Lot of talk these days about slow food, which is a movement based on principles of high quality,taste, sustainable agriculture, eating locally, and to some extent, social justice.(yum ) I first became aware of this movement, started by Carlo Petrini, many years ago while traveling in Italy. It has since spread worldwide and been no doubt helped along by such wonderful people such as Alice Waters and such wonderful books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food,” Carlo Petrini’s “Slow Food Nation,” and a personal favorite, Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal,Vegetable Miracle.” In this book, Barbara Kingsolver and her family actually put their money where their mouths are.. literally – they conduct and document a family experiment of living on the land, growing their own food and only eating “locally” and seasonally for an entire year. This way of eating makes so much sense to me on so many levels…however the fact is I live in Manhattan and can’t grow my own food-but I can employ a level of awareness and consciousness about what I choose to buy and eat.
Also, when I travel I am always mindful of the regional food traditions, the natural conditions,like climate,soil and landscape that come together to influence the foods of a particular region. (There are other factors certainly) How right it seems to do one’s food shopping from local farmers, buy produce that is in season and not from some far away country on the other side of the globe, and to have human contact with the producers of this food. As La Signora remarks, “I get my eggs from chickens who have names.”
These thoughts were colliding in my brain, as we set off after breakfast, with burlap sacks and shopping carts, to the market in Ovada, Italy. The stalls are all set up, the produce, the meat, the fish are all there for the nonnas to puruse, pick over and examine. I can see that everyone is plotting meals in their heads according to what is fresh and succulent looking. We join the fray ourselves and plan a meal of fresh grilled vegetables, stuffed zucchini flowers, and pasta. The fruit of the season is impossibly ripe and luscious – peaches, white nectarines, plums, Amalfi lemons,watermelons. The mind boggles with all the possibilities for grilled fruit, cobblers, crumbles, pies, crostata, macedonias, frozen fruit drinks, semifreddos and ice creams, poached fruit in wine, and of course the naked, fleshy things themself!
The fish monger is there with his caravan and all the delights of the sea, as is the butcher with his cured meats. Genoa is not very far away and the fish look as if they were just pulled from their watery beds this morning. Huge bunches of basil are intoxicating, there are dried Porcini and baskets of fresh wild mushrooms in all their fungal ferocity, walls of garlic from nearby Asti and gorgeous zucchini with their yellow flowers still attached….begging to be stuffed with CHEESE. O yes, we will stuff them.
And speaking of cheese…of course there is a cheese stand at the market, rife with the local favorites. David has a huge book in his home which references all the Italian cheeses, many of which you cannot find in the states. I have a smaller one he gave me as a gift, which lists the cheese you actually can find in the States. I’m fortunate to live spitting distance from an exceptionally fine cheese store, Murray’s Cheese. O how I love the cheesy goodness of cheese…the runniness, the rinds, the veiny molds, the smoky creaminess -but for me, and probably for most singers it is a no-no, because of the mucus it produces in the body.It clogs up the plumbing as it were and imparts a haze to the clarity of the voice. Anyway, Cinzia and I start talking again about dinner, and Mr Duggles implores,nay begs her to make her world famous tiramasu, the famous “pick me up” dessert with espresso, ladyfingers, cocoa and marscapone cheese.
To make marscapone at home:
1/4 tsp Tartaric acid to 9 TB of warmed fresh cream…remove from heat,…strain through cheesecloth…cool for 24 hours (IMPORTANT !!! DO NOT confuse Tartaric Acid with Beef Tartare, Cream of Tartar, Tartar Sauce, Cream Tarts, Pop Tarts, Sulfuric Acid, Tartuffe by Moliere, Tartufo Bianco or Nero or Tater Tots.)
Of course once you’ve made the marscapone, you might as well make the homemade TIRAMASU. But I cannot divulge the secret recipe of La Signora under pain of death. Del male non fare e paura non avere. I will do no evil and have no fear.
There is not only food at the market…but plants, flowers, seeds, housewares and CLOTHES. Cinzia meets a good friend, who was, be still my heart, the Pope’s personal flight Alitalia attendant. What better person to go shopping with?-a person who knows good drag when he sees it. I buy a terrific used blouse for 5 Euros under his guidance.
We head home with our purchases and that night David, makes a sensational home cooked meal with all the fresh vegetables rubbed with olive oil and thrown on the grill, some fish done the same way and a simple pasta.
But there is a darker side to the meal…an experiment gone horribly wrong…