Delectables

Funny food-related stories and interesting recipes – no steak and potatoes here.

You Can’t Fly on Just One Wing – Cooking Demo at Frali Gourmet

On Friday night, Franco Marra had an audience of nine captivated locals at FraLi Gourmet, in Savannah. We were there to watch him do his magic: bringing Italian food to life with just a few simple, fresh ingredients.

Cooking Demo @FraLi Gourmet

We gathered around a beautifully set wooden table in the middle of the retail space. The haphazard group consisted of: Yuki Nakamura, a young Japanese man working in logistics at the Port of Savannah, who often comes into the store to buy fresh panini or pasta; Steve and Pat Cook, a couple from Tybee – he owns and operates Coastal Wood Design and she has several vacation rentals in Savannah; Trina Fountain, a local wine expert who works at Habersham Beverage  on Abercorn Street; Francisco Valdez, manager of XYZ Liquors on Tybee; Mara Drew, self-proclaimed FraLi- and panini-addicted massage therapist at Relax Therapeutic Massage , and her colleague, Jen Marks, an acupuncturist. Gerd and I completed the 7:30 seating. 

As Franco set up in the front of the room, the rest of us mingled and got to know one another over the wine we had brought with us.

Lisa (the ‘Li’ part of ‘FraLi’) came around with small plates of deliciousness: gluten-free crackers topped with imported Pecorino Toscano cheese and a dollop of her famous roasted pepper sauce, slices of house-made baguettes with creamy imported Tomini cheese drizzled with blackberry-habañero jam, and savory Castelvetrano olives wrapped in delicate coppa (slivers of pork shoulder cured with aromatic herbs and spices).

The cooking demonstration began with the filling for the first course: crèpes with sautéed mushrooms and Béchamel sauce. Franco explained how to infuse olive oil with garlic and herbs as he drizzled some FraLi garlic oil into the pan, and the room quickly filled with the pleasant aroma of sizzling mushrooms. When they were done, he began the Béchamel sauce, getting everyone laughing as he said in his heavy Italian accent, “You have to have the right dosage of butter, salt, pepper, nutmeg and flour for the roux.” He went on to describe the quantities needed, in ounces and grams and even cc’s. I looked at Pat, who used to be a nurse, and we burst out laughing. “Now, if you feel more comfortable to turn the pot instead of turn the whisk, it’s up to you.” He stirred the flour into the melted butter.” The end result looked like a thick, heavy cream. “Paste,” Pat said.

Béchamel Sauce

Béchamel Sauce

As we all watched the chef intently, he looked at Jen and said, “You with the bi-focal eyes! Don’t stare at me!” She covered her face in mock embarrassment and laughter filled the room. “I’m married, okay?” Franco continued, with his deadpan serious face. “Don’t get any ideas, no projects.” Lisa brought us the finished crèpes to taste, winking as she placed them on the table.

Jen

Jen avoiding Franco’s gaze

 

Yummy!

Next, Franco started on the vodka sauce for the main course. He instructed us to always use whole, peeled tomatoes and not crushed or diced tomatoes for authentic sauce. “And not flavored tomatoes!” He warned. “You have to use fresh herbs – rosemary or basil. And not oregano! Never use oregano. Oregano is only for Pizzaiola sauce. Blend the tomatoes with an immersion blender. And no, you don’t need a mask.” The sound of rolling thunder from a late-night storm (or maybe it was the drums from the John Cougar Mellencamp concert across the street at the Civic Center) mixed with the laughter around the table. He looked over at Jen again and asked, “Are you bi-polar? When I say something funny, you don’t laugh. When I say something not funny, you laugh. Even he got it.” He glanced at Yuki, who was smiling broadly.

Franco, as serious as a heart attack, dropped some butter in a large pot, then added garlic and red pepper flakes. He stirred intently for a few minutes, then added tomatoes, vodka, and salt. After the alcohol had cooked off, he stirred in heavy cream, followed a few minutes later by parmesan and a drizzle of basil oil.

“In my classes, I always see who is the slowest one,” he said as he walked around with the pot of sauce, letting everyone take a whiff. “Don’t fall in!” he joked, yanking it back from under Yuki’s nose. “Now taste it.” He placed the pot back in front of Yuki. Yuki hesitated, and Franco demonstrated. “Don’t use your middle finger!” he said, dipping his own stubby index finger into the rich sauce and bringing it to his lips. “You on a diet?” he asked Pat when she used her pinkie to try it. “Want to try again?” He looked around the table.

“It’s not double dipping if you use a different finger!” Francisco tasted the sauce again. “Very perceptive,” he said to Franco. “Perspicaccio!” Franco boomed. “Now, peep, peep, peep! Talk amongst yourselves!” He set the pot on the burner in the front of the room and disappeared into the back.

Vodka Sauce

 

 

Gemelli with Vodka Sauce

We were served heaping plates of FraLi’s gemelli pasta and sauce, dusted with freshly grated Parmigiano. As we finished up, Franco came out with a gorgeous dessert: Crostata di Frutta. He set it on the table and began to explain how to make it. “Listen, this is im-po-tent!” he shushed us as we oohed and aahed over the beautiful tart. “This is not for vegans or problematic people!” He produced a handful of dough and pinched off little balls. “Open your mouth,” he commanded. He threw dough balls into the men’s mouths, but handed them to the ladies to try. He described how to make the shortbread base. He passed around a vanilla bean, “from Madagascar.”

“I love that movie!” Gerd exclaimed. A small group of people came to the door and tried to open it. We all looked at them. “Awww, they want to come in and get some food,” I said. Pat smelled the long, dark pod in her hand. “It doesn’t suck to be us,” she said.

Franco and Lisa

 

Crostata di Frutti

As Franco finished up his explanation of the crostata and custard, Jen laughed, “Thank God we didn’t make it ourselves. We’d be drunk and hungry.”

“This place is like baseball,” Francisco added. The former baseball player went on, “There’s A, AA, AAA, and major league. This is major league!”

We ate our dessert in silence. Steve asked Pat if she’d like a little more wine. She looked around the table before sharing a story about her mom. The older woman was out on the town having a good time and when a server asked her if she wanted another drink, she retorted,

“You can’t fly on just one wing!”

 

Gerd, Franco and me

 

FraLi Gourmet is located at 217 West Liberty Street, across from the Civic Center. If you’d like to attend one of Franco’s cooking demonstrations, check out the FraLi Facebook page for upcoming events. You won’t be sorry!

Watch Franco in action:

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Delectables, Fun Stuff | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

South Tyrol – Bel Paese, Schönes Land

Dolomites G and I just got back from from a short trip to the Dolomites. Ever heard of them? Or South Tyrol?

Neither had I, before this trip.

The Dolomites are a mountain range in northern Italy, so named for the mineral that was discovered there, and which gives the mountains their pale color.

South Tyrol is an area that I can only describe as “unique.” It is Italy, but everyone speaks German!

It was the perfect place to visit with G’s youngest kids, who live in northern Germany and pretty much speak only German.

We booked a hotel in Merano, a charming city nestled in a beautiful valley. It had an almost Mediterranean feel to it, with palm trees and colorful plants that thrive there, sheltered as they are by the tall mountains. The mountainsides surrounding the city are planted with apples and grapes. The apple orchards are part of the largest combined orchard in Italy, and South Tyrol is also known to be one of the best wine producing regions.

I wonder if you could live off apples and wine?

The Windsor Hotel was lovely – it is family owned and directly on the river which you can walk along for a few blocks to get to the center of town.

We took that walk almost every day… to look for pizza. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that G’s son wanted pizza for every meal. And his daughter wanted ‘spaghetti mit tomaten sauce.’ Every. Single. Day.

Let me stop right here and say, The Little Ninja asked me not too long ago what I would eat if I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life. I said,

Pasta!

I take that back. After a week in Merano, where every other restaurant serves pizza and/or pasta, I got tired of it pretty damn quick!

But we did eat a fantastic pizza at Gaston, a little restaurant we found in a side alley. And I had an incredible lunch of gnocchi with arugula, truffle and prosciutto at a place called Flora. Gnocchi

Lucky for G and me, Relax Pizzeria (near the Palace Hotel) didn’t serve pizza for lunch. I had a scrumptious spaghetti carbonara (though not as good as G’s of course) and he had puttanesca (which was the spiciest dish we had during our stay). They also had a fantastic wine list – and wine for sale. G bought two nice bottles… but only one made it back to the States. If you look closely, you can see me in between all the wine bottles.

Relax Pizzeria

There is a lot to do around Merano. The people are very active and there are many walking and biking paths. There are lots of castles, too. We went to Trauttmansdorff Castle, which was a favorite place of the Austrian Empress Elisabeth (fondly known as Sissi). I was intrigued by her story … she was very unhappy as Empress and preferred to be alone, often walking or riding in the surrounding area.

Trauttmansdorff Castle

Trauttmansdorff Castle

Sissi

It is also home to the Touriseum, a museum of tourism that is full of lots of interesting items and history of the last hundred years of the tourist industry. There were tons of great quotes in English, French, German and Italian.

We rode the longest toboggan in Italy – down a 1-kilometer track. It was great fun…we did it three times… faster each time, of course! Toboggan

We also found a labyrinth a few kilometers out of town. To our surprise and delight, it was formed out of grapevines, planted with all different varieties of grapes. They aren’t sprayed, and visitors to the labyrinth are encouraged to taste them. That made me very happy, since I have a horrible sense of direction and thought I might starve to death trying to find my way out. Bonus: there is a wine tasting room there, and we bought a nice bottle of red.

Labyrinth

Labyrinth

You had to find 32 wooden figures in the maze, and there were lots of interesting sculptures as well.

Face

Grapes

Spaghetti Girl and Pizza Boy

Our last day there it rained, so we took the kids to Therme Merano, a spa in the middle of town. It has multiple indoor and outdoor swimming pools and a sauna. My favorite was the salt water pool, which played soothing instrumental music underwater! Very cool.

Therme Merano

That last night, when we were walking back to the hotel after dinner, a big storm blew in. There was thunder and strong winds, and we literally ran the last couple of blocks to get back. When we woke up the next morning we found out that 52 centimeters of snow had fallen in the mountains, the biggest snowfall on record in one day. We were afraid we wouldn’t get over the Brenner Pass – it was so strange driving through the mountains that had been green only a few days before, and now they were covered in piles of snow. We made it, although the traffic was horrendous.

South Tyrol is really beautiful, and the people are warm and friendly. I would recommend it wholeheartedly as a travel destination! G and I both hope to go back and explore some more.

Categories: Delectables, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

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