It’s summer time and that means, among other things in my world… the opportunity to sing in Italy,to sleep in Italy, to gaze upon all things Italian and….. to eat and drink. This year is a very special one for Miss Eydie though, as we have been invited to spend some quiet days in Ovada, between gigs, in our very own apartment. The apartment belongs to friends from the States, both restauranteurs, chefs, wine lovers, music lovers, book lovers….does it get any better?? I had been touring Spain and with the exception of Segovia, where the suckling pig was finger-lickin’ cracklin’ good, the food was underwhelming with no time to search out anything more interesting. I could hardly wait to set foot in the sleepy, sun-drenched town of Ovada.
Ovada is in NW Italy, in the Piemonte region, just north of Genoa. MIss Eydie has been dreaming about this wine lover’s paradise, the cheeses, the white truffles (not in summer…but I can dream, can’t I? ) the wild game, the pasta, the fresh herbs…. but now its time to get real with it.
I arrive in Ovada in the late afternoon…being driven from Genoa by David, in a gleaming black convertible blasting Paolo Conte’s “Via Con Me” to set the mood. 03-via-con-me Cinzia and David have had an apartment in Ovada for 20 years so they speak and think like Italians…and so they think: what to offer the thirsty traveler?
A drink with all the qualities one looks for in a late afternoon cocktail – thirst quenching, just alcoholic enough to help ease you through the transition from harried traveler to relaxed guest, but not strong enough to transform you into visitor from Hell, something to pique your appetite for pleasures down the road, and lastly, lovely to look at. Cinzia acheived all of this and more with her invention:
CINZIA’S FROZEN LEMONADE
- Russian Standard Vodka or your favorite
- Frozen chunks of Amalfi lemons ( maybe Meyer lemons would work too )
- Lemon juice
- Shaved zest for top
Blend it all up and shave the zest on top….Pour it in a beautiful glass, put Maria Callas or The Eels on the stereo, sit back and enjoy the brain freeze. In the meantime, I melt into the gloaming:that magical hour between sundown and moonrise,where the evening’s potentials dance before your eyes and the cares of the day disappear in a frothy swirl. Church bells peal, and the sounds of the town preparing for its evening rise up from the street. La Signora brings out some appetizers (there is never alcohol without some food in Italy) and a second round of frozen drinks. My neurons are doing little tarentellas of happiness.
David often remarks that in Italy the conversation revolves primarily around food and the taking of meals . So in keeping with that tradition, we discuss my first meal in Ovada. We decided to call down to the restaurant right below us, to see if they have a table. And when I say call down, I mean literally yelling to the maitre d’ “Do you have a table for us at 9?” I am ready for the divine taste of Italy …”La Sapori.” But here- the divine is in the everyday, as it should be.
David and I also discuss our plans for the construction of a bergamot martini.I’ve been thinking about this for a while now, since I’ve lately been making my Moxopolitans with vodka and that wonderful elderflower liquer, St. Germain. Thinking about the taste of bitter orange with that combination as well. D. has procured the Essence of Bergamot and decide we will put aside some time during a future cocktail hour to “experiment.”
It’s only a neighborhood pizzaria, but Mamma Mia, what food and ambience…. Sitting out on the cobblestoned street, under white umbrellas, no music except the clatter of dishes, the conversation and laughter of the locals with their families, the church bells that tell us it’s 9:30 PM ,then 10 and on and on. We start with a platter of freshly fried white anchovies. Don’t turn up your nose…these babies are not salty, not greasy,but crunchy, clean and just need a splash of lemon. We pop them heads, tails and all, right into our waiting mouths. Next, a platter of pepperoni, red and yellow like the blazing summer sun. A bowl of Minestrone alla Genovese, served “tiepido” with a dollop of bright green pesto in the middle appears on the table, followed by Spaghetti alla Cinque Terre,with fresh tomato, marjoram, thyme,oregano and basil. David orders cozze, fresh mussels, bathed in a red sauce spiked with chili pepper. Molto piccante!! La Signora decides on the simple grilled langoustines.
Oh…and did I mention wine yet? The local brew ah yes….the wines of Piemonte are considered some of the best in Italy: but the everyday table wines here in Ovada are Gavi and Dolcetto. As far as Italian whites, Gavi has long been a favorite of mine along with Arneis, (also from this region) the whites of the Venezia/Friuli region, and a white from Tuscany called Terre di Tufi. I wasn’t aware though of the differences between Gavi, Gavi di Gavi and Cortese di Gavi. The table is a perfect place to learn, by far my favorite classroom. Gavi has many characteristics of a Chardonnay …which makes it appealing to me; rich, balanced, broad on the palate. The cortese grape is the grape of Gavi, but wines labeled Cortese di Gavi have a different character-brighter, perhaps and more sprightly. La Signora prefers this Gavi with its fresher flavors. The Dolcetto is light and spicy but really stands up to most things you throw its way – a young,scrappy bantam-weight.
The moment of truth arrives.. and I am compelled to order a pizza. Tough call…there are at least 30 choices…but I settle on the Red Lady, basically a margherita pizza with Treviso radicchio, a rosy, elongated chicory,on top.I don’t know why but the adjectives “rosy and elongated” are very appealing to me. Mr. Duggles ordered a plain grilled fish,a bronzino,which comes to the table with perfectly charred skin and sweet white flesh that only needs the slightest caress of lemon. Alas, the waiter comes back and tells me the radicchio is not available tonight, so would I like a Green Lady instead? Would I!!!! This is the pizza I had cravings for when I was pregnant with my son….. the contrast between the heat of the crust, cheese and tomato versus the cold, bitter rucola drove my pregnant palate into paroxysms of ecstacy. I wanted bitter, I wanted salty, I wanted melted cheese. Nothing has changed really.
The evening progresses with a leisurely rhythm, almost making me believe I am on vacation, instead of stealing a few days between gigs.
Dessert arrives in the form of lemon sorbetto, creamy and tart (like my men) and, (be still my heart) that Sicilian/NY Italian specialty, cannolis. May I wax rhapsodic about the cannoli for a moment? There are few things that could be better than a tube of fried dough stuffed with ricotta or marscapone, and then the additions of chocolate chips, candied fruits, pistachios, cherries or rosewater. Holy Fertility Symbol!
After espresso, we decide to do the town…and so we head to 1/4ino Di Vino, a local vineria/Champagneria,owned by a friend of Cinzia and Davids.’ It is mostly a Champagne place, and the owners favorite is Drappier…one of my favorite’s as well and not so easy to find in the states,Americans preferring the more famous names of Moet & Chandon,Taittinger, Veuve Cliquot,etc.I can’t really believe my eyes…there are empty bottles of Drappier everywhere,corks fill an entire portion of the wall, there are magnums and Jeroboams and Methusulahs , there’s an army of bubbly soldiers lining the stairs…it’s Champagne heaven.
We settle in – a cozy table in the alley across from the vineria. La Signora sensibly orders a digestive, David, a grappa. Mr. Duggles is hell-bent on a Grappa di Chamomilia,which turns out to be absolutely delicious-reminded me of the hierbas I used to drink after dinner on Ibiza in the crazy 70s. I clearly must have the Drappier. Mr. Duggles and I explore the vineria and find a gleaming sword in a wooden box. The owner explains its for slicing the tops off Champagne bottles. Now that he knows he has my attention, he proceeds to demonstrate.The good food, convivial company and the pleasant,soporific effects of the alcohol bring me to the thought of why I love it in Italy so much. There is a quality of life that is celebrated every day…a pace and a rhythm that has as its primary beats, food, friends, family, beauty, sex.
The church bells tell us it is after midnight. And then, like a real Italian, I start thinking about what we’re likely to have for breakfast in the morning…
What sweet and tender dreams I’ll have tonight…
More to come.