Sunday, July 18, 2010

Daily life in Cortemillia

I spent the past week staying close and enjoying my time in Cortemillia. When I am not traveling I stay at the hotel and I spend my time leisurely. I’ve been enjoying plenty of time in the pool, going on long bike rides, and of course putting in plenty of hours in the kitchen. I have also taken the opportunity to work on my Italian! I discovered an app for my Itouch which has improved my comprehension skills and given me the ability to communicate in Italian, even at a minute level. Titled the Michael Thomas method it is easily available for download from Itunes and offers lessons in Spanish, French, German and Italian. The method is so great because it teaches you an understanding of the language on a deeper level. I am learning to translate my English thoughts into Italian, rather than just memorizing vocabulary words and trying to retain all of the regular and irregular verb forms. Instead of trying to find the words to express my thoughts, I’m able to say exactly what I want in a manner that people actually comprehend. It is very exciting! While I haven’t become adept at communicating in lengthy conversations, I am able to understand most Italian discussions to a point and have managed to pickup on most kitchen lingo. Instead of standing there like an idiot while Carlo barks out orders, I jump into action to help or move out of the way when I know I cannot be of use.
On Monday night we left Cortemillia and traveled to Savona for a special family dinner. It was Carlo and Poala’s 13th anniversary and we dined at a superb seafood restaurant to celebrate. We were seated on a beautiful porch directly on the beach where the sun was still shining. I was relieved that the weather was much cooler, likely because of the light sea breeze. We watched the sun set as we admired the view and had our usual Italian English dinner conversation.By Carlo’s recommendation I first ordered the pesce crudo plate, a gigantic plate full of fresh, raw seafood. For my second course, I went out on a limb and ordered a dish whose description I only halfway understood. I had no doubts, I knew it had to be good! The waiter brought over a cool bottle of Chardonnay and poured glasses for all of us, even Ricky who is only 12. It is the Italian way to give young children little sips of alcohol here and there so they become educated and aren’t ignorantly attempting to consume everything in sight when they reach the proper age. It is a practice I admire and respect as I grew up the same way and as a result I have always been more responsible when it comes to drinking than my peers. The meal began as small plates of anchovies drizzled with olive oil were set in front of us. I have a natural adverseness to anchovies, as their flavor is more often than not overwhelming. Here in Italy though, it is a very different story. The fresh anchovies don’t taste incredibly fishy, rather they have a fresh sea-like taste with a hint of mild characteristic anchovy flavor. It was the perfect start to munch on along with a few breadsticks. Our plates were swept away and in their place, our pesce crudo was placed. The dish was absolutely beautiful. It contained sea bass, tuna, shrimp, langostine and sea urchin, all fished straight from the sea and delivered to our table. Drizzled with olive oil and a sprinkling of pepper, the seafood was left to display its true, delicious flavor. The spines of the sea urchins danced the entire time we ate, and I flipped mine over to stare, fascinated by the idea that the thing I was eating was still alive. Paola got squeamish and refused to eat the urchin! There were also fresh capers on the plate, an absolute favorite of mine and quite a treat as I don’t often get the chance to eat them. I took my time eating, making my way slowly around the platter and savoring each bite. We took the period in between courses as a pause to salute and celebrate Carlo and Paola’s 13 years of marriage. Just as the sun fell below the horizon, our main courses were delivered. My dish was a spicy spaghetti with chopped pieces of a sea snail whose texture faintly reminded me of conch which I ate so much of years ago in Abaco. It was served with small, tender slices of zucchini only found in the region, and a sprinkling of parsley. I slurped up my whole plate and sampled some of Carlos saffron infused risotto. We sat in the candlelight, sipping the last of our wine and laughing at the never ending wait for our check which had already been requested multiple times, a typical Italian trend. We left Savona in high spirits and began the journey home. We stopped in a town nearby to Cortemillia to get ice cream at a gelateria owned by a friend of Carlo’s and headed back to the hotel, arriving just before midnight.
I spent plenty of time in the kitchen this week. I learned to make “ravioli al plin” which means it is pinched- you’ll see the method on pictures! The ravioli is stuffed with a ricotta cheese and spinach mixture and its piped onto the pasta. Then you fold it over, pinch it into sections and cut it with a nifty ravioli cutter (which I already purchased). We also made picollili, which is similar to gnocchi. The main difference is the size and shape. It’s a bit longer than gnocchi, and has hazelnuts rolled into the dough. Carlo serves this in the restaurant with a take on butter and sage sauce topped with hazelnuts, yum! Otherwise, I have been spending time with the girls who work here and Carlo, Paola and Ricky. When nights end early in the kitchen, us five girls usually sit out on the porch in the cool evening air and enjoy some birra or mojitos while Paola and Elena smoke cigarettes. The girls gossip about normal things, shopping and their children. I usually just relax with my drink and listen in on conversation, trying to store in my memory the words I don’t recognize so I can look them up later. Every once in a while, Ricky and I take trips together, going on bike rides, or getting gelato down the street. It is refreshing to have a routine; every day I wake up and help myself to breakfast then relax in the lobby, checking up on my emails and such and socializing with the Zarri's. We eat a simple lunch together everyday, usually salad which is sometimes accompanied by special treats like mozzarella di bufala from Naples or smoked salmon from Norway. In the afternoons I take a bike ride or go for a swim and then spend a couple of hours in my room, reading, studying Italian, or taking a nap. I'm always ready for dinner at 6:30 where I cook something simple or on busier nights, scarf down whatever I can. When the cooking is finished, I clean up as the girls finish their duties- clearing the tables and doing dishes while Marlene prepares breakfast for the following morning. On earlier evenings, we enjoy our cocktails and gossip, but on the nights when the kitchen duties go on all night, we head our separate ways. Such is life in Cortemillia- relaxed and simple.

Images top to bottom:
Il gatto relaxing on the porch of the hotel
The drive to Savona
Our beautiful table on the beach
Pesce crudo
"al plin" - pinching the ravioli
Cutting the ravioli

View from our table

The Zarri family :)

Lasagnette drying- ready for cutting!

Elena, one of the servers, making our mojitos!

Mojitos made right- that's rum and cognac, topped with a little tonic water post photo

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