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  • Writer's pictureLaura McBride

Panettone--breakfast of movie stars!

December 21, 2019 We've had a large panettone, still in its box*, on our kitchen counter for about two weeks now. It won't be opened until after Christmas, not for any reason except that we went a bit nutty on Christmas goodies to eat this year, and simply haven't got there yet. And we won't, until after two days of traveling to see friends and two days of feasting with them. I love panettone, but it isn't something I grew up with. In fact, I had only seen it in bread cookbooks until a day near Christmas about 15 years ago in Baltimore. At the time, I had a friend who lived in Charles Village, a part of Baltimore tucked in behind the Johns Hopkins University campus and the rougher parts of downtown, to be very unfocused about it. It was close to Roland Park, too, a fairly upscale neighborhood.

Itself? Well, Charles Village has much to recommend it including a stock of lovely brick and stone Victorian and Edwardian houses. My friend, Judy, lived in one with her two sons and her husband, Enzo. Enzo is an Italian doctor who is generous in treating Judy's horse-riding buddies, most of whom are usually broke. At the time, I was among those. On both counts.

Anyway, she and I and her mother and her two sons went out for lunch one day to Rocco's Capriccio, a well-thought-of Italian restaurant in Baltimore's Little Italy. Rocco was a friend of her husband, and had specifically located there as both men were from Puglia, Italy, and were friends. It was a great lunch. We three adults sat at one table and the two boys at another one where they happily talked about whatever it is 13- and 15-year-olds talk about over pizza. We adults, naturally, had some more complex dishes and wine. Of course. I'd like to tell you about Rocco's menu, but I can't. It turns out that Rocco's Capriccio closed in 2013, after a time, apparently, of sliding downward on the culinary “must visit” list. It had been, for a long time, the recipient of five stars on the social media opinion pages, and certainly it was on my "favorite restaurants" itinerary. I'm glad I knew it only in its glory days, before, perhaps, 17 years of constant cooking caused Rocco to opt for some other way of life. As we left our pre-Christmas lunch, Rocco greeted us, and gave my friend, her mother and me each a box containing a small panettone. I didn't open the box right away. I was fairly broke at the time and thought it would be a nice thing to save and have with coffee as I banged the keys after Christmas, hoping to sell enough writing to keep from starving in the spring. But then I did. I opened it. And I've never looked back. What a treat! It was a lovely yeast bread, sprinkled with lemon and orange peel and flavoured intensely with fragrant vanilla. I ate as much of it as I could before it went stale. Then, when it got a bit past prime, I made what was left into French toast, buttered and sprinkled with icing sugar and fresh lemon juice. Now that we tend to buy big panettones, and what with all the other holiday treats, the remains become some of the most delicious bread pudding you could desire.


I've always loved Rocco for that gift, not that I knew him as well as my friend did. But he gave me something just as precious as panettone on an evening a year or two later. By that time, I was dating the man who is now my husband. He worked in Frederick, MD, lived near Westminster, MD, and drove the hour+ from there to see me a few nights each week. One Friday in the fall, we decided to go to Rocco's. I dressed as I usually did for that sort of romantic but laid-back evening: black silky dress trousers, a white semi-sheer shirt, and dangly earrings. I had been to see my hair stylist that day, though, and after its wash, cut and blow dry, it looked quite extravagant. So I applied some red lipstick to complement the hair. And then I flung a dark red pashmina around my shoulders in case of a chill later. Simon was dressed as always for work: khaki trousers, white dress shirt and dark blue double-breasted blazer. When we walked in the door to Rocco's, Rocco himself was standing at the end of the bar. He greeted me warmly, remembering me from visits with my friend over the previous year or so, and said, “You look like a movie star.” Well, that was good for my ego. Then he looked at Simon, who is 6'2” and not scrawny, and said, “And look like a bouncer.” A masterful verbal assessment, fully accurate, but not one most people would blurt out. And Rocco wasn't even a New Yorker!

*This year's panettone is genuine Italian, ordered via an Italian imported foods company in the UK.

Copyright 2019, Laura Harrison McBride Please feel free to quote up to 25 words without asking; beyond that, please email me for permission via this site. Thank you.

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