Thursday, March 31, 2011

Garantito IGP: Pasticceria Minucci Aladino, The Lamp Of Taste

This Time, Carlo Macchi Takes the Stand:

This is not a long-distance review, but rather one with an almost-zero carbon footprint - let's say 20 yards. Which is indeed the distance separating my house from Aladino and Lidia Minucci's pastry shop, where I literally grew up. I should point out that I'm not a sweet tooth, but 40 years ago I'd visit Aladino (and never was a name so appropriate for one who seems to hold a magic lamp in his hands) to enjoy wonderful tuna or Russian Salad sandwiches. Then I lived further away, in Poggibonsi's "suburbs," and a stop at Aladino's was a prerequisite before ambling up and down the main drag. Then as now, behind the counter was Lidia, who was an institution known by all, because she brightened almost everybody's day with "sweets and savories."

In the forty-odd years Lidia and Aladino have been there the shop hasn't changed a bit: a small narrow place that greets you with, on the left, a display case filled with brioches, budini, beignès, and then there's the espresso machine, with the savories: tarts, soft rolls, triangles, and schiacciatine, almost all filled with the Aladino's sauces, which have maintained a tasty continuity for close to half a century. Half a century in which the Minucci family never considered expanding, or getting themselves noticed by the specialty press, but rather concentrated on doing their business as well as possible. And to think that I have taken their treats to several events, without telling them.

Today Aladino, who is past 70, still works in the kitchen of the shop from 4 in the morning until 8 in the evening. Fortunately, in the past few years his son Stefano has joined him, but he doesn't want to stop working, and therefore when there's less to do in the kitchen he comes behind the counter to help Lidia.

Their specialties? I've already mentioned the savories, while on the sweet side their stalwarts are the traditional Tuscan and Sienese specialties. First of all, one of my absolute favorites, Pan dei Santi. It's a special bread traditionally made by housewives between the end of October and early November (around All Saints' Day) would slip into the wood-fired ovens after the regular bread was baked, leatting it cook slowly overnight. This bread contained seasonal ingredients: raisins and walnuts, in addition to salt, a little sugar, and quite a bit of pepper.

The result was and is (at least with Aladino, while the vast majority of pastry shop overdo the sweetness, and thus distort the recipe) a bread that is well browned on the outside but soft inside, and an extremely enticing, not overly sweet flavor. The sweetness of the raisins is balanced by the spicy pungency of the walnuts and over all the balance of salt and pepper creates a unique harmony. I could eat it by the ton! And then there are the other classic Sienese specialties such as ricciarelli or cavallucci (less well known but much, much better), the secrets of which Aladino learned when he apprenticed, at age 16, in the most classic Sienese pastry shop, Nannini's. Skipping over the rice budini (which we call "risotti") that one should instead dive into, I can't forget the rice fritters (those filled with pastry cream are to die for), and the cenci made during Carnival, or the chilled zuccotto that brightens my summer nights.

I have been to many pastry shops, but when I open the Minucci's door and hear Lidia's voice my mouth starts to water.

Pasticceria Minucci,
Largo Gramsci 4
53036 Poggibonsi

Published Simultaneously by IGP, I Giovani Promettenti.

We Are:
Carlo Macchi
Kyle Phillips
Luciano Pignataro
Roberto Giuliani
Stefano Tesi

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