The Inside Story from Italian Wine Merchants

Shiny, Happy Day on the Italian Riviera

Posted on | March 18, 2011 | Written by Janice Cable | No Comments

Today, after solid weeks of weather that was overcast at best and flat-out raining at worst, I woke to find that the clouds dispersed, the sun shining and the sky that sapphire blue of sever clear. In short, the full beauty of the Ligurian Sea seems buffed and burnished and big enough to make your heart burst. My windows are open, and I can hear the waves crash against the jetty as I write. The sound of aggressively happy birds chirping creates a staccato soundscape, punctuated periodically by the pointless lament of the gulls. The gulls are everywhere.

It’s hard to stay indoors on a day like this, so I didn’t. Italian life gives you a really excellent excuse to take walks. For one thing, unlike in New York where I’ve lived for the past couple of decades, in Italy you can’t get delivery. The first couple of weeks I lived here, all I wanted was a diner to deliver me a veggie burger. A veggie burger, it turns out, can bear a tremendous amount of emotional weight. I’ve since relinquished that keening need and have in its place embraced the local custom of ambling about on a morning to collect the food you’ll eat later that day. As a writer, I find it really helpful to find things that get me up off my chair, away from my computer and out into the world. In New York, that thing that would pry me away was my dog; here it is procuring food.

Usually my first stop is my bakery, Panificio Boldrini, where the women behind the counter are entirely patient and pleasant to me. They correct my Italian gently and wait indulgently as I fumble with my €1 and €2 coins. Their focaccia is sublime—its crisp, salty top contrasts its sweet, chewy center, and it’s fairly saturated with piquant olive oil. Their satisfyingly gooey pizza balances acidic tomatoes with velvety mozzarella. And they make these tiny, itsy-bitsy hazelnut shortbread cookies that sandwich dark chocolate. I love this place, and I don’t even like bread.

My usual vegetable and fruit place, whose name I’ve yet to discern, is directly across from the alley where Panificio Boldrini is located. The people at this little grocery aren’t as warm as the women from the panificio, but their blood oranges, broccoli rabe and strawberries are so good, I don’t care. They could be downright abusive, and I’d still patronize them. There are many things that are annoying, problematic or troublesome about Italy. The produce, however, is not one. I find that a solid blood orange, or arance tarocco in Italian, can work to absolve a world of petty sins.

The main drag in Camogli is home to the chilly vegetable stand, as well as my favorite macelleria, or butcher, and a few fish shops. I know it doesn’t reflect well on my status as a foodie, but while I like eating seafood, I don’t like cooking it. Therefore, I can’t give you the skinny on the local scampi. This street also holds my favorite wine shop, La Bottega dei Piacceri, which is owned by a woman named Maria Rosa Costa who also owns a partially eponymous restaurant called Rosa. It’s a shop quite well and quirkily stocked; for no reason that I can discern, many of the bottle of wine wear little paper neckties. It makes the shelves look like they’re populated with a line of Scarsdale commuters. They also have a Facebook page, cutting edge for a Camogli business.

My favorite recent discovery is the pasta shop, Fiorella. It’s located between a narrow alley and the esplanade that runs along the beach, so it’s incredibly busy on weekends. They make the most exquisite little tortellini and ravioli, as well as gnocchi that’s like eating little puffs of clouds. Their pesto is pointy with basil, gorgeously verdant, and velvety with pine nuts. Today, much to the apparent disapproval of the woman behind the counter, I got gnocchi and the salsa nocce, a Ligurian sauce of nuts, cream and parmesan that typically tops a short, thick, dense pasta called trofie. I don’t like trofie; I do like gnocchi. I’m also American, and thus I hope the lovely pasta woman will pardon what is clearly a grievous gustatory error.

The air today feels clean enough to scrub all the vestiges of Gotham from my lungs. And it’s hard to be anything but annoyingly optimistic with the birds chirping their arias to spring, fecundity and the joy of fat, tasty worms. I still can’t help but find this exuberantly perfect weather kind of personally insulting, because on Monday I’m leaving for two weeks of traveling all over Toscana and beyond. It’s like the Riviera has given me a taste of perfection so that I can see what I’ll be missing.

Which is interesting, the thought of being on the road in Italy, homesick for my second home.

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