Miss Eydie feels terribly remiss for making some of you hang on to hear this tale. As a matter of fact, I thought of it as a culinary cliffhanger of sorts . Anywho…here goes…..
In our last installment over the summer, I was taking an idyllic few days in Ovada, Italy between shows in Europe. The Rabbi and I were staying with friends, Cinzia and David, both of whom are chefs, lovers of the grape, and pretty swell people in general. I had been obsessed for several months with the idea of making a bergamot martini. Bergamot in its natural state is an Italian citrus about the size of an orange with yellow skin and that distinctive smell you’ll recognize from Earl Grey tea.
I’d been imagining a combination of flavors in my mind and had several email conversations with David about the possbility of concocting one. We both settled on the idea of procuring some “essence of bergamot” or a bergamot oil of some kind. I didnt even know there was such a thing as fresh bergamot oranges until I saw them in a farmer’s market. ( and the sign mispelled yet) Unfortunately, this was after the fact of David and I finally making some time for our alcoholic experiment. The afternoon lay before us like a wanton maiden… cocktail time was rapidly approaching, so David and I assembled our tools. Ice cold vodka…check. Essence of bergamot…check. Cocktail shaker…check. Ice…check. We’re thinking there has to be one more element , but we begin with the essential stuff. David has managed to obtain an Italian version of essence of bergamot…it looks to me like an essential oil -the kind of thing you would use to make perfume or massage oil. He puts 4 or 5 drops into some chilled vodka. Shake it up baby!!
We taste….we scrunch up our face. It’s definitely awful. Bitter. What can we do?? David reaches into his pantry and pulls out some homemade Meyer lemon/sugar mixture that Cinzia has made. “Makes sense”…we think.It will add a citrusy note and will temper the bitterness. A small dollop gets added to the cocktail shaker.
We suck down more of the melange. Better…but still pretty bad. However the little buzz is starting to feel pretty nice. Now what?? Hic! We’re starting to think that we added way too much of the essential oil to the initial brew. Now it’s too sweet. How to counterbalance?
As we sip, we think that maybe we should add something like a vermouth. David pulls out a bottle of Punt e Mes,which is a Piedmontese vermouth that is quite bitter. The name literally means “point and a half” At this point, I’m game for anything.We munch on some marinated garlic cloves as we ponder this latest move.
OK…here we go…..
The Italian vermouth is poured in…we shake, we add more ice…we taste. It’s even more repugnant, if thats possible. We’ve clearly made some horrible error in proportion.
By this time though, we are cackling like mad scientists and getting quite squiffy. We try a few more additions to the formula and reluctantly admit it’s a lost cause.
The good news for me is that although we didn’t come up with the recipe for a definitve bergamot martini, we did bond in the spirit of scientific inquiry and as we stumbled around the kitchen in a vodkalicious euphoria, we were scooped up by our respective partners and guided gently to dinner. I also have a new plan ….I want to infuse vodka with Earl Grey tea….that will give me the bergamot fix I crave.
As Miss Eydie’s time in Ovada draws to a close, she fondly and gratefully recalls more of the highlights of the Italian summer :
Homemade Farinata baked before my eyes in Savona. David takes us to a down home place after the concert,that stays open to serve us a post show meal. Farinata is a crispy, thin, baked flatbread made of only oil, salt, chickpea flour and farina di grano. Hot out of the wood burning oven, it’s heavenly with any toppings you might want to put on, or just by itself.
Another highlight was dinner at L’Archivolta Osteria in Ovada. Its the kind of place where the Ovadese find photos of their relatives on the wall.This Piedmontese meal was not “rustica” but refined,…starting with a gelantine of melon and some delectable vegetable fritters. …then our appetizer plates follow: Crema fagiolini,yellow pepper with mushrooms and potato, a savory custard w/ black truffle, toma ( a soft Cows milk cheese ) wrapped around spicy rucola and tomato. We wash it down with a Valle D’Aosta chardonnay …100% chardonnay grapes, 13 1/2 % alcohol, mountain grapes picked at the moment of their perfection.With full gratitude, I wonder how I got to be sitting here- from my background of Nathan’s hot dogs, overcooked brisket, generic beer and Campbell’s tomato soup- to being able to fully appreciate and savor this exquisite cooking.
From there….a 2001 Barbaresco,”La Spinetta” which accompanies fresh housemade tagliolini with (picked this morning!!!) local ovole mushrooms. Moving on to a 1999 Barbaresco from Rombone. Cinzia and David know the winemaker, Bruno Nada, whose vineyards are next to Angelo Gaja’s.This wine is elegant, has less tannin,more fruit and so is more “pointed” to my palate. My beef with black truffles comes out.I learn what “meat jello,” or fondu brun, is from the chef. This makes me happy.
My eyes roll back in my head. Four hours later…..the meal finally ends with lemon gelato, housemade cookies and several shots of digestives like Fernet Branca and Amaro.
Good appetite and digestion to all……
till next time my friends