Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Gourmands tour of Italy Part 1

Sorry again for the long gaps in posting, but this time I had a fairly good excuse. My charming bride and I just returned from a 11 day vacation in Italy. I love Mediterranean food. Whether it is Lebanese, Greek, Italian, or whatever. So I was really looking forward to this trip. I thought I would share a couple of my favorite meals. We first traveled to the town of Vernazza. It's in the Cinque Terre region - 5 towns all within 6 or 7 miles of each other in the Italian riviera. It was pretty rugged and each town was nestled along the coastline. This is a picture I snapped on the long hike we took from village to village. Very picturesque.
The Liguria region of Italy (of which Vernazza is a part) is famous for 'inventing' pesto. I am a recent convert to the joys of a well put together pesto, becoming one last year in fact when my niece Emma made fresh pesto at the beach. The guidebooks we had all mentioned pesto from the area as the best in the world, so when we got there the first meal I had was pesto over trofie pasta - a regional hand made pasta that is perfect for capturing a bit of pesto with each bite.

How was it? To borrow a phrase from a friend - "It changed my life." I was a new man from the first bite. It was a revelation, and in the top two meals I had in Italy (a bit more on that later). Served with crusty bread and the local (and very good) local wine it was a good way to end a long day of traveling. We were pretty beat from the long flights and layovers so it was dinner and directly to bed.

I took this meal as a challenge. My goal? To master the art of pesto. If I can recreate one meal I had in Italy, it will be this one. I shall devote my summer and all my skills honed through the ages to eat a plate of pasta this good whenever I wish.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

In springtime every young mans fancy turns to Mint Juleps

I am a seasonal whiskey drinker. As soon as a chill hits the air I open a bottle of Scotch and drink nothing but...perhaps I will have an occasional sip of Irish here and there too. But when the warm weather starts, and the flowers are in bloom I switch to Bourbon.

I have not been in years, but I used to go to the Virginia Gold Cup on the first Saturday in May. I went for 10 straight years, and it was F-U-N. The drink of choice for the day was Mint Juleps. Now you can't just go out and drink 5 or 6 Juleps in one afternoon cold, you have to work up to it. So a couple of weeks before Gold Cup, I would start training. A Julep or two each evening in the proceeding weeks, tapering off in the days before hand. You distance runners out there will recognize this training strategy as one similar to yours in preparation for a big race.

So in remembrances of Gold Cups past, I give you springtime's perennial favorite.

How to make a top notch Mint Julep:

1 heaping tsp confectioners sugar
3-4 mint leaves
1 splash of branch water

Muddle 3 ingredients in the bottom of your 1999 Gold Cup souvenir Julep cup.

Fill cup with crushed ice.
Top off with Kentucky Bourbon.

Stir vigorously until the sides of your cup frost.
Garnish with a sprig of mint.