Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Independent, Various Musings and More: Being the 154th issue of Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Greetings! I'm sorry to be late with this, but summer is a difficult period for me -- like many parents I count down the days remaining before school resumes, and this year has been worse than the last, because now there are two sets of homeworks to get done. We've got less than a month to go!

I have managed to get a fair amount done on the Italian Wine Review and Italian Food, however: The most recent additions to the IWR are a rundown of Carpenè Malvolti, a look at the single vineyard wines from Castello di Querceto, and a rundown of Frascati, a white from the Alban Hills that can be quite good. I've also added a link to an article on the situation in Brunello that Monty Waldin wrote for Jancis Robinson, and which she allowed Franco Ziliani to repost on Vino al Vino (in English, and he has translated it into Italian). Monty's article is both distressing and frightening, and to be honest brings to mind a photo I saw a while back of a guy face-down in a urinal, with the caption: "When you hit bottom you'll know."

I hope I haven't offended anyone, but the situation has reached a level between sickening and grotesque, and is likely going to spread: A friend and colleague tells me the prosecutor who is carrying out the investigation has had the police pay visits to all the major figures involved -- cellar masters, agronomists, winery owners, consulting enologists and so on -- and examine the hard disks of their computers. Since many of these people, especially the consulting enologists, also work elsewhere, those elsewhere are nervously looking over their shoulders. And there's more: My friend also tells me the scope of the investigation has expanded beyond winemaking, to cover all sorts of other things including land use, hiring, and accounting practices. It could take a long time for the dust to settle.

You'll find Monty Waldin's article here -- scroll down past Franco's introduction.

The most recent additions to Italian Food are a bit simpler: First, we went to the coast for Ferragosto (the major Italian summer holiday, on August 15), and since it was cloudy the day we arrived I took the dog blackberry picking. Came home with pounds of blackberries, and Elisabetta put most of them into a blackberry crostata that should have served many more than it did. You'll find it here. Looking a little further back, the most recent article is on watermelon.

The Independent: Tourists Beware - Right or Wrong?
Moving in a very different direction, Mr. Berlusconi's center-right coalition has by now been in power for several months, and I had planned to write some about what they have done and are up to, but The Independent beat me to it (sort of) with a piece entitled "Tourists beware: if it's fun, Italy has a law against it." In it they say that Mr. Berlusconi set out to address a "security emergency" and in doing so allowed town and city mayors to enact all sorts of strange regulations, which, if broken by uninformed tourists, can result in hefty fines. And then they cherry pick among the regulations enacted by mayors (who do have a great deal of latitude within their city limits), some of which do sound strange.

But first, let's backtrack, because as is often the case in Italy, things aren't quite as linear as non-Italians try to make out. Despite Mr. Berlusconi's "we will increase security" electoral platform the first thing he did upon taking office was to try to block the magistrates who have been trying to convict him of tax evasion, corruption and influence peddling for years and years. Since he couldn't simply order them to suspend the trials (the PM's power does have limits) he started out by proposing legislation that would suspend all trials for relatively lesser crimes (those with sentences less than 10 years, which include housebreaking, rape and kidnapping) for a year to allow the serious cases, of which Italy has many, to proceed. Among the hundreds of thousands of trials that would be blocked were, strangely enough, Mr. Berlusconi's.

As one might expect, there was a great hue and cry, and commentators pointed out that the definition of "serious crime" was such that many perversions of justice would occur. For example the trial of a teen who shared his hashish with a friend would go on (sharing drugs is considered drug dealing), while the trial of a drunk who raped a girl at a bus stop would not. The heat proved too much and Mr. Berlusconi's coalition backed down.

Only to talk about reinstating parliamentary immunity, and this invites a brief aside. Because Mussolini disposed of his rivals in Parliament by having them convicted on trumped up charges and sent into exile, after the war the Italian constitution granted all MPs full immunity -- an MP couldn't be charged unless parliament first voted to rescind his immunity. As one might guess, this proved an invitation to corruption, because MPs across the spectrum covered each others' backs, and soon nothing happened without a bribe. Until 1992, when a divorced woman went to a magistrate, Antonio Di Pietro, to complain that her husband -- a Socialist -- wasn't paying alimony. He claimed to be broke, so she produced the numbers of the Swiss bank accounts where he deposited his graft; the thread Di Pietro followed grew into a thick rope that launched Mani Pulite (the Clean Hands scandal), and brought down the entire political system -- after public outcry caused the repeal of Parliamentary immunity.

There was outcry about the reinstatement of Parliamentary immunity too, and in the end the Government proposed that the four highest offices of the land (President, Prime Minister, and Presidents of House and Senate) be granted immunity to protect them from the actions of magistrates with political axes to grind. This measure passed, and having seen to his security, Mr. Berlusconi turned his attention to the rest of us. One of the first things the Minister of the Interior proposed was to fingerprint all gypsy children, to make it easier to identify them now and in the future. This was deemed racist by the Opposition (and some segments of the EEU), so the proposal was withdrawn, and the Minister announced that all IDs issued after 2010 will include fingerprints. In other words, since singling out gypsies is racist, they're going to open up files on all of us.

And security? The latest budget included plans to reduce the police force, which didn't make anyone happy. So the Ministers got together and decided to deploy several thousand troops in the major Italian cities, where they will be patrolling with the police forces. I'm not sure this is what we need, but it is what we're getting.

And this brings us back to the Independent's rather sarcastic article. In Genova, they say, it's illegal to wander about with an open bottle of wine or beer. A friend of mine got arrested for doing the same thing in Upstate NY years ago, so I don't see anything wrong with Genova's wanting to keep people from drinking in the streets (and dropping the bottles when they're empty, as drinkers are want to do).

The Independent approves of the fact that in Rome one can drink in the streets, but seems surprised that one can be fined for sitting down on the Spanish Steps to have lunch and perhaps take a nap. Would London object to tourists using the gates of Buckingham Palace as a backrest? I rather think so.

Olbia, they say, fines those who smoke on the beaches. However, if you've seen how pristine Olbia's beaches are, you'd understand why the locals would be upset if people smoked on them -- without ashtrays. After all, where do you suppose the cigarette butts go?

They also poke fun at the Minister of Health's banning massages (mostly given by Chinese) on the beaches. We'll ignore the fact that the masseurs don't wash their hands as they go from one sweaty body to the next, and ask a more serious question: Who trained them? An MD colleague of wife Elisabetta's suffered mild whiplash in an auto accident last year and went to a licensed chiropractor because his neck was sore. The guy made a mistake -- they think he compressed the arteries for too long -- and the resultant ischemic episode paralyzed Elisabetta's colleague from the neck down. She has heard of similar things happening after beach massages, and I therefore wouldn't let anyone touch me.

Another thing I couldn't help noticing is their disapproval of Italian attempts to limit panhandling in tourist areas. "And in Florence," they say, "it is now illegal to clean the windscreens of cars waiting at traffic lights." One can almost hear the disdainful sniff. One wonders how often the authors drove through Florence before the ban went into effect. Every long traffic light had several washers -- always the same ones at each light, so they were divvying up the territory -- and if you were driving you felt like you were running a gauntlet. At least I did, and I'm a fairly big guy, big enough that they moved on with a scowl when I said no. Cars with single women, or women with children got a much rougher treatment however, with the washers (especially the north Africans) trying to threaten the women into paying them. It got so Elisabetta planned her routes to avoid some traffic lights, especially in the evening, and I know other woman friends of ours did too. That's not how things are supposed to be, and nobody -- with the exception of a few idealistically inclined young communists (mostly male) who said the windscreen washers were being deprived of their jobs -- objected when the ban was imposed. Quite the contrary, we were glad to have our streets back.

Well, I've gone on longer about this than I intended. And there have been Italian reactions to the article, which was mentioned in the news. "At least we're allowed to stand up in soccer (football?) stadiums," one commentator observed.

Pasta Con Le Sarde Grigliate - Pasta with Grilled Sardines
Winding down, though you might not think to grill sardines -- there are many much more glamorous fish out there that look much more impressive when served off the grill -- they are extremely tasty, and if you do grill them you'll discover that they go very fast, and people will want more. In addition to serving them grilled, you can make them into a tasty pasta sauce. To serve 4:
  • 1 2/3 pounds (700 g) fresh sardines, cleaned
  • 2/3 pound (300 g) penne or ziti, smooth sided or not as you prefer
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • A small hot pepper, crumbled
  • 2 heaping tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly chopped oregano
  • Salt to taste
Remove the heads from the sardines and also their spines, being careful not to split them -- you want them to open like so many books. Gently rinse them and pat them dry.

Heat the olive oil over a gentle flame and slowly brown the garlic, taking care not to let it burn. When the oil is flavored, remove and discard the garlic. Next, turn the flame up and brown the breadcrumbs over a brisk flame, stirring in the pepper too. As soon as the bread crumbs are browned remove the pan from the fire. If you are perchance using dried oregano (just 1/4 teaspoon) add it now.

Set pasta water to boil, and while it is heating arrange the sardines on a grill and brush them with some of the bread crumb mixture.

Cook the pasta, and while it is cooking grill the sardines for about 8 minutes.

Drain the pasta, season it with the flavored oil and the fresh oregano, if that's what you have,, carefully incorporate the grilled sardines, and serve at once.

A wine? I might be tempted by a Frascati, and I'd follow the pasta with a more glamorous grilled fish.

This time's proverb is Roman: Beato quell'arbero che se pô ricoprì cco' le su' foje - Blessed is the tree that can cover itself with its own leaves.

Until next time,

Kyle Phillips
Editor, The Italian Wine Review
Want to comment? Drop me a line at Kyle@cosabolle.com

PS -- Please forward this to anyone you think would enjoy it! If you would like to read past issues (nothing in them really gets stale), you'll find recent ones at Cosa Bolle.Com, http://www.cosabolle.com, and older ones at http://italianfood.about.com/blbol.htm.