Dinner in Venice, Part II Blog
“Spreading love, one recipe at a time!”
The back-story that inspired the recipes that inspired the menu. Foodie stories with adventure and sometimes intrigue, co-mingling together! Let me take my paintbrush, paint the scene and the mood to take you to this wonderful, alluring country. With every bite comes a memory; it’s all about experiencing a captivating journey…
Inspired quote to love by: “There is no love like the first love.” ~ Italian Love Proverb
Check out the complete “Dinner in Venice, Part II” menu!
Travelogue: Salsa Agli Aromi/Authentic Tomato Sauce
When: Early 2006
Mood: Filled with fascination, curiosity & inspiration
I LOVED my taste of Tuscany, especially this particular farmhouse experience. Here’s an excerpt from ‘My Safari Notes’ (my personal experience) when I travelled there on this Gourmet Safari R&D trip (you may not believe me, but it really was a research trip…someone has to do it)! Here are my notes: “If you want a true family farmhouse cooking experience, this is it! Papà Luigi, the master of the house, is omnipresent and will join in conversation and meals (despite the fact that he doesn’t speak one word of English, we communicated…the language of food knows no language). He is very friendly and you feel as though you have been transformed to another time period. The two sisters who run the show – Paola and Simonetta – go out of their way to make you feel comfortable and welcome in their 13th century farmhouse perched on the side of the hills of Chianti. When we arrived and sat in front of the roaring fire to share coffee and cookies – it was very special. Paola’s two children burst into the kitchen when they arrived home from school – it was a sight to see and feel, a charming slice of family life.
Let Me Take You There.
The décor is very traditional – ‘authentic Tuscan’ I call it – rustic, yet comfortable, filled to the brim with charm and character. The kitchen is a family kitchen and the heart of the house – well-used, well-loved and well-designed for cooking, cooking lessons and of course eating the fruits of your labour. We made a typical savoury Tuscan lunch together – Salsa Agli Aromi – basic translation = Aromatic Tomato Sauce made with fresh local produce. What an experience it was, I used a mezza luna for the first time. If you don’t know what a mezza luna is (as I didn’t), let me help you out. It’s a knife consisting of a single or double curved blade with a handle on each end (imagine a rocking motion technique). Mostly used for chopping herbs, you guessed it, that’s exactly what we used it for – this sauce calls for a ton of fresh herbs. Lunch started with bruschetta, next was a meat dish (I was hoping it wasn’t rabbit, it wasn’t), then a large rigatoni pasta was served with our herb-filled Tomato Sauce. We also enjoyed a fantastico Chianti Classico red wine right from their backyard and finally topped off lunch with vin santo (similar to ice wine) served with biscotti for dipping 2 or 3 at a time. Lunch was delicious and I learnt a valuable lesson from Papà Luigi – never cut your pasta, regardless of the size (it’s a faux pas). It’s an insult to the cook because it means that the pasta is undercooked (less than al dente) and it’s too hard – this wasn’t the case at lunch, I was being polite cutting my pasta into bite-sized pieces (or so I thought). This was a true Tuscan sensory experience in every way and highly recommended for those who want to experience the true culture & stay in a ‘real’ Italian home.”
Travelogue: Learning to Love Gnocchi
Where: North – a nameless restaurant (which shall remain so)
When: Summertime 2009(ish)
Mood: Stoked…at first
Emotion: Joy then shock and maybe a little bit of awe mixed in!
I will never, ever forget how to make gnocchi or should I say ‘devil’s pillows?’ I was excited, stoked, this was going to be my first experience working in a restaurant kitchen doing prep work! Yeah! Travel with me…
Before I go ahead with this story, I should lay the groundwork. My interview for the job consisted of two parts with the female Chef/Owner – a brief conversation about my passion for food and a demo. I had to show that I had the ‘chops’ for the job to showcase my chopping skills. I thought to myself “I’ve chopped many a food item before, taken and taught cooking classes, so I can do this no problem. I may not be the fastest with a knife, but I can handle a knife.” OK, I was ready for my ‘test’. Wouldn’t you know it, my ‘sacrificial lamb’ was an onion. What, an onion? The thing is that my eyes are really, really sensitive to onions and the minute that I slice one, my eyes water and I can’t see what I’m doing. Believe me, I’ve tried everything to work around this. I know the slicing technique, so I laid out the groundwork painstakingly slicing the onion in the exact way so that I’d finish with a finely diced onion (as per her exact instruction). After the slicing, when I started the actual chopping, that’s when I couldn’t see the onion for the tears in my eyes (never fails). I did my best and chopped as quickly and efficiently as I could through teary eyes thinking to myself that I just lost the job. There done – finely diced onions. The good news is that I passed the test – she said that no one knows how the chop onions properly – not even Chefs. I was set up for failure, I was no different. That should have been a big red warning sign to me…but it wasn’t. I was happy and excited to go in and roll my sleeves up the next morning.
The thing is that I love to work with food and I love to learn. I arrived, washed hands, hair back, sleeves up, apron on, good to go. The first dish I was taught to make was gnocchi. OK, “How difficult can that be?” I thought. I watched as the Chef made the first batch as her Mom and I stood by. The Chef initially came across as sweet as pie to me – complete with braided pigtails, a sweet high-pitched voice and smile to match. She almost (keyword almost) had a ‘hippy, 70’s’ peace ‘n love vibe to her. The gnocchi seemed simple enough to make, not too complicated. She then ‘demo’d’ the making of the individual gnocchi. Rolling out the long tubes of pasta, the technique, the squeezing, the slicing et voila angel’s pillows as she called them. OK, got it, I can do this next time.
I Can Do This
Next day, next shift. OMG, it was so stifling hot, humid and no A/C upstairs in the kitchen (who puts a prep kitchen upstairs…we all know heat rises). Whew it was a hot one and it was still early in the morning. Assigned duty that morning gnocchi – yes sir (I mean ma’am). True story, in a day I was starting to feel a certain vibe in the air. It was not the initial peace ‘n love, group hug vibe that I thought I felt, no, that wasn’t quite it. It was more of a ‘kitchen boot camp’ vibe – do exactly as I say, no questions. She – now I’ll call her Cruela de Vil (true colours shining through) – did another gnocchi demo for her mom and I in the sweltering heat. Listen up and do as I say, we were at attention. Sweat already dripping as we stood and watched. She lovingly made one batch of her ‘angel pillow’ gnocchi, now over to us. She left us, headed downstairs to her cooler kitchen…hmmm? We boiled potatoes, riced ‘em, mixed ‘em and started to roll our own ‘angel’s pillows.’ Beads of sweat, yep sweat dripping from my brow, this felt like a real life ‘sweat shop.’ Undeterred by the sweat burning our eyes, we rolled, pinched and sliced our little ‘angel pillows’ of love. They all looked perfect to us. We gently placed them on baking trays to go into the freezer. We were happy with our work. Then! Curela de Vill appeared. Still happy with our efforts, we proudly showed them to her.
The Proof Is In The Pudding
She stopped, frozen in time, silence. We waited, holding our ‘group-of-two’ breaths. I couldn’t believe her next move – she told us that our angel’s pillows were more like devil’s pillows and proceeded to toss almost all of them into the garbage can. What? Next barked order, start over, we don’t have time to waste! I was in shock? Now I was really sweating, our poor little angel’s pillows, all gone. No time to lament them, start over. By this point the kitchen was steaming hot – more boiled potatoes – more sweat. We prepped and started rolling, by this point I was so unnerved by Cruela de Vil that my poor hands were shaking as I rolled. We painstakingly sliced our gnocchi, hoping that they were the perfect angel’s pillows and not the hated devil’s pillows. She reappeared, assessed our work and thank goodness we passed muster this time. I use this term as it describes how I felt. This expression originally meant “to undergo a military review without censure,” muster referring to an assembling of troops for inspection. Whew our little gnocchi passed inspection! Needless to say, my career in this prep kitchen was short-lived. My integrity wouldn’t allow me to continue… The upside is that I have a great gnocchi recipe that I modified for my cooking classes and made my own. I’ll never forget the angel’s pillows technique either, its etched into my mind forever. Today I lovingly make my angels pillows my own way for myself. They do nourish my soul.