Pasta & Pavarotti . . .

PavarottiLuciano Pavarotti left us this week… I’m already missing him. I loved the gleeful excess of his performances. But, like a lot of other folks, I also “had issues with” some of the gleeful excesses of his lifestyle. His life was a metaphor for the entire human condition–fallen, gifted, exuberant, passionate, more gourmand than gourmet, and changeable. His voice took me close to ecstasy when he sang. His passing has left me unaccountably irritable all week–and craving Italian food.

That’s right–I’ve got this overwhelming urge to celebrate Pavarotti’s life by eating in every Italian restaurant in the Susquehanna valley. That’s a bad “jones” to have in this neighborhood. Decent Italian chefs are seriously scarce in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Veal tends to be tough, dry, and in the worst restaurant editions, it’s ground beef and veal mixed and pre-molded into a gray, flat, oval-shaped disc then covered with three layers of bread crumbs and fried. Chicken doesn’t fare much better–and forget seafood. If it’s not paper thin, cooked until it’s stiff, with 4 layers of fried bread crumbs, it’s not on the menu–anywhere!

What passes for marinara sauce more closely resembles a runny, bland, red/orange liquid that might have been soup stock in an earlier life. Last night I ordered veal parmigan in a local eatery in Camp Hill. It came breaded, tough, and fried stiff, without sauce @ $18.95. When I asked for some marinara sauce, they brought me a saucer of that runny red/orange liquid stuff and charged me extra for it.

Of course that’s the same place that charged me $19.95 for a broiled scallop and shrimp entree that turned out to be one scallop, cut into 4 discrete pieces, and 3 medium sized seriously overcooked shrimp. I now know better than to sample any more of their seafood or calamari offerings. I was hoping that, because the owners once told me they bought the place as a pizza parlor, their Italian choices might have been authentic. I was wrong.

In restaurants across the region, I’ve had calamari that was so overcooked, I could have used the tentacles as rubber bands, lasagna without ricotta, and variations of Italian wedding soup with tiny pork breakfast sausage dropplings for meat balls, or worse, something that looked and tasted like congealed clumps of dough, diluted flour paste, water, and stray chicken pieces–no clear chicken broth, no escarole, no flavor. Soup in this region is always something approximating “thick & creamy” but without the expense of *real* cream.

These folks don’t have a clue what the words “garlic,” “sweet basil” or “al dente” mean! Then there’s the “Italian bread”– soft, gummy, and white–no hard crust, no flavor, no bite–nada, nunca, nyet.

So there you have it…I’m hopeful though. Tonight I had a half portion of calamari cooked exquisitely, real marinara, and lasagna with ricotta. Their version of Italian flat bread sucked, but you can’t have everything. The restaurant was a little hard to find–in the back row of an obscure strip mall behind Pep Boys and next to an employment drug testing center, but at least it was worth the trip.

There are still a couple of the pricier establishments I’ve yet to try. I’ve been perusing their menus online–planning my next meal. I’m going to have to stick to the appetizers in those places though. Considering what I’ve sampled already, that’s probably a good thing . . .

I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with pleasure; enjoy yourself.” But behold, this also was vanity. (Ecclesiastes 2:1)

Why waste your money on what really isn’t food? Why work hard for something that doesn’t satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and you will enjoy the very best foods. (Isaiah 55:2)

I tell you for certain that everyone who has faith in me has eternal life. I am the bread that gives life! Your ancestors ate manna in the desert, and later they died. But the bread from heaven has come down, so that no one who eats it will ever die. I am that bread from heaven! Everyone who eats it will live forever. My flesh is the life-giving bread that I give to the people of this world. (John 6:47-51)

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