Growing up in the Bronx, NY you get used to certain things. You know that there is a pizza place on almost every corner and every one is different. Some have more cheese, some a little tangier sauce. So you go to the one that caters to your taste on that day. We knew where to get the best egg cream, or where to get the best Coke (back in those days the coke was mixed at the counter. One tap for the syrup and the other for the seltzer). We knew which deli made the best sandwiches and which one would even “trust” you to pay later. But these are different times now. The Bronx is only a memory and my wife and I have settled into this foreign country called North Carolina. No more egg creams or Manhattan Specials. We traded that off for bar-b-cue and a one pot meal called a Low Country Boil. My grandfather is spinning in his grave right about now!
Originally called Frogmore Stew this dish originated in a small fishing community on St. Helena Island named Frogmore, near Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina. It is also sometimes called Beaufort Stew. There are many variations of it ranging from Louisiana to New England, but the idea is the same all over: a meal for a bunch of people who don’t mind getting a little messy as long as the flavor and the fun of being together is more important. That is why this is so often used after a church function or for a fundraiser.
Here in North Carolina this is a simply prepared meal which takes just a few minutes. Ingredients are pretty basic but you can add some things to suit your taste. What is important though is the timing. You do have to be careful not to cook it too long, which I will go into in just a little bit.
INGREDIENTS: (forget the how much. That is not important)
GOOD kielbasa cut into ½ to 1 inch pieces
Shrimp ( cooked and cleaned is OK, but raw is better)
1 large onion, sliced
Potatoes, preferably small yukon gold, but red is the best, cut into 1 inch cubes
Old Bay Seasoning to taste about 2-4 tablespoons is plenty depending on the amount of water.
Less if you don’t like it
Corn on the cob (don’t DARE use frozen)
1 bottle of beer (optional)
Now, as I said above, timing is everything here. Normally the longer you cook something the better it comes. But with this, too much cooking will give you pulverized potatoes, mushy corn, tough shrimp and tasteless kielbasa. Timing! The name of the game.
Fill a large stock pot about ¾ full with water and the beer, give or take depending on how much stuff you want to add. Add the potatoes and sliced onion. Boil for about 10 minutes and no longer.
Add the corn on the cob. Bring this back to a boil and let it simmer for about 3 minutes, That’s all. Keep in mind that the potatoes are still cooking here. Now add the kielbasa. Then the shrimp and let that go for about 5 more minutes. Turn off the heat and just let it rest for about 5 minutes more. Drain off most of the water, leaving just a bit to keep everything hot and hold the flavor.
Serve on a plate with plenty of good spicy mustard (try the one with bourbon). Actually if we are really following tradition, this is eaten outside on a picnic table. If you are lucky enough to do that, line the table with a few layers of newspaper and, after you dump out the water, pour all the ingredients onto the newspaper to serve. Everyone can then just dig in. The aroma will call everyone to the table and the mixture of all the ingredients will make a nice, simple presentation. No fuss here. Just timing. Remember, we’re not making MASHED potatoes here. But cook it too long, and that’s what you’ll get.
Some variations do include crab or crawfish. But best to keep it simple the first time. You can always play around with it later. This is a dish you will probably want to go back to anyway. Oh, and keep some hot sauce on the side. Gives it a nice touch.
And there you have it. A simple meal prepared in minutes and ready to enjoy. And enjoy it you will. I am not really a beer fan, but a cold one goes real good here, or an ice cold coke. I can think of it as kind of a substitute for a plate of spaghetti or a really good meatball and a glass of wine. But here in the south, this is down home cookin’ that satisfies the senses and just says “Have a good time. Dig in, y’all.”
In the past I’ve written a few times about what I call “the good life,” and pretty much that is what this column is supposed to be about. What’s good in our lives and in our hearts. Our memories and our future. And just when you think you can’t stand it anymore, what’s good about me, you, yourself. So easy to be negative these days and seemingly so in style. But look around. There really is good all around you if you just take the time to notice it. It takes more work, more effort to find it sometimes, but that is only because it is so easy to find fault, the negative, the down side.
So, life isn’t treating you fair? Think again and go deep. Hey, there’s a positive thought right there. You can think. It may be a lost art, it may be something to wish we have grown somewhat unaccustomed, but it can be done. Think about your life, your hopes and dreams. Maybe things didn’t turn out as you planned in your youth, but you’re here now. Make the best of it. For example, A naval engineer named Richard Jones was trying to make a meter designed to monitor power on battleships. He was working with tension springs at the time and happened to drop one. Voila!
The SLINKY was born. I think his failure turned out pretty well for him.
Ruth Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn was baking a batch of her famous chocolate cookies. She happened to run out of baker’s chocolate. She broke up a bar of sweetened chocolate into small bits expecting them to melt and the chocolate chip cookie was born. Similarly things like potato chips and silly putty were invented either through frustration or as a by-product. These are pretty insignificant, but then, the pacemaker and even penicillin were not the intended product either. See? The veritable silver lining which started as the fly in the ointment.
So many times and maybe even too often for our personal taste, what we get out of life is not exactly what we want. Maybe there’s a plan there. Something out of our control, Call it a divine power or whatever you’d like, but there does seem to be a force that directs us to what we need to know or to learn, or for that matter, to have and to hold. Don’t you think there’s a reason you didn’t marry your high school sweetheart.
Or maybe you did. There is an old movie, The Strawberry Blonde, with James Cagney, Rita Hayworth and Olivia De Havilland that deals with this subject exactly. If you don’t know the movie I recommend it very highly, but if you do, you can easily see that Cagney’s character is so much better off with the wife he ended up with as opposed to the one he thought he wanted. It worked out for the best, as life usually does. Whether we know it or not.
So often, TOO often in fact we take things for granted. Our life itself, our freedoms are products of the past coupled with happenings of today. But if you take the time to think past your problems, relate to others, give some aid and comfort to someone less fortunate, it becomes pretty easy and rather rewarding. Kind of a feel good moment when all around you is turning to rot. How can you focus? How can you accomplish this? Too many ways to mention here, but a few come to mind. Don’t take me the wrong way here, but sometimes being a little self-centered is a good thing. If you can look at the guy sitting under a tree on a 90 degree day wearing everything he owns and has some bottle and cans in a shopping cart, you can bet that you are better off than he. Learn to appreciate what you have, rather than want for more. Remember the old soulful song by William DeVaughn that said “Though you may not drive a great big cadillac…just be thankful for what you’ve got.” (This was later covered by Curtis Mayfield.)
So, okay. What is this leading up to? Simplicity. Getting back to basics. Sure, I normally write about wine here and I am obviously not a sommelier, nor am I a connoisseur. But a simple thing like a glass of wine, good wine, in a reasonable price range can add to a mundane day. A good recipe can add some spice and I have put up a few of those too. But more to the point, look around. We have been given a beautiful planet with so much good all around. All the niceties. But if you don’t take the time to enjoy them, to savor all the flavors life has to offer you have missed out on so much. Don’t let negativity rule your life or burden your soul. You have problems, of course. We all do. But in the end, I’ll take mine over anyone else’s because they are in fact, mine, my own doing. Take responsibility.
Wine helps of course, as does good food and family. But the idea of a good life, of THE good life starts from within and works its way outward. It’s a glow that you never notice or a smile you don’t realize you have. It can be a twinkle in your eye or a spring in your step. Just know, you’ll get through this whatever it is. And you’re not alone. There’s a world of strength and companionship out there just waiting for you. So get a glass of wine and a salami sandwich. Throw some olive oil, lettuce and tomato on it and enjoy. That’s what it’s for!
Brunello di Montalcino is a red wine produced in the Tuscany region of Italy in the vineyards surrounding the small medieval town of Montalcino about 100 miles south of Florence (Firenze). Originally the Brunello grape was considered to be native to the area and the only place it was grown. But through some extensive research and testing which finally ended back in 1879, yes, that’s right, the grape was found to be of the same variety as Sangiovese and this was made the official designation. The name Brunello di Montalcino then evolved within the town of Montalcino to mean any wine made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. In 1980, Brunello di Montalcino was among the four wines awarded the first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) designation. Today it is one of Italy’s best-known and most expensive wines.
So, as I said, this wine is a product of Tuscany, the area of Italy most known for fine wines of distinction. Produced and bottled by Azienda Agraria Mocali, this is a less expensive vintage than what the family normally produces. However, again, since it is made with only 100% Sangiovese, this is an exceptionally fine, yet value priced product. The Mocali Farm along with the winery was purchased in the 1950’s by Mr. Dino Ciacci who was one of the founders of the consortium, a free association of winemakers intent on safeguarding their wines and accentuating their qualities.
This was one of those bottles that caught my eye because of its attractive simplicity. However, one can easily see the words “Rosso di Toscana” along with the DOCG designation so I decided to give it a try as I do prefer wines from this region. Have to say here, great choice. This is a truly rich, ruby red wine in the glass. Its boldness comes from slight hints of dark chocolate and vanilla, kind of an odd combination because you may expect one to cancel out the other and possibly tilt a little toward the sweet side. In fact, this is a very dry, robust tasting wine with a strong, delectable aftertaste which lingers just long enough. This is attained through eight months of aging in oak barrels and another eight months in the bottle. Not for the faint of heart, nor is it for lovers of a lighter wine, this delivers quality and flavor with a punch. From the look in the glass to the first sip to the bottom of the bottle, this wine delivers! I would say that it does benefit from maybe 45-60 minutes in a decanter which will also allow the aroma to escape and have your guests waiting with some anticipation.
As an interesting aside, the name, PIAGGIONI, is derived from the hillsides, the escarpments, which are steep slopes usually found at the edge of a mountain ridge. Utilizing mountain slopes to control ripening requires some grapes to grow facing north where coolness makes them ripen slowly while those facing south will mature more quickly. Blending them together produces a more complex, aromatic wine and is a process used by the top producers in the area.
Awards for this wine are many gotten from Wine Spectator (2012,13,15), Wine Enthusiast (2008,10) and Vini Buoni d’Italia (2016) and more. Because of the richness and body, this wine would be best served in colder months or with foods which can match its texture. Beef ribs, maybe a rare porterhouse or an aged filet would be perfect, as would a traditional Sunday gravy with braciole and all the usual accompaniments. Bison or wild boar would also pair well, if you are the adventurous type. But when there is a fire in the hearth and snow on the roof, this wine would be a most welcome friend for an afternoon or evening with dried sausage and some locatelli cheese. At about $15 it is a value wine with history, flavor and good company adding to an experience.
“Chi non beve in compagnia o è un ladro o è una spia.”
(“People who do not drink with others are either thieves, or spies.”)
Masi Masianco is a white wine produced in the Veneto region of Italy by Masi Agricola, or the Masi Farm. It is really a blend of Pinot Grigio, cultivated in Friuli, and Verduzzo, which is a grape more native to the region. AAH, but this wine is different. The process by which this wine is produced is centuries old and very time consuming. But the end result is worth the wait.
After the harvest, the Verduzzo grapes go through a three week drying process. This is a process of natural dehydration producing wines which are richer in both color and flavor. Now, this process also will generally produce a sweeter wine as the dried fruit now contains a higher concentration of sugar. However, in the Veneto, where this process dates back to the days of ancient Rome and the empire, it is also used for dry wines, leaving them full-bodied and a little higher in alcohol. The Verduzzo grapes used must be perfectly healthy to sustain the drying process. They are laid out on bamboo racks in special drying rooms for at least 100 days, losing 30-40 per cent of their weight.
The origin of this winery dates back to 1772 and has been in the family’s hands since. It was then that the Boscaini family acquired several properties in the area known as “Vaio dei Masi” from which it gets its name. In an emotional bow to history one of the wineries was owned by descendants of the Renaissance poet Dante Alighieri and the Boscaini family now manages the chateau where Dante’s family has lived since 1353.
This is a very fresh white wine, ready now for drinking. Its color is clear to a golden hue which can enhance the appearance of your table either in the bottle or in a decanter. I did allow this wine to sit for about twenty minutes before pouring, and then for maybe an extra minute before tasting. The aroma is of fresh citrus fruits but with a very slight hint of honey. Again, this is not at all a sweet wine with a taste of citrus, apricot and an added peach so it is tart and very refreshing. I found this wine perfect for us recently. See, we live in coastal North Carolina where heat and humidity combine for a lot of sweltering days. So this wine, just from the look of it, says light and easy drinking and is perfect for those days where the temperature and the humidity are equal. It is light on the palate with a delicate, velvet feel that leaves a very pleasant taste and a desire for more. It is the type of wine that allows you to pace yourself, to relax and enjoy and spend an afternoon sipping. In addition to this, it pairs well with light, delicate fish, like a flounder, trout or perch, as well as a light chicken dish, seasoned with fresh herbs and lemon.
Rewards for this wine are many, ranging from James Suckling’s rating of 90 points to Wine Decanter’s Bronze in 2017. Personally, I have found this to be a favorite of mine simply because the flavor seems more versatile than some others. By that I mean, the velvety texture sits in the mouth better during dinner than some other Pinot Grigios, and when served as an aperitif, it has a surprising, welcoming character almost like a strong first act to a play you’ve been wanting to see. Bold, deceptively so, dry and slightly acidic, this will become a favorite.
Just as an extra aside, Note the designation on the bottle just below the name:
“Nectar Angelorum hominibus.”
Loosely translated from the original Latin, this means, “Nectar of angels and men.”
This is not a designation to be taken lightly.
“Next to pharmaceuticals, wine is the best drug.” Elisabetta Gnudi Angelini
In Italy, a “Borgo” is sort of an equal to an American Borough. It is actually a hamlet, almost a new city, set outside the gates or the walls of an older city. It has its own church, town center, post office and residences. Borgo Scopeto is just such a place, situated near the city of Siena in the Chianti region of Italy. This winery began producing wines for public sale in the 1990’s and is different from most others due to its ownership. It is owned by two women. A very interesting story here.
When Elisabetta Gnudi met Paolo Angelini, his family owned the largest pharmaceutical company in Italy. They married, and Elisabetta dedicated herself to the arts, helping to manage a production house dedicated to the cinema and theater. When Paolo died prematurely, Elisabetta became a member of the board of Directors of the company. Then in 1998, she decided to sell her stake in that company and pursue what became her passion and enrolled in classes in oenology and agriculture. From there, her winery was born.
By contrast, her daughter Alessandra exhibited much different interests. After earning her undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at La Sapienza University her career took a turn and she was involved in designing Formula 1 race cars and then for a time designing airplane engines for Rolls Royce North America. It was in 2017 that mother and daughter joined forces in the winemaking and hospitality industry making this a major, worldwide company owned by females. (Girls ROCK!)
Borgo Scopeto is an established winery dating back to the 1990’s, as I said earlier. Known for its quality wines, Elisabetta and winemaker Massimo Bracalente are totally involved in every stage of production. Chianti Classico is located in Tuscany, bordered by Florence, Firenze, to the north and Siena in the south. Borgo Scopeto is located in the southernmost part of the region. It is here that some of the largest limestone deposits are found, so the soil is rich and when you put that together with ideal grape-growing conditions, this region grows some of the richest wines in the world.
I enjoyed this wine with both pork and beef, and it held up very well. In color, it is a little lighter in color than some other chiantis I have had, but the flavor is second to none. Due to its richness, the taste lingers on the palate just long enough and beckons another forkful of food, almost daring it to push it aside. In the tradition of a good chianti, it is made with 90% Sangiovese grapes, with the balance made up of merlot and colorino. Aged in casks for one solid year and then in the bottle for another five months this process can truly expect only a high quality product. The flavor is very intense, a pleasure on the palate, dry, well balanced and most elegant with a velvety feel. While the bouquet is also bold, don’t let the sweetness fool you. You will get the sense of dark chocolate and ripe cherries. This is a bone dry wine that is certain to please if your tastes go that way. Pair it, as I did, with pork or with rich soups and hard, well-aged cheeses. In my view, wine and cheese is the ultimate snack and this will raise your game a little. But to do it justice, make sure the cheese is aged well, not in plastic. Well aged cheese has been aging in air, in a controlled environment, not in plastic. So what I am saying is, be a little particular, fuss a little and you will be well rewarded for your efforts.
As I stated in the beginning, this winery is owned by very well educated, dedicated women. It is truly a family business that is run with only one thing in mind, to produce a wine this year that is better than what was produced last year. That phrase in itself shows a commitment to a quality product. But as an aside, if you are looking for a romantic getaway, there are several rooms on the estate available for tourists. And since it is in the province of Tuscany, you are guaranteed beautiful scenery, a sunrise and sunset beyond compare and most common hotel amenities. This is resort living, with history only about five miles away and world class restaurants both nearby and on the premises. I guess this would be a good way to see what Borgo life is really like.
“The discovery of a wine is of greater moment than the discovery of a constellation. The universe is too full of stars.” Benjamin Franklin.
The Montepulciano grape can be grown all over Italy, but it is most dominant in the province of Abruzzo. Wines produced from this grape can be either soft or bold tasting, and they are generally good value, consistent wines. I will normally tell people that any wine that states Montepulciano D’Abruzzo on the label is one to try just because of its consistent quality. It is very similar to Chianti, but can have as much as 15% Sangiovese, making it a good, dry blend that goes well with most foods.
I have written about this winery before when I featured their Campoluce Chianti, so some of this is a rehash. But, in case you missed it, Pietro Sensi began selling his wine in markets in 1895. Since then, his direct descendants have taken over and have passionately updated the winery and methods both to keep current with production standards as well as to pay tribute to their ancestors. Now, producing wines from vines grown naturally, without the use of fertilizers or pesticides is foremost in the minds of the owners. What you get here is a true tasting classic wine as wine should be.
This bottle is typically described as a little on the light side, smooth, dry and slightly acidic, which lends itself to a good table wine, a designation no longer commonly used. What that means is, it is better with a meal, a substantial one at that, than it is on its own. But don’t misunderstand, it also pairs well with hearty appetizers like roasted red peppers in olive oil, sopressata (dried sausage) or Locatelli cheese. You can also enjoy it solo, sipping a glass while relaxing inside, but because of the richness of the wine, I really would not recommend it for sharing on the patio on a hot, summer day unless your personal tastes go that way. Best to pair it with beef ribs or other rich meats like boar or other game meats. Naturally, it also goes well with a good Sunday gravy which would include sausage, braciole and even meatballs. For a Friday night date night, it also makes an excellent pizza wine, as long as the pizza is from a good place, not frozen, and not made on some assembly line or driven around for an hour waiting for someone to order it.
In the glass SENSI COLLEZIONE is a deep purple color which reflects room light beautifully. It would benefit from decanting for about 20-30 minutes just so it could breathe a bit before drinking. On the palate one can taste the influence of chocolate, licorice and red and black fruits as the liquid flows over the tongue and fills the mouth with deliciousness. This is a quality wine, produced with pride. The kind you can store and serve with pride.
When choosing a wine, any wine, it is good to know a little about the history of the winery and the family behind it. If nothing else it makes for good conversation. SENSI wines are celebrated as the pride and joy of Tuscany and is one of the region’s largest producers with a better than 100 year legacy and a commitment to excellence and consistency.
“A tavola non si invecchia” (At the table, you don’t get old)
Italian cooking is a lot of things: fragrant, flavorful, satisfying and on and on. In most cases the ingredients are simple, even home-grown, and just produce some of the finest eating in the world. That’s why you can point to most cities across this country and someone, somewhere will be able to tell you where you can get a good plate of spaghetti or where the best meatball is.
Giambotta is real, down home cooking. It is a meatless dish with only a few ingredients. But here is where time comes into play. This is one of those dishes where if you have the time to invest, it will pay off greatly in the end. So now, get ready for a journey to Italian peasant cooking the likes of which you will find in most homes along the “boot.”
2 large eggplants with fatter bottoms so they have fewer seeds
3 large zucchini
Garlic…no such thing as too much here
1 large onion
1-2 large cans Italian style crushed tomatoes
Salt and pepper to taste
4-5 Fresh basil leaves ripped
Slice the onion into cubes and dice the garlic. Brown both in a large pot with the olive oil. Sweat that down real good. Dice the zucchini into small cubes and add that to the hot pot and stir well. Cube the eggplant the same way and add that. Mix well, gently, and sweat all that down for about 10 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and stir that well. Let that go for about 15 minutes so it really sets. Add the fresh basil.
Now, the fun part…Put the lid on the pot and lower the heat to its LOWEST setting. I mean the gas is just barely on! Make sure the lid is on tight. Then, GO OUT. Leave the pot on the stove and leave the house. Remember that steam mop, that bracelet, that trip to Target you have been putting off? Go to it. And stay out for about 4 (really!) hours. Yeah, I know. This boy’s crazy.
When you get back home, walk in slowly, take a deep breath and just savor the aroma of what you have just cooked up. Guaranteed your house will smell great and give off a homey, lived in feel. Check on the pot and stir gently. You will see that the vegetables have all melded into a thick, rich aromatic paste that just calls you home. Let it cook. The longer and slower you cook this, the better it will taste.
Now to serve. Ladle some of your giambotta into a large bowl and garnish with some good parmesan cheese, and maybe a little red pepper. Get some good, CRUSTY Italian bread, not the mushy kind, and enjoy. This is a taste sensation that you will appreciate, I guarantee. Everything is soft and satisfying with all good, wholesome, fresh vegetables. In this case I was lucky also because I had some home grown garlic to use, an extra level of pride.
This is a great weeknight meal and an excellent alternative to meat. If you, like so many of us now are trying to limit your intake of meats, this is a perfect substitute. It does take some time, but, believe me, it is well worth it! And as long as we’re locked inside, what better thing to do than to cook something different. You can also vary this a little. One of my sons adds broccoli, kale and whatever else he may have in the house. So don’t be afraid to add your own touch to this recipe because in the end, you will be rewarded for it. Cook with passion and love. Enjoy your cooking and you can never go wrong.
Mangia Bellissima, mangia!
So come! EAT!
You’re too skinny anyway!
“Age and glasses of wine should never be counted” Italian Proverb
Barbera D’asti is an Italian red wine produced in the hilly provinces of Asti and Alexandria, situated in the Italian Piedmont or Piemonte. The grape itself dates back to the thirteenth century with vinification officially being first recorded in the seventeenth in the city hall of Nizza Monferrato. The grape spread widely in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and today is the principal as well as the premier grape of the Piedmont. But to locals, it has been enjoyed there for centuries.
The history of the Chiarlo winery begins in 1898 with father, Pietro Chiarlo washing the cloths used to purify the wine blends. After leaving the region for Abyssinia, he returns to start a family. Michele, his son, grows and is enrolled in winemaking school in Alba where he meets several other future vintners. His love and commitment is nurtured there and in 1956 he begins his personal journey to restore the industry to the Piedmont and produce wines of which his father could be proud. Later in the 1970’s, he consolidates and purchases land in Langhe, Gavi and Monferrato and builds a then state of the art winery in Calamandrana, and in 1974, he introduces his Barbera D’Asti, which translated actually means, “Barbera from Asti.” This is now considered one of the signature wines of this region of Italy.
Michele Chiarlo Barbera D’Asti is aged for a minimum of 16 months, and believe me, this is time well spent. Throughout the entire process great care is taken so that the finished product is superior and worthy of the family name. Because of its DOCG designation it is 100% Barbera grapes which assures a deep, but at the same time, bright ruby red color. It does benefit from about 20 minutes in a good decanter as the air will tend to bring out the aroma of fresh, dark red fruits such as black cherries and currants. On the palate, it is refreshing, surprisingly so due to the intense color, and delicate with a smooth silky feel. Although decanting will influence tannins and soften them a bit, this is a red with character, smooth but with a lean toward bold.
Now, in general I never subscribe to the rule of, “white with fish, red with meat,” and this wine is a perfect example of the exception to that archaic rule. It does go well with a steak or with game, such as boar, but this wine really shows its best with pomodoro, or with tomato sauce such as a marinara, or with mussels and clams in a red or an agli’olio (garlic and olive oil). It is a good wine for during the week, for Friday night pizza, as well as for Sunday dinner and I am sure it will generate many compliments. At about $14 per bottle, it is what I consider an excellent value, as it looks and tastes much more expensive. Salutti!
Food. The ultimate Italian experience. Hundreds of different sausages, dried and hot or sweet, with or without fennel, lamb sausage. Then talk about macaroni, pasta to some, you could write a book about all the different varieties. Each region, each town and truly each family has its own turn, its own peculiarities and its own methods of feeding a family. But “puttanesca” is a little different. Legend has it that it was inspired by a profession. In fact, it was inspired by what is known as, the world’s oldest profession.
The story of puttanesca has a very varied history, and a very interesting one. Some say it was invented in Naples toward the end of WWII. Others put the date as much earlier. Be that as it may, the sauce derives its name from the “ladies of the evening” known as puttana in the old country. See, in times past, opportunities for women were few. There were no female executives, no women owned companies. No, women were to stay at home, cook, clean and have babies, lots of babies and in general insure a stable home life by loving and raising a family. In unsettled times, say during a war, men left to fight and die for the country leaving these women alone to fend for themselves. With no money and no prospects for employment, women needed to do something to attend to the family. Many turned to prostitution to accomplish this. The puttana was born.
Now, believe me, I fully realize and totally agree that this is a completely sexist, biased viewpoint. But we are dealing with history here so you can’t apply today’s standards to years gone by. At any rate, businesses grew. And being entrepreneurial, women added certain perks to their trade and men became very accustomed to them. Puttanesca became a favorite because it is aromatic, flavorful and satisfying. There are also many variations but all come down to a basic, quick sauce so that these clients could get out the door.
So, the recipe is simple and it is ready very fast, but this is no quick and fast tasting meal. The ingredients vary according to your own taste and can contain things like capers, anchovies, not a fan personally, olives and peppers. But to break it down to its simplest terms a good puttanesca contains plum tomatoes, garlic, and onion. To prepare the tomatoes, cut off a piece at the stem end and slice the outer skin. Place the tomato in some boiling water for about 10 seconds and remove it. The skin will easily peel off.
Now, the sauce.First, heat up some good olive oil in a pan. Let it get warm, not too hot. Add 2-3 cloves chopped garlic and let it brown. Add some chopped onion. This will sweeten the acidity of the tomato. Let that sweat down a bit and while that is going on, slice the boiled tomatoes in half and add them to the pan. Let that simmer and if desired, add capers, oregano, anchovies or really whatever, so you can personalize your sauce. Always salt and pepper to taste.
While all this is going on, boil your macaroni, al dente. When that is done, drain it thoroughly and add it to the pan with the sauce so the sauce not only coats the macaroni, it also finishes cooking it and seeps inside it. Plate and serve and just wait for the compliments. Of course, you can always say how many hours you slaved over a hot stove to prepare this meal. It will be our little secret.
Now, a word about the macaroni. Use the good stuff. I always avoid the store brand. You will pay more for say, Barilla or DiCecco, but it is so worth the difference in price. Also, a sauce like this begs for long macaroni. Anything like mostaccioli, ziti, even farfalle is fine. But to do this sauce justice, I would seriously recommend either bucattini or perciatelli. Bucattini is a long macaroni, a little thicker than spaghetti. It cooks up very nicely and looks great on the dish. Perciatelli is tougher to get. Here in North Carolina I hardly ever see it. It is a long macaroni, hollowed out in the middle and looks like a sewer pipe. Basically, there is little if any difference between the two. The sauce will go inside this macaroni and really create a taste sensation. In fairness, it can be a little tough to eat, but you’ll get the hang of it soon enough. Add some good, crusty Italian bread and you have a meal that tastes like you cooked all day.
There you have it. An easy weeknight recipe that satisfies and adds a little touch of history to your table. So…”TUTTI A TAVOLA. MANGIARE BELLA!”
Hope I didn’t offend.
“A man who develops himself is born twice.” Argentine saying.
Argentina is a land of many dichotomies. It is the land of the GAUCHO, the country where Latin music and one of the world’s most popular dances, the TANGO, were introduced. A country where a steak is almost revered and more red meat is eaten per capita than anywhere else in the world. A country whose name is derived from the Latin word for “silver.” It is also a country which had 5 rulers in 10 days back in 2001. And now, it is a producer of fine, world class wines.
The Santa Julia Winery located in Mendoza, Argentina is a true family operation. Around 1950, Alberto Zuccardi arrived from Italy and began experimenting with irrigation systems in the area as water was very scarce and very valuable. It wasn’t until 1963 when he planted a vineyard, sort of as a showcase for farmers in the area as a method of growing and irrigating crops. That was when Alberto discovered his passion and together with his wife, Emma, began a South American institution which still thrives today. In 1976, their son Jose, joined the company and steered it toward its present course, the production of a superior grape which in turn would produce superior wines. He named these fine wines after his only daughter, Julia.
Santa Julia Pinot Grigio is one one of the fine products produced by the Zuccardi family. A wonderful Cabernet, Malbec, Chardonnay and now a foray into olive oil production has set this family name in very high esteem in the region. Producing fine products was the goal of Alberto and his vision has been shared by his family. They have instituted modern methods of production with a strong eye on tradition and a commitment to quality, all done as Alberto would have liked. This commitment and passion have motivated the family and made this one of the largest wineries in the country.
The Pinot Grigio, which I have sampled is a true Pinot, the “real thing,” so to speak. That is, it is light, with an emphasis on a citrusy taste. Essences of pear, mango and pineapple make this a very nice wine to enjoy while sitting poolside or on a patio under an umbrella. If your tastes go away from mixed drinks, as do mine, this is a perfect substitute. With a light gold color with the slightest hints of green it just says refreshing. In fact, in the sun the bottle will produce a lovely rainbow effect which just may make you hesitate before moving the bottle. I did not decant this wine, but I did let it rest for a few minutes before pouring and this gave me kind of an idea of what I was in for. The aroma is distinct, yet delicate, as a Pinot Grigio should be.
Now, I am not an expert on South American wine. In fact I am not an expert on any wine from anywhere in the world. But I do know a wine that has taste, that has body and that can please. This wine delivers on all fronts. I would pair it with shellfish or vegetarian dishes and light, mild cheeses. It would also be an excellent choice for a turkey or roasted pheasant as it would complement each nicely. It is also perfect as an aperitif, kind of an opening salvo to a Friday night dinner with friends where you want the wine to make a grand entrance, but be subtle at the same time.
At $12-$15 per bottle I would say this wine is an excellent value and an equally good change of pace from an American or European wine, simply due to its land of origin. While Argentina is widely known for its production and consumption of beef, this wine stands out as a beacon of freshness, a symbol of light and air. From bottle to glass, this wine is a very good choice.