DINNER IN ASOLO

We were excited about going back to Asolo. We had gone there several years before on the recommendation of David’s high school friend, Reiko, during the bright, hot days of summer … the days of spaghetti straps and straw hats. So when David’s golf group had an event at the local course, he signed up right away. The Renaissance hill town, leading north away from the alluvial plains of the Veneto into the foothills of the Dolomites, is small and charming.

It was April, unenchanted … the day had alternated between drizzling and sprinkling. But evening brought a break in the clouds as we set out for dinner at any restaurant or trattoria or pizzeria that caught our fancy.

Tucked under an archway, it looked like “Nighthawks” … bright inside, as we stood in the dusky darkness on the narrow street. The kitchen was open, a large Aga-style stove along the back wall had a fire glowing in one of its ovens. We walked in. The sous chef was cleaning shimmering slices of red and yellow roasted peppers. There were only 4 or 5 tables in the room, and at 7:45, they probably wouldn’t have a table for us. Oh we have space, follow me. We walked through the carrara marble and glass kitchen … into a wood paneled and softly lit dining room overlooking the valley below. You could still see the trees and old buildings below, but some lights were already on. A favorite time of evening …

The menu had a few selections in each category and every one sounded tempting. It was white asparagus season … food porn on so many levels … and even though we had eaten it at previous meals, we knew the time to binge on this tender treat was brief.

The wait-staff was women … all dressed in black blouses and black, ankle-length skirts … as if from a 19th century novel gliding around the room as they lit candles and served food. Handsome young men in white shirts cleared dishes. A quiet evening, only a few other tables had diners; a shih tzu sat quietly under a nearby table as her human enjoyed dinner.

The sommelier … Caterina … came to help us with our wine selection. Despite a red meat secondo, she steered us toward an unfamiliar local white, Manzoni Bianco. A clone of Riesling and Pinot Bianco, she thought it was a better choice than Prosecco. The wine was very nice … medium body, crisp, and slightly vegetal. It sat in the bucket as we waited for our food. Ok, just one more sip.

A round loaf of warm bread was brought to the table, wrapped in a towel with a hot tile underneath … and since we were in the north, butter. And a small wooden plate appeared … there were some of the peppers that had enticed us earlier, a pickled onion, and local salumi. Our palates were whet.

The antipasto was served on two plates … asparagus swaddled in a white towel on one, a Giotto-perfect circle of scrambled eggs topped with wild field greens on another. We used a little salt and olive oil on the delicate spears, then took bites with the super-fluffy eggs. Is that a hint of chive among the greens? Or a baby spring onion?

We had decided on two primi. Ravioli stuffed with nettles … three large raviolo, open like a pouch to reveal the pale green filling, with tiny flecks of almonds dusted on top. So fresh, so good, soft and subtle and earthy. The other was pici … fat, round, homemade strands of pasta, it’s a sturdy shape that went well with the sausage and sage. The wine was a nice companion with these flavors.

Our secondo was beef cheek braised in red wine and served on polenta. It was meltingly tender, flaking at the touch of our eager forks, rich and flavorful. The polenta was smooth and fine grained. The white wine paired well with these flavors, too. The bottle was now empty.

Dessert. The usual choices were available, but we opted for one not often on an Italian menu. Mille feuille … millefoglie … napoleon. Custard is always irresistible, and a bite taken with some of the foglio, it made you understand why it is, and always will be, a classic.

Caterina returned to the table, now with an unusual request. She said a couple of her friends were just finishing their dinner, and wondered if we might like to meet them. The ragazzo writes about the Veneto, she said, food and hotels and touring. Of course. From Treviso, within a few moments Alberto invited us to call him the next time we were in the area … and added that he would take us to some places off the beaten track. And share the best pizza north of Napoli.

Food … friends, expected and unexpected. That’s what we [heart] about Italy.

Trattoria Moderna Due Mori … Asolo (TV).

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ROAST DUCK

1 4-pound duck
Salt

- Preheat oven to 375°F (190° C).
- Score the fat on the breast in a diamond pattern … on the back, score on each side of the backbone.
- Sprinkle with salt, inside and out.
- Place duck, breast side up, on a rack in a roasting pan. (I like to put rosemary branches under the duck.)
- Roast for 45 minutes. Baste, then turn duck so that the back is up … roast 45 minutes or until the skin is golden brown. Again, baste and turn the duck so the breast is up … roast 30 minutes, or until the skin is golden brown. Baste.
- Present it at table … either in the roasting pan or on a platter … it will get oohs and aahs.
- Let rest 5 minutes, then cut into pieces with poultry shears.
Enjoy!

It really is this simple. You can serve it with plum sauce or orange marmalade … or nothing. Be sure to save the fat … it makes fabulous fried potatoes, and worth the indulgence every so often. It is part of the French Paradox. And keep the bones to make duck broth.