Nostrano

In Italy, despite the proliferation of big supermarkets and fast food chains, local food has never gone out of fashion. While in North America sushi, samosas, and Kung Pao chicken are as common as hamburgers and apple pie, Italians still regard foreign dishes and ingredients with suspicion. Some of it is simply culinary xenophobia, but Italians understand that food that is conceived of, grown, and prepared locally is vastly superior. They even have a word for it, nostrano, which literally means "ours". The staying power of the North American locavore movement remains to be seen, but in Italy nostrano is not a fad but a deeply ingrained sense of pride in regional food.

On a recent trip to the Casentino region of Tuscany I discovered just how delicious the concept of nostrano could be. The owner of our rental villa recommended a local chef who would come to the house to prepare a multi-course meal with wine for 30 euros per person. Although we usually do our own cooking on these trips (the main reason we choose villa rentals over hotels) the offer sounded enticing for our first evening, especially considering that ten of us would be arriving tired, cranky, and disoriented after a long flight and a drive along unfamiliar country roads. Having a meal waiting for us would be a treat.

Shortly after we had settled into the villa, our chef Manuela arrived laden with bags and boxes of ingredients for dinner. She shooed us out of the kitchen but allowed me a quick peek in the fridge where I caught a glimpse of the pasta course, nettle and ricotta ravioli that she had made that morning.

At 8 sharp we gathered in the dining room for what turned out to be an amazing meal. Everything we ate was either grown or gathered by Manuela, prepared in local butcher shops and bakeries, or shot by a friend (she called him the assassino). The antipasti course was an assortment of prosciutto, salami, and crostini.

The next course was zuppa di pane, a simple but sublime combination of stale bread, beans, potatoes, onions and chili pepper. The ravioli that I'd spied earlier was placed on the table next, two big platters-full, one sauced with butter and sage, the other with a luscious pork ragu.

The first two courses alone would have been enough for a satisfying meal but the food continued to arrive. Wild boar ragu with white beans was next.

At this point we were starting to feel a little desperate. We had just managed to eat a few small mouthfuls of the boar when Manuela appeared again with another platter heaped with rabbit, pheasant, chicken, small game birds, and fried potatoes, and a bowl of radicchio salad. Dessert was mercifully light, walnut cake with a glasses of vin santo for dunking.

By the end of the meal we were all looking a bit shell-shocked from a combination of overindulgence and jet lag but we toddled off to bed with satisfied smiles on our faces knowing that we had enough food left over to feast another day.

0 comments: