I’m departing from my usual paean to good food, well grown, well prepared, enjoyed and fully shared, to discuss something that is eating up my mind. If you are averse to anything bordering on the political, please feel free to scroll down to a more friendly section. This section is about gun control.
Here’s the thing: I am ashamed, no mortified, no humiliated, on behalf of my country, the United States of America, by the attitude of European friends who will no longer contemplate a visit here because they are scared.
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Yes, they are scared, and in their minds, they have reason to be. They’re scared of being caught up in the gun violence that has gripped this country and made so many public encounters life threatening, in churches, in schools, in shopping malls, in concerts, in fiestas, wherever people gather together. No thank you, my European friends all say, we’ll vacation somewhere safer. Maybe the US can catch up with the rest of the world, but until then, we’ll just stay away.
I don’t understand, I’ve never understood, why we are so resistant to any kind of control of weapons—who can buy them, who can own them, who can use them, and under what circumstances. No other country in the world that is not actively at war suffers from the devastation that has wracked the United States because of guns.
Here's another piece of the puzzle:
Yesterday I spent about three hours driving to Portland and back with my grandson, aged 16, he at the wheel of my car and I in the passenger seat, as required by law until he has a license to drive on his own.
We began this particular epic a year ago when, at 15, he was able to take a state-certified driver’s ed course over a period of several months of after-school lessons that included driving in the rain (and at one point driving in the snow) and driving at night. He then took a written exam that covered all the points of safe driving, safe handling of a vehicle, safe conduct on the road, and the rules and regulations governing driving in Maine (e.g., a red light means full stop; a yellow light means stop, look in both directions, and proceed with caution). Having completed driver’s ed and passed the written exam, he was allowed to drive but only when accompanied by an adult with a driver’s license. At the same time, he downloaded on his phone an app that recorded his driving time every time he got behind the wheel and clicked it on. With our drive to Portland and back yesterday, he finally completed 70 hours of supervised driving and he is now eligible to take a road test, proving to an instructor that he can drive competently (including parallel parking, always tricky). At that point, and only at that point, he will be given an official Maine driver’s license.
This strikes me as an eminently smart and sensible way to keep our highways safe and to prevent misuse that endangers not only the driver but also passengers, other drivers, and indeed anyone who gets in the way. It takes time—it took a year, but as a driving culture, we have decided that this is what’s necessary before we admit anyone else to the driving club.
So please tell me why it is so damned difficult to apply similar rules to gun ownership? Educate, train, test—and wait before licensing. Of course people still die in automobile mishaps but the rate would be much, much higher if anybody who wants to could just go out and buy a car and drive.
Makes sense, doesn’t it?
If you can explain to me why we don’t do that with guns, if you can explain to me why, of Maine’s small congressional delegation, 75% don’t even want to discuss smart and sensible gun control—but I won’t continue because I don’t think you can. Only Chellie Pingree, our First District representative, understands the untenable position in which we as a country and a culture find ourselves and is willing to talk about ways to resolve the problem.
For now, I remain mortified in front of my European friends.
New (to me) olive oils
This week I’ve happily tasted three brand-new oils, new at least to me, and I want to share them with you because they have all the elegance and distinctive character I expect from the best Italian extra-virgins. All, of course, are dated to the most recent 2022-23 harvest.
Tenute Librandi, certified organic (biologico), made in Calabria from nocellara olives grown in the hilly province of Cosenza, the oil has a refreshingly smooth, sweet finish and floral aromas that appeal to those who dislike the more aggressive flavors of Tuscan and Umbrian oils. The website recommends pairing it with swordfish, now in season in Italy (see below) and I totally agree—it’s a great oil for delicate seafood flavors.
Fattoria Ramerino Moraiolo, certified organic (biologico), made in Tuscany in the region of Florence (in fact, just a few kilometers from the capital city), this is a superb example of the best of Tuscan olive oils with its distinctive bittersweet flavors of green artichoke and tomato leaf. The moraiolo cultivar is one of the highest in antioxidants and you can taste that pungency in the oil. This is an oil for ripe, sun-warmed tomatoes, fresh from the garden, or to top a typical Tuscan bistecca right before serving.
Olio Piro, a newcomer to the world of extra-virgins, is produced from olives grown high in the hills around Montalcino (famous for its Brunello wines) in southern Tuscany’s Maremma region. A typical Tuscan blend of frantoio, leccino, and moraiolo olives, the oil gets an added antioxidant boost from the rare olivastra seggianese, a semi-wild cultivar from the slopes of Monte Amiata, Tuscany’s highest peak. The state-of-the-art double filtration system used at the frantoio (the olive mill) is unique and contributes to the oil’s exceptionally high level of polyphenols as well as its complex flavors.
Olio Piro is available here: www.olio-piro.com, while the other two can be found at www.olio2go.com. Olio Piro is also sold at Markethall Foods in Oakland although it doesn’t seem to be on their website.
Any one of these oils would be delicious used to bathe a plate of spring spinach, lightly steamed and drained, then turned over gentle heat in fine extra-virgin, perhaps with a little chopped garlic and a spritz of lemon juice added at the end.
It’s swordfish season in the Strait of Messina, and that’s reason enough for me to seek out swordfish from the Gulf of Maine, which I did on Saturday and made it for my supper, thinking all the while of that perilous, narrow, elegant corridor, watched over by the seductive monsters Scylla and Charybdis, which separates Sicily from the Italian mainland. Sicilian pesce spada is fresh now in fish markets and on restaurant menus up and down the peninsula. The spring spawning is when swordfish come to the surface of these tumultuous waters, and that’s when the sleek, narrow, low-slung feluccas of the Straits fishing fleet speed out to intercept the big fish. This fishing method is as ancient, as targeted and focused, hence as sustainable, as the mattanza, the Sicilian method for hunting down giant bluefin tuna. The feluccas are armed with watch towers that sway a hundred feet above the sea and long forward ladders that extend outward from the bow, a bridge for the harpooner perched over the water. Once the watchman spots a fish, the harpooner stands ready as the boat veers forward. He gets one shot and that’s it. Feluccas are strictly used for swordfish fishing in the Straits, a method that is hailed by Oceana.org and other environmental organizations for its sustainability since single fish are targeted and no bycatch is involved.
Not all swordfish is harvested like that, of course, but the best fish is harvested this way, everyone from fancy chefs to home cooks agrees. The good news from the Mediterranean is that the precipitous decline in swordfish stocks has been halted through some very energetic conservation work on the part of the EU fisheries commissions. Stocks are still not back to historic highs—they may, in fact, never reach that plateau—but they are healthy enough to support a controlled fishery by more typical methods, principally long-lining.
My erstwhile friend George, a novelist of paperback bodice-rippers (“I write high-octane trash,” he used to say), divided his time between New York and Rome. He adored Rome but too often had business that took him back to New York to negotiate a contract for a new sensation to add to his oeuvre. He fancied himself a gentleman of the Old South, with a handlebar moustache, an accent as thick as the bayou, and courtly manners that belied his frequent state of inebriation. His ideal return to Rome, he said, was to take a taxi from Fiumicino straight to Ristorante Passetto on via Zanardelli, next door to Piazza Navona, where he’d seat himself at a table outside in the June sunshine and order up pesce spada alla griglia with tiny little piselli romani, sweet green peas from market gardens just outside the capitol; that, George said, and a chilled bottle of Gavi dei Gavi La Scolca were all a fella really needed to keep himself happy.
I have to agree. I can’t get tiny little peas quite yet but the swordfish is abundant and delicious. Here’s the simplest, most straightforward way to cook it, just as they do in Sicily and in Rome. Italians tend to cook swordfish in very thin steaks but North Americans, like me, prefer something as thick as an inch or so. A swordfish steak that weighs around 3/4 of a pound (340 - 350 grams) should serve two people easily. This recipe is from my book, The Essential Mediterranean; it would be as good with halibut or salmon steaks as it is with swordfish.
Dry each steak with paper towels and dust both sides with a light coating of flour. After lightly salting, sear the steaks on each side in 1/4 cup of oil, about 4 minutes to a side, then remove them from the skillet and set on a warm platter.
While the fish is cooking, combine the juice of a lemon (add the finely grated zest if you like) with about 1/3 cup of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and about 1/4 cup of finely chopped capers (salted capers are best but should be rinsed of salt and dried before chopping).
When the fish is done, discard the oil in the skillet and wipe it out with paper towels. Add 2 tablespoons of fresh oil (this is where you would use one of the oils mentioned above) and the lemon-parsley-caper mix. Bring to a quick boil, then pour over the fish steaks on the platter. Serve immediately.
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Certainly agree with you about gun control. We as a country have really lost whatever good sense we used to have over this issue. And up until the last thirty or so years, there was some common sense but Scalia put paid to that with Heller in 2008. If someone can point out just where in the sacred Second it mentions an individual's right to own what ever weapon makes him feel manly, I'll forever hold my peace.
Just don't get me started on a woman's right to choose.
All that said - thanks for more great recipes - fish on the menu for tonight (after lunch w/Jane Chatfield and her daughter).
Brava, Nancy! I could not agree with you more about the gun control and the spinach with olive oil. It is such a wonderful country. When did it get so stupid!