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Rome on the range

Matt Zalaznick

Which is more delicious – lovingly prepared homemade pasta with a flavored pesto and seasoned chicken or a box of macaroni and cheese?

Italians have been arguing that culinary question since the Renaissance and Saturday some insightful thinking was added to the debate at Vail’s Italian Festival.

“I’ll soak any kind of meat in alcohol S with some garlic salt,” said Vail resident Hampton Williams, adding his preferred marinade is “PBR” – also known as Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Williams, however, expressed some annoyance that Americans don’t know the Chinese names of all the different pasta shapes.

“The Italians stole the noodle from the Chinese,” said Williams, admitting his favorite shape is bow-tie. How do you say bow-tie in Chinese?

“What’s rigatoni?” said Williams’ friend, Betsy Brainard, who lives in Eagle-Vail.

Brainard – not an Italian name – said the Crossroads building didn’t remind her very much of her trip to Italy.

“Inside the tent I get a little vibe,” Brainard said. “The fresh roasted nuts mess up the Italian smell. I’m not sure whether fresh roasted nuts are Italian or not.”

Neither are we, but the tent Brainard referred to was the heart of the festival, where several local Italian restaurants served Chinese food – speaking from a more historical perspective. There also was a band playing traditional Italian music, such as “Finiculi Finicula” and the Grateful Dead’s, “Friend of the Devil.” By the way, the Grateful Dead have performed “Finiculi Finicula” in concert.

None of the restaurants, however, were serving either frozen pizza or macaroni and cheese.

“It would have to be three in the morning when everybody else is closed,” said Ti Amo co-owner Massimo Perucchini of the likelihood he would eat a frozen pizza.

But his partner in the Eagle-Vail restaurant, Stephen Negler, admitted to a past life where Kraft macaroni and cheese was a staple dinner.

“I was a college student,” he said. “But I would spice it up with peas and tuna and a warm beer from the night before.”

Yum!

Roger Barondess of Evergreen also weighed in on the frozen-homemade debate by reminiscing about his college days.

“We ate a lot of pancakes,” he said.

Huh?

Meanwhile, his wife Kris – who said she once lived in Italy – was having trouble picturing Florence while standing in the main tent.

“This is a much smaller scale,” she said, adding she was quite comfortable with both the Italian names and American nicknames for pasta noodles – but not the Chinese names.

“I’m also very comfortable swearing in Italian,” she said.

Aside from the restaurants, there were purveyors of other Italian essentials. Christina McCann, who works with Annie’s in Vail Village, had a wide range of olive oils she said are best used on salads, for dipping or as marinades. The varieties included roasted garlic and basil, rosemary, an Asian oil, lemon pepper and orange tarragon. Cheetos would be a good snack to dip in these oils, right?

“Maybe chips,” McCann said.

McCann also had topenades for spreading on crackers, including a caramelized shallot mustard infused with dark beer. Unfortunately, she said, she doesn’t recommended drinking a whole six-pack.

“I find it’s better with a good bread,” she said. “It’s great with a lot of things, like sandwiches and vegetables.”

Keith Lansford, of Bistro Blends in Littleton, offered a little lesson in vinegar, followed by some good advice.

Vinegar, he said, was used exclusively in ancient Rome for painting Easter eggs. Actually, he didn’t say that. He said vinegar is essentially wine, just aged long enough for the alcohol to break down into acetic acid.

So, if it was a Sunday in Colorado and you forgot to buy wine for your Super Bowl party, you could crack open that cask of aging vinegar aging in your basement, right?

“No,” said Lansford, which also is not an Italian name.

And it seems that, while nobody was paying attention, olive oil became quite fancy.

“Olive oil has progressed,” Lansford said. “By adding different vinegars, as well as spices, adds flavor.”

Colorado may have great snow and tall mountains, but it has lousy olives.

“The taste of olive oil and vinegar takes on the characteristics of the land where it’s grown, like wine,” he said. “But Colorado doesn’t have the climate for olives.”

When it comes to pasta noodles, everybody seems to have their favorite shape, even if they’re not sure which one it is.

“I like rotelle – isn’t that corkscrews?” said West Vail resident Anne Pazieri, definitely an Italian name. “And my next favorite is penne.”

Her friend Sheryl Harkcom, however, was definitely thinking outside the box S of macaroni and cheese.

“I like the SpongeBob SquarePants-shaped macaroni and cheese,” she said.

Harkcom also came close to settling the aforementioned debate. Asked whether she’d prefer a gourmet dish to a frozen pie, she said:

“All of the above. I just like Italian food S and Italian wine.”

Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 606, or via e-mail at mzalaznick@vaildaily.com.


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