As requested, here is a bit more detail of the food that I am surrounded by.
Last night at the Birthday Party for the family, that was 60 people, the restaurant shut down to the public and we prepared a typical Italian dinner. Nothing too fancy. First there were three crostini per person, plus the ubiquitous French fries. I cannot believe that they are a part of an antipasto, but to say they were out of place there would be a falsehood. Patate fritti are everywhere, including on TOP of pizza. True story. One crostini was topped with an eggplant condiment that I helped make yesterday. It was cubed eggplant that was then fried. Here at Il Gabbiano (the seagull), it was fried in the fryer, in class it would have been fried in EVOO. Then it was added to a huge skillet with another inch of EVOO and a few garlic cloves, a few basil leaves, simple tomato sauce (which they buy in a jar, but we make from scratch) and then stew that mixture for at least an hour.
Another crostini was a standard tomato, EVOO. salt, and oregano mixture that sat long enough for the juices to draw that would soften the bread. The tomatoes did not look one single bit like tomatoes back home, they were all different sizes, all different shapes, mostly small and lumpy and had all sorts of blemishes – however, the ones that were ripe were red all the way through. Interestingly we put the green ones right in there with the ripe ones, cut in very small dice.
The last crostini was a tonno. When I saw that I thought, “Oh, no, don’t do that to that amazing Italian tuna,” but it was good. Chef took the tuna, some mayonnaise and a little water and hit it with the immersion blender (they love those things here) and turned it into a sauce. Italian tuna is NOTHING like American tuna, it starts with a blue fin, not a yellow fin tuna and then they poach it in pure EVOO. In Alaska you can get a jar for about $30.00, but it is amazing.
Although I live in Calabria, the owners are from Naples so they have their own twist on things here. Last night, after the antipasti, the pasta dish came out. We prepared the Neapolitan sauce yesterday. It started with a TON of olive oil, a few onions floating in there and then the minced ends of the pork loin that had been sliced thinly for the secondi. They cooked for a while, then ground pork was added, a few kilos, and then white wine. The wine came off the shelf in a very large, plastic jug with a convenient handle that looked all the world like a gallon of cheap apple juice from Fred Meyers. I actually thought it was oil going in there and nearly fainted since it was about half the jug, but then I saw it was wine and sigh in relief. To this mélange, two bags of frozen peas were unceremoniously dumped. Vegetables receive interesting treatment here – they are cooked to death. Pasta is toothsome, shrimp might be served raw, but vegetables, vegetables are cooked into olive drab mush, always. Remarkably, they still taste good since they are always drowning in garlic and very good local olive oil. These poor little peas cooked for probably 30 minutes in the boiling pot and then, if you can believe this, the chef’s wife tasted them for doneness. She covered the pot and let it go for another hour. Apparently, they were still raw. About a half a case of bottled tomato sauce, very thin stuff not the ragu’ we know like Classico or Paul Neuman’s blend, went into the pot followed by some fried eggplant and then was covered and left to cook for “trenta minuti”, Rosanna said, however, it actually cooked for 2 more hours. It will be better the next day she told me.
While she monitored the boiling sauce she prepared the uova soldi, hard boiled eggs. Eggs receive the same treatment as vegetables. I was really intrigued when she tested the eggs by tapping them to see if they were done. It took about 20 minutes to satisfy here that they were ready.
So, the next day, when we reheated it, (it sat on the stove all night) chef added diced salami, the hard boiled eggs and then topped the huge pile of pasta in each dish with a small handful of fresh mozzarella. They have no idea how precious these ingredients are where we live. They treat mozzarella, ripe tomatoes and olive oil like we treat snow, there will always be more, just go outside and get some. Which, by the way, was exactly what Pepe did when someone requested pepperoncini for their pasta, he ran out grabbed a handful of tiny hot Calabrese peppers growing somewhere in the yard, brought them in and wiped them of the days dust and sand, picking out the few weeds that came with them, put them on a plate and brought them out.
After pasta there was a respite, called the party, including karaoke, balloon popping, a video collage, and presents. The second course of thin fillets of pork, floured and fried, then topped with a white wine sauce, along with tiny white potatoes with oil and rosemary were warming up when I was relieved of duty. It was about 11:45 PM. They still had fruit and dolci courses coming but I was home in bed before the last plate of pork was served, I’m sure.
Ciao for now,