13 February 2022
I guess whenever you travel you search for something real. Honest. Food always sits at the forefront for us. The roadside chai in India. Pho in Vietnam up a dingy alley with a lineup of locals. Shan noodles in Yangon. Pulpo Gallega in Galacia. On it goes.
We have all had Italian food. Italian chefs are celebrities. They tell us about Italian food. Regional dishes. Local ingredients. You can’t help but romanticise the notion.
"Meals make the society, hold the fabric together in lots of ways that were charming and interesting and intoxicating to me. The perfect meal, or the best meals, occur in a context that frequently has very little to do with the food itself." - Anthony Bourdain
Dinner this evening is one of the best I have ever had. We are staying on a farm. The food is from the farm. You let them know if you want dinner at 5.00 pm. Dinner is at 8.00 pm.
We walk into the ‘restornte’. A large room with a fireplace and a few tables. Only one other couple is staying at the farm and dining tonight. The owners of the farm are in the kitchen which overlooks the dining area. Both in their 70’s. The ‘Nonna’ is working the ovens, the ‘Nonno’ working the tables.
There is a bottle of wine ready to go. I put the Chianti I purchased that day aside. We speak no Italian, they speak no English. There is no menu. She is cooking what they eat. This is perfection.
They are a great team. Evanio is charming, despite the language barrier. Proud of his farm and the produce we will be eating tonight. He adores Anna Rita. Waits on her as much as he does us. They are both happy doing what they are doing. The perfect hosts.
“He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Primo is risotto ai funghi. Served in a steaming bowl. Enough for four. It is creamy, unctuous, and seasoned perfectly. The mushrooms are large. I would guess ceps. Not champingnons Eviano points out. Finished with olive oil, not butter. There is no parmiagiano or pecorino offered. None required. We finished the bowl Evanio offered us more. I was tempted.
Il secondi is fagioli borlotti a cottura lenta in pomodoro ed erbe aromatiche. Borlotti beans cooked slowly in tomatoes and herbs. I started straight in only to realise they accompanied the cinghiale. Wild boar. Evanio indicated it was hunted with a rifle.
I have cooked boar before. Shell took one taste and gave it all to Ellie. Ellie the German Shepard. Anna Rita’s is cooked for hours in bay leaf and red wine. It is fall apart tender. Gamey, but not overwhelming. Pork, but ‘porkeir’. The wine is reduced to a delicious gravy. It is beautiful with the beans. I mop the gravy up with crusty bread and wish I had room for more.
We exchange travel stories with Eviano and Anna Rita. They have been all over the world. Mexico, Taiwan, Cuba. We work through the language barrier. The wine bottle is emptied and we open the Chianti to share with everyone.
Dolci is crema al caramello. Cream caramel. It is accompanied by three ominous bottles of spirits. Hand labeled. The first is clear, the second lime green, the third such a dark red it is almost black. Shell asks Eviano if he made them. He shows Shell his still.
The clear is Grappa. Firewater. It burns the ears. The second is made from bay leaf. It is called Allora and it is delicious. The last is made from the leaves of cherries. Rich and sweet and so good you want more. It is called Ratafià.
Shell asks Evanio if the olive oil tonight is from his farm. It most certainly is. I grab the bottle and think about tasting some on my finger. He is horrified. Makes me stop. Proceeds to cut slices of bread and lather them with his oil. It is sweet, light, and fruity. It has complexity. No bitterness or sour notes. I can't recall tasting an oil quite like it.
The crema al caramello is excellent. We are two bottles down and I am losing track of the grappa and liqueurs. Shell is explaining our plans to catch the train by making steam engine motions and saying ‘toot-toot’.
They ask our names and this happens -
Rachelle - ‘I am Rachelle’
Evanio - ‘Si. Si’
Anna Rita - ‘Rack - el - eh. Si. Si’
Rachelle - ‘He is Grant’
Evian - ‘What? Grent?’ Screws his face up, looks at Shell. Looks at Anna Rita.
Anna Rita - ‘Grent? Hahaha’
Rachelle - ‘Hahahaha’
Grant - ‘Yeah. Haha. What just happened?’
A brilliant night. One I will never forget. Time for bed and a picture of me laughing at my own name.