IS THIS GOING TO BE A STORY?
That was Domenico’s question as we sat down to dinner at O’ PER BACCO, a lovely trattoria in the Piazza Giotto, on a recent summer evening.
“Self,” I thought, “maybe it should be.”
My thought bubble continued. I’ll combine it with other meals we’ve eaten here. It’s always good eats … maybe Mirko, the owner, will like the potential publicity. Ha! Not that many … any … of my followers live nearby.
Tonight was a post-golf dinner for Domenico and David … post-day in the garden day for Antonella and me. We made recommendations on some tried-and-true dishes, and were excited about new offerings. I was going to order the roast duck … but when Mirko said he had stinco di agnello (leg of lamb) off menu, I changed my mind.
Since we all ordered red meat, David selected a Chianti Classico from Podere del Cappello. Its nice terroir and subdued assertiveness went well with all of our dinners.
David started with the irresistible Gnudi Blù e Bufalo … the spinach nuggets are melt-in-the-mouth clouds, and draped in the creamy combo of gorgonzola and bufalo (the Italian term for true mozzarella), it’s a wonderful dish.
Domenico did pick the duck … and he voluntarily displayed his plate for me to take a photo. He said it was delicious, and was surprised how good the carmelized onions and prunes were as an accompaniment.
Antonella picked Tagliata with Roast Potatoes. Between you and me [wink], I think she just wanted the potatoes … which she had been looking forward to All. Day. Long. She said the beef was flavorful, but a bit undercooked for her Emilia-Romagnan palate. David & I, born-again Tuscans, thought it looked just right. She said the potatoes were great.
David opted for a Filetto with Roast Potatoes. He loved the blood-rare steak, and said it was tender, juicy, and full of flavor. The potatoes, crispy outside and tender within, were a hit.
My Agnello was excellent. Cooked using the same sous vide method as the duck, it fell off the bone, shredding before it got onto the fork. It shared the plate with thin rounds of gently-baked eggplant topped with minced mint … nicely reminiscent of the Middle East.
Sorry. No dessert tonight. Our friends had to drive an hour to their hotel near the next day’s golf competition.
My thought bubble came back. “Self” … maybe instead of meals, I’ll mix it up a bit. I’ll write about the various dishes we’ve enjoyed here … the categories could be sorted, sort of like this …
Tartar. Tuscans love rare steak, so it’s no surprise that they also love tartare. Mirko serves a generous patty of super-lean Chianina beef, with an egg yolk to be mixed in. Just to make sure your cholesterol really goes up. Olive oil, salt and a grind of fresh pepper are all I need, and eat the accompanying capers separately. Spreading a thick layer on the lightly-toasted bread is a new-age, old-school hamburger.
Timbale with Cantabrico Anchovies. Tuscans also love dark leafy greens … so much that alla Fiorentina means “with spinach” … and bitter greens pair perfectly with the salty assertiveness of these 5-star Spanish anchovies.
Artichokes/Arugula/Parmigiano. Baby artichokes can be eaten raw … and thinly sliced are an Italian classic. This was a delicious dish of three terrific flavors with different textures, different crunch.
Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce and Basil. David wanted this classic. It was his 1st meal out since his return to Italy in June 2020 … after his longer-than-planned stay in L.A. and mandatory quarantine here. He said it was just what the doctor ordered. If one needed a prescription for food this good.
Pici Cacio e Pepe. Pici are regional thick strands of pasta … cacio e pepe is a pillar of Roman cooking. I love them both, and together they are delicious. Creamy and cheesy, its simplicity belies the difficulty in making it well … since there are only 2 ingredients caress the pasta. Yummy on every level.
Gnudi con Blù e Bufalo. Sopra. A must-order for every gorgonzola lover.
Potato Gnocchi with Leeks and Prosciutto Cotto. These diminutive “dumplings” were sauced with sautéed leeks and cubes of ham, an earthy, flavorful dish that was great on a winter evening.
Black Ravioli Stuffed with Salmon, Topped with Butter and Crispy Leek. Totally delicious … the sepia ink used to make the toothsome pasta black added a hint of the sea which enhanced the salmon flavor, the delicate rice-flour batter made the leeks crunchy and crispy, and melted butter on top added just the right silkiness.
Roast Duck with Prunes and Caramelized Onions. I’ve enjoyed duck since I was a little girl, going to “the Hungarian restaurant” on Fairfax Avenue with my parents. This is absolutely delicious … cooked sous vide, it is moist and flavorful, falling apart with the touch of a fork. Crispy skin is a bonus (and as part of the French Paradox, I enjoy it guilt-free). The prunes are nice, but as tasty as the caramelized onions are, IMO, they’re too sweet for a savory dish.
Grilled Salmon. My favorite fish, this was flaky, moist, delicious. It shares the plate with broccoli or cauliflower or sautéed cabbage, all tasty companions.
Filetto on Artichoke/Arugula/Parmigiano Salad. A tender, one-person steak (a great alternative to a family-size bistecca) was deliciously rare, tender, and juicy. The salad is a twist on the classic (tagliata) accompaniment of arugula and shaved parmigiano … made even better with thin slices of tender thistle.
Tagliata with Roasted Potatoes. When a filetto is sliced before serving, it’s called tagliata … cut. Clever. Juicy, rare, tender, excellent. Crispy roast potatoes are a worthy partner.
Tuna Burger. A generous, lightly-seared burger, tender and flavorful, is served on a very good bun (Tuscan bread, made without salt … for reasons that are explained by several urban legends … can be notoriously bland). To make it a tropical treat, there’s guacamole, mango coulis, spicy dipping sauce, raw red onions, tomato wedges, lime aïoli. And … homemade potato chips. Did I say betcha-can’t-eat-just-one, warm, homemade potato chips?
VINO E DIGESTIVO.
Pinot Noir. In L.A., I have a friend who calls me the Pinot Princess. It is my California wine-of-choice … cabernet is too overpowering, Chardonnay (don’t get me started). Though I seem to drink more white wine in Italy (I know, right?), I still like a well-made, balanced pinot. I’m looking at you, Ken Brown.
… One night, we enjoyed an excellent 2017 Pinot Nero Marchesi Pancrazi Monte Ferrato. It had nice cherry without the cola, and a hint of acidity. I remember it was a great pairing with the salmon (don’t quote me) and/or steak we ate that evening.
… Another meal, we sipped a 2016 Podere Fortuna Pinot Nero. It’s a local wine … a hard-to-grow grape that has been developing here since they dammed the Sieve River, and newly-created Lago Bilancino increased the fog that this finicky fruit requires. This had rich cherry that grew more subtle as we sipped, with terroir infusing an earthy balance.
Poire William. Italian after-dinner drinks can be bitter or sweet, and everything in between … and always high octane. Not sure why they help with digestion, but that’s the story and Italians are sticking with it. That leads me to limoncello … as much as I like its golden goodness, despite the fact that David & I used to make it, it no longer likes me. To avoid bad reactions, I generally skip this type of libation, preferring something vin santo-esque (like Zibibbo). Yet … there is an exception. Once in a while, maybe around Christmas or for a birthday, Mirko brings this Special libation. Capital S. Poire William is a French cognac … liquid silk, gently flavored and perfumed with pear, it tantalizes the tongue. I drink it, sippingly. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Tiramisù. Mascarpone, cocoa, espresso … infused into creamy, ladyfinger goodness. Spoonfuls of goodness. Sometimes Mirko serves it with homemade pirouettes … and David enjoys the crispy cookie “cigarettes” as he scoops the creaminess.
Chocolate Cake with Whipped Cream. Cut into squares, my brain thought “brownies” … so my mouth was initially disappointed. But the cake wasn’t too sweet (a compliment) and the rosettes were a nice, light balance to the denseness of the fudgy cake. But the pastry maker in me thought that the petit four-like pieces dried out more than a larger wedge.
Pasta Frolla with Chantilly and Strawberries. David loved this combo of classics, but it was not for moi. The crispy frolla needed a hint of lemon or vanilla to make it pop … the cream was more whipped cream than I prefer (probably because soft custard is one of my favorites) … the strawberries sweet goodness.
Tiramisù with Kaki. I am all about the classics, but sometimes even I get jiggy. This was Mirko’s stellar recommendation. Made with a generous amount of locally-grown, homemade persimmon jam, this version had a delicious balance of the fruit’s luscious tartness and the mascarpone-cream’s milky sweetness.
Vanilla Gelato with White Truffles and New Olive Oil. Yes really. A winter wonder of local ingredients … cool, not too-sweet-gelato was the perfect base for the earthy/fragility of shaved truffles and the peppery/unctuousness of recently-pressed extra virgin olive oil. An extraordinary trio. Unexpected and unbelievable!
So many tasty choices … we always look forward to a meal at O’ PER BACCO. Delicious food, sitting in a piazza (or inside, when inside was … will be again … safe), lingering into the night a tavola. “Self … life is good.”
LINGUINE WITH ZUCCHINI
We loved dish … called Spaghetti Nerano … when we ate it in Milan, even though it is really from Naples.
3 medium zucchini, sliced into rings
Salt and pepper
2 oz. butter
1 lb. linguine
½ cup parmigiano, grated … plus more for grating
- In a frying pan large enough to hold the pasta, sauté the zucchini until nicely brown. Add salt and pepper to taste, toss. Turn off the heat … let cool … refrigerate overnight. (Not sure if this wait is necessary, but it’s how the recipe was explained to me.)
- The next day, re-heat the zucchini over low heat
- In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the linguine until barely al dente.
- When the zucchini is hot, add the butter.
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking water, then drain the linguine.
- Add the linguine into the frying pan … toss well. Sprinkle with parmigiano, adding pasta cooking water to keep moist.
- Serve with additional parmigiano.