How do I describe Carmine? He does not fall into any one category. He is beyond classification.
He grew up in a little Abruzzese town of 887 inhabitants, called Castiglione a Casauria. It is situated between the two highest mountains in the Appennines, the Gran Sasso and the Majella. It is remote but not isolated: a half-hour drive and you're at Pescara Beach.
Carmine lived for a time in the Eternal City. In fact, there is something about him that recalls the Roman era. He has an epicurean streak. He speaks Latin. (Did you hear what I just said? He speaks Latin.) And do you not agree that his profile could be on a Roman coin?
He lived for a time in Paris, where he attended one of the top cooking schools in that city.
He lived in America, where he was an Italian professor at a university and at a high school in a wealthy town. Notwithstanding his linguistic abilities in Italian, Latin, and French (he also speaks Dutch — he lived in Holland, too), he spent the better part of his career as manager at the most important Italian restaurants in Boston. With such a love of cooking, and such a hatred of pretentiousness, the culinary environment proved more gratifying than the academic environment. For decades, he was a familiar personage in the North End (Boston's Little Italy), renowned for his gastronomic expertise.
Carmine's meals, like their preparer, are beyond categorization and contain all of these elements — simultaneously peasanty (Castiglione), epic (Roma), refined (Paris), and above all with any pretense whatsoever. If you should arrive, unexpected, at his home, and if by chance he should have in the fridge a few stuffed quails, or a few homemade pappardelle made with farm-fresh eggs, or a few hamburgers made not from ground beef but ground venison — from a deer that he himself had shot! — it would not be out of snobbery. It would be out of love for the flavors to which he was accustomed in his Appennine youth.
Here is last night's dinner:
|Antipasto: Sausages (sweet and hot) in tomato sauce.|
|Primo, Part II: Homemade baked lasagne. The combination of fresh, soft pasta and judicious quantities of sauce, cheeses, and ground meat was a masterpiece.|
|Secondo: Veal cutlets, pounded until ultrathin, sautéed in the skillet with little mushrooms, baby meatballs (which he made specially for my young sons!), and fresh herbs, all of it deglazed with pinot grigio.|
|Contorno: Eggplant, breaded and slowly fried. Without tomato sauce, flavored only by a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.|
|Frutta: Watermelon, fresh and sweet.|
|Castiglione a Casauria (province of Pescara)|
Photo: Michael Calore (Flickr.com)