Monday, October 17, 2011

Italy in Mind

Sunday lunch at a farmhouse in the countryside 90 minutes southeast of Rome. It's almost a cliché, a scene you've watched in countless movies; just close your eyes and imagine the scene.

There are long tables under a pergola, there is sunshine, there is a medieval hilltop village in the distance. There is music (a gent playing a rustic bagpipe called zampogna), there is the cheerful sound of children playing soccer, there is wine, and, of course, there is food. A seemingly endless procession of food!

Assorted antipasto plates to start: slices of prosciutto and coppa, fresh ricotta, an older ricotta salata, home-baked bread, roasted peppers, a frittata, a potato salad, grilled eggplant, bruschetta with fresh tomatoes, bruschetta with arugula and cheese, cannellini beans...I confess to losing track.

Then comes pasta. Pacchetti (wide noodles stuffed with cheese, baked in the oven), strozzapreti amatriciana (thick noodles--priest stranglers--in a tomato sauce with guanciale, pork jowl), oricchietti (shell-shaped pasta) with artichoke hearts.

Then a couple of local specialties, braised goat (utterly delicious) and lumache, snails in tomato sauce (you pull the meat out with a toothpick).

Finally, some cookies for dessert. This was at an agriturismo (farmhouse inn, two guest rooms and a restaurant that uses almost exclusively the production of its own land) called Il Rusponte.

The price for the feast, which included a carafe of house red and a shot of house-made grappa with the coffee, all served by cheerful waitresses, was 35 euros per person (about $50), everything included. If you'd had a similar meal in a big-city restaurant, you'd pay three or four times as much.

The zampogna guy, on the other hand, was freelance. He showed up and played for the fun of it, then passed around his hat. Wake up? Surprise, you were awake the whole time!

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