Once upon a time in Texas, there was a girl with an appetite and a dream...


Can we narrow the field here please?

I entered the doors of Vitigno Italia (annual wine expo in Naples) with the best of intentions. I would try EVERY wine and spit them all! But I quickly noticed that no one was spitting. You see, spitting wine can be ugly, but if you're the only one doing it, it just seems weird.

No Problem. I'll just take small sips and try a few from every region. Well, the regions never ended and after a couple of hours I was pouring perfectly good barolo into the supplied bucket. Ouch. I felt so bad for the producers, but I'm sure that seeing a few drops of their precious (and expensive) wine slip into a container to be thrown away was preferable to seeing an exposition hall full of clumsy drunk people with wine teeth. Maybe.

Please! Just give me a LITTLE bit! There is so much to try and I'm not even halfway through the maze of producers. I will admit that this is not a bad problem to have, but I am a nerd and I wanted to get the most out of my experience all while taking organized tasting notes well-written enough to go straight into best-selling hardback.

Honest effort notwithstanding, by the end of the day, my notes degraded into a scribbled mix of English and Italian that looked like it was written by a blind chicken missing a claw, and my palate was compromised by overstimulation. That's ok, we had a great time, I learned about some grapes that I had never tried and I blessed my mouth a dessert wine so beautiful, that I went back for seconds...just that once :)

I'll share the details with you later this week, but for now here are some of the very few pictures that I took.

This is Carmela from Feudi di San Gregorio

Just 3 pictures? Oh I was too lazy. I'll get back, but for now I have to find a house in Ischia. I can't believe it is SO late and I still don't have a house. AH!

Wish me luck...


Weekly Wino: May 18th

And Who Doesn't Love a Winery?

This week you will take a tour with me of a new winery in Ischia. I tried one of their whites (Pithecusa) in a restaurant and were pleasantly surprised. Having tried whites from every producer in Ischia, I wasn't expecting much (sorry Ischia). You see, Ischia is small, which means that production isn't very high, which means that the wines cost more WHICH DOESN'T MEAN that the price reflects the quality.

First, it's important to lay out the specifics. The whites of the island consist MAINLY of biancolella and forestera. There is some minimal production of other white grapes from Campania (Fiano, Falanghina, etc), but biancolella and forestera are the defining white grapes of Ischia. The red wines are produced with Piedirosso/Per e Palummo and guarnaccia, with a small production of aglianico.

Pithecusa, made by Pietra di Tommasone, for me, is one of the best whites in Ischia. I have never been so pleased and from my experience, I always meet a recommendation of a local white with skepticism. This one, made from biancolella mixed with a little Fiano, has made me a believer. The name, Pithecusa, is the ancient Greek name for the island. The wine has a heavy perfume of grapefruit and just a little spritz on the tongue. It is simple, but perfectly delicious, and as always, a perfect partner to a great summer lunch of seafood. You will definitely not find this one in the states. It is difficult enough to find it in Ischia, but at 8 or 9 euro a bottle, it wouldn't make it to America without being overpriced. If you can't taste it, you can at least see the tanks, barrels, vineyards and view (what a view!) right?

I asked Pierpaolo if he could call the owner and get him to show me the winery. He didn't disappoint. I hopped in a car, headed 5 minutes up the mountain, and here's what I found.

...and that's Davide (he works at the winery) pourin' the goods...

...and here's Stefano and Pierpaolo trying the not-ready-yet Pithecusa.

Even little Artu' got 'im a sip. Just look at him...what a lush.

One of these is the biancolella vineyard, and the other is aglianico. If I were a vine, I would grow here...

...and there's the loot. Do you really think we'd leave without it?

The winery is small, and I'm not sure how many bottles they produce per year, but you know that the owner touches every barrel, every tank, and every single grape that grows. It is the opposite of industrial and it's just the kind of place that I love to visit.

Via Provinciale Lacco Ameno-Fango, 98
80076 Lacco Ameno (NA)
Tel&Fax +39 081 333 0330



Let's all give a round of applause for the pizza

It's only fair to mention that in Italy, pizza is almost always accompanied by beer, but being the rebel that I am, I decided to go for the Greco. This particular pizza is called Isola Verde (green island, the nickname for Ischia) and if you ever come, you MUST try it.

Here's what I loved about good pizza:

1. Before the first bite, you can smell basil and bread.
2. As the pizza approaches your mouth, the scent of basil is supported by the milky smell of mozzarella and fresh tomatoes.
3. As your teeth break into the perfectly chewy dough, the pass this layer to give you the gift that is the flavor of mozarella di bufula (sweet, rich, unique), followed by a sweet/tart hit of fresh cherry tomatoes, basil, and a raw green crunch of spicy arugula.
4. THEN, there's that briney, porky love that is prosciutto on top of it all! PROSCIUTTO! Where I'm from that's called a-gildin' the lily.
5. As you continue to chew, you are rewarded with the salty bite of shaved parmiggiano, finished with the slightly smoky flavor of the bread that is lovingly donated by a well-seasoned wood-burning oven.

It's perfection, I tell you. Delicious, simple, Italian perfection.


La Festa della Mamma

I just wanted to tell all of you mothers out there in the blog world happy Mother's Day...but the most important mother I know is mine...

To Mom and my sister Misty, who is also the mama of my dolcissimi niece and nephew, I'm sorry I'm so far away, but I love y'all...Let's just pretend that we're all 3 at the mall together, happily spending our money, and rewarding ourselves with Mexican food--SEE! We did spend the day together :)

Happy Mother's Day!


The Weekly Wino: May 12th

I Vini Paesani

That translates as "country wine," but the meaning is closer to home-made wine. I want to talk about this part of Italian wine life because is exists and is very important to the common Italian.

There is a large market for these unlabeled bottles and they are consumed in many homes as the daily table wine. This bottle is of the more "professional" variety, as it is sold in a 750 ml bottle with a cork. Many times, il vino paesano is packaged in old glass water bottles, or even 1.5 liter plastic water bottles. You can see in the photo to the right, the "label" is handwritten and says gragnano. Gragnano is a slightly sweet and very fizzy red made mostly on the Sorrento Peninsula. It's one of my personal favorites. If you've ever had a lambrusco amabile, you know what this tastes like.

The first time that I ever tried vino paesano, I was 22 years old and in Venice. I had lost myself in the winding streets and happened upon a wine store. Inside was a very rotund man with a beard and an apron, and he explained to me that the 9 HUGE straw-covered casks on display were fresh wines brought in from all over the Veneto. Fresh wines! I'd never heard of this. Enthusiastically I asked for a bottle, and he asked me if I had one for him to fill. Of course not! He went to the back, brought out an empty plastic water bottle (1.5 L) and filled it with red. At that time, I paid about 3 dollars (still being a student, this was a pleasant surprise), carried my bottle with me, and shared it with my friend and a rowdy group of Italians on the train back to Florence. It was wonderful because I had found a new wine experience.

By now, I have tried just about every local varietal in its paesano version. In Ischia, that would mean the having tried the less-common-on-the-mainland biancolella (white), per'e'palummo and piedirosso (reds). AND, there have even been times when the "uvaggio," or varietal(s) was unknown, even to its contadino (farmer) winemaker.

Wherever in Italy wine is made, (everywhere!), you are sure to find a local paesano production of the regional wines. They are neither fabulous nor complex, and sure never to win any distinction. They can be too sour, too tannic, or even oxidized--but if you find the right supplier, they can also be delicious and fun and just the right compliment to that rabbit braised in a clay pot.

They are certainly not perfect, and one cannot expect the same wine that comes out of a bottle, but they are an experience worth having because to the farmer who makes them, they are a manifestation of his passion for the land, they are his own personal work of art, they are his pride in a bottle that his wife lovingly puts on the table every day for the family. These wines are a pure expression of the important part of Italian culture that takes what nature has given locally and turns it into a sacred familial ritual of eating well every day.

These wines are the bare, simple truth of the vine, brought to fermented life by the hand that has worked his land for generations. It is local, rustic, and Italian; it is a way to get closer to the real culture, and for that, it is special.



Stop those cravings!

I've done it! I've found the cure for I've-been-in-the-house-all-morning-and-I'm-still-in-my-pajamas-at-noon munchies!

Here's what you do:

1. Open a colomba (this is a totally addictive sweet bread covered with sugar pellets traditional at Easter in Italy, but you can use whatever desirable fattening things are found in the pantry)
2. Eat a little
3. Go back for more
4. Repeat steps 1-3 until munchies are gone

Genius! Pure genius!


"OohOOH--look! There's a perfect spot!! Park there...

...right there in the middle of the road! I'll be right back..."

Someone actually parked their car like this.

Creative parking is definitely a way of life here, but even by Neapolitan standards, this carefree driver was sashaying into jackass teritory. The guy who double-parked in front of the handicap spot so he could run upstairs and slap his mamma even said so.

And that's bad.


I Fiori di Zucca

Yesterday, as I passed the kitchen, I thought for just a second that someone was cooking Indian food. There was a smell of curry that made my stomach growl for something it loves and of which it has been deprived too long. Of course, it wasn't a rich Indian gravy that she was cooking. That intoxicating smell was that of Fiori di Zucca, or squash flowers**. I have eaten them battered and fried many times, but only sauteed (I use the term "sauteed" loosely, as they are thrown in the pan with a healthy cup of extra virgin olive oil) do they exude their intoxicating fragrance.

The flavor was similar to the smell and it was the closest this girl's gonna get to an Indian kitchen here in Naples.

In many restaurants, you can find them stuffed with ricotta, or various other things, but I prefer to consume them uninterrupted by other flavors. The flowers are delicate, and in my opinion, never hold up well to a heavy filling. Why guild the lily? These 2 preparations will help you understand why simplicity is is the Italian Way.

Here they are, fried, and almost fried.

In any case, the cleaning is the same. If there is still a stem attached, trim it to about and inch. As you trim them, put them into a large pot filled with cold water and let them soak for about 10 minutes. Drain out the water, and shake them lightly one by one to dislodge the water inside the flowers. Set them aside to dry out (15 minutes should be enough, just as long as they're not full of water!)


I did a little asking around about a typical batter. What most people use is pastetta (multi-purpose yeast batter). I had no luck getting a recipe, but here are the steps. Just take a little water (I would say about a cup), one egg, and a little more than half of a piece of fresh yeast, and a little salt. Let the yeast dissolve in the water and add flour, little by little until it's right. Let it rest for a few minutes. The right consistency is like pancake batter. I tasted the end result of this one and it was delicious--crispy on the outside and a little fluffy underneath. It was perfectly chewy and maintained the integrity of the flower.

For those of you who simply must have a recipe, here's one from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan. (Great book, by the way. I highly recommend it to anyone who loves Italian cooking.) I haven't made this one, and 2 eggs seem like a lot, but her recipes are always good. Fidati!

*2 eggs
*1 1/4 t of dry active yeast dissolved in 1 cup of lukewarm water
*1 cup flour
Beat eggs in a bowl and add dissolved yeast and water and add large pinch of salt. Add flour while shaking it through a strainer and beating the mixture steadily with a fork.

Whichever version you choose, once the batter is done, add the flowers (put enough in the bowl with the batter so there's room to stir) to the batter and mix them gently around to coat. You can do them one at a time, but it's much more efficient this way.

Slip them, one by one, into oil heated to med-high (the oil should come up a little more than halfway to the flowers). Once they are browned on one side, turn them.

You may have to do this in more than one batch. The pastetta is enough for about 30 flowers. Once they're cooked, let them drain on a paper towel. Try one right away, preferably with a good glass of prosecco, please.



*30-ish squash blossoms
enough extra virgin olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan, then a splash more
*2 cloves of garlic cut into large chunks (Cut them the size of the tip of your pinkie. If you chop them smaller, they'll burn)

Heat the oil with the garlic to med until the garlic is fragrant, but not brown. Turn up the heat to med high and add the cleaned flowers (They may crowd at first, but they'll wilt considerably.) Sautee them until they are wilted and tender. Add salt and a little peperoncino.
That's it. You will notice that curry smell and flavor and you'll thank me for the recipe.

By the way, today is my mom's birthday and I know she would love to try these! I'll have some with a glass of wine for you, Mom. Happy Birthday and I miss you, and I won't ever talk about mudslides again :)

Some of you who are not familiar with eating these flowers may ask, "Tracie, you eat the whole flower?" Yep. It's all edible, completely delicious, and let's you know that summer is just around the corner.

**These should be easy to find in the larger cities in America. They should be yellow and orange and have a firm shape. If they have too many brown spots, they must be rejected and never see the inside of your kitchen. If you can't find 'em fresh, you'll just have to come to Italy.