LUNCH WITH RAFFAELE

We met Raffaele at the John Fante Literary Festival, the annual event in tiny Torricella Peligna, high in the mountains of Abruzzo above the August heat and crowds at the beach. He is a fabulous trumpet player … and before you ask, he was there with one of his jazz groups to provide musical entertainment. From Milan, he invited us to visit him … and we happily accepted. A couple of times. We even got to enjoy his song stylings again. David … whose ear for music is even better than his well-honed and discerning palate for wine … said he is one of the best trumpetists (trumpeters?) he has ever heard.

We were in Milan for the day … a very roundabout way to get home. That afternoon, Raffaele said charmingly in Italian, “There’s a place nearby that has a good lunch … economical … shall we go there?” “Si si si.” That’s the sort of place we always want to find, where we want to dine.

We walked to the trattoria and being a lovely, late spring day, we decided to sit outside on the patio. One of those city patios … partly on the sidewalk, partly on street, with half walls and glass surrounding the area. A dozen or so tables, half with diners eating pasta.

The menu said there was a three-course lunch with beverages for 10 euros … less than similar meals in our town, so a big value in the big city. When the waiter came over, I had a question. Of course. Pointing to the menu, I began … it says I can have water OR wine, PLUS coffee. Since I don’t want coffee, can I have water AND wine? The look on his face said “Non c’e’ il minestre per te!” No soup for you.

Wine. Duh.

My primo was paccheri with mussels and clams. Paccheri is a tube-shaped pasta, an inch in diameter and about an inch-and a-half long … and it collapses during cooking to become flat. It’s sturdy and, well, I like it a lot. And paired with mussels and clams … it was an easy decision. The dish was very good, with a light tomato sauce and chopped parsley. The clams were regular size, not the mini ones that appear so frequently. The dish was just right on a warm day.

David and Raffaele picked trofie with sausage and ginger. The short pasta is reminiscent of strozzapreti or cavatelli … a thick twist, 2 inches long, tapered ends … it was lightly golden and lightly creamy and slightly spicy from the ginger. A very good blend of flavors. I look at David … we nodded. One to add to my repertoire.

David and I picked the same secondo … branzino in a potato crust. The filet was moist and tender, and the thinly-sliced potatoes were crispy. And as we always do when we eat fish (or steak or chicken), we took a treat for the kitties. When I haven’t brought the small plastic jar we refer to as the “fish head container”, I improvise. I have learned that simply wrapping meat in a napkin (oh my, that phrase sounds ambiguous) is messy (I’m making it worse, aren’t I?) … I use a slice of bread, folded into a sandwich, then the napkin. The treat becomes fish and juice-infused bread … something our Bailame loves from her kittenhood.

Raffaele had merluzzo blanketed with a sauce of tomatoes, olives and eggplant. The fish was also tender and flavorful, and the sauce the right level of piccante (but I generally prefer my fish in a simpler presentation). All three of us wanted the finocchio salad … but, alas, no salad for us. We had mixed greens instead. I added the lettuce that came with the branzino, and made a vinaigrette.

The white wine, of course, was non-descript … arriving in a quartino carafe for each of us. Taking our first sip of any “Cheap Carlino”-type wine, we always say, It will go better with the food. As Arthur says at the end of the movie, it doesn’t suck.

David drank my coffee. I had the last sip of wine.

The next evening, I made the dish with some pasta I had in the pantry … casalecchi (another short semi-twisted shape) with sausage, ginger and cream cheese. I WhatsApped a photo to Raffaele … and told him that when he visited, I could make this for him.

Today I will happily offer a wine pairing. We drank a 2015 Vigna di Pallino, a Chianti from Tenuta Sette Ponti. We have had several lovely wine tastings there … Giovanna Moretti is a gracious and beautiful hostess. This wine, the lighter sibling of their fabulous Oreno, was round and filled with earthy fruit that highlighted the ginger in the pasta. Buon appetito.

Il Piccolo Padre … Milan (MI).
Tenuta Sette Ponti … Castiglion Fibocchi (AR).

CASALECCHI WITH SAUSAGE AND GINGER

3 sausages … 6 to 8 oz. … out of the skin, crumbled
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 Tbl. fresh ginger, grated
1 oz. (2 Tbl.) powdered ginger
Salt and pepper
1 cup white wine
8 oz. cream cheese
1 lb. casalecchi … or other short pasta

- In a frying pan large enough to hold the pasta, saute the sausage meat in a little olive oil (to prevent it from sticking), stirring occasionally, until it starts to brown.
- In a large pot, bring water to the boil, then add salt.
- Add garlic and fresh ginger … continue to saute until the sausage is browned.
- Drop the pasta and cook until barely al dente.
- Stir in the wine and powdered ginger, and a little salt and pepper to taste. Let it simmer gently. There should be liquid in the bottom of the pan … add some pasta cooking liquid and/or more wine, if necessary
- Reserve some of the pasta cooking liquid, then drain the pasta.
- Keep the burner very low. There should be simmering liquid in the pan when you add the al dente pasta. Toss once or twice.
- Add big chunks of cream cheese and toss until the pasta is well coated. Turn off burner and add more pasta cooking liquid if it seems too dry.
- Serve.
Enjoy!

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