I always love visiting my Italian family in the Veneto. First, because they are wonderful people, and second, because I always eat well—whether we go out or eat at home, we just eat well. It reminds me so much of when I was young and enjoyed my Grandmother’s Sunday suppers. When Italians are at the table, they are at their best. Everyone talks at once, and not lightly: politics, religion, the neighbors down the street, nothing is sacred, and whoever is not there is the one who gets discussed thoroughly.
This is the view from my Cousin Adriana’s front door:
And this is the view from the back door:
The Veneto is an important wine district in Italy, and if there is empty ground anywhere, it will be planted out in grapes.
For this dinner, everyone was invited, there were to be 12 of us. A few of the cousins, I had not seen for about 10 years. When all of the sisters get together to cook, it is bound to be an extravaganza. First the table is set:
Naturally we began with salumi. Many Italian households have their own slicer in the kitchen. Italian women buy large chunks of prosciutto or salami and cut it themselves. This is my cousin Gigi in Adriana’s kitchen prepping the salumi platters. Gigi and his wife Gabriela used to own a fabulous restaurant in the Soave valley—they just sold it. In fact, Gigi has been in the restaurant business for more than 40 years. They are coming to visit us next month, and Gigi has agreed to be our sommelier for a weekend during his visit. I can tell you right now, the man knows wine and he knows wine service. At the restaurant, he worked in the front and his wife Gabriella worked in the kitchen. More about Gabri later.
And onto the table it goes!
Every salumi needs a close up!
After the antipasto is the pasta—this is Gabri’s very special pasta, she makes it with fresh squeezed blood orange juice and mascarpone cheese. The secret ingredient is that she makes her own pasta.
Gabriella’s Orange and Leek Pasta
Fresh Pappardelle pasta, enough for 4
1ea Leek, cleaned and chopped
2ea Blood Oranges, juiced
2tbl Olive Oil
1.5-2 cups Mascarpone Cheese
1⁄4 cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
To taste Salt and Pepper
Here is the play by play:
Saute the chopped leek in the olive oil until translucent, then add the blood orange juice
Simmer until the leek is soft, but not mushy and reduce the juice by about half. Then add the Mascarpone Cheese.
You’re looking for a very creamy sauce:
Meanwhile cook the fresh Pappardelle—remember, when the pasta floats, it is done:
Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce
Don’t forget the Parmesan and mix well.
Then we plate:
This is quite possibly the most delicate pasta that I have ever eaten. Gabri says that she stole it from a chef in Milano, we’ll never really know the whole story…
Moving right along, we have the next course (you didn’t really think that we were done did you?) Adriana fixed a beautiful steak for 12. Now, Italians don’t normally eat a steak like Americans. They will take a 16 oz steak and that will feed 4 nicely. First we cook the steak to rare:
For the steak Adri also roasted some potatoes and Gabri had fixed some Pepperonata. But wait, we’re still not done! The cheese course:
And there were about 3 different desserts too, but by that time I was seriously struggling to stay in my chair—forgot to mention all of the great wine from the Veneto, I’ll let Elliott tell you about that, but I do remember a couple of Valpolicella’s, some Passito, about 3 dessert wines.
And that, my friends is what dining in Italy is all about: you won’t find your Chicken Parm, or your spaghetti with meatballs, but what you will get is a gastronomical celebration of what is in season and what is local, family all coming together, smaller amounts of pasta and proteins, though varied throughout the meal, wines that match the food (each course, in fact), and a lot of attention to detail. These are the same qualities that we try to copy at LUCCA.