I’ve been separated from my good friend ‘baking’ for a short stint, but only because I took a trip to northern Italy, specifically the Veneto region, to attend a significant wedding: my brother’s! His fiance and her family live in the area, but most of my family is in the south, with just a few up north, and so it’s a convenient central point for everyone to congregate and celebrate — and we sure did. Countless bottles of prosecco sent back for recycling with nary a drop provided ample proof of the full-day event. Prosecco is the life-blood of this area, and every square inch of farmland has a vineyard placed on it, soaking up the fertile soil to produce those lovely little pale grapes.
This area of Italy is undoubtedly my favorite. Vineyards as far as the eye can see, wispy clouds always threatening to drop rain, and the slight smell of burning wood on the nose from fired ovens cooking slow meals for those who probably see them more often than not. There is a peacefulness out here that can only be found out in the Italian farmland, a peacefulness you don’t stop to take notice of until you’re out on vacation with no timeline and no strict work hours—you’re a spectator. Just another naive youth among ancient vines and olive trees that could tell stories of things far back before you were born. It's humbling, and it makes you slow down if only for a few moments, to take it all in and imagine yourself working and living here. Arduous work, to be sure, but more gratifying and fulfilling than working in a city behind a desk? Perhaps.
One thing is for sure: a nice afternoon walk through these vines wipes your day's troubles away.
I watched the farmers toil the earth, the grape leaves turn more green in the rain, and smoke slowly rise from chimneys like smoke from an old man's pipe. Yes this indeed is a perfect place for an event such as this. The reception hall was a small bed and breakfast, Moro Barel, with an ever-turning spit jam-packed with meat. That smell permeated the entire place day and night; there was no escaping the siren’s call.
The homestyle food at the reception was stellar. Each dish better than the one previous, and a special award goes to the stinging nettle risotto I wish I had taken a picture of… I couldn't part with my fork long enough to document the dish.
Before the reception the actual wedding was at the Municipio, primarily the town courthouse, and what Italian wedding is complete without the fully restored Volkswagen Beetle dropping off the bride-to-be?
Awesome, right? That blue color, just perfect.
It's a big thing in Italy, the restoration of older cars and scooters, especially VW Beetles and old Vespas. It's an exciting movement as most people desire older cars back when they had massive curves and a soul to their design. Not to say a brand new Ferrari or Lamborghini isn't a beautiful sight to behold, but I can appreciate these older models and the work they put into them just as much.
It was a great ceremony, and I’m incredibly happy for my brother and new sister, but truth be told she’s been a part of our family long before this event. I'm excited for them to start their new life together — Auguri!
After the wedding ceremony, I spent time with family for the most part with a few little trips out to see some sights and some more vineyards. One off the beaten path site we visited was Canova's Temple in Possagno, a stunning church made in the likeness of Rome's Pantheon (one of my favorite venues in all of Italy). We spoke to the person taking care of the place, and he let us go behind a locked wooden door to climb the several flights of stairs to the top of the dome. What a view from up there. If you're interested in architecture I highly recommend seeking out this temple, it has a beautiful mix of styles with the Doric columns, Catholic church inside, and blend of Greek and Italian influences running throughout.
There's something about sites like this and the Pantheon that speak to me, that massive sense of symmetry and perfect angles. It's a testament to the incredible architects of the time.1
From there we took a short trip out to Trieste to explore for an afternoon. This is another reason why I love Italy so much, a two-hour train ride can take you to a completely different place with entirely different food and completely different people. Trieste was a beautiful city, and I'll have to return in the future to spend some more time there walking along the ocean and exploring the innards of the city further.
Let's not forget about a few meals we had thanks to the bride's family. One was a large gathering where they made some great tagliatelle with bolognese sauce followed up by griddle-fried local cheese and grilled polenta. Crazy good.
Think you've cooked amazing pasta for a large group? Think again, take a look at the size of that pot! Marcello, the head cook here, made the traditional Bolognese sauce as they do in the north, it's hard to find it that good elsewhere.
And now for a truly savory dish, it looks like a small portion but honestly you could not eat any more than this. The cheese is incredibly creamy and savory, but not gooey or runny, just the right stiffness. You've never had a “grilled cheese” until you've had this. I think I'm now ruined from all further imitations. Grilled polenta is such a comfort food, it just tastes good, and this was a perfect pairing. I was completely stuffed at the end of these two dishes.
Starter Maintenance When on Vacation
Some of you might ask, “hey what did you do with your starter while you were gone that whole time?” Well, the short answer is I only stuck it in the fridge and let Brutus chill out. I increased my flour percentage by 50% and decreased the water percentage just a bit, mixed it up to a thick paste, put it in a handy Weck jar, and into the fridge it went with a clear label on top: DO NOT THROW! You never know when the eager fridge-rummager might toss something that looks like it has no life to it. In addition to the colder temperatures in the fridge, the reduced hydration helps to keep the starter from consuming all of its food during its rest.
Upon returning from my trip, my starter was out on the counter first thing, warming up and getting hungry. I started feeding once a day for a few days and then back up to twice a day in preparation for baking as soon as time permitted. My first couple will be a refresher, some simple country loaves for my Dad’s birthday coming up2.
Expect some new recipes coming your way very soon. I’ve been experimenting with whole grain flour for a heartier bread that's light and airy, although not quite as whole grain as my last 100% whole wheat loaves.