122º 30' 06" W 48º44' 55"N
Volume 36 Number 10
October 2020 issue:
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The next CYC Zoom meeting is Tuesday October 13th!
I was cooking up a favorite the other night Fettuccini Vongole (pasta and clams) and reflected on my introduction to this recipe.
My years in the wine trade has allowed for many trips to the Italian peninsula. I have never known a country where the traditions in wine (more than 1000 grape varieties) and the cuisine more diverse, where the distances were so small but mattered so greatly. I quickly learned that one must never, ever, compliment the food or wine of another region. You will quickly receive the Italian finger wag (index finger only) and sternly admonished: “No, no, no, the very best wines, the very best cuisine is right here!”(finger now pointing at the ground beneath you)! “We just cannot be certain about those people over there.” Meaning their neighbors in the adjacent hill town 25 miles away.
That said, I have discovered one constant of Italian cuisine. It is true from Piedmont in the north, the Island of Sardegna to the toe of Apulia. If a pasta dish incorporates shellfish or any seafood, THERE WILL BE NO CHEESE!
David, a friend of mine, hired by an Italian wine importing company was on his first Winebow junket in Tuscany and happened to be seated next to Leonardo (the owner) at dinner. The pasta course was Fettuccini Vongole, and he absently reached for the dish of grated Parmesan and ladled some over the clams. Leonardo (who hails from Sicily) leaned over to him and quietly said: ”If you ever do that again, you’re fired!”
Welcome to the company!
A few years later, I met an Italian winemaker, Urs Vetter, who represented the wines of Alois Lageder. Blond and blue-eyed native of the Alto-Adige, Vetter hardly sounds Italian. It is the confused region closest to Austria. If you face north, the road signs read: Alto-Adige. If you turn south they might read: Sud-Tyrol. Urs was on what we lovingly called “The Winebow Death March.” Fourteen American cities in 21 days, glad-handing retail supporters during the day and wine dinners every night promoting the wines of his region.
He was at Noble Wines to make a presentation to our sales staff and afterwards, he and I began to chat. Well, one cannot talk about Italian wine without talking food, and next thing I knew, we were talking boats. It turns out Urs is an avid sailor. When the conversation ended, I had invited him sailing. He said to me: “I have a couple days off before heading for San Francisco. I’ll bring the wine and I’ll cook for you!” He was so excited, I just couldn’t say no.
The next morning I got a call from David (yep, still employed by Leonardo).
“ So Laurent, were you aware that Urs is expecting an overnight cruise in the San Juans?” Oops! I immediately called Vic, my wine buyer at our downtown Co-op. If you are playing hooky on a Monday and the boss calls, you’d better have a good excuse.
The Italian flag was flying from my masthead when the three of us set out that afternoon. It was a perfect day for sailing, 70+ sunny degrees and a solid westerly. We raised all canvas, main, mizzen and fore sail, comfortably healed over doing 6 knots. The smoked salmon with capers and red onion was on the cockpit table well lubricated by Lageder’s crisp, dry, Pinot Bianco. The conversation lively, we were livin’ large!
Headed for Eagle Harbor, I looked over to Vendovi off our port side, then over to Sinclair on our starboard…. double take… but the knot meter read 5 ½ knots?! I pulled out my cell phone and checked Nav-X…SOG- 0.0 knots!!! The incoming tide completely negated our forward progress. We were going nowhere very, very fast! It took me a few minutes to overcome my embarrassment, (next time idiot, check the tide charts), but I knew I would have to fess up before my crew noticed something was amiss:
“Gentlemen,” I began, and then outlined our options, one of which meant pulling in the sails and starting the “iron Jenny”.
There was silence as Urs and Vic looked around and took stock of our position. Finally, Urs grabbed the bottle: ” Here”, he said:” have another glass of wine.” Sometimes, it is more important to simply enjoy the moment.
We continued going nowhere (and having a fine time of it) until eventually the tide slacked, and we began making forward progress. After grabbing a buoy and a long walk on Cypress, Urs went to work in my galley. What’s for dinner? Fettucini Vongole of course (see recipe below). Dinner served up, wine was poured, I just had to ask: “So Urs, how about a bit of grated parmesan on our clams?” The response was immediate and definitive: “ I would never allow such an abomination!” Ha! I chortled, its true!
I am convinced that the Italian prohibition on cheese added to seafood pasta is the only custom that keeps that peninsula united!
Recipe below at the end of the newsletter