New on the menu: Assunta’s polpette

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Polpette with tomato sauce, da Burrasca

By all family accounts, Paolo’s nonna Assunta was a formidable woman. Built with the bone matrix of a longshoreman or a linebacker, she was as tough as boiled beef and brooked no nonsense from either God, man or beast. She spent most of her life in the lean, hardscrabble existence of a contadina in Vicchio di Mugello until the family moved to their vine-strewn patch of earth in Florence.

She was bawdy in the way of die-hard country-bred Tuscans: every morning along with her caffè d’orzo she’d pop a raw clove of garlic into her mouth and chew forcefully, under the awestruck gaze of young Paolo and his siblings. To their little nose-wrinkles of disgust she’d laugh and say “Meglio puzzare d’aglio che di coglioni” [better to stink of garlic than of balls].

She had a farmer’s obsession with the land and a workaholic’s mania for industry; even in Florence and at an advanced age she was unflagging in her cultivation of the large orto and the tending of her flock of chickens and rabbits (over whose care and caprices she’d cuss lavishly). She was also the main cook in the nine-odd member family—and the bane of her daughter-in-law, Paolo’s mother—until an octogenarian stroke plunked her firmly into a wheelchair. Though still a force to be reckoned with, she was reduced to a state of clamorous resentment at her lot and wept bitter tears over the severing of her connection to mother earth. She was chucked out the door of this life kicking and screaming.

But for all her salt and crust, she was tender and artful at the stove: a culinary virtuoso deftly slinging the down-home classics of the Tuscan repertoire like some kind of hillbilly Puccini. Her pappa al pomodoro was sublime and is perhaps the dish for which Paolo loved her most (and which he recreates in the cart, in season), but a close second was her polpette: crisp, burnished croquettes with an earthy bass line of ground chicken and potato and a bright, delicate counterpoint of lemon zest and herbs.

In honor of dear, indomitable old Assunta—and because they’re just so flippin’ good—we’re now serving these delicious, surprisingly light beauties at the cart. Garlic clove optional.

 

April fish: a story

 

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Holy mackerel

Some years back, I (Burrasca wife Elizabeth) was working at the bookstore in Florence, when a package arrived. Thinking it to be books, I opened it and was puzzled to find a heavy, terra cotta-colored brick wrapped shoddily in bubble wrap.

The (Italian) owner walked up, saw the brick, and went ash white. “What? What’s the matter?” I asked. He told me in grave, measured tones that sending a brick is mafia code–meaning, specifically, that if a business owner doesn’t cough up the pizzo (extortion money) he’ll likely find a brick or two through his plate-glass windows in the near future.

Holy sh**, well zero-to-thirty the place revved into panic mode. Before long, the quiet little book shop was swarming with carabinieri (including a swaggering, slim jeans-wearing Commandante who looked like a sexy Latin version of Kojak, only with way-cool facial hair), phones were ringing like church bells on Sunday and I was giving a deposition as to the delivery guy’s description and what was said, etc. I pondered the prospect of continuing to work in a place that might wind up a charred pile of bomb-blasted rubble–a little monument to the far-reaching tentacles of the Camorra or ‘Ndrangeta.

By the way, the date was April 1.

Only a few hours later did we find out that one of the courier company’s employees took it upon himself to play a little prank on us all. In Italy, there isn’t such a thing as an April “Fool”–rather, there’s an April “Fish” (pesce d’aprile).

Or in this instance, an April Asshat.

The Burrasca year in review

Because you can’t possibly have gotten enough of them, we too are jumping on the year-end wrap-up hurdy-gurdy and offering up a summation of 2013 – or, as we like to think of it, the Year of Lunatic Change – to appease the demanding New Years’ Eve Gods. Here goes.

The event of greatest moment was of course the big move from Italy to the States. 2013 was the year in which we quit our jobs, sold our house and (many of our) belongings and hightailed it out of Florence, only to land happily in Portland, OR.

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All our crap arrives in PDX

It was also the Year of Fiendish Bureaucracy (if you’re uncomfortably familiar with life in Italy you’ll understand that this is not hyperbole): we survived, just barely, all the paperwork entailed in selling a house in the Bel Paese, paying taxes, and officially divesting ourselves of Italian residency, securing Paolo’s immigrant visa, and starting a business in the U.S., etc. etc.

2013 saw us logging some travel miles: Paolo’s wooing of U.S. Immigration officials required two trips to incredible Naples (read: food orgy), proving that every bureaucratic cloud has a savory lining. We also journeyed to our beloved Val Gardena in the Dolomites for some much-needed R & R and canederli before crossing an ocean to open a food cart.

It was also the year we got robbed. That sucked.

And it was the year we opened Burrasca, the little yellow cart that could.

Tutto sommato, 2013 was a pretty voracious year in terms of our energy and patience, but an exciting one nonetheless. Looking forward to what 2014 has in store – here’s to new horizons, new friendships and a tall-timbered city full of good cheer and wonderful things to eat and discover!

Comfort

When we lived in Florence and the cold, impossibly damp, wintry weather made our bones rattle, and we layered on sweaters in order to cut down on the exorbitant cost of heating our old stone-walled (small) house, Paolo would make meatloaf for dinner. He would season and combine the ingredients and form a shapely round loaf, and whip up a bright tomatoey sauce that had at its base a flavor-packed soffritto. The charming little loaf cooked in its zesty bath of sauce and meanwhile, Paolo would see to it that the equally-important potatoes were on a slow fire: these lovelies always filled our kitchen with the ambrosial scents of fresh rosemary, sage and marjoram (snipped from our garden minutes before), and would send shock-waves of sudden hunger throughout the house. Our kids would emerge from their lair and I would surface from that deeply-buried place called freelancing-from-home and we would gather in the small, oven-warmed, perfumed kitchen and feign to chat when all we really wanted was to hurry to the table, already set in happy anticipation, perhaps a candle lit because a mundane weeknight dinner suddenly felt festive, special.

And we would eat up the food, every last bit of it, and mop up the sauce with little chunks of bread, and warm ourselves in the good, soft glow of conversation and togetherness.

–by Elizabeth Petrosian

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So here it is: Polpettone con Patate alla Contadina–Tuscan meatloaf with country-style potatoes–served with Paolo’s cart-made bread, $8. We hope you’ll come ’round and give it a try, and we hope you’ll enjoy it as much as we do in famiglia!