fig. a: Italians doing it better
There were all kinds of surprises waiting for me when I got home from work the other day.
fig. b: Atwater flowers
First off, no one could accuse Michelle of not bringing me flowers anymore because she'd visited the Atwater Market early that afternoon and picked up these beauts. Okay, they weren't exactly for me, but still...
Her real adventure, though, began not long after her trip to the market. That was when she made arrangements to visit Antonio Pettinicchi all the way out on Sauvé East. That was when she got the real treats.
fig. c: olive tree
Now if you're not familiar with Antonio Pettinicchi (we sure weren't until about a week ago), all you need to know is that on his farm in Molise he produces exceptional olive oil strictly according to traditional methods (hand-picked olives, cold pressed, stone millstones, etc.), all of it is absolutely organic, his only North American outlet is in Montreal, and the quality/price ratio is such that many of the city's finest kitchens have taken note. Every year he comes to town for about a month so that he can do a little wheeling and dealing, and every year he sells out swiftly.
Antonio was there to greet Michelle and he immediately took a shine to her--the fact that she'd arrived by bike didn't hurt. He let her sample both his extra-virgin olive oil and his extra-virgin wild olive oil and Michelle was suitably impressed. Both were outstanding--light, yet intricate--but the extra-virgin wild olive oil was the one that really blew her away--it had a wonderful pepperiness to it the likes of which she'd never encountered before.
fig. d: olive oil bottle composite
Then Michelle got introduced to the rest of the Pettinicchi line, including...
fig. e: green olives
...beautiful, plump green olives...
fig. f: canned pomodorini
...lovely canned pomodorini, artisanal cavatelli, heaven-sent balsamic vinegar and vin cotto, and a gorgeous array of confettura, including quince-apple, Barbary fig, and...
fig. g: confettura di melone
...this exotic white watermelon number. In other words: abbondanza!
It didn't take us long to begin enjoying our spoils. We uncorked a bottle of wine and opened up the green olives, and a little later we transformed one jar of pomodorini into a simple, delicious sauce for the cavatelli that highlighted the natural sweetness of the tomatoes. We were going to just wing it, but then we decided to see what Marcella Hazan had to say, and we found this comment introducing her Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter: "This is the simplest of all sauces to make, and none has a purer, more irresistibly sweet tomato taste." She adds that this sauce is "unsurpassed" for potato gnocchi, but that it's also excellent with certain factory-made pastas, such as spaghetti, penne, or rigatoni. We took liberties and had it with the cavatelli.
Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
1 cup canned imported Italian pomodorini, with their juice
2 1/2 tbsp butter
1/2 medium onion
salt to taste
1/2 - 3/4 lb pasta
freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
Put the canned tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, the onion (don't chop it), and the salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow but steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir from time to time. Taste and correct for salt. Discard the onion before tossing the sauce with the pasta. Serve immediately, sprinkling liberal amounts of parmigiano-reggiano overtop. (You'll find that the cheese marries particularly well with this sauce because it's one of Hazan's specialty butter-based pasta sauce recipes.)
[based on a recipe from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking]
Marcella was right about that sauce, but then she's never led us wrong. And its butter base allowed us to keep Antonio's olive oil strictly for bread-dipping.
The next morning we trotted out the white watermelon preserve and discovered that it has these incredible caramel notes to it and that it's equally good on toast or on yogurt.
Antonio is only in town for a couple of months, he's rapidly running out of some of his products already, and once he's gone he won't be back again until next year, but if you'd like to get in on the action you can contact him and arrange your own personal rendez-vous. Of course, certain specialty food stores in Montreal and environs carry Pettinicchi products, but wouldn't you rather buy your olive oil from the man himself?
Les Importations Antonio Pettinicchi
1579 Sauvé East
Ph: (514) 996-1900
Personally, I was so impressed and so eager to meet Antonio that I convinced Michelle to take me to Sauvé East just two days later.
fig. h: Pettinicchi's Montreal offices
Once again we took our bikes (that's Michelle's there on the right).
fig. i: Pettinicchi's wild olive oil
And when we got back home we sampled some more Pettinicchi wild olive oil.
Need one last final push? Check out what Nancy Hinton of La Table des Jardins Sauvages & SoupNancy has to say about Antonio and his olive oil.
* Of course, there are exceptions to this rule:
Those of you with an interest in Patience Gray, edible weeds, Tuscany, Italian cuisine, and Italian culture more generally might want to check out Adam Federman's "Paradise Lost" at The Whetting Stone, which chronicles the melancholy story of Carrara, its fabled marble, and those who sought it (including Gray and her partner, the sculptor Norman Mommens) through the ages.
File under: "It's a strange and beautiful world"