Editor’s note: Our friend and fellow traveler.com, Libby Margolis-Pineo, who spends many weeks each year shopping for products for her import business, sends us musings on sipping and noshing and recipes from a recent trip to Italy. She writes:
It’s late afternoon here in Argegno, Italy. I sip an Aperol spritz; my daughter Rachel savors Campari. It’s an honor to introduce millennial mini-me to the fine Italian custom of an Italian Happy Hour at Hotel Villa Belvedere. We enjoy the glorious lakeside primavera through floor-to-ceiling windows, and admire the shelves of Martini & Rossi, Aperol, Campari and mysterious Fernet Branca behind the sleek hotel bar.
Here’s Fernet’s recipe for the classic spritz cocktail:
3 oz. prosecco
1½ oz. Aperol or Campari
1½ oz. soda water
Orange slice to garnish
Combine prosecco, liqueur and soda water in a tall glass filled with ice; garnish with orange – Rachel prefers a blood orange.
Prices often rise during happy hour. This is understandable. Here in Argegno, the vast sea of complimentary aperitivi at Cafè Colombo includes panini, chunks of Parmigiano, ribbons of pink prosciutto, puffy pizzette and warm squares of polenta. At Pensavo Meglio, they deliver a similar assortment on a plate. At Bar Motta, it’s olives or my weakness, potato chips. The happy hour crowd spills into the Piazza Roma. No one is in a hurry. A proper Italian happy hour often stretches into evening.
Boating to Bellagio
Believe it or not, it can get a little boring sitting around just eating and drinking. Our group, which has grown from three to 10 over the last few days, decides to take a day-boat to Bellagio, the “Pearl of the Lake.” With indoor and outdoor seating, the lake views are spectacular.
The lake is a necklace of small jewels, towns with stone bell towers, grand villas and tranquil gardens. A day-ticket allows you to visit as many as you’d like. Of course, we disembark at Bellagio, utterly beautiful once you escape the touristy center. We pass Cadenabbia, Varenna, Tremezzo and Lenno, and admire glorious Villa del Balbianello with its panoramic terraced gardens. It’s bellissimo.
Our magical mystery tour—and perhaps the cocktails and snacks we enjoyed earlier–has made us sleepy. Back on the boat, tucked along the wall, we doze. Our viaggio ends in Menaggio at Bar Constantin, a central restaurant crowded with locals. I adore the verde pizza with spinach, topped with fresh arugula. Meatier pizzas include a tasty “speck” pie.
We share a pitcher or two of the heavy red wine, and daughter Rachel says, “It feels like a Seder.” Bar Constantin closes around 2:00 each afternoon for la pausa (the time of day when Italian businesses shut down), so don’t be late.
One Rainy Day
Fog and drizzle provide an opening for an urban exploration of the historic Como center. Some of us attend a very crowded Easter mass, so redolent with incense it makes me a little teary. We stroll the fashion-forward centro and admire styles from Armani and Missoni. We hit the renaissance Palazzo Giovio, now an archaeological museum, chock full of local antiquities, historical artifacts, and surprising kitchy paintings.
Pines and Palms
Rachel believes that the ideal climate features both pine and palm trees. I agree. Lake Como has an abundance of pines and palms, plus flowering plants, fragrant herbs, warm breezes and sunshine. And it is several miserable-weather weeks ahead of our home in snowy northern New England. Is it Maine? I confess I can barely remember.
At midday, we sprawl like lizards in the sun on our stone patio amid fragrant rosemary. Mid-afternoon, we chat over glasses of Vermentino at Pensavo Meglio. Later, we enjoy a passeggiata, or evening stroll, and return to the pebbled courtyard of our little rented apartment with its little terracotta fire pit high on Via Schignano. Life is good.
Today, one of us is celebrating a decade-birthday. I will not say who. This is maggiore. We decide to celebrate at a charming nearby restaurant, La P’Osteria, a beloved riverside spot that served as Argegno’s post office in the 1800s. Rustic starters of salumi are wonderful — don’t miss the polenta sticks.
Regional specialties here include lake fish, duck, meaty agnolotti and tagliatelle pastas. I especially enjoy an unconventional broccoli and bottarga dish (bottarga is a dense cured fish roe made from tuna, gray mullet or swordfish). Yes, dried fish eggs. Delicious.
Then comes an authentic, not-too-sweet Tiramisu for the occasion. Rachel adds a crazy candle that resembles a roadside flare, and it’s a sparkling celebration.
Our languid lakeside spell has been a tranquil vacanza da poesia, a poetic holiday. Arrivederci, Argegno.•
For a taste of our Italian birthday celebration, try this delicious recipe for Tiramisu.
6 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup dark rum, divided
1- 1/2 cups brewed espresso, divided
16 to 17 oz. mascarpone cheese
30 Italian ladyfingers, or savoiardi
Grated bittersweet chocolate
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar with an electric mixer whisk attachment on high for about 5 minutes until thick and light yellow. Lower the speed and add 1/4 cup rum, 1/4 cup espresso, the mascarpone cheese and whisk until smooth.
Combine the remaining 1/4 cup rum and 1- 1/4 cups espresso in a shallow bowl. Lightly dip one side of each ladyfinger in the espresso/rum mix and line the bottom of a 9 by 12 by 2-inch dish with them. Pour half the espresso cream mixture evenly on top. Dip one side of the remaining ladyfingers in the espresso/rum, and place them in a second layer in the dish. Pour the rest of the espresso cream over the top. Smooth surface and cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Mmmm.—Story and photos by Libby Margolis-Pineo, RFT Contributor