PRELUDE TO ITALY

Sep 15th, 2011

We are leaving in a few weeks to host our first culinary journey, and I am getting excited. It has been in the works about a year, I think, and in October we will be on Italian soil picking olives and eating everything Tuscan! I am longing to repeat the flavors that are burned into my food memories. Like gelato, the perfect example of why the Italians do it right. Italians are most approachable and proud. They remind us of Americans only with a longer history. I remember the discussions Lenore and I were having on the way home from our last trip in Italy. Lenore telling me she could absolutely live there and feel right at home. I’m reminded of the hospitality in every restaurant and bar that we went into. The kind of hospitality that probably rivals American southern hospitality, because everywhere we went we felt like family.

Lenore and a group of fifteen girlfriends took a trip to Tuscany a few years back. Husbands were allowed to join them after they spent a couple weeks on their own. On the first night we husbands got into Florence, we all went out to dinner together, to a restaurant suggested by our hotel just a short cab ride away. At the moment I am not remembering the name. We were ushered into a back room that housed the longest communal table ever, and where we could see into the kitchen as the waiters pushed in and out of the swinging door. Our group filled the table, and when we were all settled in, Alice seated across the room from me, pointed above my head. “Look who’s sitting under his own family crest!” Sure enough there it was, the Neroni crest above my head, at head of the long table. Alice isn’t shy, and she announced the coincidence to our waiters. After they checked my passport to be sure, it seemed our party was instantly raised to VIP status. Wine was free flowing and in fact there was a bottle placed at the seat of every man at the table! Foods we didn’t order arrive and we were spoiled like that the entire evening! Wow, my ancestors must have been important. All I could think of was the times my dad would talk about the Neronis as having been royalty, and I remember thinking there goes my dad, exaggerating again, a habit I had grown to love/hate over the years.

Home again in Seattle, we learned via an internet search that indeed a Neroni served as council to the Medici Family, the richest family in Florence during the renaissance. I wonder now if any Neronis cooked for the Medicis. In culinary school we learned that Caterina de’ Medici married Henry II of France in 1533 and brought her own Italian cooks to France and, history records, that incident alone elevated the gastronomy of the Renaissance.

That we will be there again soaking up the history of the place, as we sip and dine on the traditional flavors that distinguishes Tuscan cuisine, it is enough to start my mouth watering for those Tuscan specialties: wild boar and its salami, sausage and prosciutto, liquid gold olive oil, porcini mushrooms, dishes made with dried white beans, toscanelli and cannellini, and the flat-bread like schiacciata.