Back home in the kitchen, with a couple of brewskies

July 21, 1996|By ROB KASPER

KITCHEN RE-ENTRY was interesting. After being away from our kitchen for a little over two weeks, I found myself going through rituals to re-establish my footing in my favorite room of the house.

One was the drinking of cold beer at the kitchen table. This was part celebration, part habit. I had brought the ship, the family station wagon, safely into its home port.

Whether we are returning from a trip to the Eastern Shore or, in this case, a vacation in Italy, I consider it my responsibility to successfully transport the troops. Once all the bags and kids are accounted for, I relieve myself of all responsibilities and mark the journey's end with something cold to drink.

When I got home from Italy, I wanted a cold beer. I had drunk plenty of good red wine in Italy, most of it Chianti grown and bottled not far from the house where we stayed in Tuscany near the small town of Monte San Savino. Most of this ordinary table wine was fresh, light and amazingly cheap, about $4 to $6 a bottle.

In two weeks in Italy, I drank maybe two beers, both of them made by the Moretti brewery in northern Italy. I had one, an all-malt lager called Boffo D'Oro, with a mustachioed man on the label, at Ristorante Dei Musei Vaticani, a good, homey restaurant on Via Santamaura a few blocks outside the entrance to the Vatican Museums in Rome. I had another at the home of an Italian friend, Luigi Ferrucci, a physician who lives with his family in Fiesole, outside Florence. Ordinarily, Luigi told me, he didn't bother with beer. But he knew I liked beer, so our gracious host had bought some brewskies for me.

When I got home, I found two kinds of beer in the fridge. On one shelf was a brown bottle, Paulaner Hefe-Weizen Dunkel. This was a fine wheat beer, but it was from Germany. Down on the bottom shelf were a few cans of National Premium, a beer that until a few weeks ago, when the last batch rolled off the production line, was brewed at a G. Heileman brewery in Halethorpe. I cracked open a couple of cans of National Premium, and soon felt I had settled back into my Baltimore lifestyle.

During the next few days, as I sat in our kitchen, I found myself comparing kitchen experiences in America with kitchen experiences in Italy.

In Italy, the kitchens, both in the house we rented in Tuscany and in the home of friends we visited, were smaller than most American kitchens. Electricity and natural gas, which are abundant and inexpensive in America, are costly in Italy. In Italy the appliances were smaller, the Cheerios were made by Nestle, not General Mills. And the milk came in small paper boxes, not big gallon jugs, and was sterilized.

The flavor of the food, however, was gigantic. The olive oil sold in the local grocery store was so fruity and delicate I wanted to drink it straight, in tumblers. The meats -- from the 16 styles of salami my sons and I ate for lunch to the delicately cooked pieces of beef we had in restaurants -- were outstanding. The chicken bought at the grocery store came with extra parts, its head and its feet, and when you cooked it, it had extra juice.

The pasta was tender, delicate, remarkable. A plain pasta salad that we had at a small trattoria in Florence positively sparkled with the taste of cherry tomatoes and olive oil. I did encounter some mistakes, some overcooked pork, for instance. But on the whole I had such confidence in the folks working in those kitchens that I took risks, ordering pigeon, spaghetti with duck sauce, and wild boar sausage, even after I had encountered a wild boar on a dark Tuscan road.

The risks were rewarded. Back home, I went on the prowl for a recipe of duck spaghetti and for more wild boar sausage. I was fTC not in the mood, however, to encounter another boar. That boar I saw was mighty big and mighty ugly.

The other night as I sat in my kitchen, I felt grateful for all its room, for its big appliances. But I missed that amazing olive oil and those juicy meats. To console myself, I baked a few loaves of bread. Your tongue can travel, but home is where you bake.

Pub Date: 7/21/96

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