Sunday, November 28, 2010

I've been lucky enough to spend a little bit of time in Italy.

The summer after eighth grade my family went to Italy for the summer, for a reunion of my dad's family. It may seem extravagant, but everyone agreed it was necessary -- the family had dispersed to many corners of the world and, after decades apart, was losing touch. My grandfather and aunt came from Tehran. Two of my uncles came from Sweden and France. My cousins came from Canada. And we all converged on my uncle's home in the outskirts of Valdottavo, a small town in the Italian countryside.

My uncle Dariush, the oldest brother in my father's large family, lives there in a 3-story house he built himself, high up on a hill among olive trees. He is a painter, though he went to Italy to study to become an architect (and has degrees to that effect). Among us were the bits of family we'd collected along the way. We met Dariush's daughter Lucia, a gorgeous child of three or four, who was learning many languages at once but didn't know any very well yet. We met Lucia's mother, a German tai chi instructor who had asked my mother to buy Grateful Dead albums for her (which my mother did, cringingly, at Costco). Her brother came along for the ride, and slept in a tent. We traveled all over Italy, spent a week in Florence, a week in Venice, nights in Lucca at a restaurant my uncle had designed. They had the most delicious pasta. Other days were spent at the beach, or making tiramisu with family friends.

But I digress. I tried foods that seem absolutely common now, but which were totally new to me. Panini. Gelato. Prosciutto. Fresh mozzarella. These weren't foods that we trafficked in, in my very sheltered upbringing in the Southern California suburbs. There were no drive-thrus in Italy. There was no orange cheese, but my mother prepared for this event by bringing a loaf of Tillamook (also a Costco purchase), packed in ice, which was disparagingly ballyhooed by my uncle who lives in Southern France. He ate the smelliest, runniest cheese I'd ever seen.

Memories of that summer, and the subsequent short trips I've made to Italy, form my understanding of Italian food. The rustic, non-spaghetti house variety. And I like non-dinner Italian meals -- any place that doesn't serve a fantastic Italian breakfast (not that I want to give Pizza Hut or Olive Garden any ideas) is not a place I want to eat Italian. That's why I love Little Dom's in Los Feliz. This morning, after reading the paper at the bar while sipping a spicy, vegetable-y virgin bloody mary, I had the perfect breakfast. I'll tell you what I had, but I'll preface it by saying this: it doesn't matter. Everything there makes me happy because they take all the extra steps of making their own bread, their own wine, their own pastas... Anyways, I got the poached eggs al funghi, which have chewy, rehydrated porcinis and herb-y hollandaise. And a side of their thick wild boar bacon -- I would not want to wrestle with the tough beast that must have given his life for that chewy bit. As my friends said: it tastes almost like ribs. And I was there with people who'd never been there before, so there were tastes of rice balls and the wood-fired potatoes. Dreamy.

And now, I'm engaging in one of my favorite pastimes: leafing through cookbooks and magazines while C-SPAN is on. The fireplace is on, with its soft gas hiss, and my vain cat is admiring herself in the mirror. I recently dug up a 6-month old issue of Saveur. On the cover there's a plate of golden, crusty macaroni and cheese that is much more appetizing now, in November's chill, than it was in May. We've even had rain this Thanksgiving.

I'm thinking that I'd like to make every recipe on page 70 of this issue:
_ Tuscan Bean Soup
_ Stewed Okra (but I don't think it's in season... maybe I could make eggplant with this recipe)
_ Artichauts A La Barigoule (artichoke hearts stewed in olive oil)
_ Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake

maybe that'll be my assignment this week. Or maybe I should open to a page in the Frankie's cookbook... options. options.

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