working in italy

Joined Jan 12, 2001
hi all.... i'm from chicago, but am currently living in italy, working in restaurants and travelling around, trying to see and taste and eat and experience as much as i can. i posted a thread about chicago, but everyone just wanted to ask me about italy, so i thought i'd start something of an on-line journal. i'm keeping a journal for myself, so i'll just cut and paste some of it. i'll try to be sparse though, as i can get wordy (as any of you who've read some of my other postings may know).

i'm living in bologna, but am planning on doing a lot of travelling to learn as much about the various regional cusines as i can.

i did a week-long stage at a michelin one-star place in piacenza, and now i'm working at a place here in bologna called da francesco. francesco, the chef, is sicilian and the food is very very different from what we did in piacenza, and from what i've been eating here in bologna. what follows is a recent menu from da francesco along with notes that i wrote to myself so i can remember all this stuff.

Antipasti £7000

Bruschetta con Alicette Marinate
-this is just the basic marinated anchovies, the white good ones of course, served as a bruschetta. He marinates the fresh anchovies in white wine vinegar for four hours or so, rinses them off, them preserves them under oil with some herbs. Then just toasts bread and serves them with some grilled cippoline onions that are also preserved under oil.

Bruschetta con Bottarga
-this is just a basic bruschetta, toasted bread topped with chopped cherry tomatoes and herbs in oil, but then topped with some grated bottarga, which is salted dried pressed tuna roe. Very salty, it's grated over the bruschetta like cheese, and then topped with a couple arrugula leaves.

Insalatina di Finocchi con Piccantino, Olive, e Ciliegino Sott'olio
-this is terrifically tasty and really, i think, is tipical of francesco's southern, sicilian food. Very simple, it's a mixture of pickled chiles (pepperoncini), big fat green olives, and small, incredibly sweet sundried cherry tomatoes (these are the ciliegino, which means little cherries, even though they're tomatoes) that's all perserved together in oil with herbs. Then he just chops up some fresh fennel and mixes it together with more olive oil. So much olive, he garnishes like every dish with a few streams of the pale green olive oil we use. This is everything that this food is....spicy, sweet, very boldly flavored, salty....yum.

Primi Piatti £11000

Linguine al Nero
-this is pretty basic. I haven't made it yet, but i cleaned the squids and we saved the ink sacs separate. Basically, i think marco sautees the ink sac with a little garlic, oil, and then adds the pasta. Maybe a little squid goes in there, but i'm not really sure. More on this one after i make it.

Pasta con Alici
-this is another dish that i think says it all about this type of food. Garlic, a dried red chile crumbled, and some sardo go into the pan, sauteed in olive oil, with a few anchovies (fresh). The garlic is a couple whole cloves which will be removed before the pasta goes in. Sardo is this paste made of sardines that are salted and then cooked down and's used in many of these dishes to give an extra jolt of salty fishiness. The pasta here is just spaghetti, and we basically sautee the sardo, garlic, and fresh alici, remove the garlic, adds a good shot of chopped parsley, and salt, then adds the al dente pasta to heat for a minute or so. After it's plated, it's topped with toasted breadcrumbs, which are a nice touch...a tip of the hat to the fact that this is cocina povera, where people who didn't have enough money for parmegiano would toast breadcrumbs and use them in that way.

Tortelloni di Ricotta con Uvetta e Balsamico.
-Very good, and very sophisticated, something you'd see on an ambitious restaurant menu in the U.S. the tortelloni are frozen, unfortunately, all the fresh pasta here is bought and kept frozen. They have a lot of freezer space, and honestly, i can't tell the difference. The balsamic sauce is made by reducing balsamic by probably about half, with lots of whole herbs, rosemary, sage, thyme.... then for an order, we just add a little of it to the pan, reduce it again, maybe by about a third, then add a few drops of cream and golden raisins (uvetta). When the tortelloni are cooked, add them to heat them through, and that's it.

Spaghetti con Cozze e Bottarga
-havent seen this one too much yet, but pretty basic, i think. More later.

Maccheroncini con Melanzane e Pecorino
-the maccheroncini is thin penne rigate that's a frozen fresh pasta. The eggplant is cooked very long and slow, in the skins, baked at a low temp, then skinned and chopped roughly. For pickup, we put oil, garlic, eggplant, and a little red chile, sautee a bit....cooks the pasta, removes the garlic clove (whole again) adds a few ladles of tomato sauce, then the pasta. It's topped with grated pecorino when plated, the pecorino is that stuff you see with the whole black peppercorns like embedded in it.

Orecchiette con Anduja e Spinaci
-anduja is a fat, wierd-looking fresh sausage. Closest thing i can liken it to is mexican chorizo, but it-s less spicy, less orange, and not as flavorful. We use a little blob of it, which we mix with hot water out of the pasta unit until we get like a liquidy paste, which we sautee with some tomato sauce. Its pretty spicy and you can really smell how spicy it is when it's sauteeing. The rest is basic.....the spinach is steamed in the steamer, added with the cooked pasta and it all gets mixed together and heated and served with some pecorino over the top. One thing about francesco's is that people don't get cheese at the table. If a dish gets cheese, we put it on in the kitchen and usually pretty generously, but some don't get any, and i guess that's the way he wants it. I think the prevailing school of thought is that fish dishes don't go with cheese well, so he wants to control that.....i'm thinking.

Ravioli di Pesce con Erbette al Timo
-this one's really basic. The ravioli are bought, stuffed with fish...i don't know what kind. We melt a good few ounces of butter in a skillet on a turned-off burner...just using the heat of the pilot or nearby pans to melt it while the pasta cooks. A little water is added to the melting butter. Once the pasta is cooked, it's tossed in the butter with fresh thyme. That's it.
Tortelli di Ricotta con Carciofi'haven't seen this one much....more later.

Secondi Piatti £15000

Salmone alla Piastra con Finocchi Saltati
Cotolettine di Sarde

-this is one of francesco's specialties. The sardines are fresh, fileted, and opened, but kept together, so you have two connected filets. The name is a take on cotolete milanese. Basicially, they're sardines done in the same style. Francesco flours them, then dunks them in water (he doesn't use egg, which he says makes the breading too heavy), then in breadcrumbs, and then into the deep fryer. They're served six fish to an order on a piece of brown paper on the plate with just a lemon and salt. This is what i had the first time i went there to eat, and loved it.

Frittura di Birichini e Sogliole
-...also very simple and classic. Birichini are small little fish and the sogliole are little soles. They are simply dunked in water, then flour, then deep-fried, and served the same way as above. That's it. Both fish are whole, heads and all. The sole are so small you get 2 or 3 per plate and you have to kind of pull the meat of the rack of bones with your fork, or as phillipo, a friend of mine did when i ate with him, put it in your mouth and drag it out, leaving the clean rack of bones. Francesco serves a big pile of fish for this one....maybe 2 or 3 little soles and like 15-20 or so of the other fishies.

Tonno Affumicato con Insalatina d'Arance
-this is a cold dish. Thin-sliced sheets of tuna cured and smoked like smoked salmon or swordfish, cut to order on the slicer. We cut up a blood orange and a regular one into wheels, make a little pile of them in the middle of the plate and sprinkle salt and pepper, and a little crushed red chiles, then drape the sheets of tuna around the outside. Garnished with a few drizzles of olive oil and a fat green olive in the middle.

Zuppetta di Cozze
-the mussels we get are so disgusting, i can't believe it. They come in black mesh bags and are all still connected together in big clumps with seaweed and whatever all grows on them as they hang in the ocean. I have to rip them apart to debeard them, and they're covered with light brown mud. I pull the beards off first, then wash them in the sink, scrubbing them together to scrape all the gross green hairy stuff off their shells, tossing the 25% or so of the ones that are open, empty or smashed up. I have found lots of alive bugs and weird-looking crawly sea-worms in them too. Last night i was scrubbing them one by one in the sink and i was a little daunted at the prospect of doing like all 200 of them like this. Francesco walked by and just gave me a look, like... 'that's fine...don't go nuts,' and i was kind of surprised, so i asked him, 'it's ok'' 'paganno poco,' he said.'s cheap and we give a big order, so don't worry about it too much. We do give a huge 20 or 30 mussels which we fry/steam in olive oil and tomato sauce, covered, in a pan, then piling them perilously in a small bowl, pouring the juice over it, and balancing a piece of toasted bread on top.

Parmigiana di Melanzane
-haven't seen him make this one yet, but it looks pretty basic.

Triglie All'Acquapazza
-i've seen this one with triglie, which is like red mullet, and also with gallinella (chicken fish) which is what we call scorpionfish or sometimes, i think, razorfish. It's nicer with the gallinella, where we use the whole fish, with the filets kind of half-sliced off the sides so they're kind of butterflied off the sides and opened up. The triglie are just filets. The acquapazza is a sautee of garlic, a little hot chile, olive oil, then deglazed with white wine. In goes the fish, some fume, a handful of chopped cherry tomatoes, choppped parsely, salt, pepper. The pan is covered as it cooks. The fish is simply plated and the sauce poured over and around, leaving the garlic clove behind.

Frittelle di Neonata
-these next two are the same, basically, and are very strange. Neonata are teeny tiny little baby fishes. Like maybe half an inch to an inch long, and so small and skinny. They are like translucent and all you can really see of them are eyes and spines. Francesco has a mix of egg yolks, breadcrumbs and grated cheese and to this he adds a rammekin full of the neonate and a handful of chopped parsely. He uses a fork to mix it all up, breaking up the fish and kind of mushing them all together. The end result is kind of a rough mix, which then gets fried in a pan for the fritelle, in like little burger fishburgers, mmmm.... or into little quennelle type shapes on the flatgrill, for the bocconcini. Basically they're the same. Not bad....kind of weird, though.

Bocconcini di Neonata alla Piastra
-see above.

ok....i guess this is now a very long post....sorry

anyone who's got some good knowledge of italian regional food, i'd love to hear from you about the differences/similarities. i need to learn more about sicilian food. one of the cooks i work with is sardinian and he's teaching me a lot about that, too....they seem pretty similar.

anyway...that's that....hopefully, i'll keep this up , pasting a post from my personal journal here a couple times a week or so...

thanks for reading

This posted was edited by Nicko. I think it is such a great post and I just wanted to make it a little easier to read by putting things in bold. Hope that is ok. Thank you for such an excellent post

[ 02-16-2001: Message edited by: Nicko ]

[ 02-16-2001: Message edited by: elakin ]
Joined Aug 29, 2000
Thank you SO much Elakin! My husband and I are hoping to visit Italy in the next year or so, and this will definitely add to my culinary dictionary (besides picking up a few basic words of Italian). I'll drool until the next installment.
Joined Jul 31, 2000

Thanks for sharing your experences with us.
There is always so much to learn.
I look forward to your next post
Joined Mar 4, 2000
Sounds like you're learning a lot. Thank you for passing it on. I have never heard of neonata (doesn't that translate into newborns?), but I guess I'd try it. The cuisine in Bologna is so different from Florence, where I spent 6 months. Please keep us posted on desserts, too!


Joined Apr 4, 2000

Wow that was wonderful. So nice of you to share all that information. I was wondering if at some point you could talk about Italian breads and pastry?

Thanks again!
Joined Jan 12, 2001
hi...thanks to everyone for all the responses...i'm glad you're liking it. hope i didn't go overboard with too much reading material.

nicko, thanks for cleaning up the text....i thought about doing that myself, but it seemed like too much of hassle, so i'm glad you did. i'm cutting and pasting from word, so i lose all my own formatting.

momoreg...this food is very different from that of florence (tuscan, i guess) and also from that of bologna. this is very southern italian food. the chef here is from sicily, and most of the bolognese people that eat at ths restaurant are somewhat perplexed by this food and not sure what to make of it. it's new for them too. the typical bolognese food is much richer...lots of meat, cheese, cream sauces. what is the food in florence like? besides the bistecca fiorentina (which is, incidentally, is currently outlawed in italy because of mad-cow) i don't know much about it.

iza...we make all our own desserts at the restaurant (which is pretty rare around here, i think) and i've actually made a bunch of them in the last couple days. i'll talk about some of them in more detail in my next post. today we made the dough for canoli, though, and i'll let you know how we finish the project tomorrow.

again, thanks to everyone for reading and for your great positive responses.
Joined Jul 31, 2000

How are you finding the culture relating to wine...Is it looked at as a beverage? what I mean by that is in this country so much can be made out of the pomp and cercomstance (I know I spelled that wrong)when my parents toured Italy a few years ago they comented on how at every meal there was wine on the table (breakfast excluded)and just enjoyed with the food.The wine was all "super tuscans" Do you find that wine is part of the flesh of the culture?
Are you being tought about the wines? How doe's it fit in with your travels? If at all.

Eddie thanks agian for your chronicals
Joined Jan 12, 2001
cape chef....

first of all let me say that i've enjoyed reading your posts and you seem really knowledgeable and it's a pleasure to read stuff from someone who's as obviously passionate and into food and cooking as you are.

wine...yes, it's totally as you said. no big deal. only the fanciest restaurants bother with a wine list. most people just opt for the house white or red, which i think is usually very good. most places have them "on tap" where they come out of like a dispenser system and they use these little ceramic pitchers to serve you either a quarter, half, or a full liter. there's usually a few local wines availiable in bottles. here, in bologna, we have the fizzy red lambruscos, some chiantis from tuscany usually, and maybe a sangiovese. pingnolettos are popular whites, along with the fizzy malvasia from parma, and a few from up in the alto adige, which are gervurtztraminer-types. and that's about it. you probably couldn't find a french or american or other country's wine if you tried. i'd say on average, most restaurants have like maybe 10 wines availiable between what bottles they have and then the two on tap. when people order a bottle of wine, they don't get too particular. they usually just say bring me a nice....whatever. they'll specify like if they want sweeter or dryer, white or red....and then trust that the restaurant will bring them what they want.

and yes, it's very much a part of the meal. when we have staff meal at the restaurant i'm working at, there's always a pitcher of wine on the table, even at lunch, which is unheard of in the states. one thing i've noticed is people here don't like chase down their food with whatever they're drinking. they chew, swallow, eat....then eventually take just a sip of wine or water, not gulps...which i tend to do...kind of washing out my mouth with the drink.

another thing i've noticed both here and in spain, where i lived for a while, is that people will often pour a little water into their glass of red wine, cutting it a little. this, i think, would be seen as like a mortal sin in the wine-worshipping restaurant world of the u.s.....but i've seen it fairly often.

i'm trying to educate myself about wine by going to enotecas and just buying bottles and trying them. it's not too hard when you can get d.o.c. wines for like 2-5 dollars a bottle. so i'm dutifully doing my research for the sake of educating myself....what sacrifices we in the industry make for the sake of learning!
Joined Jul 31, 2000

thank you for your kind words.
It is also obviouse to me that you are driven by passion. I wish I had the chance to do what you are doing.
I have never been to Europe, but hope to one day. I would like to sit under a shaddy tree with some fresh grilled vegetables,local cheese and a hunk of bread..And sip,not gulp a fizzy,fruity,friendly wine :)
Joined Mar 4, 2000

That's what I remember too about Italians and wine. It is simply the beverage of choice. It's not revered the way it is here. And I also noticed that the stigma of alcoholism really doesn't exist the way it does here. Here, if you drink every day, you have a problem. Not so there. It's just a more laid back society.

The foods I remember most from Tuscany were Pappa al Pomodoro (light but filling), Panzanella, all the grilled veg on the antipasti tables, those amazing thin crust pizze without cheese (especially the seafood pizza), the Florentine specialty, spinach, which is sold in "delis", as it were, in baseball-sized balls, just like that. It's steamed and ready to go, for whatever you want to cook. I dined a lot in people's homes, and almost always, I got served enormous amounts of food, which I was expected to finish. A common home cooked dish was farfalle with salmon and caviar, and also gnocchi with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Also in Florence, I recall The olive oil soaked focaccia, and other breads which I found bland and very ordinary. The only time I was impressed by the breads were in places that sold atypical types.

Naturally, the gelati were not to be believed. It's hard to find anything that good here. And I got a great recipe for biscotti di Prato, which I use to this day.

One time I was dining at the home of a friend, and his mother served a wonderful pasta dish, which she piled so high on my plate, I could barely eat half of it. I ate what I could, thanking her graciously, and apologizing. The following day, Fabrizio told me that my girlfriend and I had insulted his mother, and we were not invited back, because we didn't finish the pasta. All I could do to thank her was to bake a huge assortment of cookies with a nice note, and then she forgave us. It's really a different culture.
Joined Jan 12, 2001
worked today after having yesterday off. Lunch was pretty uneventful and slow. We had a kind of a nice staff meal today before we opened and francesco actually sat down and ate with us, which is rare. He and marco were talking a lot about doing something in the campagna....and i didn’t really catch the jist of it, but then he turned and asked me in english what i was doing sunday morning. I wasn’t really sure what he was asking me, and wasn’t really too eager to volunteer for something work-related, but i said i wasn’t doing anything and he asked me if i would like to come to his house in the country. He said we’d all go and just eat and lay in the sun and hang around and drink wine and “fare niente,” which sounded very good to me, so i quickly accepted. Marco bristled a bit, asking what francesco was planning to make to eat, telling aside in english that “this geezer (he always calls everyone geezer) never has anything to eat in his house, so i’ve got to ride him a bit.” So marco and i are supposedly going shopping tomorrow between shifts and getting some supplies for sunday, if we can get francesco to bankroll us....we’ll see.

Dinner was more eventful. We had a new server who i hadn’t met and she’s like a 45 or 50 year old woman and right from the get-go i could kind of tell that she didn’t have it all together real well and that there might be some problems. We were fully booked, as we are tomorrow, and marco and i were working pastas and francesco was doing secondi. the very first ticket we had was for a couple antipasti and then two pastas. The server, i think her name was like lorena or something, brought the ticket back and clipped it to the board (servers handwrite tickets here and come back into the kitchen to put them up for us. There’s no pass or anything, the servers just walk into the kitchen and take the plates off the counter where we plate.) Anyway, we make her antipasti, they go out, then she comes in, moves the ticket for the pastas over to “vai,” (which is like “fire,” if you’re working with an “order, fire” system. We have “segue, vai.”) so we make the two pastas, put them up, ring the bell, put the ticket next to them, she comes in....looks at the ticket like it’s written in a foreign language (which for me it is, and for her, it’s not) and looks at us like as if to ask.... “where’s this supposed to go?” i hate this. servers always do this. you just took the wrote the ticket....don’t you remember? I haven’t even met these people or seen them, but i know it’s table six, so why don’t you? So right away Marco and i give each other a look, like it’s gonna be a long nite.

And it was. She had a lot of problems. First of all, she took a lot of special orders, which francesco doesn’t like a bit, especially on a friday. She kept writing things wrong, so we’d make them, and then they’d come back and she’d need the right thing on the fly (subito). At one point francesco flung a large cleaver to the ground. He has quite a huge collection of knives and cleavers, among which is the single very biggest chef knife i’ve ever seen. It must be like 16” long, i can’t even believe it. Anyway, the cleaver bounced a little, but we just ignored him and kept working. The worst thing she did was for a big party, they ordered a bunch of bruschettas, so instead of giving them like 6 little plates, we made them like two very large plates for everyone to share...kind of like appetizer sampler platter kind of deals. Marco told her to let them know that this was the 6 antipasti they had ordered, but just on two plates. But she didn’t, and then in a bit she came back and said that they wanted to know if the rest of their aps were coming. There was quite a lot of yelling and swearing in italian, they argued back and forth for a while, and francesco just eventually ended up emptying his prep for the bruschetta onto a big plate and telling her that we should maybe sell it by the kilo like they do at the market. For me this was all kind of fun, cause i wasn’t the one who was getting yelled at, and it was nice to see that the same problems are universal. I had a laugh with francesco afterwards, telling him, once again, that it’s all the same in every restaurant in the whole world, and that we always have the same problems with servers too. He seemed to like this.

So, what did i do, foodwise today? Well, i concentrated on doing the primis during dinner, and am starting to get them pretty well down. I think i’m fine to go solo on pastas on a weeknight....i’m sure i’d be slow and awkward, but i think i’d get it done. I prepped the linguini nero this morning, cleaning the octopus and using the ink sacs from the squid. We chopped shallots fine, sauteed them in olive oil, then added the smallish pieces of cut-up octopus to sautee with also some garlic. Then, when they were cooked, we deglazed it with white wine and added the ink sacs, breaking them all up with a fork in a rammekin first, then mixing them in. Then when we have a ticket for it, we just heat this mix in a sautee pan, add the cooked linguini, and that’s it.

The menu’s changed a bit...but not much. Seems to be mainly twists on the same theme. Today the orecchiette with anduja also had carciofi and ricotta al forno. For that, we just took two fairly large forms of fresh ricotto and baked them slowly in the oven until they were very dry and browned on the outside. For an order, we just broke off a few chunks of this and mixed it into the pasta. It’s much dryer and firmer and saltier, but still kind of spongy, not at all like a hard cheese. This is a new technique for me.

One of the things the server messed up today was an order for neonata, which she wrote, but then she really didn’t need. So we had an extra and francesco divvied it up for everyone. i had some and it has quite a little crunch to it. Kind of like a “pop” when you chew. I asked marco if that was like the bones, or what....and he said he thought it was the eyeballs. Francesco was chewing, telling us that he loves this dish, and it’s one of his favorites, and i asked him what was croccante, and he said “la testa,” like all enthusiastically.

I’ve done quite a few of the desserts the last couple days, so wanted to document those....

Dessert £5000

Semifreddo al croccante di sesamo
—this one i made and have eaten when i ate there. Delicious. We make a basic semifreddo, by mixing 10 egg yolks and a cup or so of sugar, whisking well, then heating while whisking until the yolks are cooked and it all starts to firm up pretty well. We whip cream to stiff peaks and fold it into the cooked, cooled yolk-sugar mix. This is the basic semifreddo. To this, we add chopped croccante di sesamo, which is like a sesame praline, which francesco brings back from sicily. It’s really good....the caramel is very dark tasting, just shy of tasting burnt, but pleasantly so, and very strongly flavored like toasted sesame. We fold this into the semifreddo mix and then pour it all into a loaf pan. to serve, it’s sliced and dusted with cocoa.
Dolce di Mascarpone
—This is the classic bolognese dessert which you pretty much see in every restaurant. Most places, i think, use pasteurized egg yolks out of a container which they basically just whip with sugar and then mascarpone, but we use fresh eggs which we treat pretty much the same way as in the semifreddo. Ours is less sweet than most that i’ve tasted.
Torta al cioccolato con panna fresca
—this is a pretty basic flourless chocolate cake with walnuts and it’s one of the richest desserts (chocoloate-wise) that i’ve had in bologna. Very basic...served alternately with whipped cream (unsweetened) or like a creme anglaise kind of sauce.
Budino di semolino con salsa di mardarino
—budino is a cake that’s made with semolino which is kind of like a mush that’s made in the same way as polenta, but with semolina (wheat flour) instead of polenta (corn). We cook first the semolina, pouring it gradually into boiling milk while whisking until it starts to thicken. When they were trying to explain this one to me, marco and giovanna were saying “you know, like you ate when you were a baby.” I was, i didn’t eat this.....but i guess you did. It’s like mush. Baby food. So, anyway, we make that, cool it, pass it through a kind of a food-mill kind of device that we have that has a very fine mesh chinois-type strainer on it, and then fold it into egg yolks that are beaten with sugar. A little flour is folded in very gently, but not much. Then baked. We also did some little small versions of this, but instead of sugar they were flavored with pecorino and we served them as a side dish for an entree.
Cantucci e Zibibbo
—not sure yet. I think these are little almond biscottis that are then served with grappa or somthing, but the servers just put them together and we don’t really do anything for them, so i'm not positive.

That's it for now...we made the dough also for canoli, mixing it like pasta on the counter, making a well with flour, but then cutting in some butter, adding eggs, sugar, white wine, and marsala. We kneaded it forever until it was smooth "come un culo di bambino," as francesco put it, then wrapped it to rest in the fridge overnight.

[ 02-17-2001: Message edited by: elakin ]


Joined Apr 4, 2000

I must have gained 10 pounds just reading about all those desserts. Thank you so much for taking the time to write about your experience and those fabulous desserts. Now all I can think of is that I want to go to Italy!

So what will happend to the waitress? I feel like I am reading a roman feuilleton, and will have to come back tommorow to see how it ends...
Joined Aug 29, 2000
YUM. Need I say more? You should consider being a stringer for a travel magazine!

[ 02-18-2001: Message edited by: Mezzaluna ]
Joined Jan 12, 2001

it’s been a few days since i made an entry so i’ve gotta catch up.

Wendy (my girlfriend who is living here with me) and i went in campagnia sunday with marco and his girlfriend and the whole gang from the restaurant. Marco brought his and Maria’s (his g-f) dog and we also picked up claudio (the crazy dishwasher at the restaurant) and jammed all of us into marco’s small car. We drove out of the city, stopped at a pasticceria to buy some sweets to bring with us, and also had a drink. Marco and claudio both had campari and gin, and looked weird at us when we tried to beg off (it was sunday morning at like 11:00.) Maria had martini bianchi and so i had a coffee with bailey’s, but wendy just had water. She still felt compelled to have something, i guess. So after a bit, we got back in the car and drove up to francesco's place.

It’s way up in the hills and well into farm country. When we got there, francesco and a couple other guys were taking various wood scraps and other things and kind of throwing them from one pile to another, it seemed like. They made a big pile of various trash that was all over the place. Wood, glass, broken bricks and roof tiles, etc... Francesco would work frantically, throwing things around, and then just kind of stand around and survey the scene for a while. His place is really cool and old, with like orignal farmhouse wood beams and stone construction. It’s very low-ceilinged and pretty dank and musty in there. And very raw. No kitchen, no electricity, i don’t think. There was some running water in one sink, a ladder leading up to an upstairs, and a couple lawn chairs wedged in amongst all the old junk everywhere. There was all sorts of weird old things....giant basket-covered wine bottles, tools for looms, for carving things, sewing....all sorts of weird stuff. Most things i saw i had to try to figure out what is was. Marco kept finding things he liked and asking francesco if he could keep them, but francesco didn’t let him have anything. There were a few other of francesco’s friends all kind of standing around and checking the place out, including Pino, the guy who introduced me to francesco last saturday.

After a bit, we all motivated and piled back into the cars to go eat. We went to this place, which is called an agriturismo, which is, i guess, owned by claudio’s brother. It’s a big house set on a large farm and a lot of land. I guess it’s kind of like a bed and breakfast, but they grow all their own food, and have other activities like horseback riding or other naturey things. It was closed, i think it's only open in the summer, but claudio had keys, so we opened up the kitchen and started setting up a big table outside. Everyone pitched right in and started working, women cleaning off the outdoor tables, setting out plastic silverware and paper plates, cutting sausages and cheese, some people came around with wine and paper cups, marco and i made a salad with blood oranges and these like purple spring onions, proscuitto was sliced, and pretty soon we had a pretty nice-looking spread all laid out. It was a gorgeous day, very warm and clear and sunny, and we all sat around outside eating and talking and drinking wine.

And i totally indulged myself. This was like the scene i had been picturing when i envisioned this trip to Italy in the first place. A beautiful place in the mountains, sunny day, green hills all around, tons of good food and wine, and lots of nice cool people all just there with nothing to do but eat, drink, talk, and hang out. I told francesco this, saying that i had pictured this moment for a long time when i was planning this trip, and he seemed to like that. I ate a ton....lots of proscuitto, lots of this thin little cured sausage from sicily that had pistachios in it, a young pecorino with peppercorns embedded in it (also sicilian), wine, bread, someone brought a bottle of home-pressed unfiltered olive oil and i have never tasted any olive oil more fruity....more olivey...than this.

And so we just sat around and kept drinking and eating all afternoon. The two workers francesco had hired to work on his place with him came with us and ate too, and i assumed they would be returning to work in the afternoon, but we ended up not leaving until around six, so i don’t think any more work got done that day. At one point, after the pastries we bought had been eaten, i kind of wanted a coffee, and said to wendy that i’m surprised they don’t have an espresso machine out here for coffee, seems like everything you could think of is provided... Not two minutes later, someone showed up with two bottles of freshly made espresso. I guess they must have gone somewhere and bought a bunch, and maybe they just put them in bottles to carry them....couldn’t quite figure that one out. But we had a laugh over that, like... “of course, how could it be a complete meal without some coffee?” I was stuffed, but marco complained....asking where is the meat? He said that where he comes from, this is just the starters, and now he was just getting hungry.

By the end of the day, wendy and i were exhausted. I think we were both ready to go around 4 or 4:30, and it seemed like a lot of others were, too, getting their stuff together, packing cars, etc. But these people take seriously forever to organize enough to actually proceed. It took at least an hour or two of shuffling around, acting like it was almost time to leave, having one more glass of wine, one more cigarette, some more cheese, or whatever. They just keep talking and talking and talking. The amount of talking done just astounds me. We were talking about this day for about 3 days before it happened....not really planning anything, but just kind of talking. Not productive talking, that’s the thing. You talk for 2 hours and still no one knows who’s bringing what or picking up who. Then today, at lunch, of course, we did quite a bit of talking about it too....talking about who was there, who ate what, what the dog did....and on and on and on. This is why nothing ever gets done in this country.

But, all in all, it was a great experience and it made me feel like even if this job ends up not panning out and i don’t end up making any money from it (i told him i'd work a week for free, then we'd talk money), the whole thing was worthwhile just to have this experience. It was seriously, an idyllic scene, straight out of the most non-touristy, authentic italian brochure you could imagine.

And then today it was back to work. I made semifreddo again today. Also made the tomato sauce that we use for anything with tomato sauce. Very basic recipe. We rough chop onion, carrot, celery and sautee a while in lots of olive oil, then add two cans of peeled tomatoes and simmer the whole thing for maybe an hour, reducing and cooking further. Once it starts to stick a little to the bottom and all the veg is very soft, we puree it with a stick blender and season with just salt and pepper. That’s it, nothing fancy. I also cleaned a lot of fish today. The cozze, of course, which is becoming like my special job, and then also we got a lot of triglie, which are kind of like red mullet, but these were especially small, so we called them trigliani, i think. To clean them, they’re way too small to filet, so we just scale them, clip off the fins with a scissors, then slit them from the belly to just under the chin and pull out the guts and the gills and the jaws. Also i cleaned the birichini, which are little inch-long fish that we fry whole and serve in the frittura. Had those in spain too, they called them pescaditos—“little fish.” Marco told me that birichini means “naughty little ones,” and that he thinks the fishermen call them that cause they’re a pain to catch for not that much meat. He also told me that in Sardegnia they call them mangitutto, literally “eat the whole thing,” since that’s what you do with it. Funny.

[ 02-20-2001: Message edited by: elakin ]
Joined Jul 31, 2000

I was right there with you in the mountains.
Those are the expereinces that make life so wonderful.The scene you desribe at Marco's house had me chuckling, sounds kind of like my father in law...Just keeps thing around because he knows someday he or someone will need it. I can taste that olive oil,dipping the bread in, Makes me want to run out and get the fixins for bagna cauda. Thank you eddie for your updates..It's really cool for us to be able to enjoy your writtings.

[ 02-20-2001: Message edited by: cape chef ]
Joined Aug 11, 2000
I've heard of Italian time and didn't quite understand......Your side trip sounded wonderful, reminds me of Southern Louisiana. If your not eating your talking about your last or next meal...and life is definately a slower pace.
What a super place to visit.
Joined Jan 12, 2001
hi...thanks all for your nice comments...

more food stuff...

Primi Piatti £11,000

Linguine con Canocchie—canocchie are a kind of shellfish that i’ve never seen before. Maybe the closest thing is like crawfish, but their shells are much thinner and almost translucent, and they don’t really look like small lobsters but something else entirely. The meat part is the tail, and it’s pretty close to a little lobster tail, but then there’s just the head and the bottom of the tail, and that’s about it. We clean the canocchie with a scissors, cutting off the legs, and separating them into three parts—head, tail, and the end of the tail which looks pretty and has a spot on it and it’s just for show. To make an order, we sautee the canocchie with olive oil and a garlic clove, pressing on the heads and tail bottoms a little as they sautee to bring out the flavor. We pull out the garlic clove, deglaze the pan with wine, and hit it with parsely, salt and pepper. Then add the cooked linguine.

Tortelloni di ricotta con Uvetta, Pinoli, e Zafferano—same tortelloni, only now we’ve added pine nuts, and instead of the basamic reduction, we’re using saffron that we boiled in water, and a little cream and butter to do the sauce. Also parsely in this one.

Maccheroncini con Anduja e Carciofi—we do the anduja into a paste with a little water out of the pasta station, then it goes into a pan with the tomato sauce, and some artichokes that we slice thin and sautee ahead of time. I usually turn the artichokes. The one’s we get are smaller than the globes at home and they always have a very large stem still on. I trim them down some, then turn them to the hearts...same as normal. We slice them in half, then into thin slivers so all the pieces are still attached.

Tortelloni di Ricotta con Trevigiano—Trevigiano is like.....what do we call it? Red endive? I many names for this stuff. It’s long and thin and with a compact head, but red like radicchio. We cut it to order, very thin, coleslaw-like shreds go into a pan with a garlic clove, a little butter, and plenty of olive oil. We sautee them, letting them get darker than i’d think would be right, and then remove the garlic clove before adding a little cream and the cooked pasta.

Spaghetti al Polipo—Polipo is octopus and we had a couple huge ones. Very dark blackish purple. Francesco stewed them for a very long time in a dark purplish brown sauce. I didn’t get a good lood at how he did it. For a ticket we just hack off a couple arms of the octopus, and put a few ladles of the sauce in a pan, heat it, cook off the pasta, and combine. Very easy.

Spaghetti con Spada e Menta—This is a very nice dish, and, I think, one that Francesco thinks of as very much typifying his food. The spada is swordfish...basically we dice the scraps from the filets we do. We sautee those with a garlic clove, a little crushed pepperoncini, and olive oil, until they’re cooked. Then we add white wine to deglaze, then parsely, salt and pepper, and mint. Marco kept calling the mint “sylvatic” mint, which i had never heard before. He said something today about how down in the south they cook with lots of “sylvatic” fennel, too. So i asked him, and i guess that term just means “wild.” From what i could gather
That’s all the primi that have been different from what i wrote before.

Secondi Piatti £15,000

Triglie Arrosto su Letto di Spinaci—This is very basic. The triglie are nice red mullet filets. They aren’t roasted, per se, but really sauteed...just the straight filet, skin side down so it gets nice and crispy. The spinach is steamed and then just tossed in olive oil and salt and pepper. Wendy ate this when we went for dinner on thursday night.
Pesce Spada al Gratin (£18000)—swordfish roasted in the oven with some breadcrumb-cheese-herb mixture packed on top.
Pesce Spada alla Piastra (£18000)—just swordfish that’s crosscut, then pounded a little with the flat side of the knife to spread it out a little. It’s grilled on one of those little ridged grill-pan type thingies since we don’t have an actual grill. “Troppo caldo in cocina,” Francesco said when i asked him why he doesn’t have a grill.
Filetti di Orata al Vapore con Salsa di Alici—i’m pretty sure these are dorade filets. It’s a fairly big sea-bass looking fish, but without the weird sea-bass thick skin. Texture is more like halibut or cod. Is that dorade? I’m not sure. We steam the filet and then serve it pretty plainly, spreading this sauce that is like a pesto, but with lots of anchovies included, all over it. Francesco usually throws a couple slices of peeled, cooked potato in the steamer with the fish and serves these alongside it. They don’t really give like a starch and a veg. In most places in italy....if you want it you have to order it separate. But francesco is somewhat of an exception and at dinner, he gives a little vegetables with the secondi. usually something really basic like some chopped fennel that he sautees quickly, or a couple pieces of’s a bonus for these people so it doesn’t have to be anything all fancy and great like it has to be in the u.s.
Sarde Ripiene—This one hasn’t left the menu yet and i think it’s another one of francesco’s pet dishes. He takes six fresh sardines, cleaned and butterflied open, packing the breadcrumb gratin mixture onto one of them, then making like a sandwich of it with the other fish. So there’s three little sandwiches total and they go onto a little roasting plate and he strews fresh herbs all around them. Whole sprigs of rosemary, thyme, fennel tops, and fresh bay leaves....whatever herbs he happens to grab at the moment, and he drizzles olive oil around the whole thing. They roast like that for maybe 6-7 minutes....usually until the bay leaves start to brown a bit, and then they’re served simply....just plated with a few streams of olive oil, and maybe an olive or a cherry tomato half for garnish.
Gallinella all’ Acquapazza—this is a pretty basic “pan-roast.” A term which i’ve always loved, cause it sounds nice, but what the **** does it mean? You can pretty much go ahead and cook it however you want. The gallinella is whole...we slice the filets halfway off each side, so they’re kind of drooping off the sides of the fish, but still attached. We sautee first a garlic clove in some olive oil, along with a few sliced cherry tomatoes. Deglaze with white wine after a bit, then the fish goes in along with salt, pepper, fume, lots of fresh chopped parsely, and a few more tomatoes. Then the pan is covered. When the fish is cooked, it’s plated, and then the sauce is spooned over it, wetting the meat, and extra sauce poured all around it. Very wet. Acquapazza translates literally to “crazy water.”

the menu continues to change a little every day....and i am now officially being paid for working at this place. after a week of working for free as sort of a tryout, francesco told me today that he'd pay me a few lire...

[ 02-21-2001: Message edited by: elakin ]
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