Bay Leaf Liqueur
I sat alone in the almost empty restaurant in Orvieto. Trattoria Del Orso- Kristina had recommended it so highly, and wrote about it here, (scroll down to read about Orvieto.) The tourist office didn’t have it listed, and when asked about it said they were out of business. Never deterred, Mr Google Maps showed me the way. It was a bit hard to find, and looked like it was closed, but I cautiously opened the door anyway to a bright, but mostly empty room. Not a good sign, but there were some people there. People sitting at a table in the center of the room looked me over, and then waved me in.
I sat, back to a corner, head in my Kindle. There was one other table, 2 couples: one American and the other British, obviously long time customers, along with a few single men, who hustled between kitchen and table.
It didn’t take long for me to figure out that the owner/cook was the expressive talker sitting at the other table, and the server was his long time companion. He took my order, complimenting my choices: guinea fowl in truffle sauce, mixed grilled vegetables and wine.
I listened, bemused by the boisterous mixed of Italian and English being spoken across the room. There is a bright green liquor being served out of an unlabeled bottle…hmmm. I wondered why the restaurant was empty. The food was insanely good, but each table had a reserved sign on it. Perhaps it was just late for the lunch crowd. I stretched my meal, lingering over the wine, borrowing from the camaraderie across the room.
When the “server” comes to clear the table and bring me coffee I told him that the restaurant had been recommended by my daughter, and that she , her husband and two friends had eaten there in March of 2008. He paused, thought a minute and asked where I was from. I told him and he thought about it, then started a perfect description: “Yes Yes! I remember them, your daughter, she’s a chef and her husband, the friends they were 2 women… her husband and one of the women, orders extra pastas—lots of wine. We took pictures outside. My name is Ciro-I am in the picture with her husband. I remember! Very nice—she has a restaurant in Santa Monica—We go to Santa Monica because Gabriele has a sister there. I remember your daughter—very nice, takes pictures of the food. She invited us to come to the restaurant the next time we come to the US.
Of course, understand that while he is going on about this, in English, he is also speaking rapid fire Italian to explain this lovely coincidence of memory and time to the people at the other table and his partner. Soon we are all speaking English and laughing about the intersections of life. I tell them I am traveling alone for a few weeks, then meeting K in Naples. We talk of books and travel and how small the world is.
That’s when they bring the bright green liquor back out, and offer me some. Bay Leaf . Heavenly scent. Kick like a mule.
The Brits & the Americans both have houses outside the town, and spend months on end here. Gabriele was in the fashion biz in the US for years, until he retired to open this restaurant in Orvieto 15 or so years ago. The reasons why the tourist office tells people they are closed is a funny story in itself, and goes right along with why there are reserved signs on every table. These stories are for another time, though. More bay leaf shots are poured. Politics, fashion find their way into the discussion.
I am amazed that I made it back to the B&B. A long nap followed. I will say that after several more meals there, and extended pleading I got the recipe for the Bay Leaf liqueur. I share how it was told to me:
1. Get a big jar. Take 100 leaves—they must be very fresh.
2. Pour a liter of WGA over the bay leaves. ( I use 190 proof cut 40%- You can use a decent vodka too)
3. Cover and set aside in a dark place for 3-4 days. Check daily and swirl around. Do not leave them too long as the leaves will brown and discolor the liqueur.
4. Make a simple syrup of 600 grams sugar and a liter of spring water.
5. Strain the leaves, add the cooled syrup and blend. If necessary for consistency, you can add a ¼ cup of glycerin.
6. Store in a tightly closed bottle, in a cool dark place. I do keep a small bottle in the freezer because I like it very cold.