Visions of Tuscan Fare Dance in My Head
02 December 2010
Amtrak Surfliner from Los Angeles to Goleta, CA
I have survived the Thanksgiving carbohydrate overdose, followed by the airline’s flight cancellation due to (inperceptable) weather conditions and the subsequent overnight at Syracuse Airport’s Holiday Inn Express, as well as the perk of making the most of it by indulging in Dinosaur BBQ, a 40-some-odd smokehouse and watering hole. The pulled pork at Dinosaur was actually recommended to me by Culture’s own David Newhoff, a man whose taste in food I would trust in even the worst of times. Believe me, being stranded in Syracuse qualified as such, but the AMAZING pulled pork at Dinosaur was definitely a big reward for my not having throttled the rude and flat-affective staff at the Hancock Airport (except you, Denise, Ms. Fabulous at US Airways!)
I am now aboard the Amtrak from Los Angeles to Goleta, the continuation of a long journey home. Admittedly, a product of BF Goodrich’s master plan, I have never been on an Amtrak (or any other railway) on the West Coast in all my years. Oddly, neither have the four people I have spoken to this afternoon, since the default response was, unanimously: “You’re taking a TRAIN?! Why?”
Thank God my car is at my house up North, for without this situation, I would not be sitting on a train in California, longing for my January 10th departure for a three-month stay at Podere Conti in Lunigiana, wishing it were the train from Pisa to Salzana already. Yes, I have committed to a three-month stay, where I will take in all there is to see, smell, taste, and learn on the olive farm this winter. In five more weeks, with Christmas under my belt, I will swap Bing Crosby’s “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” for wild chestnuts growing on an open hillside. The use of chestnuts in the region’s specialized foods is born of the bounty of the precious nut bursting from abundant branches throughout the fields, hills, and peaks of this glorious untouched mountainous area.
My final night in Lunigiana last month, I was fortunate enough to try Fritelli di (farina di) Castagna, also known as Padeletti in local dialect. One can describe these as deep-fried chestnut flour pancakes. The consistency is slightly crispy on the outside and soft inside, comparing in texture only to the (sic) funnel cake. Since there was once no wheat flour to speak of in this rugged Tuscan terrain, the Padeletti served as both savory and sweet accompaniment, often served with plates of antipasti and ricotta, as well as with spreads for a sweet fix. The children of Podere Conti, of course, recommend it ONLY with Nutella, a chocolate and hazelnut spread widely distributed across Europe and available in select stores in the United States. They were sure to remind me that I can buy it in America, and even more so that I should. I might, but then again, I might just wait until I am seated with them once again next month, to take a big smeary bite of Nutella on Padeletti. Or even the chestnut honey with ricotta on Padeletti… or the millefiore, or the acacia, or the not-yet-known… Yes, definitely the not-yet-known.