TUSCAN RECIPES … today, MELON with SWEET WINE
Nonna Margherita Dottorelli in her kitchen, 1905
Some excellent Tuscan recipes from her granddaughter Marta, who refuses to be just a character in a novel called The Whirling Girl, made up by that writer
NOW WE HAVE BROUGHT IN our grapes and made our winter wine.
Every year, we have a big gathering of the family for this. Below you will see the wife of my husband’s brother, who comes from the south always bringing her basket very traditional. She is a woman determined to look as if she is the hardest worker.
When she is around I must bite my tongue.
But family is family. Besides she knows nothing about cooking, niente, and if she wishes to work hard in the vines, good. Then I can have my peace in the kitchen to prepare the feast.
MY HUSBAND’S BROTHER “Nardo” and his wife, and all their very badly behaved children, live on the island of Pantelleria, south of Sicily (very near to Africa).
How he came to live there is a story you must not ask me to tell. He was in his young years the family’s peccora nera, or as that writer of “The Whirling Girl” might say in her idiom, the “black sheep”.
But he is a man who makes everyone laugh. (Unlike his wife, whose face would break if she tried to smile.) And every year when he comes, he brings a large basket of melons and another basket of Passito, the sweet wine of the region, a wine made out of dried grapes, which has a very ancient history going back to the time of myth.
(This is another story you must not ask me to tell: how a young goddess made a plot against Apollo with the help of this sweet drink….)
With the melons that Nardo brings — and the Passito wine — we make every year the simple dolce for our grape-gathering feast.
BUT IF you can not get Passito in your country, or other sweet Moscato wines, then it will be very good with the wine that the beautiful Signora Chiara tells me is called “Port”.
NOW I WILL TELL YOU THE MENU FOR OUR FEAST: — Crostini. (My son who has the trattoria in Pienza toasts the bread on our outside grill over olive-wood coals, while my daughter and I make the spreads and try not to talk about how badly the children of some people behave.) Another day I will give you more recipes for these crostini spreads.
— Tomatoes sliced, just with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar and some baslicio. Do you wonder how we have fresh tomatoes still? I have picked all the green ones before the frost and now they are gently ripening in my attic and we will have delicious ones until Christmas I think.
— Then the three platters with “pasta”:
— with my good ragu. I have already given you the recipe for my ragu, if you look on the “headings” above.
— with Gorgonzola cheese
— with Porcini mushrooms (which I have dried).
— Then Braccioli di Vitello (you will find the recipe above) for good veal chops which, again, my son cooks on the olive wood grill outside.
— with: Tinned spinach, (if you can imagine this!) which my sister-in-law brings from the South. But of course I must let her do some little thing in the kitchen even if it is only using the can opener.
— and with: Red onions baked with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (this is so simple I do not need to tell you how).
— Then: Melone di Vino Dolce (which we serve with pan forte, another Tuscan speciality. I will give you a picture below, and the recipe another day).
To prepare the melons, simply cut them in half, several hours before you want to serve, take out the seeds, and pour in a nice amount of sweet dessert wine or Port.
If you do not have pan forte you can dip biscotti into the wine and this will also be very good.
PERHAPS you will think these are not very many dishes for what in your country you would call a “feast’. I must tell you that in our Tuscan family in this zona we are not “whoopsie” with food. We eat everything with care and attention (and of course if Nardo is there, then with much laughter) taking a long time with each course. And each course is plentiful.
AND AGAIN, PLEASE REMEMBER: as we say in Tuscany, To eat well is the best revenge.