A surprising Encounter in Firenze May 14, 2012
As you may have read in our last blog entry, Piping For The Soldiers, we love to travel as a family and feel that it is one of the most important experiences that we can give to our children. Our trip to see the beaches of Normandy really got us thinking about our place in the world and reminded us of an extraordinary experience we had on a family trip to Italy.
A few years ago, actually ten, The Bosca family was spending a spring vacation in Florence, Italy (definitely a family favorite)! Mario and Nicholas were 6 and 3 respectively and we were enjoying a fun filled visit full of weapon museums for Nicholas and Ferrari stores for Mario. To Chris and I it was a time of feeling a bit strange to be Americans out in the world. To many Europeans, Americans were not very popular and we wondered what people were thinking or feeling about having us there. We found ourselves wondering where we really fit in and how the image of Americans was changing. It was a wonderful trip with an undertone of uncertainty.
After a day of comparative gelato-ing (a family expression), seeing cool stuff in the Bargello, walking through the Central Market, having more gelato, eating Panini on the curb in the Piazza Signoria, playing some soccer in the piazza with some Italian students, and having a short rest, we went to a favorite Pizzaria down the street from our apartment.
Upon entering it was clear that we were the only Americans dinning there that night. We were seated and Chris and I had a delicious Chianti and the boys were feeling very lucky to have been able to order their favorite Fantas. Now I will say here that our darling children are not absolutely perfect as their grandparents might tell you, but they do have very nice table manners and they know how to act in an adult situation. We were talking and laughing amongst ourselves but I was a little uncomfortable due to the man a few tables over who was watching us very closely. I tried to ignore him the best I could but I felt his eyes on us as I ate my way through my gorgonzola pizza. Chris, Mario, and Nicholas all became aware of his stares and we could not figure out what we were doing that was causing him to watch our every move.
At the end of his dinner, the gentleman approached out table. He was elderly and dignified looking, and he was accompanied by what looked to be his grandson. He asked us if we were Americans. We had already been feeling defensive, so we answered yes with some hesitation. He spoke in English, perfect but heavily accented with French. He said:
“thank you for being Americans, and for all that America has done for the world in the past, all that you are doing at the present, and all that you will do in the future.”
I was so stunned I could not answer. How I wish that I could go back and tell him how much I appreciated his words. He quietly left us with our jaws on the floor. I felt such strong emotions. Of course we cannot always know that what we, as a nation, are doing is correct, and will have the best influence on the course of history, and many times we may do the wrong thing. But we do stand for our values, often with courage and bravery.
Knowing what is really right and wrong in the world today seems to be more complicated and less black and white to me all the time. This man’s viewpoint was very clear and very passionate. It was born out of his personal experience in WWII. He made us feel both humble and proud at the same time. We can’t go back in time, but today we would like to thank this man, and the French for remembering.
Vin Santo with Biscotti Di Prato
Vin Santo is a desert wine served with Biscotti Di Prato. Biscotti are very hard – dip the biscotti into the wine to soften as well as to add flavor- and what a sweet/aromatic flavor it is!
Vin Santo is aged at least 3 years in barrels (traditionally chestnut, but now mostly oak). This type of wine will keep for several years but it does not really improve with age the way some wines can. I have kept this unopened bottle (pictured above) for a long time- probably too long, but I can’t bring myself to open it yet. It is from my very good friend Valerio. I have known Valerio for more that 25 years now. He is a leather accessories maker who does work for Bosca as well as for the big European luxury brands- making the most beautiful wallets on earth. Valerio’s father was a wine maker for the Antinori Vineyard. On his own land in Tuscany he grew Sangiovese grapes for Chianti and Trebbiano grapes for Vin Santo, and there he made his own wine in his spare time.
This dedication to one’s work – where vocation and avocation intermingle with the mid-day meal , slow winter afternoons when the vines have been pruned and the fall’s pressing are fermenting is so classically Italian. I want to put it in a bottle and save it for all future generations. Saving this bottle, gifted to be many years ago by Valerio, is my way of doing that.
Like his father with wine, Valerio is an artisan who puts his heart and soul into his work.
Now I indulge by dipping my biscotti into a glass of Vin Santo from I Veroni or Colle Bereto. I am fortunate to have two great friends from both these vineyards. Luca and Bernardo are masters of their craft; both put themselves into their work just as Valerio’s father did.
Bosca is about “Italian Design, American Functionality.” With our daily work we are tapping into this life of the artisan and bringing it home to America. Whether it is through food, wine, leather, or travel, we hope that you will enjoy life in a creative, original way in 2012.
BISCOTTI DI PRATO
I began making biscotti about 14 years ago. I can’t quite remember what prompted me to start what quickly became a favorite holiday tradition but what I do vividly recall is my then 18 month old son intently watching me prepare the biscotti with his big, round eyes.
He would ride around the kitchen on my back in a little baby-backpack while I cooked… the making of the biscotti always seemed extra special for him. This very same son, who is now 6′ 2″, still asks me when we are going to make the Christmas biscotti. I love that. Even though there is no association with biscotti and the holidays in Italy, for me there always will be.
Making them is easy. You don’t have to be a real baker for success. This recipe is for the genuine and historically correct article and are very different from the Americanized version that are widely available now in many coffee shops. These biscotti are hard- really hard. They are always served with a sweet desert wine like Vin Santo or Aleatico so that they can be moistened before enjoying.
BISCOTTI DI PRATO (adapted from a recipe of Giuliano Bugialli*)
- 2 oz blanched almonds
- 6 oz unblanched almonds
- 4 cups unbleached flour (just get rid of all the bleached flour in your house)
- 2 cups sugar
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of saffron (but don’t be too stingy here)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 egg white beaten (for glazing the cookies)
Toast all the almonds in a 375 oven for 15 minutes. Combine 1 oz of each of the blanched and unblanched almonds and grind these finely. Chop the balance of the almonds into coarse pieces. Combine the remaining ingredients, adding the flour slowly. Knead for 10-15 minutes. Add all of the almonds and knead for another 2-4 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 equal parts. Roll the parts into logs that are about ¾ inch in diameter. Brush the dough with egg white. Bake for 20 minutes at 375. Remove and slice at 45 degree angles into pieces that are about 1-2” long. Bake for an additional 35-40 minutes at 275. The biscotti will be very dry and hard, and this is correct.
STORAGE; Wait until they are fully cooled before you store them. Keep them in a air-tight container.
TO ENJOY; I recommend the tradition Italian pairing of biscotti with some Vin Santo. Dip to moisten and then consume.
*FOOTNOTE; For those of you who are not familiar with Giuliano Bugialli, he was a ‘Celebrity Chef’ before the term was coined…(at least in my family). He is widely known for his knowledge about the histories of the Italian traditions. Bugialli not only provides direction for some amazingly delicious traditional Italian fare but the background of the regional specialties being prepared.