When I began gathering recipes and researching wine lore for “The Wine Lover Cooks Italian,” I made several trips to Italy on my own, and a few with my wife, but never got anything like the acceptance I did after we had a baby:
In Venice, at Alle Testiere, owner Luca DaVita was a subscriber to Decanter, the wine magazine I write for, but when we asked him for a recipe for red mullet, olives and pasta, he said he wouldn’t give out recipes. Desperately, I pointed to her stomach–“But she’s pregnant!” I exclaimed. Luca, who’s a dead ringer for Ben Kingsley, said with a twinkle, “I’ll give the baby the recipe.” A year later, we went back to Venice for a weekend and brought a photo of Patrick–we got the recipe.
In Urbino, we were in search of vincisgrassi, the world’s most luxurious lasagna. Killing time before lunch at Vecchia Urbino, we went to the Ducal Palace, a museum in a huge and very grand villa. The really valuable paintings are behind plastic panels meant to keep viewers a few feet back, but Patrick found he could crawl around and squeeze behind them, which set off the burglar alarms. The guards came around after a few minutes and shut off the alarm, laughing. This happened several times, and they thought it was funnier every time. We thought it was a good scenario for a heist movie. Down the hill, the chef wasn’t too forthcoming, till we told him the story. He gave us the recipe.
On the shore of Lake Bolsano, north of Rome, we went to Il Purgatorio, where we were told the chef did a lot of unusual pasta dishes. We got lost, and arrived as he was closing up–he waved us away, but his wife saw Patrick, smacked the chef on the arm and glared at him, then beckoned us inside. We ate a fabulous lunch, joined by them. We got some good cooking tips, and two recipes.
“The Wine Lover Cooks Italian” is dedicated to Patrick, because I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have done it without him. . . Obviously the moral of the story is, don't forget to bring the baby.