By Rick Riozza
Last week’s stellar CV Weekly’s cover designed by Robert Chance (celebrating the annual Persied meteor shower in the Joshua desert), brought to mind that this event is wonderfully observed in Italy/Sicily and is known as “La Notte di San Lorenzo”—“the night of Saint Laurent”, which in Italia is more traditionally recognized as “the Night of a Thousand Shooting Stars”.
During my Roman Catholic up-bringing, at Confirmation, my patron saint became San Lorenzo; and, throughout Italy, he is feted on August 10th with scrumptious meals, delicious wines and romantic revelry while the night is continually lit with a myriad of shiny wisps from heaven.
The very subjective bucket list of Italian movies to see before dying in Naples, includes, of course, the beautiful Cinema Paradiso—please catch the director’s cut, and, Night of the Shooting Stars, (1982) directed by the Tavilini Bros. where the movie is about the night when dreams come true in Italian folklore. The story takes place in 1944 where a group of Italians flee their town after hearing rumors that the Nazis plan to blow it up and that the Americans are about to arrive to liberate them.
I remember reading The New Yorker magazine’s famed film critic, Pauline Kael, go absolutely gaga over this movie: “The Night of the Shooting Stars is so good it’s thrilling. This film encompasses a vision of the world. Comedy, tragedy, vaudeville, melodrama—they’re all here, and inseparable… the film stirs warm but tormenting memories of a time when we were beloved and were a hopeful people.” She goes to correctly describe how this beautifully filmed movie goes off at times quite surreal but never do you lose the real life experience—as opposed to some Fellini movies (which we do love) that can strangely fall off the edge of the story line.
I know a lot of you readers are lovers of all things Italian, so this is the perfect time with the sultry night weather and the celestial theatre above (the Persied meteor shower can last a week) to frolic Italian with late-night patio/backyard dinner gatherings to enjoy gorgeous platters of Italian fare and tasty Italian wine. The festivity will be characteristically nuanced while Italian actors romantically emote and memory-filled music play in the background as you showcase the likes of Cinema Paridiso, Shooting Stars, or your own favorite Italian movie on a flat-screen somewhere nearby.
Mangiamo! Beviamo! & Diamo grazie al Signore! It’s time for friends and family to prepare and share their favorite Italian meals and vino and thank the Lord for His blessings! And for those Italian wine inspired plates, this is what I’m bringing to the party: (By the way—Barolos, Brunellos, and Super-Tuscans are great wines, but we’re not breaking the bank here, there are so many other reasonably priced Italian wines that match meals magnificently!)
With the cheese, salumi & olives Antipasti platter along with crostini and foccacia, the perfect starter for the evening is the light-sparkling (frizzante) Lambrusco. No—I’m not talking about that candied “Riunite on Ice” stuff of a few decades back, I mean real Lambrusco secco, dry, earthy and slightly bitter yet joyous and refreshing, beloved by millions in Emilia-Romagna. This frothy, low-alcohol, wine is like a Beaujolais that takes beautifully to a chill, making it a wonderful summer red.
Labels to look for are: Cleto Chiarli Lambrusco at $18; Luciano Saetti at $20; and for a real treat at $27 is the Fattoria Moretto, Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro Monovitigno, which is exuberant and lip-smacking with just the barest suggestion of sweetness.
For a fun but classic pasta plate, let’s do a Rigatoni Alla Norma that is so famous in Sicily. At its most basic, the dish includes pasta with fried (even crispy) eggplant, fresh herbs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, garlic and tomato sauce, baked or served straight from the stovetop.
Rich red wines are the forte of Sicily with big but soft flavors of spicy plum, wild berry and a little smoke that come from the Nero D’Vola grape. Trader Joe’s has a bunch of these wines so reasonably priced around $5. For a wine more complex with comparisons to a Burgundy Pinot Noir, look for Firriato Nerello Mascalese Sicilia Branciforti Feudi Bordonaro or any wine made from the Nerello Mascalese grape. It’s crisp with pure cherry, earth, and spice notes. Ask for it at Total Wine & More, Palm Desert.
A very versatile red to enjoy with everything on this page is the Rosso di Montalcino. It’s Tuscan Sangiovese and the “baby brother” of the Brunello with similar classic cherry and roses flavors but less tannic, lighter, fruitier and ready to drink now. Look for Mocali at $18, Le Chiuse at $22, and Altesino at $25
One of my favorite chicken dishes is the Pollo Al Diavolo, (Devil’s style). Brined overnight in white wine vinegar that’s been infused with dried oregano, the chicken is then roasted and half-glazed with a mustard/spice mixture.
Perfect for both a red and white wine, let’s have a Campania white from the north of Naples. Both the Greco di Tufo and the Fiano grapes possess tasty tangy acidity with citrus and melon notes which can get tropical when the wine is aged in oak. The Greco is full-bodied, while the Donnachiara Fiano at $20, or, the Mastroberardino Fiano di Avellino at $25 is lighter with fresh floral profiles and flavors of apples, pear, citrus, blanched nut, wax, pine forest and mineral.
For dessert, I’m simply driving over to Buon Appetito Cal/Italian Deli in Palm Springs across from the Ace Hotel, to pick up a few dozen Tiramisu Profiteroles that are the light, creamy, a touch gooey and so incredibly tasty.