A Roundabout Route to Baccalà Mantecato

My local Vallarta Mexican grocery store never ceases to surprise and amaze me.

First of all, it’s just darned cool to have a market that actually feels — smells, sounds, visuals — like you are in Mexico. And in that regard, I have yet to need a Mexican cooking ingredient that I can’t find there.

Secondly, I find countless ingredients I need for other cuisines — the fine tripe they have, for example, that I need (yes, need) for trippa alla Romana, and a dazzling variety of fresh herbs.

Newfoundland salt cod illustration from the 1700s

A recent happy discovery was baccalà, also known as bacalao, also known as salt cod — not something I ever associated with Mexican cooking. In the past, I’ve had to travel to a Spanish purveyor in Harbor City (a heck of a drive to non-Angelenos) or wait until I’m in San Francisco to visit North Beach’s famous deli, Molinari, to get some. Not only does Vallarta have beautiful European baccala, but it’s considerably less expensive than at either of those other places. More

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Trippa alla Romana

When in Rome, eat as the Romans do.

So I was in Rome, and wanted to eat as the Romans do. We had settled into a friendly and popular trattoria around the corner from our apartment, and scanning the menu, I landed on one of the most traditional Roman dishes of them all — trippa alla Romana.

Tripe — architectural shot

Tripe — architectural shot

I’ve always wanted to like tripe. Many a regrettable weekend morning I tried to gag down a bowl of menudo, the supposed cure-all for the hangover. And each time was reminded why I swore the last time I was never going to order it again.

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Summer of the Spritz

I began seeing them in Rome; orange-colored drinks in the hands of the beautiful people sitting at sidewalk cafes. But I had just arrived in Italy; I was in the mood for red wine and Moretti beer.

There were fewer of the drinks in Tuscany, where a really big red wine is required alongside the region’s giant steaks. It was when we arrived in Venice that they were unavoidable; an orange drink in every hand, the perfect foil to the heat and humidity in the world’s most magical city: the Aperol spritz.

A gondolier takes a break in the heat of the Venice afternoon

A gondolier takes a break in the heat of the Venice afternoon

Many years ago, when I lived in Santa Monica with my sister Laura — a globetrotting model, ex-Rod Steward girlfriend and drinker of fashionable aperitifs — I gained an appreciation for Campari and soda. The Aperol spritz is the sweeter, less bitter, more refreshing first cousin to the Campari and soda. More

The Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Venice — The Rialto Fish Market

I first came to Venice, the most magical city on earth, more than two decades ago. And every time I have returned, I’ve always wandered through the spectacular Rialto fish market with one thought in my head: “I wish I had a kitchen.”

This time, I have a kitchen.

The Rialto fish market

The Rialto fish market

We met up with our friends, the Schneiders, at the fish market to get stuff for dinner. As much as I wanted to purchase everything I saw, I nearly had to physically restrain my pal, Donnie, from cleaning the market out. More

Skinny Girls Roadshow LIVE from Tuscany — Sean vs. the Fiorentina

Every region of Italy has its own specialties. In Rome, for example, it’s pastas like cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana and spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and pepper flakes. In Tuscany, where I am now writing, it’s more hearty fare — white beans, sausages, chicken liver crostini. And the most famous Tuscan dish of all, bistecca all fiorentina.

The fiorentina

The fiorentina at Trattoria l’Oriuolo

The most famous statue in Florence, capital of Tuscany where I am also now writing, is of course Michelangelo’s “David”. It is a representation of the biblical David, stone in sling, preparing to take on Goliath. This is how I felt preparing to take on the fiorentina. More

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