Sunday, March 14, 2010

Olive Porn on a Sunday Morn

Waking up this morning to a day with a lost hour, I couldn’t get over the most incredible olives we just had. Friend and colleague Stefano Illuminati was in Texas for a week (more about that soon) for his biannual Waltz Across Texas tour. Before he left Italy he asked me if he should bring anything. “Brochures? Samples? Tech sheets?” he asked. Almost immediately, I responded, “Bring some of those wonderful Olive Ascolane we have when we are in your town.” Stefano lives in Porto d’Ascoli, on the Marche-Abruzzo border, and the area is known for great seafood and these amazing olives. Recently, when I was reading through Frances Mayes’ just released book, Everyday in Tuscany, Seasons of an Italian life, she mentioned the famous olives from Ascoli. “Served all over the country, they’re often prepackaged and therefore diminished – nothing fried should have to travel farther than stove to table” was all the challenge I needed.

Stefano arrived with his suitcase filled with skinny Italian suits, hefty Italian reds and a delicately wrapped package that appeared to be a gift. In Italy, and especially in the Marche, the shopkeepers have this wonderful custom of hand-wrapping a purchase to make it appear to be the gift under the tree that everyone longs for. And so it was with this package of olives from Ascoli, which escaped the eyes of the customs people (meat filled olive bombs – free the olives!).

I thought Stefano would go to those stores they have in his town where everything is frozen and Cryovac-ed. They developed a technology in his area to handle the enormous demand for their fish and have transferred it to other products. Not exactly fresh, but when it is snowing in Piedmont and you pull a package of artichokes or fava beans out of the freezer, you can at least imagine that someday spring, and then summer, will come back. But no, Stefano went to the shop most famous in Porto d’Ascoli for these eximious specimens, Ỏlivepiù. There is no web site, only an address and a telephone number, Via dei Laureati, 2/A, Porto D’Ascoli. (0735.751811). I was worried, after reading Frances’ warning. But not fearful.

We had a few friends over at the end of our whirlwind tour of Texas, to kick back and relax for one night. No wine dinners, no late-night presentations. We kicked Stefano’s butt with work. His local rep is probably going to have to take a week or two off to recuperate from the grueling late-hour drives, going from one city to another like rock stars heading to the next gig. But we all made it.

As the guests arrived, Stefano handed them flutes of his wonderful Illuminati Brut, a Metodo Classico with amazing depth and richness. People fall all over themselves when they describe tiny grower Champagnes, as if there are no other places on earth to find good bubbles. But insiders know Italy is a repository of similar finds. Italians loved bubbles, and Dino Illuminati invested heavily in the 1980’s on this project. I think he has never made much money with his Brut; we all seem to give away more then we sell. But what is the price of joy?

As soon as most of the guest arrived, I brought out the large Dutch oven (every home should have one, non e vero, Signora P?) and filled it with about 1½ inches of oil – not olive, too heavy (and too incestuous). High heat, hot oil, waiting. Waiting. And then dropping the little creatures in, not quite filling the bottom of the pot. Leave room to move them around. And then maintain a vigil, watching, turning and waiting for the perfect color. The olives are filled with ground meats and spices and then covered with fine breadcrumbs. No danger of undercooking the meat, as it is already fully cooked. But the Italian cook must have them look beautiful. Lights, camera, action – and then comes that moment when one must wait for the olives, newly christened in oil and ready for their close-up, to cool off. Excruciatingly long. Endless. What the heck, I pop one in my mouth and am welcomed with an olive grenade. Still too hot. Burn. Burns so good. More. More. Give me some more, baby.

While we waited for them to cool on a platter with paper towels to absorb excess oil, Stefano suggested we open up the Costalupo. Illuminati has made this wine for as long as I can remember, and it has been an evolution of white wine in Abruzzo. Trebbiano with Riesling and Passerina, no oak, no centrifuge, no acidification. Pure simple, fruit, crisp yet creamy (thank you Signore Gianola). And then there are more people and more bottles of wine and olives – an olive orgy. And all of this before we bring out the Texas barbecue and start opening the bottles of red wine going back to 1967. But that is another post.

The next day, saying our good-byes with Stefano as he was leaving to go back to his family (he did find time to get an iPhone and some Polo shirts for the boys), he gave this advice, “Alfonso, those olives, if there are any remaining, bring them out and give them a minute or so. They are great the next day.”

Yes Stefano, they are. Were. Thank you, so very much, my friend, for your visit, your work, your passion, your family, and for some amazing olives, a little piece of real Italy here on the wine trail.






8 comments:

Do Bianchi said...

is that Joey Occhio Strano?

did you save some for us? man, your olives are making me h....y.

Alfonso Cevola said...

come no?

Tracie P. said...

yes ace, dutch oven is a must. so are those olives...bring some down to austin and i'll fry 'em up for us!

Alfonso Cevola said...

Assolutamente si, Signora P!

Jeff Siegel said...

Will you enter the olives in the State Fair fried foods competition?

Alfonso Cevola said...

Jeff- nice idea but might be a bit too authentic Italian for folks. And we all know we can't push real Italian too far

mododj said...

Great Post! I did a Great Wine Tour in Tuscany using this company http://www.limoserviceitalia.it/ Francesco was really kind and the trip was fantastic.

tasteofbeirut said...

I am a person who could live on olives alone; now after reading this post, I want to try these! there is a fabulous place in Beirut called La Posta, that imports from Italy everything (including the Baci chocolates from my childhood memories) and I am going to find out if they can get me some of those; they sound so so good with a few glasses of bubbly!

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