Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Away and at home

Eastside Road, April 1, 2014—
HERE YOU SEE, no April fooling, a bowl of minestrone, lovingly made by Cook of Things At Hand, and a fine way to end a rainy day — with, of course, a green salad afterward.
Cheap Barolo d'Asti

BUT LAST NIGHT, ah, last night, now that was something different. We dined downstairs — Berkeleyans and family will know what that means — on a particularly fine Piemontese-feeling menu:

Spring vegetable salad with green garlic bagna cauda

Arrosto di maiale al latte with spinach and grilled artichokes

Cheese: BoDacious (chevre) (Bohemian Creamery)

Page mandarin and grapefruit sorbetto with blood orange granita

Bagna cauda, chez nous, is generally a cup of hot olive oil with lots of crushed garlic and anchovy and maybe, yes these days I would say certainly, a bit of butter, kept hot at table over a flame, into which we dip bread, raw vegetables including certainly cardoon, and other things I'm forgetting at the moment — you could look it up. Hardboiled eggs come to mind.

At this table though Bagna cauda was much more discreet, as you'll see below. The salad involved green garlic stems, tiny turnips, lettuces of course, and raw early spring green peas, with the tiniest drizzle of perfect Bagna cauda threading its way through: hard to think of a more perfect combination of plates which I'd otherwise have thought mutually exclusive.

As to Maiale al latte: when I was a boy, roast pork was a frequent luxury at the dinner table. Even more frequent, though almost never served with roast pork, was what we always called milk gravy. (I did not grow up in a kosher household.) To make milk gravy, as I think I've mentioned here before, you added a little flour to the skillet after you've roasted or fried the meat (which has of course been put on a cold plate to get cold and greasy); you scrumbled it around in the drippings with a spatula (in those days called a "pancake turner"); then you poured in some milk, continuing to scrub things around to make a clotted sauce that tasted much better, fortunately, than my description might suggest.

So meat and milk is a serious and comforting thread in my makeup, unlike meat and cheese, about which I whined the other day. I'm not sure how this Maiale was cooked, but I know (because I asked) that it spent a couple of hours roasting. I don't think we've ever actually eaten Maiale al latte in Piemonte, and I'm not sure we've had it elsewhere in Italy. Roast pork always brings two things to mind: first, my childhood home, when it was usually leg of pork, frequently from one of our own pigs, and had been roasted in the oven of our wood-fired cookstove, and had been flavored with salt, pepper, and garlic salt.

Second, Rome. Porchetta is a Roman glory, one of many of course, but certainly one. No garlic salt would ever have come near it; there should be as little industrialization as possible. This dish was superb. The artichokes set it off exactly right, recalling the Bagna cauda through mental association with cardoons; the spinach added iron and verdure; the meat itself was beautifully flavored and tender as Fitzgerald's Night.

And then the sorbetti, made no doubt from those delicious Ojai citruses from Churchill Orchard — lots of pointed flavor, cold and crisp, the tattered granita setting off the scoops of sorbetto as the Bagna cauda had the salad. Menu with memory, that's what I like, and this one will stay in mine for quite a while!
Seco Ca' del Merlo, Giuseppe Quintarelli (Veneto), 2011 (a splendid apéritif, not quite assertive enough against the Bagna cauda); Basadone (da Pelaverga Piccolo), Castello di Verduno (Piemonte), 2012 (rich, deep, not heavy, fruity and delicious)
• Chez Panisse, 1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley; 510.548.5525
salad with Bagna caudaMaiale al latteSorbetti

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