Chocolate on cookies and just about everything.
Fishing with flies for trout who eat anything.
Truffles on pasta and mushrooms on pizza.
These are a few of my favorite things.
With apologies to Rogers and Hammerstein, I proclaim the hills of Italy are alive with delights for the stomach and spirit, and our family group of 16, including seven grandkids ages 5 to 12, shamelessly enjoyed as many as we could.
A day or so after Mario Marini taught us how to make pasta and pasta sauce from scratch, we drove up the road about 40 kilometers to Perugia, where Maximillano Guidubaldi, maestro of the Perugina Chocolate Factory, had us virtually drenched in rich dark chocolate sauce as he taught us how to make truffles like the world-famous Baci (chocolate truffles) that put Perugia on the map.
Each of us, including the children, had our own cooking counter, a large bowl of delicious chocolate sauce, and the tools we would learn to use in the ancient art of truffle making.
Maximillano didn’t give away all of his secrets, but did provide us with the basic recipe for the ganache (filling) of the truffles and showed us how to squeeze a piping bag filled with the semi-liquid into little chocolate kisses that would later be the center of our truffles. We each did this with varying rates of success. All of the kids, including 5-year-old Lily, were better at it than I.
The next step involved heating the liquid dark chocolate covering to a specific temperature and “tempering” it by pouring it onto the marble counter and moving in around with a scraper to cool it back down. This process apparently allows the chocolate to keep its rich brown color and consistency as it hardens around the ganache kisses we dipped into it several minutes after the tempering process.
We all made fairly passable truffles, which we boxed and took with us, along with individual graduation certificates bestowing upon us a Master of Cioccologia from La Scuola del Cioccolato Perugina.
Many of the kids joined me in liberally sampling all of the ingredients used during the truffle-making, and as a result accomplished something I never thought could happen – we ate so much chocolate we actually turned down the many free samples we were offered during our tour of the huge factory (largest in Europe) that followed our graduation.
I got so wrapped up in chocolate that I had left little room in this column for my other favorite pastime; fly-fishing, which followed the next day. Here is a brief introduction, on which I will elaborate next week.
Suffering from what can only be described as a chocolate hangover, I was picked up at the stone gates of San Gemini by my fishing guide Luca Castellani.
Luca, a former businessman turned fishing guide, specializes in guiding fly-fishers on select rivers in Umbria and Tuscany.
It was a cool, drizzly morning as we wound our way on a narrow road into the Apennine Mountains and the canyon through which the Nera River flows south and west eventually feeding into the Tiber River, which runs through Rome to the sea.
After an hour or so we stopped in a small stream-side village of Borgo Cerreto, where I purchased my Italian fishing license. From there it was a very short walk to the tree-lined Nera River.
As we approached the stream, I could see many trout, including some big ones, lazily feeding in the crystal-clear water. Bugs of various kinds and sizes were flitting around and over the river, and some of the trout rose to engulf them.
“This is going to be a good day,” I thought to myself, as Luca led me to our starting point.
I will continue this fishy tale next Friday, but closer to home this week striped bass fishing on San Francisco Bay is very good. Keith Fraser, at Loch Lomond Bait Shop in San Rafael, said stripers are being caught trolling at the top of the tide with worm-tailed jigs, and drifting live shiners off Red Rock, the Brothers and Whaling Station. Keith books party boats for Bay fishing. Call him at 415-456-0321.
Over at the Sonoma coast, Capt. Rick Powers is having solid success virtually every trip finding full limits of rockfish, plus lingcod for his clients. He has been taking out some albacore tuna anglers too, but I haven’t heard how those are going.
Dungeness crab season opens Nov. 2, and Rick is taking reservations for rockfish and crab combo trips. Call him at 875-3344.
This is an excellent time for trout on the upper Sacramento, McCloud, Fall and Pit rivers. Steelhead action is also fair to good on the Trinity and Klamath rivers. Your best guide for those Northern California and Southern Oregon waters is Jim Andras. Call him at 530-722-7992.