Adventures in eating: I’ve had two recently, one of them because of my occasional forays into the elegant restaurants on Fifth Avenue in Naples.
I chose this restaurant because it includes a gluten-free menu, and because it’s an Italian restaurant that advertises the availability of gluten-free pasta. Usually, when I get that periodic craving for a spaghetti dinner, I have to make my own, because I can’t digest meat or gluten. Luckily, good brown rice spaghetti is available in the grocery stores of this area. But I decided it was time for a new adventure.
A couple of friends accompanied me to the restaurant in town, and they selected what they wanted from the regular menu while I chose one from the gluten-free list, where the ingredients of each entrée were described. While I was reading that menu I came across a listed ingredient that surprised me: wheat berries.
Wheat berries as part of a gluten-free entrée? I asked the waiter why wheat was included on that menu. He assured me that “the chef says wheat berries are gluten free.” I was astounded and told him I was sure they were not. He begged to differ.
When I arrived home that evening I checked on my understanding of wheat berries, and I found that I was correct. Wheat berries, which are wheat seeds with the outer hull removed, are the source of whole wheat flour, so of course they contain gluten.
Then while working at my computer I opened that restaurant’s web site and checked the gluten-free menu. The entrée I had questioned, the one with the wheat berries, has disappeared from the list! So somebody aside from me checked on what wheat berries are.
Moral of this story: When you dine out, be sure you know more than your waiter.
My second adventure in eating occurred at one of the monthly birthday dinner parties held here at the Carlisle, where I live. The party was for residents born in July, like me. At that party I happened to be seated opposite a man named Joseph Barbaro, who is the nephew of a resident I know well, Grace Anderson. Grace and I have lived at the Carlisle for approximately the same number of years. She had invited three family members to join her at the party, and one of them was Joseph, who I discovered had a background in food preparation.
Joseph and I engaged in pleasurable conversation about good food and the new trends in cooking. I learned that Joseph had a Sicilian grandmother named Antonina and had been influenced by her wonderful Italian cooking. Moreover, he had just produced a series of gourmet Italian-style sauces named after her.
Now, nobody likes Italian sauces more than I do, and I wanted to hear about Joseph’s line, but I assumed that they were not going to fit my diet, so I hesitated to tell him that I could not digest meat and had to eat gluten-free. But Joseph was so friendly and open that I finally revealed my food limitations, and to my joy I discovered that he had produced a premium garden sauce that he was sure I’d like.
Joseph then described the garden sauce as containing no additives or preservatives, “no artificial anything,” gluten free, and with natural ingredients. He emphasized that the sauce contained no green peppers (I think we agree that although peppers are great, the green ones add a bitter taste to tomato sauce.) Moreover, he said he would send me some samples. I was delighted to hear it.
Within a couple of days, my fellow resident Grace Anderson announced that she had a package for me. It was from Joseph, and it contained two jars of his special garden sauce. I was excited. Within a couple of days I had collected what I needed to prepare a good gluten-free spaghetti dinner.
Examining a jar of “Antonina’s Gourmet Garden Sauce,” a product of the USA from Jupiter, Fla., I found from the label that the ingredients were diced tomatoes, tomato paste, fresh sweet red and gold bell peppers, Italian brown mushrooms, filtered water, extra virgin olive oil, fresh onions, fresh garlic, finely grated black pepper, kosher salt, dried sweet basil, and organic sugar. Just what I would have used.
While my brown rice spaghetti was cooking and my vegetable patties were broiling in the toaster oven, I opened the jar with anticipation. Dipping into it with my teaspoon, I tasted it. Luscious! I had to dip my spoon in a few more times because it was so good.
I poured the sauce into a pot and heated it, adding a third of a cup of textured soy protein to stand in for the ground meat. I turned off the heat and covered the pot so the soy protein had a chance to absorb all those wonderful flavors.
That was a great meal. I have to tell you what I liked best about Antonina’s Gourmet Garden Sauce: the small chunks of the best tomatoes I have ever tasted. They melted in the mouth.
I must admit that Antonina’s sauce has just supplanted my former favorite, Walnut Acres sauce. I knew the man, Paul Keene, who started and ran the Walnut Acres company until he died. In fact, he and I prepared a book together, one that contained some of his (edited) letters about country living that used to appear in his periodic newsletters. Our book was published by Globe Pequot Press in Connecticut but is out of print now.
I loved ordering from the Walnut Acres list, but I have to admit that my new choice of sauce for spaghetti is Antonina’s. If you want to try it, you can email Joseph at
. Tell him you heard about his garden sauce from me.
The moral of this story is: Don’t be afraid to specify your needs. The right person might be listening.