes.
Including potatoes makes this version Tuscan.
Sweet peppers, seeded and sliced
Salt and pepper, to taste
- In a medium saucepan, saute onion in olive oil. As it starts to brown, add the garlic.
- When the garlic is golden and the onion nicely colored, add the tomatoes. Stir/saute for a few minutes.
- Add the peppers and tomatoes. Stir to blend.
- Cover pan, and turn heat to low. Simmer until the peppers and potatoes are tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. There should be enough moisture to keep the mixture moist … add a little water, if necessary.
- Serve warm or at room temperature.