July 19

A Tuscan feast

16  comments

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I’ve had a couple of readers ask about the Mediterranean diet as touted by those in the nutritional field as compared to the Mediterranean diet as it is consumed by those who live in the Mediterranean. Our group attended a Tuscan feast held at Castello Verrazzano – a winery that has been in production for centuries and is one hill over from the family of Amerigo Vespucci, the person after whom America was named – a couple of nights ago, and I took some photos to document what we were served.
The picture above is of Luigi Cappellini, the owner and vintner of Castello Verranzzano, who is hugging MD. To MD and Luigi’s right are JoAnne Wasserman, conducter and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Choral Society, Luigi’s mother Donna Clara Cappellini, and Brooks Firestone. To Luigi’s left are Kate Firestone and Jim Robbins . Why are all these people huddled together for this photo? Because MD is the new president of the board of the Santa Barbara Choral Society. Jim Robbins is the outgoing president. Brooks and Kate Firestone are the owners of Firestone Vineyard in Santa Barbara and the parents of Andrew Firestone (one of the first – if not the first—bachelors on The Bachelor). Brooks arranged the whole Tuscan dinner event with the able assistance of Gino Rossi, the director of events such at this at Castello Verrazzano.
You may ask how MD is going to be able to be the president of the Santa Barbara Choral Society when we live in Santa Barbara less than half the time. It is the same question I asked her. She insists she can do it, and based on her performance in other similar situations, I’m sure she will do just fine, thanks chiefly to the wonders of email and telephone and airplanes.
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This photo is of MD and me in front of a large fountain at the winery. I apologize for these posed photos, but my aged parents are following our travels on this blog, and these pictures are for them. Hi Folks. We’re fine.
Now to the dinner…
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The first course was a plate of wild boar sausage and proscuitto. This was followed by yet another plate of wild boar sausage made with fennel that was out of this world. The winery harvests the boars (cinghiale in Italian) right from the Castello property; we were able to catch a glimpse of a small herd in the woods nearby, but the photo just looks like a little dark blob from the distance we were away so I won’t post it.
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This is my plate with the various sausages on it along with a bruschetta covered with chopped tomatoes dressed with a vinaigrette. I didn’t get photos of the full serving plates of some of this food – the bruschetti, for example – because it was served on the opposite side of the table and by the time the serving plate got to me there wasn’t much on it.
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This tasty little treat is lardo, which, just as it sounds, is the fat of the boar. I ate my first piece without the bread and the second with the bread. Sadly, it’s much better with the bread. By itself it tastes like, well, pig fat. Savory pig fat, but pig fat nonetheless.
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Here is the first real course: Pappardelle (pasta) with wild boar in a brown savory sauce. (Pardon the messy plate, but the serving platter had been half way around before it got to us.) Most of the people at our table picked the pasta out from around the chunks of meat. MD and I did just the opposite.
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After the wild boar and pasta came the next course, which was roast Guinea fowl…
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…followed by roast pork loin. Both were perfectly cooked, with crispy skin and juicy meat, and delicious.
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The last course of the meal proper was a salad of plain greens with a very light vinaigrette.
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Then came dessert – a small piece of an apple tart. You can see the tart on the left and the proper low-carb way to eat it on the right.
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Finally, there was vin santo and biscotti, the traditional Italian dessert. Vin Santo (or vino santo as they call it) is a fortified white wine, which means that it has a significantly higher alcohol and sugar content than standard white wines. To enjoy it in true Italian fashion, you put a small almond biscotti in the glass of this wine and let it set for a few minutes, softening as it absorbs the wine. Then you eat the wine-laden biscotti. It is delicious. Not particularly low-carb, but truly delicious. And it’s a lot lower in carb than a lot of other desserts that aren’t nearly so elegant, easy to make or tasty.
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Finally, came the coffee, during which Donna Clara asked if the group would sing for her one last time. (She had been moved to tears when they had sung for her on the terrace during the pre-dinner festivities.) The singers stood at their respective tables and belted out a couple of numbers. The rest of us enjoyed the show.
As you can see from the photos and the description, this dinner was anything but high-carb, low-fat. And it didn’t contain much olive oil, the supposed backbone of the Mediterranean diet. In fact, the salad pictured above didn’t even have olive oil in the vinaigrette. Most of the calories in this particular meal came from pork fat, which is the real fatty backbone of the true Mediterranean diet, not olive oil.
I once shared a podium at a conference on diet held in Chicago about 15 years ago with Coleman Andrews, the erstwhile editor of Saveur magazine, now at Gourmet, I think. During his presentation on the composition of the real Mediterranean diet, he pointed out that the primary fat used in the Mediterranean was lard. Olive oil, he said, was too valuable as an export crop. After our Tuscan dinner, I have to say that I agree with him. Remember this the next time someone tells you to eat a Mediterranean diet for good health. And by all means, do eat a real Mediterranean diet, not what passes for a Mediterranean diet in the minds of most nutritionists. Remember the wise words of Emeril Lagasse: Pork fat rules!


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  1. Having been raised to be a lover of cooking with pork fat, I think you just made my day!
    (Time to go make my bacon and eggs scrambled in bacon grease for breakfast.)
    Enjoy! 

  2. Hi Doc,interesting that most people thin about pasta when they think of Italian food.Thanks for the insights.
    Most people except for the Italians.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  3. Your writing and pictures about your trip are enchanting. It’s time for you to write a book about it. Perhaps a slim (low-carb) volume, more playful than serious. I’d buy it. Ci vedremo!~
    I guess we could count on selling at least one.  I’ll pass that on to our publisher.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  4. Thanks for the eye feast and contrasting what you experienced vs. what we are told is a “Mediterranean Diet”. More and more, I’m becoming convinced that properly raised pork is much of the world’s wonder food and should be on my plate more often. In fact I’m putting a shoulder roast on the BBQ for 4-5 hours of indirect slow cooking this afternoon. Learning how to make those salami and sausages is on my list of things to try, too.
    And you two look so color coordinated! Posed or not, very nice photos.
    Cheers,
    Anna
    Yep.  Pork seems to be the meat of choice in Europe, that’s for sure.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  5. Please adopt me.
    And take me with you to these places.
    By the way, does wild boar have a gamey taste at all?
    Send the papers for adoption, and we’ll consider it.  First, though, you should speak with our children.  According to them, we are harsh task masters, so maybe you’ll want to reconsider.
    No, wild boar does not taste gamey.  It’s pretty lean and tasty.  I’m sure the taste depends to a great extent on the food the boars have eaten.  I’ve eaten boar in Italy a number of times and in California also.  I’ve never had boar that was gamey.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  6. What a yummy looking feast! The roast pork loin looks especially wonderful (I love steak but pork is hands-down my most favorite meat.) Did you get very many strange looks as you photographed the food or are is everyone used to you doing that by now?
    The comment about saving the olive oil for export brings to mind another post that you did about a previous trip to Italy. In that one, you told about the chickens being turned over an open spit and being basted with lard as they roasted. Again, olive oil was mentioned as being more of an export item than an ingredient commonly used in the typical Italian kitchen.
    Congratulations to MD on becoming president of the board of the choral society!
    Nah, I don’t get many strange looks now.  As MD has always said, I take a little getting used to.  Once the rest of the group got used to me, they didn’t give me a second glance.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  7. you evil bugger this is almost more than i can handle..
    all that Euro meat and no mention of Rocco anywheres !
    Yes, it’s so sad.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  8. Thanks for another great post and pictures!
    you have me wondering…
    what was the oil in the vinaigrette?
    how long did it take for all those courses?
    Hi Connie–
    I don’t know what the oil was in the vinaigrette, but it wasn’t olive oil unless it was the lightest olive oil I’ve ever tasted.
    The entire dinner took about two hours.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  9. Hi Dr. Eades, I just bought your PP and PPLP books and am reading through them currently. I really do enjoy eating pork but am wondering if I should be concerned about the meat quality (I live in Canada). I doubt it would come close to the quality of the boar in your Tuscan dinner. My questions are: how do you shop for quality pork, and what kind of pork do you recommend eating (are grocery sausage and bacon a bad choice)? Forgive me if these questions seem silly; I grew up a vegetarian so I never really did learn about shopping for meat.
    Hi Arti–
    I’m always concerned about meat quality, so I try to buy naturally raised pork.  I’m sure you can find natural bacons made without all the bad stuff available in many supermarkets.  These products are becoming more widely available all the time.  With a little effort, I’m sure you can find them in Canada.
    Good luck.
    MRE 

  10. Hey Dr. Mike,
    Glad to see you’re enjoying Italy! I always had similar thoughts when people touted a Mediterranean diet, as when I was in Italy, I ate about the same way you are now. Very little pasta.
    But that isn’t the reason I’m writing. I’m actually hoping you can help me out with a small dilemma.
    Three years ago I moved to a new state and ever since my pollen allergies have been nothing short of horrendous. I’ve tried natural cures, supplements, otc medications, prescription medications… nothing is helping and I’m currently in the middle of an allergy attack that has literally brought me to tears.
    Someone suggested to me that I try taking a tsp of local honey every morning because the bees will make it from local pollen. Supposedly doing this will help me work up a tolerance to the pollens over time. At this point I’m so desperate I’ll try anything.
    So I know you say that a little honey every once in a while is not bad as surely paleo man must have come across it occasionally. But my biggest worry is what taking 1 tsp of honey every day will do to my diet and insulin sensitivity. Thoughts?
    Thanks so much!
    Hi Janet–
    A couple of things…
    First, I don’t think a teaspoon of honey per day is going to do your insulin sensitivity a lot of harm.  A teaspoon is only 4 grams of carbs, so just cut back 4 grams from somewhere else.  Having said that, I don’t know if the local honey will do the trick or not.  Keep me posted on your self experimentation.
    Second, the best thing I’ve found for seasonal allergies is a nasal steroid spray.  I’ve had huge success myself and used these meds on zillions of patients with success.  The specific medication I’ve had the best success with is Flonase, which is now generic and much less expensive.  It takes a couple of squirts up each nostril a few times per day until the symptoms subside, then only a squirt once per day to keep the symptoms at bay.  The important thing is to get the inflamed membranes un-inflamed (which the Flonase does nicely), and then you tend to have many fewer symptoms even without the medication.  Give your doc a call and see if he/she will call you in a prescription for some Flonase.
    Keep me posted.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  11. Hi Dr. Eades!
    I was wondering if you had read the “Potbelly Syndrome”. He talks about the importance of infections raising cortisol, which may precede obesity & heart disease. It would be fantastic to get your input.
    Paul
    Hi Paul–
    I read the book a couple of years ago.  I had some real problems with it.  He makes some good points, but is dead wrong on others.  Maybe I’ll break it out, reread, and do a full review.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  12. Hi Janet–
    A couple of things…
    First, I don’t think a teaspoon of honey per day is going to do your insulin sensitivity a lot of harm. A teaspoon is only 4 grams of carbs, so just cut back 4 grams from somewhere else. Having said that, I don’t know if the local honey will do the trick or not. Keep me posted on your self experimentation.
    Second, the best thing I’ve found for seasonal allergies is a nasal steroid spray. I’ve had huge success myself and used these meds on zillions of patients with success. The specific medication I’ve had the best success with is Flonase, which is now generic and much less expensive. It takes a couple of squirts up each nostril a few times per day until the symptoms subside, then only a squirt once per day to keep the symptoms at bay. The important thing is to get the inflamed membranes un-inflamed (which the Flonase does nicely), and then you tend to have many fewer symptoms even without the medication. Give your doc a call and see if he/she will call you in a prescription for some Flonase.
    Keep me posted.
    Cheers–
    MRE
    Thanks for that! I was starting to worry that the sugar in honey would undo all the work I’ve put in.
    Unfortunately Flonase isn’t currently an option for me. With the downturn of jobs in my industry I currently find myself laid off, no health insurance and no money. Am working on supplemental plans, but nothing has kicked in yet. My doc won’t call in a prescription to save someones life (his standard policy), so any prescription cost would also include an office visit.. way out of my budget. Luckily the pharmacist took pity on me when she saw me sobbing in the otc allergy section today and suggested a combo platter that has me breathing for the first time in days. I could kiss that woman!
    But as for the honey – it was suggested to me to take raw local honey, but tonight I caught one of Sara Snow’s shows on discovery health and she said her husband had beaten his allergies with local bee pollen (instead of honey). Normally I don’t watch her show because shes a little too into soy and grains for my taste, but it was interesting to see one more person who said it worked. She said he had to start off with just a few grains and work his way up to 1-2tsp/day.
    Anyway, enough of my babbling. I just wanted to say thanks and tell you I saw it again on tv tonight. I’ll be starting it soon. Now that I know it won’t kill my insulin sensitivity I figure it can’t hurt to try. They say it takes months, so you might not hear from me until next allergy season. But I’ll surely let you know how it works. I’d much rather cure this with food than take more meds any day.
    If you would rather cure it with food, try an all-meat diet.  Most meats are not particularly allergenic.  In fact, some physicians put people on all-beef diets to help with allergies.  Give it a try and let me know.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  13. Ain’t pork grand? The pork of my childhood, though, was fatter than what’s available in modern supermarkets. Used to LOVE that thick outside crackling layer.
    My dear spouse and I travelled in Tuscany in October 2005, and had no problem eating low carb. We noticed all the meats, especially the processed ones like sausage, were fatter than what we now get here in the USA. My continuing problem in Europe is finding something to drink if you don’t want alcohol. Or absolutely hair raising coffee! Bottled water seems the only choice.
    And one of my continuing problems at home is finding ANY meat with enough fat to make it tender! That’s probably why I usually opt for seafood, although I have to drench it in butter!
    Okay, Dr. Mike- enjoy the rest of your trip, DON!T take any more sleep medication, and get saturated with the Tuscan landscape. Not to mention wine!
    Hi Dorothy–
    Pork is indeed grand.  And the pork of my childhood was the same as yours.  It’s nice to be able to get it again in Europe.
    I won’t come near a sleeping pill after my last disastrous experience, although I still don’t remember anything about it.
    Cheers–
    MRE 

  14. Thank you for the flonase suggestion – it seems to be called flexonase in the UK. I’ve been using it as a back-up to oral antihistamines, but I might switch that round and use it as my first response.
    It’s brought back lots of memories to see your Italian meals – I was in Rome for a week in April. Did you encounter Valvona and Crolla while you were in Edinburgh? They are an excellent delicatessen, with owners of Italian descent, who sell some wonderful Italian cured meats, among many other things.
    Hi Janet–
    No, we didn’t run across Valvona and Crolla.  I’m finding out all about this great stuff after we’re gone.  We’ll be back, though, so we’ll hit it then.
    Thanks for the info.
    MRE 

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