“What is good?” Czeslaw Milosz asks himself in a poem. His answer, “Garlic. A leg of lamb on a spit. Wine.” A similar sensibility rules in me.
What is good? A plate of lovingly-prepared Roman pasta, a well-dressed salad, Mom’s pot roast. What is evil? Ostentatiousness, cheapness, hoggishness.
What is good? Smoking a cigar on the porch. What is evil? Addiction.
What is good? Poetry, painting, astronomy, biology, geometry, music. What is evil? The various fires that consume the liberal arts: the fire of oppression, the fire of ignorance, the fire of distraction, the fire of bad art, the fire of inert knowledge.
What is good? Friendship, the party crowded in the kitchen, the pleasures of Eros. What is evil? The million ways we find to pervert these jewel-like ends into mere means to an end, including various so-called moral principles that drain the colors of love.
What is good? Wine, one of the clearest and truest joys, capable of making everyone in its vicinity more beautiful, more charming, and more intelligent. What is evil? A drunk, who can be one of the most hideous things on the planet.
What is good? The individual, the family, the local cheese. What is evil? The masses, those who drone on about family values, the chain restaurant that pawns itself off as homey.
What is good? Understanding that the line between good and evil, however you choose to draw it, always splits us in two. What is evil? The obsession with evil.
What is good, therefore, is respect, and, failing that, compassion, and, failing that, tolerance. What is best of all? Laughter and forgiveness.
What is good? Garlic. A leg of lamb on a spit.
Wine with a view of boats rocking in a cove.
A starry sky in August. A rest on a mountain peak.
What is good? After a long drive water in a pool and a sauna.
Lovemaking and falling asleep, embraced, your legs touching hers.
Mist in the morning, translucent, announcing a sunny day.
I am submerged in everything that is common to us, the living.
Experiencing this earth for them, in my flesh.
Walking past the vague outline of skyscrapers? anti-temples?
In valleys of beautiful, though poisoned, rivers.
I'm not sure if it's a trend, but I desperately needed the comforts of rich pasta and wine tonight, just as I did last Thursday. I had had a bottle of a delicious wine last week with some friends, Chateau Pierrefitte 2010, a Pomerol, and I wanted to make some pasta that was up to it (I bought another bottle). This Pomerol tastes like you're eating some really lovely cherries by a bonfire where duck is being roasted - for good measure, let's say that you're also in Southwestern France. So, this is what I came up with in the store to complement the wine.
Penne with Duck Confit and Cherries
Put on water for your pasta. I got fresh penne.
Cut up some duck confit and throw it in a hot pan with garlic. Add some cream and dried cherries (not too many), and let simmer.
After a bit, add a nice big hunk of gourmandise cheese (I found some that was made with kirsch; if you don't have that you could add some kirsch into the duck before you add the cream).
Add a little allspice, cinnamon, black pepper, and salt. Also, some slivered almonds.
When the pasta is done, put a half-cup of the pasta water into the sauce so it's not too thick. Add the pasta to the sauce, and swirl it around.
Serve immediately . . . and if you have a Pomerol, drink it.
I’ve been feeling blue. So after work I felt like I needed something comforting, delicious, easy, and new. What I dreamt up while shopping fortunately came out to be all four.
Bucatini with Roasted Fennel, Pancetta, and Manchego
Put on some water for your pasta (I used some handmade bucatini that a local grocery store makes. Its fat long softness was perfect. But boxed penne or something like that would work, too.)
Slice a fennel bulb, toss in olive oil and salt, and roast in a 400 degree oven until tender and browned (it doesn’t take that long - roughly fifteen minutes).
Dice and fry some pancetta until golden. Throw in a clove of garlic and cook for another minute or so.
Add a half-pint of cream and let it gently bubble for fifteen minutes or so. Add some chunks of manchego and let the cheese melt. Throw in your fennel whenever it’s finished roasting. Salt and pepper to taste.
Cook your pasta. When it’s finished, add a spoonful of the pasta water to the sauce. Drain the pasta, and swirl it around in the cream sauce. Diced fennel fronds look nice on top.
Obviously, serve right away.
With the pasta I had a couple of glasses of a good table wine, the 2010 Monferrato Rosso, which was blended by the ultimate wine importer Kermit Lynch, who also wrote a lovely book about wine that I recently read. It's a cheerful straightforward Piedmont wine, a little like an Italian farmer who just got back from a trip to France with a few stories to tell. (I’m still trying to come up with a better way of talking about wine . . .) It’s probably not the kind of wine that I’d think to pair with the pasta, but it was what I had, and it was more than sufficient to the task.
I don't think that most descriptions of wine are very good. The general wine description is simply a bunch of tastes and smells. Since most of the descriptors are similes, the overall description is simply a these-are-a-few-of-the-things-that-occurred-to-me sort of description. But the way that we experience things is not just as a bunch of desciptors but as some kind of unity. What a good wine description needs is story or poetry, for it's in terms of narrative and organized metaphor that we come face to face with reality. I'd like to try to practice the kind of wine description that I think is on the right track.
Here's an attempt.
I just bought the 1997 Catina Vignaioli Barbaresco to have as a New Year wine. The greatest wine I've ever drunk was a 1997 Brunello, so I was excited. This wine wasn't as good as the Brunello, but it was beautiful. The whole point of the wine was to transform orange into red. It began with a perfume of rust that turned on the tongue into the taste of cherries. As it opened up, it became the perfume of bitter oranges that turned into the taste of pomegranates. The finish was long and waterfalled into various hues of red. In short: oranges into reds. Autumn.