Eating too much this holiday season? Well, you need a good digestif – and I’ve got a bunch to suggest, all made by the world’s best distillers, right in WA state! And I’ve got the perfect place to suggest them – the mighty morning show New Day Northwest, with mighty morning show host Margaret Larson. Okay, to be honest, the show was right before Thanksgiving. But the digestifs are still good, and the sipping advice goes through the whole season – and beyond! Check it out, pals!
My Scott-Jordan-ing re-reading continues (see the Tall, Dark and Deadly post below for more on this lawyer-ing hero from the 1950s pockets-and-pulps) in nearly as fast a manner as Jordan gets in scraps, woos the ladies, sips the drinks, slings the punches and the smart remarks, and solves the murders. In this one, he’s about to provide some lawyer-ing help to a rather wealthy young lady/heiress, one with an artistic bent and a penchant for headlines and bad marriages, when she turns up murdered. Oops! The tag here is “How the other half dies” dontcha know. It’s a swell read (so much so that I’ve had a So Rich, So Lovely, and So Dead Cocktail Talk already), moves quicks, turns and twists, and stop for drinks at the right spots, and, perhaps the only time I’ve seen this in an American book from the 50s, likes grappa. You can see why these books are worth re-reading.
We were in the mood for Italian food and I knew just the right place on Thompson Street in the Village. It was unpretentious and seldom crowded, but the cooking was superlative and the house wine fair. Between courses we read the paper.
“Anything special we’re looking for?” Susan wanted to know.
“Just keep your eyes peeled for news about any of the principals in the case.”
We kept at it after espresso and a shot of grappa.
— Harold Q. Masur, So Rich, So Lovely, and So Dead
At some point this month, I myself will be in Italy, and I can’t be happier about it (having lived there once, it’s easy to see that I am a big fan), and in a way this drink is a bubbly celebration of that happiness. Though, it’s also perhaps a more serious number (not in a bad way, at all) than some bubbly Italian drinks. Howso? It starts with grappa, which I love, and which is of course a cousin to wine, and as you probably guessed by the “bubbly,” this also has Italian sparkler Prosecco. Let’s hold on that for a second, to talk about the third ingredient, Cynar. A member of the digestif amari family, Cynar is crafted from artichokes along with 12 other herbs and plants. It’s a wee stitch bitter, but has a great smooth herbal-ness and a small comforting sweetness, too. It’s swell solo, but also in drinks, and plays well with the strong grappa here. But back to the Prosecco – to hold up to those other two strong personalities, you need a bubbly with its own strong sense of purpose and flavor, and here I went with Zonin Black edition (a bottle came in the mail recently – yes, I was born under a good sign). It’s a slightly spicier Prosecco, with cardamom hints alongside apple and a little floralness. Combined with our other two Italian imports, this makes for an effervescent drink that can be had both before and after dinner, and perhaps savored more than most.
1. Fill a cocktail shaker or mixing glass halfway full with cracked ice. Add the grappa and Cynar. Stir well.
2. Strain into a flute. Top with the Prosecco. Stir to combine. Garnish with the lemon twist.
Just last week, I talked about finding and reading and digging the book by Madison Smartt Bell called Straight Cut. Go read that post if you haven’t. Back now? Great, that means it’s time for you to dive right in to some more Cocktail Talk quotes from said book. The first is about grappa, and the second, for balance, is about rum.
In the early evening I went to the trattoria for an early supper and mainly to get out of the house and there I remembered about grappa. There’s no language difficulty about ordering grappa. You just say “grappa” and the man brings you some, in this case a sizable portion for the equivalent of about thirty U.S. cents.
On the Bayswater Road, near the corner of Kensington Gardens, I found a booze shop and bought a quart of dark naval rum. Circling back about Queensway, I picked up some plastic cups at a grocer’s and then I went back to the room. It was time to get drunk and think it over.
— Straight Cut, Madison Smartt Bell
Not too too long ago (I mean, I am a bit tardy on this, but not, say, a year behind, or even three months, and if we didn’t have the interweb and the telephone and whatnots, and communication came via Pony Express, I’d be totally on time), pal Becca from the tasty Key Notes with Becca was talking up her newly planted basil in a post, and thinking about all the dishes she might make with it, and generally giving a big “yay!” at the thought of fresh basil. A sentiment I second. But (and you knew that “but” was heading your way), none of her ideas had anything to do with a basil drink. Which is a shame, cause she’s a boozehound. No, no, I kid. She’s not hitting the bottle at the break of day, but neither is opposed to a nice cocktail and, knowing this, I said we should try to come up with basil drinks. Which leads to Tareva’s Tipple.
A friendly mystical kind of a mix (when you remember that basil has had a few theoretical–as far as I know–mystic connotations in the past), Tareva’s Tipple is good for a summer’s evening when you’re sitting on the deck reading a few issues of your favorite comic (and yeah, you have one, even if you don’t admit it) with the pups frolicking around you. It probably shouldn’t be too hot, cause there’s some muddling during the making and you don’t want to sweat. And you probably shouldn’t be planning on driving to the drive-in after having three of these, because there’s a double-delicious-whammy of sorts, due to the combo of gin and grappa (balanced out in the grand scheme of things by the basil and a bit of simple syrup). I used Aviation gin cause its floral notes play well with the basil, and Soft Tail Reserve grappa because it’s got that get-up-and-get-at-it underlying umph as well as some plays-well-with-others flavorings. The end result might not actually be a potion, but might leave you spellbound (if I can wax magically for a moment). Fresh basil’s the key, naturally, and best if just plucked before using.
6 or 7 fresh basil leaves, plus one for garnish
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces gin
3/4 ounce grappa
1. Add all the basil leaves minus that last one and the simple syrup to a cocktail shaker. Using a muddler, muddle well.
2. Fill the shaker halfway full with ice cubes, and then add the gin and grappa. Shake well.
3. Strain into a cocktail glass, and garnish with the remaining basil leaf. Enjoy.
A Note: Wife Nat thought I used a bit too much grappa, when I was using 1 full ounce, so I scaled it back. But you can scale it up if you’re feeling frisky.
PS: If anyone can tell me right now without using the Googler who “Tareva” was, in decent detail, then I will buy you a drink that can cost up to $15. So, a fancy-pants drink.
PPS: If anyone can tell me after using the Googler who “Tareva” was, I still might buy you a drink, but not if you’ve consulted this guy, who would obviously know. And yeah, that’s a serious hint.
Buon giorno pals (or buona serra, depending on what time of day your blog reading takes place). As anyone who read this blog post knows, I was recently in Italy for a couple weeks with wife Nat and some pals, and while there I had some, well, absolutely positively fantastico eats and drinks. And, lucky for you, I took pictures (and Nat took some, too), so you can experience the experience a little (and maybe plan a trip of your own). I’m going to do two things to relay trip gastronomic and alcoholic information in a more friendly fashion. First, I’m gonna break it up into three posts (or maybe more, but at least three): Bologna, Florence, and the countryside (which for the purposes of me in Italy is the Upper Tiber Valley area that covers a bit of southeast Tuscany and northwest Umbria). Second, I’m going to attempt to be a little less wordy, though I know, know, know (like a chant, that is) it goes against my personal wordy grain. But hey, what the heck.
So, to start, Bologna. Also known as Bologna la grassa, or Bologna the fat, due to its traditional place as a food center in Italy (if not the food center). We showed up and instantly loved it, with its arcades (nice to walk under when it’s raining), and red-hued architecture, and churches, and markets, and, especially with its food and drinks. We had our favorite meal of this trip while there, at a restaurant called De Cesari, at Via de’ Carbonesi, 8. Family owned and around for over 100 years, it’s a lovely little spot. All the produce comes from the family farm, and they even make their own wine. On the drink side we started with prosecco, then had the house lambrusco, which was full-bodied and lightly frizzante.On the food side, it was Sformatino con Formaggio al Tartufo (for A.J.–though we shared) and Crostata di Zucca (for Natalie). The sformatino was a light, cheesylicious pair of soufflé-esque creations topped with truffles (the sformatino was a little more dense, in the best way, than a regular soufflé, and so intense in taste):
and the crostata was a savory pumpkin pie that was out-of-this-world. Creamy but lush and full of flavor:
For our main courses, I had the Ravioli di Zucca, which was homemade ravioli stuffed with pumpkin. Fairly unadorned (just a brush of olive oil and freshly grated pecorino), this is, to me, pasta at its best–because the taste of the pasta is good enough to be allowed to strut its stuff, and then the stuffing busts through:
Nat had the Tortelloni di Ricotta al Burro Fuso e Parmigiano, which was also scrumptious, like bundles of cheesy joy wrapped in perfectly made and cooked pasta. But, as good was the pasta was, we definitely couldn’t stop there (we’re long-haul eaters), and so ordered up the cheese place, which boasted six different goat cheeses of varying strength and flavors, served alongside a fig compote that was figgy sweet with that thickness all jams strive for–a combination splendid enough to drive eaters mad with joy:
And then, to add to our little culinary heaven, we had the chocolate tort. Now, if we would have ended it all then, and called it a night, this would still be one of my favorite meals on the trip (and perhaps of all time).
But we asked friendly waiter Gaetano for limoncello and amaro, to aid the digestion (a healthy practice I tend to practice), and when he reported that they were out of limoncello, he offered us some of the house digestif. You know (if you know me at all) that the phrase “house digestif” drives me mad, mad, mad with happiness I tell you. It came out in a bottle that had a block of ice frozen around it, and in the ice were fruits, flowers, herbs, and such. Amazing! But the digestif itself was even better, a blueberry-infused grappa, with strong berry overtones and that grappa kick and personality underneath (and served with, catch this, chocolate covered orange peels, mini biscotti, and raisins). If you go to Bologna and don’t visit De Cesari, well, you have only yourself to blame. Get on a plane. Go there now.
And then for your next meal, stop by the charming Osteria La Mura, at Vicolo del Falcone, 13/A (which is right across from the hotel we stayed at and heartily recommend, San Mamolo), owned by Peppino, who is welcoming, affable, witty, and happy to pour you a Strega when you wander in at 1 am:
The nicest guy in Bologna, I believe. We had lunch at La Mura (the day after the late-night Strega), and it was as tasty as Peppino is friendly. We started with Caprese salads, and the fresh bufala mozzarella was rich and creamy and cuddled up with pals tomato, basil, olive oil, and pepper:
Then, we dove into plates of Gnocchetti Sardi al Cavofiore, which is a bit hard to describe but luscious to eat: like a gratin of mini gnocchi, finely chopped cauliflower, herbs, and cheese, with a touch of crisp on the top edges:
And if that wasn’t a grand enough way to start the day (remember, the night before, 1 am, Strega, equals sleeping late), Peppino brought us out his trio of house digestifs: plum, orange, and basil. In beautiful little bottles, and bursting with fresh fruit and herb flavors (again with a touch of ka-pow due to the grappa undertones, which also add a bit more flavor, too), these helped give us the jump start we needed:
Just thinking about those meals makes me want to grab a taxi, race to the airport, scrounge a ticket to Bologna, and pray I can get in to each restaurant without a reservation. We had other good meals, snacks, and drinks, in Bologna, as well, but since this post is longer than Sookie’s tail already, I’m going to rest on the above laurels. Oh, with two more quick shout outs. We stopped multiple times at Pasticceria D’azeglio, on Via Massimo Dazeglio, which was right around the corner from our hotel (there are two versions, and I suggest the smaller one), for bubbly spritzes (prosecco and Aperol and an orange slice) in the afternoons (accompanied by a mini-buffet of snacks the bartenders would always whip out). I with no reservations recommend this afternoon practice no matter where you are:
And, finally, a sort-of fist-shaking-while-laughing nod to the cozy and hippish Rosa Rosae, Via Clavature, 18/b, where we ordered spritzes but got espressos, which we then drank out of honor (I mean, they made them for us). And now Nat has the espresso monkey firmly attached to her back:
Ciao bellas, until Italy-on-the-road-take-two.