On our honeymoon, almost exactly two years ago today, we arrived in the fair city of Verona thoroughly pissed off. And then things got worse. It wasn’t as if the day had started badly either: waking in Bologna; leisurely sipping a doppio espresso; before strolling along Via Pescherie Vecchie to buy a small, crusty loaf, a giant, but sweet tomato, an immoderately-sized leaf-wrapped burrata, and a serrated knife; then, wandering into the Piazza Cavour to make ourselves nearly sick with buttery cream cheese curds washed down with a half-bottle of bardolino. All in all, a pretty reasonable opening gambit.
I don’t even recall at what point things began to go west, but the supposed simple hour and a half drive between the two cities took us more like four. So, in late afternoon, we lurched into Verona hot, tired, stiff, and needing to pee. And then we couldn’t find our hotel. Another hour of angrily trawling the Veronese streets in our banana-hued rental car, grinding gears, and now with excrutiating pee pains, we finally found it – closed. No amount of banging on the door, honking of the horn or screaming at the windows produced a response. Despairing, I relieved myself copiously in the hotel’s flower bed and, looking up with an air of contentment, spied a large pink elephant beaming at me from across a field. Salvation arrives in many guises, and drawn towards it, things immediately improved.
With a free bottle of valpolicella, a purring welcome from a friendly ginger tom, a pair of iridescent peacocks puttering outside, and a room for the night with breakfast, Hotel Elefante saved us from sleeping in our car and, perhaps, from premature marital counselling. Having regained at least partial equilibrium, we made for the city center dressed for the theatre.
Skirting the wholly-invented balcony of the wholly-invented Capulet family, we ducked down Via Portici and into a restaurant filled with lovers pawing each other under the table and, like cartoon dogs, sucking-up the same strand of spaghetti. Still too flustered to entertain any romantic notions, we ordered what turned out to be a vast portion of fegato di vitello alla Veneziana or Venetian-style calves’ liver, which, with its heady richness of garlic, sage and cream, would have rendered senseless even the most amorous couple. Things continued to improve after dinner as we shuffled onwards to the arena di Verona and, cooling our tails on its ancient bleached limestone blocks, watched an epic performance of Puccini’s La Bôheme that somehow provided much-needed perspective on the day’s minor tragedies.
Periodically, we’ll laugh (or grimace) at our haplessness that day, but as time passes, we’re more apt to remember the liver than the liverishness. During a recent lunch at the very respectable Aperitivo here in Park Slope, Brooklyn, we ate a delicious adaptation of that dish over linguine with a nice dry Valpolicella that was reminiscent of our pre-opera meal in Verona. Here it is, recreated for your visual pleasure. Feel free to eat it on a balcony or at a banquet for quarreling clans, just don’t expect to be feeling frisky afterwards.
- 6-8oz veal liver, cleaned
- 1lb homemade tagliatelle
- 2 shallots, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
- 1 1/2 cups peas (fresh or frozen)
- 10 sage leaves, julienned
- 3/4 cup dry white wine
- 3/4 cup heavy cream
- 2 tbsps unsalted butter
- salt and black pepper
- Chop liver into small-bite-sized chunks and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Melt butter in saute pan over medium heat and cook liver gently for 3-4 minutes, or until lightly browned on all sides.
- Add garlic and shallots to pan and saute for another 3-4 minutes, but do not allow to color.
- Add all but a teaspoon of the sage.
- Turn heat to medium high, and hit pan with white wine.
- Allow wine to reduce by half before adding the cream.
- Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for another 4 minutes.
- Cook fresh pasta in a lot of boiling salted water until al dente, no more than 4 minutes.
- Sauce should now be smooth and about half what it was. Add peas and stir well.
- Crush some of the liver into the sauce with the back of a spoon. (optional)
- Mix al dente tagliatelle with sauce in saucepan, making sure pasta is well coated with sauce but not swimming in it.
- Kill heat and sprinkle with grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano and remaining julienned sage.
- Correct seasoning and serve with a light bodied red wine and a hearty appetite