Major Choke in Venice
got back from a glorious week in Venice. Ate constantly, joyously,
insatiably: Perfectly fried little lagoon sole (sogliole) and cuttlefish
(seppie, like squid), incredibly flavorful grilled sea bass (branzino)
about the size of a farmed trout...also, my passion, sarde in saor,
served room temperature, alternating layers of gutted and beheaded,
olive oil-sauteed Adriatic sardines and vinegary onion with golden
raisins and pine nuts (pignoli). Sarde in saor is a very respected,
very primary dish about which Venetians are understandably passionate.
Mid-February is too early for that other Venetian masterpiece risi
e bisi (rice and peas), but I did luxuriate in the world's most remarkable
artichoke, the Veneto "castraure". These stunningly beautiful artichokes
only appear in markets such as Venice's Rialto in the springtime.
Yes, "castraure", as you might have guessed, is a word derived from
the Latin word that gave us "castrate", in the case of this tender
artichoke, the practice of plucking the newly emerged thistle from
the host plant. The castraure are combined with risotto, in which
they literally melt, as well as served alone sautéed, fried
or grilled. They are stupendous, and their leaf-adorned, purple and
green mail so surprised me that at first I had no idea they were artichokes.
Truly, the castraure is the visual stunner of the vegetable world.
So with great excitement I chose to fly in a pallet of them, about
300 kilograms (660 lbs). The New York Times was primed to publish
a piece about them, doubtless with a photo. So I called my customs
broker at JFK (the airport) in order to be advised that the chokes
had cleared customs and would be delivered to Fairway forthwith. I
was informed that they had indeed NOT cleared. The US Food and Drug
Administration inspector found a snail snoozing away inside one of
the crates and thus the entire shipment was summarily condemned. Not
only did Fairway lose the entire $7000 cost of the chokes and their
air freight charge, but we also were charged with the cost of their
physical destruction to the tune of six dollars per box (some 300
boxes), insult to injury on top of a heinous act not unlike killing
puppies. Plus, I'm afraid to try again. Can one be castrated more
Keep an eye on this space. I intend to have my way with you on numerous
occasions. We'll talk about, say, anything I want to talk about.