Claudio of the white hair and black eyebrows...
Turns out there are two young couples also in the group, both very pleasant, one from the states and the other from London. So Claudio took us all around the market, looking for veggies, mushrooms, basil, fish, and whatever. First, bless him, we stopped at a little caffe and had a pastry and tea/coffee which I was pretty much needing. He couldn't find fish that pleased him so we set off into town - stopped one place, nope...stopped at the next place, hauled fish out of the cooler, weighing them, and finally selected one. Meanwhile, we were all having a good time visiting and comparing travel notes. But during our trek through the market, Claudio also took time to tell us about the foods we were looking at, particularly the mushrooms of which there were types I had never seen. I think he's a real mushroom man. Everything was so fresh and there was so much variety - can't imagine having that available all the time. So after our shopping was done, he took us to a little tiny place with a huge woodburning oven where he got a pitcher of wine and a pizza that is nothing like a pizza so maybe has another name. It had a wafer thin crust covered in a crushed chickpeas paste and most likely flavored with something - he grated lots of black pepper over it, if nothing else. Anyway, it was truly delicious, totally different.
One of the beautiful stalls...
And, our fish...So, he went off somewhere and we found our way back to the train station, all dispersing at different points. We will meet up tonight at 5:00 at a restaurant here in Riomaggiore and I am so glad it's here. The woman who brought me to the apartment told me it would be in Manarola, which would have meant a train there and back and I wasn't relishing that idea. I'm enjoying myself, mind you, but the battle between the cold germs and me keeps me a little more tired than normal, so I'm happy not to have to make another trip tonight.
By the time I got home, there was just time for a little computer time and then off to the restaurant. Got there and the chef at the restaurant, a woman named Rafaelle, was getting started. I think the first thing she did was make pesto which looked very simple and seemed totally doable at home, but I would be willing to bet it wouldn't come out tasting like her finished product. For one thing, the basil was just gorgeous!
Then she cleaned the fish (which I didn't watch - I've seen that once before, thank you). About that time Claudio showed up and as Emeril says "kicked things up a notch". He started working alongside Rafaelle, checking everything, telling us all sorts of stuff about the meal, and I kind of think probably driving the Rafaelle a little crazy now and then cause he basically sort of took over. But it was all fun and very Italian - Rafaelle and I kind of rolled our eyes at each other once or twice, but she never did hit him over the head with an iron skillet. I'm sorry I didn't take pictures of all the various foods being prepared - everyone else did and since the kitchen was about as big as mine at home, one more of us taking pictures just seemed like one too many. And, here comes the really, really, bad part...when I did finally take out my camera to get a picture of something, I dropped it and that's it - no more camera. So the rest of the pictures here are from my I-Phone (bless it!).
Needless to say, I was and am devastated, I loved my little camera, and after fooling with it a little and wishing I was alone so I could shed a few tears, I finally said I was sorry but I was going to go back to the apartment cause I was just felt like I'd be too gloomy and plus which my cold was making me not feel good etc. They all, of course, insisted I should stay and then I began to feel guilty. So I went outside and called Chris - left him a big, long, sad message, came back in and said "okay, but are we EVER going to get a glass of wine?!" and the evening got better from then on. I tell you, wine is the great healer.
So, to start with, at some point Rafaelle had stuck some biscotti in the oven to finish the second baking, and she served us each a piece of that - warm and good. Then came the pesto we had sort of helped to make and it was out of this world. I AM going to try it at home, but it won't be as good. Next was such a simple salad - just some type of green with some sliced raw artichoke that Claudio had shown us how to cut up, little tiny cherry tomatoes and some very special mushrooms Claudio had purchased that morning which were delicious, nice large shavings of parmesan, and pretty much drowned in good olive oil, no vinegar...it was delicioso! Didn't get a picture of that apparently, but it was good anyway. I guess I was too busy eating!
Then came the fish which Claudio had baked in a rock salt crust with lemon wedges inside and nothing else done to it at all. The fish was good, and would have been truly great but it was a little overcooked. The little pieces of lemon were to die for. Then came a little plate of various bits of cooked veggies - zuchinni slices, carrots, tiny green beans, and probably a couple of other things I'm forgetting - also very tasty.
Oh, good grief - I forgot - the piece de resistance (as I like to say)! Back while we were still all in the kitchen, he had had us slice fresh porcini mushrooms kind of thick and not too carefully. He then poured a bunch of olive oil into a huge skillet, then dumped in quite a few cloves of garlic, let them cook a little, took them out so they wouldn't burn, tossed in the mushrooms, let them cook a little, added a little carafe of white wine and I think that was all. Set that aside until later. Claudio then rolled out some noodles using some dough Rafaelle had prepared sometime earlier and I'm going to try a couple new ideas he gave me when I get home. He cut them fairly thick and at some point they got cooked. After the camera breaking incident, another guy (he is a waiter at the restaurant) got them back on the heat, Claudio poured in the cooked noodles, and the guy started tossing and tossing. By now, the juice was almost creamy and to top it off, Claudio dropped in almost a stick of butter. They were absolutely without doubt my favorite thing of the evening and probably my favorite thing of what I've had to eat in Italy so far, both trips...although I won't rule out the one bowl of ribollita soup and the wood-burning oven pizza last year.
One picture is not worth a thousand words - it doesn't look like much here, but oh, mama mia!So, it was the noodles, THEN the fish, THEN the veggies. And after those, out came a dessert plate for each of us with some kind of wonderful flourless chocolate cake (thin like a tart) and tiny little pears purchased that morning that he had steeped in a red wine and sugar syrup until they were stained through, very prettily sliced and fanned out on the plate.
Fish and veggies
I couldn't seem to get Claudio to hold the plate high enough and at a good angle so this basically looks like nothing, but it tasted very good.
So at the end of this wonderful meal (accompanied, of course by wine throughout), I was able to very honestly tell them all thank you for convincing me to stay because actually, a dream of mine since I've started dreaming about Italy has always been to share one of those huge, hours long meals with a group, with much laughter and talk and great food, and now I had. They were nice people. Oh, and I forgot that the woman who had taken me to my apartment showed up too and it was nice to see her as sort of a "familiar face". Turns out she is Brazilian and I think said she had only been in Italy 4 years - or maybe that was Cinque Terre. But we had a couple of nice chats throughout the evening and she said how she thought I had "courage" (these people know how to make you feel good!) to do what I was doing with the trips, the blog, etc., cause she had traveled to two or three European countries and not done too well cause she didn't know the languages there. I said "but I don't know Italian!" and she said yes, but English is known by many, many people. I said her English was great and it turns out that she wasn't really speaking it during those travels and no one understood Brazilian. So, I ended up telling her that meant she should come to America where she could impress everyone with her English. Told her how all my children live near DC and I KNEW they'd be happy to show her around. :)
So in spite of a (for me) real, true disaster (I'd say a "10" compared to the sprained ankle being maybe a "6" or less - I don't really love my ankles all that much!), the evening was lovely.
And, again, I haven't carefully proofread this and I'm now typing using an Italian keyboard which is quite hilarious!
Next, off to Perugia...