Advisory note: non-Foodies may find this entry tedious. Just come back tomorrow for something more exciting or philosophical.
Have you ever spent an entire afternoon just eating? No? Well, neither had I until we were precipitously invited to an Italian wedding yesterday.
For the past few weeks since we ran out of bee pollen, we’ve been searching for it all over. Friday evening the people who sold us our dandelion honey dropped by and told us where we could find pollen. So yesterday morning we hopped on our bikes and rode up to Vigna, some three kilometers up the road toward Certosa di Pesio.
We soon arrived at a nice little herbal shop. Besides honey and other natural foods, it had an interesting selection of soaps, teas, rustic shoes and clothing, and some gorgeous Spanish clay cookware. The proprietor rather pushily tried to interest us in the cookware. However, eventually he got around to asking if we rode bicycles because we liked them, or because we couldn’t afford a car. Both, really. It used to embarrass me to talk about it, probably because in my culture personal finances are a taboo subject. No longer. Why should I be obliged to corroborate the stereotype of the rich American?
Having dispelled his illusions of selling us half his store to the rich Americans, he promptly lost interest in the conversation. He called the apiary to order the pollen, and told us it would arrive that evening around six. We thought we could have a nice little picnic on the way up, so we said we’d be there at six-thirty.
Some fifteen minutes after our arrival home (and just as we were about to sit down to a hastily prepared lunch), Carla phoned to inform us that the pleasure of our company was requested immediately at a wedding dinner for the Mayor’s only daughter. The spur-of-the moment invitation was a bit of a shock, but it would be difficult to imagine a more priceless cultural (and social) opportunity. To say nothing of the fact that we plan to go in next week to ask the Mayor to intervene in our citizenship case.
Apparently, they had ended up with extra seats, and the Mayor said, “oh, we should have invited the Californians. Please phone them, Carla.” Tony said we’d be there as soon as possible, but that it wouldn’t be too soon, since we would need to either take the bus (which runs first to Cuneo and then to Boves, where the wedding dinner was being held) and be there in a few hours, or jump back on our bicycles.
I was a little scandalized at the idea of the bicycles, since when we ride our bicycles to Boves we typically arrive hot, sweaty, and informally dressed. Giorgio must have had the same thought, because five minutes later Carla called again to tell us that Giorgio was on his way to pick us up, and would be there in fifteen minutes. And that he wanted to be sure we were wearing our best clothes. We began putting ourselves and our children together as best we could.
Raj was the only one still naked when Giorgio arrived, so I took him and Axa down and dressed him in the car while we waited for Tony. He and Giorgio arrived after a few minutes, in which Giorgio had tried to get Tony to change into one of his own suits (sure to be a terrible fit), or at least his jacket (no dice; Tony’s pants were charcoal and the jacket was blue) or tie (this last since he saw Tony coming down without a tie at all). While Giorgio was frantically pulling clothes out of his closet, Tony went back up and got his own tie. Giorgio let him go like that, mainly because he was afraid he was missing appetizers.
We were grateful he picked us up, since it began raining fifteen minutes later, and rained steadily for twenty-four hours. Had we attempted bicycling to Boves, we would have arrived soaked, muddy, and generally in no state to attend a wedding.
We arrived at the wedding party a few minutes later. Everyone was seated at several long tables in a large restaurant. Luckily, neither Giorgio nor we had missed any of the courses, although we were a little behind until we ate while other people were talking between courses and caught ourselves up. The menu read as follows:
Medaglioni di Salmone con Salsa Limoncella (Salmon with a creamy lemon-sauce. Very nice. Raj ate quite a bit of this.)
Battuta di Manzo alla Boscaiola (Raw ground steak. One of my favorite dishes of the evening. At the butcher shop here they sell two kinds of ground beef. One looks like regular ground beef, and is called “beef for sauce” and meant to be cooked. The other is higher quality, and actually labeled “to be eaten raw.” Luckily, we’ve been reading Nourishing Traditions, which is as in to raw meat as raw milk (with proper precautions, of course). So we enjoyed not just the dish, but also the health benefits.)
Fiori di Zucchini Ripieni (Stuffed zucchini flowers. Very typical Italian dish. Everybody talks about them. Zucchini are usually sold with the flowers still attached. Often the flowers are even sold separately. My unfortunate introduction to this delicacy was my own fault, since I tried my hand at it the same week I gave up on finding coconut oil and decided to use the palm oil I found at the ethnic African store. Please don’t. Don’t try frying zucchini flowers in palm oil, that is. Particularly if you are serving stuffed zucchini at the same meal. Actually, I believe the real problem is that the summer has been long enough, and I am full to surfeit of zucchini cooked in every conceivable fashion. But I digress, as usual. These were alright. They were stuffed with some unidentifiable pureed savory stuffing. Tony liked them. But he still likes zucchini too.)
Primi (“First plates”)
Raviolo del Plin alla Piemontese (the famous ravioli of Piedmont. Much more tender and stuffed much fuller with a more flavorful meaty filling than one usually finds outside of Italy. Delicious, as usual, although by this time the children had already lost interest, even in what usually is their favorite dish.)
Risotto con Funghi Porcini (Arborio rice, more soupy than we are accustomed to eat rice in the United States, with porcini mushrooms. I’m afraid risotto has been preemptively spoilt for me by Rice-a-Roni. But the Italian’s got a good laugh when Tony told them their traditional risotto has been christened “The San Francisco Treat.”)
Sorbetto al Limone (Lemon sorbet. Delicious, as every Italian ice cream is. Like a particularly delightful and refreshing lemonade. This wasn’t strictly a first plate, it was a palate cleanser. Axa was delighted to have a special little dessert in the middle of the meal.)
Secondi (second plates. The main course(s)):
Agnello della Bisalta al Forno (Roast lamb from Mount Bisalta, which refers not to the method of cooking, but to the place the lamb came from, only a few kilometers away. The Piemontese are particular about eating foods that come from close to home. It was good, but Piemontese seasonings are a little bland.)
Stinco di Vitello al Pelaverga (Veal something or other. I confess I have no memory of this dish. Things were beginning to blur. What? You thought I had memorized the menu? No, Tony put it in his pocket, along with his and my little bags of nonpareils (candy-covered almonds), which he ate between courses, and the dice we had received as wedding favors, in a box that said “Giulia e Guglielmo, Lucky in Love.” The dice were invaluable for entertaining our children. We appropriated dice from several of our table-mates as well, who also assisted in entertaining the children in other ways.)
Contorni (Side dishes, which were listed afterward, but actually came with the secondi. Sauteed Potatoes and steamed zucchini (again) and carrots, respectively. Italians don’t usually eat anything that’s not in season, which results in vegetables usually tasting delicious, no matter what they are. And I they’re not big on frozen or canned vegetables either. Mostly they buy vegetables every day and eat them the day they buy them.)
Formaggi e Dolci (Cheeses and Desserts)
Tavolozza di Formaggi (A selection of local cheeses. Nothing from further away than a few kilometers, I’m sure. There was a fairly hard blue, sort of like a medium gorgonzola. It was a little strong. I wanted a pear to eat with it. Then there was toma, which is sort of like their equivalent of cheddar, (but a precisely gourmet artisan cheddar, of course), then one of the cheeses with the light, smoothish rind that is almost creamy inside, but not quite. My favorite was the fresh cheese. It was a cross between tomini and the delicious fresh mozzarella we eat here with tomatoes, not tart at all, just like drinking fresh, cold, creamy milk.)
Torta nuziale al Cioccolato (The wedding cake. It was gigantic: Three wide square layers, as large almost as the table upon which it was displayed, and decorated with flowers. Upon being cut, it revealed that the inside was actually foam, which explained why it hadn’t collapsed under its own weight. However, there was still plenty of cake for all, at least for all who weren’t already full. Happily, Axa had eaten so much food by the time dessert showed up that she wasn’t much interested. Raj was tired and irritable by this time, so Tony got up with him. While he was bouncing the fussy baby, a waitress came up to him and said flirtatiously, “you should have come earlier so we could talk.” She had to repeat it three times before he understood it, by which time she had realized he didn’t understand Italian and couldn’t possibly have been the man she thought he was. He also didn’t understand that she was hitting on him, until he noticed Carla, Giorgio, and the people across from them in stitches at the table. Between laughter, they said he had proved his Italian-ness)
Catalana (An absolutely divine species of creme brulee, garnished with a square of delicate Italian chocolate. What could be better?)
Caffe (Coffee. We passed.)
Cantucci e Vin Santo (Biscotti and Holy Wine. I’m not sure how they paired with the holy wine, since I didn’t have any, but the biscotti were pretty good by themselves.)
That was it: our first Italian wedding lunch. The beauty of it was, even though it was a lot of food, it was spread out over such a very long time (we arrived at 2:00, which was about a half-hour late, and left a little before 7:00), and the portions were so reasonably sized that one didn’t feel too full at all.
Lest you think that all we did was eat, we also made several hours of polite conversation and consulted Carla regarding appropriate congratulatory phrases for the Mayor and his daughter. The bride spoke perfect English, and said she loved San Diego and had been there four times. “And now,” she remarked to us, “you have seen the two most beautiful cities on earth. San Diego, and Chiusa Pesio.”