November 2, 2006 I’m finally back home after a very brief visit to Seattle, my 50th HS class reunion in Arizona, the October in Italy Tour, and chauffeuring three client/friends around Tuscany for three nights. It feels good to be back in familiar surroundings for a couple of months before the Classical Rome Tour in December/January.
If my background were in business rather than music, or if I were totally responsible, I would be tub-thumping about how great the recent October in Italy tour was and would be doing a hard sell on the upcoming, undersold Classical Rome tour. Instead, I will focus on a subject close to my (undoubtedly clogged} heart, Italian food and wine.
We ate well, perhaps too well, on the recent October in Italy tour. There were several times when it seemed like they were trying to kill us with calories! We always had the option of putting down our forks, but since the food was so good, most of us soldiered on until it was absolutely impossible to continue. Some notes:
“Barker: I cracked the code on why you live over here,” quipped Ken Kennamer while lifting a glass of a wonderful Chardonnay (or maybe it was the Cabernet Sauvignon, or a Grechetto, a great white wine that I had never heard of) that we were tasting at the Baldassarri winery in Umbria. The cost per bottle for any of them was a mere €3.00 ($3.75). Wine in Italy is considered a beverage that one drinks with a meal. Wine in America is considered a controlled substance and is taxed to a fare-thee-well. Most of the wine I consume here costs €4.00 ($5.00) or less per bottle. The only time I go over that amount is when I buy a riposso wine (carefully selected grapes, dried on racks for a month or so and then crushed) such as an Amarone from the Veneto or a Sagrantino from Umbria. Usually I just buy a 5-liter jug of the local red (pure Sangiovese) for less than €6.00. Life is good.
Since we were in Toscana for about half of the tour, a number of people discovered Ribollito, the typical Tuscan bread soup. I will put Dr. Alessi’s recipe on the web page as soon as he sends it. It is a simple peasant dish and fairly easy to make, a perfect winter soup. Also a number of people picked up packets of aglio, olio, prezzemolo e pepperoncini. This, too, is simple to make: While boiling enough spaghetti for however many people, put one tsp (or more) per person of the mixture into a small frying pan. (Alternative: Chop together some fresh Italian parsley, a clove or two of garlic, some red pepper flakes.) Add around 2 TBS per person of extra virgin olive oil. Heat mixture until it bubbles, but don’t let it brown. (If it does turn brown, no disaster–just pour it through a strainer to sieve out the burned bits.) Salt to taste and mix with the pasta and serve immediately with copious amounts of grated Parmesan cheese.
And speaking of Parmesan cheese, we enjoyed an informative presentation at a parmigiano reggiano fattoria when we were in Parma. After watching them make some Parmesan cheese that won’t be available until after it ages a year or two, we had a tasting of some of their aged product. Some comments: “The first thing I’m going to do when I get home is throw out that stupid green container of Kraft’s Parmesan Cheese.” “So this is what Parmesan is supposed to taste like!” Later, when we hit a cheese outlet store, there was a major feeding frenzy as it is perfectly legal to bring hard cheese into the states. You can also buy parmigiano reggiano in the better markets locally. You have to be careful, however. The real deal is only produced near Parma. If it says “Made in Wisconsin,” you’re buying a perfectly edible cheese product, but it is not going to have the taste and texture of true parmigiano reggiano. And there is a world of difference. Just ask anyone who was on the tour.
A final Sarnano note: The first Halloween I was here, I was surprised to have about 15 trick-or-treaters show up. Last year, I was prepared and gave out candy to about 30 kids. So this year I decided to go one step further and wear a costume. I put on a galabia (traditional Arab dress) that I bought in Egypt and figured that the kids would think that I was dressed up as a terrorist. And how many witches, devils, ballerinas, fairies, Winnie-the-Poohs did I have? Zero, zilch, nada, nessuno, niente. There must have been some sort of an edict that went out forbidding the continuation of this commercialized American activity. Perhaps the town decided to put all of its efforts into the following night of Tutti i santi (All Saints Day). Fully half the town participated in a torchlit procession going from the main piazza to the cemetery. There was even a band. And what did this band play? I kid you not: “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Incidentally, I am really happy that I attended my 50th high school class reunion. After the 30th, I vowed never to go again as I was bored spitless throughout the evening. The principal entertainment that evening was a 50’s rock band. The organizers of the 30th apparently had forgotten that the rock and roll revolution was only in its infancy during our senior year. We grew up on the likes of “How Much is that Doggie in the Window” and “Mister Sandman.” Crooners such as Dean Martin, Perry Como and Eddie Fisher were only supplanted by Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry and so on, very late in our adolescence. Also, a sizable number of our class were either left-footed Methodists who couldn’t dance, or Baptists who weren’t supposed to. This time, we met at Euell Barnes’ very spacious home on the San Marcos golf course. There were no planned activities, only sitting around chatting with old friends. Mercifully, there were name tags with big print and our high school graduation pictures. I easily won the prize for having traveled the furthest. Only 17 of our class of 127 were known to have passed on and an equal number could not be tracked down. I would estimate that around half of the remainder were in attendance.(back)