I got home from Richmond on Thursday morning and spent all that day sleeping and resting up from the long flight home. Laura called later in the day and invited us to their house on Friday night for dinner. They had also invited Giorgio's sister Mirella and her family and it was arranged for them to swing by and pick us up since they have a large vehicle and parking is at a minimum in their neighborhood. We ate light on Friday in preparation, knowing we would be treated to a dinner with several courses and anticipated trying some Veronese specialties, including the mysterious "chocolate salami" we've heard so much about. I decided to bake my "cockeyed cake" – a very simple chocolate cake that has long been a family favorite that dates back to our kids' preschool days, since I know that Laura loves anything chocolate. (recipe to follow)
Right on time, at 8pm, Mirella, her husband Adriano and their two beautiful daughters, Anna and Lisa picked us up and we drove together the short distance to Laura and Giorgio's, where Giorgio was busy stirring his pumpkin risotto and the table was set for 8. Bottles of wine, water and soda were set out on the table and after kisses of greeting all around we were all asked to take our places. The risotto was delicious with bits of pumpkin, sprinkled with freshly grated parmigiano cheese. We made Giorgio promise to give us the recipe. This primi piatti was followed by the secondo of "carne cavallo" - horsemeat! This was the first time Bob and I had tried this although we have seen it in the markets everywhere, from Perugia to Sicily. Giorgio has raved about it and Laura told us that it is really healthy for you, low in fat and cholesterol and more tender and easier to digest than beef, although it is similar in texture. Giorgio is the "chef" in the family and cooked this meat to perfection, slicing it thin and quickly sautéing it with radicchio so that the slices were still pink in the centers and it was served with a flavored oil to be drizzled on and topped with little slivers of fresh parmegiano. They also served the meat ground, raw, with a tasty sauce of garlic and capers and was surprisingly wonderful, if to us Americans, kind of a strange thing, eating horsemeat, and raw at that. The meal was rounded off with fresh green beans, red and yellow cherry tomatoes, and the most delicious roasted red peppers and crusty rolls.
The "chocolate salami" was wonderful and Mirella promised to give me the recipe for it. It consists of a chocolate mixture filled with pieces of biscotti and formed in the shape of a salami and sliced. Yummy. Everyone seemed to like my chocolate cake too.
Coffee and liquors followed and then out came the gifts! We were totally surprised when Giorgio handed a wrapped present to Bob and it turned out to be two shirts from Roberto, the firefighter Bob met on his trip to the fire station last week. He is thrilled to have two shirts that say "Vigile del Fuoco" (basically, "Fire department", in Italian) embroidered on them. These are clearly shirts that belonged to Roberto that he wanted Bob to have. Another visit to the fire station is in order, for Bob to go and thank Roberto for his generosity.
Laura's parents arrived in time for dessert and the gift giving and I was immensely touched when her father presented me with one of his oil paintings of Juliet's balcony as a remembrance of our time in Verona. Bob had made prints of a photo he took of a pretty tower reflected in the water the day we went with them to the Po Delta that he gave to Signore Dal Bianco (Laura's dad) and he seemed equally thrilled to have it. Bob had also made some prints of photos he had taken of the family and so all in all it was a lovely evening of sharing and giving and getting to know each other a little bit better.
Giorgio brought out his map book and we showed them where we lived in America, talked about our earlier journey, from New York to Arizona and where our families lived, scattered across the country. We find that Italians are always surprised to see how far apart our family lives – our son in Richmond, Virginia; daughter in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; brother in Florida (but who works in New York and commutes home on weekends – this really is a strange concept for them!) and my sister in Colorado. I have cousins from New York to California and we don’t get to see each other often. Here in Italy, it is mostly as it was when we were growing up. Families live in close proximity to each other and maintain friendships for life. They tell us this is changing now, as kids go away to school in other parts of Italy and remain there. Like Elio and Giovanna in Sicily, whose sons went to school in Milan and Lake Como. They were concerned that they might not want to return to Ragusa after they had been in the north, where there were more opportunities for better jobs, etc.
It is late now as I finish writing this post. I am thinking of all my friends that I have left behind and hoping everything is going well with them and their families. I am hoping we can maintain our friendships as the years come and go, in spite of the distance between us. Being away as we have now for these past 20 months has put that into question, knowing they are busy with their lives and it is not the same as when you are across the street and down the block and it takes more of an effort to keep in touch. I get homesick for them sometimes and miss our conversations. I have enjoyed so much meeting all the people we have met and our Italian gets better all the time. But still, it is challenging to communicate and really get to know someone when you don’t have a good command of the language. I know that we have made some wonderful connections here that I also hope to maintain. We have extended invitations for all of our Italian friends to come and visit us in the United States and really hope they will some day, when their lives permit that kind of vacation. We look forward to showing them our piece of America as they have shown us their individual regions in Italy. It has indeed been our pleasure and we can’t wait to see what comes next!
Rosemary and Bob
Now here’s that recipe:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9” cake pan
Mix dry ingredients together:
1-1/2 cups flour
3 TBLS cocoa
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
5 TBLS vegetable oil
1 TBLS apple vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
Then add 1 cup cold water
Stir it all together till smooth. Bake for about a half hour or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Top with chocolate frosting if desired. Here in Italy, I used Nutella!