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An Afternoon with Don Michele (or The Sicilian Haircut)

by Michael Tucker
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trevi.jpgThe wives were off to the local terme- a natural hot springs spa in the town of Spello – for soaking, facials, massages, etc. This was an excursion for the group known as “Umbrian Girls Go Wild” – a disparate, dissolute organization made up of various wives and non-wives, who get together at odd times during the year to do odd things.

Because the women needed to take a few cars, the eminent Don Michele di Sicilia and myself were left with only one car between us for the day. We offered to shop and cook dinner for our spouses after their soak, and this led to one of the longest afternoons of my life.

Everyone in the town of Trevi knows Don Michele. Everyone. So what would have been a brief stop in the coffee store in Borgo Trevi, became an hour of rumination, gesticulation, exaggeration and flirtation from the eminent Don Michele. I almost forgot to buy coffee.

trevi.jpgThe wives were off to the local terme- a natural hot springs spa in the town of Spello – for soaking, facials, massages, etc. This was an excursion for the group known as “Umbrian Girls Go Wild” – a disparate, dissolute organization made up of various wives and non-wives, who get together at odd times during the year to do odd things.

Because the women needed to take a few cars, the eminent Don Michele di Sicilia and myself were left with only one car between us for the day. We offered to shop and cook dinner for our spouses after their soak, and this led to one of the longest afternoons of my life.

Everyone in the town of Trevi knows Don Michele. Everyone. So what would have been a brief stop in the coffee store in Borgo Trevi, became an hour of rumination, gesticulation, exaggeration and flirtation from the eminent Don Michele. I almost forgot to buy coffee.

Next was the alimentari down the street, where the orta-frutta lady, who weighs and chooses the produce for you, greeted Don Michele as if he had just returned from a thirty-year sea voyage. All commerce came to a halt as they reminisced about old times – something about a head of radicchio he had bought from her years ago.

When I indicated I was in a hurry, Don Michele asked why.

“I thought I would get a haircut before everything closes for lunch,” I said.

“I’ll take you to my man, up in Trevi. He charges seven Euros for a haircut. I got mine yesterday.”

I looked at his misshapen head, with wisps of hair darting out in odd directions.

“Well, actually …” I started.

“This wasn’t his fault,” said Don Miche, pointing to his head. “He wanted to follow the contours of my head, but I wanted to try something new. Perhaps today, he can correct it.”

radicchio-di-treviso.jpgWe drove up the hill to Trevi and entered the barber shop. Don Michele’s man stood by his chair as if waiting for him. They got into a long discussion in Umbrian dialect about why the haircut had gone so terribly wrong the day before. The barber offered to correct it for no charge and Don Michele sat down, offering me the other chair, which was manned by the barber’s son, who gave me an excellent haircut for the promised price of seven Euros. As we were leaving, Don Michele whispered in my ear to give the son a tip, which I quickly did. I noticed that no such tip was offered to the father, who – fairly or unfairly – bore the blame of the day before.

Then we went to lunch, which was as classically Umbrian as you can get – strangozzi, the local noodle, with black truffles, pork ribs grilled over a wood fire and flash-sautéed cicoria with garlic, all washed down with local red wine from a carafe. Then we decided to go home and take a nap so that we would be fresh for dinner.

That evening, our Wild Woman friend, Karen, brought a sensational spicy squash soup with Asian dried mushrooms and tofu scattered on top; I cooked a farro pasta with zucchini, tomatoes, garlic and capers; and Don Michele whipped up grilled radicchio with cannellini beans, which was delicious beyond description and as simple a recipe as you’ll ever make – although when I pressed him for exact details, he admonished me, “Do those who invent follow recipes?”

 

GRILLED RADICCHIO WITH CANELLINI BEANS

One head of radicchio di Treviso (the long rather than the round)

One jar of cannellini beans (you could soak dried beans for 13 hours and make them yourself, but using them ready-made from jar works just fine)

Olive oil – the best you can find
Salt

1. Pre-heat broiler.

2. Split the head of radicchio in half lengthwise and wash it well; drain it and pat it dry; leave a little moisture; salt the radicchio well.

3. Spread the leaves out on a broiling pan about 6 to 8 inches below the hot broiler; watch it carefully; when the edges begin to blacken, remove it from the broiler; this blackening is the secret of the phenomenal taste of this dish.

4. Turn the broiler off, but leave the oven door closed so that the oven stays nice and warm.

5. Generously pour very good olive oil over the leaves and then spoon the beans over.

6. Set it back in the still warm oven until you’re ready to serve.

 

Michael Tucker is an actor and author whose third book is the recently published Family Meals: Coming Together to Care for an Aging Parent.  You can read more about his food adventures on his blog Notes from a Culinary Wasteland.

 

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