One of the delights in eating in Romagna (and I hazard to guess all over Italy) is the “misto.”
Where I come from, eating fish you usually get one thing. Your appetizer is one thing–a tartar, half a dozen oysters, a bowl of mussels. And your main course is usually one thing–fillet of whitefish, fillets of perch, a chunk of salmon or tuna or swordfish, some crab legs or a lobster tail. Want to taste something besides what’s on your plate? Poach a bite from your wife’s when she’s not looking.
Tizi’s family on her mother’s side is from le Marches, a contiguous region known for white truffles. There are truffles in Romagna, too, any Romagnolo will tell you. We’ve been to eat, for example, in Sant’Agata in Feltria, which, as far as I can tell, is a truffle capital in Romagna. Truffles are on the menu in all restaurants we like around here. But we save ourselves for days like yesterday. Because in le Marches, we have a huge advantage.
“This chicken has barbecue sauce on it,” I say to my wife.
We’re eating take-out for lunch, a few chicken legs, roasted potatoes, some bietole, and grilled zucchini. All this for 20 euro from a place in Santarcangelo. I also picked up a bottle of Sangiovese for 5 euro from a street vendor. This weekend is Festa di San Martino. The whole town is an outdoor market. I love this place.
Where I come from, the wine I drink comes from somewhere else. Around here, the wine they drink comes from around here. Vineyards everywhere. Wine production is local, in small batches and large batches, quaffing wine, slurping wine, sipping wine, wines that go with your food just right, wines you want to contemplate and appreciate and gently guzzle.
Local legend has it that the Sangiovese wine (meaning “blood of Jove”) got its name from some monks in Santarcangelo di Romagna. Tuscans might take issue, referring to first mention of the wine in the 1590 writings of Giovanvettorio Soderini. It’s a quibble. Who cares? I love the idea of monks getting tipsy, and I love the ceramic billboard (shown above, “Sangiovese was born in Santarcangelo”) you’ll see when you walk around Santarcangelo di Romagna. Mostly, I love the pour.
A word about pronunciation: Sangiovese, san-joe-VAY-zay.
A few days ago in Santarcangelo we had lunch at Trattoria del Passatore. Our server offered us new Sangiovese, a young wine; not the novello, Italy’s version of the nouveau, this was a wine just a few months older than novello. He said in a few more months the wine would grow up and become the restaurant’s regular table wine–what comes by the glass or in a pitcher or carafe in quarter or half liter quantities–at a ridiculously low price.
Among other things, among MANY other things, we come to Italy for the wine.
We come to Passatore for the food.
The pasta, in particular. This day we ordered ravioli con le rosole. Rosole are leaves from very young poppy plants. Inside these delightful little ravioli pillows: ricotta, grated parmigiano, and nutmeg. The sauce consists of a little butter and a gentle saute of the greens. The grated cheese you see, formaggio di fosse, a sheep or cows milk cheese aged in a cave.
Also on the table, passatelli con crema di porcini e tartufo nero (passatelli with porcini mushroom cream sauce with black truffle). Like cappelletti, passatelli are served dry (asciutti) and in broth. Delicious either way.
So much variety. We swing both ways–pasta asciutta and pasta in brodo. You can look forward to a soup meal or two on the October 2020 trip.
Yesterday we chanced on a new place in Rimini, Osteria Io e Simone. How charming is that? Osteria me and Simon. We’ve walked past this corner many times in the past, noticing the wine bar and crowds of gioventu (young people) outside. As chance would have it, our wine bar of choice is closed and changing ownership, so we needed a new place. Inside, we had a long chat with the fellow in charge of the pour. A glass of local, for 4 euros. Very satisfying. And a restaurant recommendation, right next door. That would be Osteria Io e Simone.
Staying with the current theme, showing you “primi piatti” (dishes you start with) here are two more pastas we might find on the menu when we travel. First up, cappellacci di zucca al burro e salvia and second, tagliatelle al ragu di coniglio.
Cappellacci–the word means ugly old hats (whereas cappelletti are little hats). These cappellacci have a sweet squash filling. Served with butter and sage. Delicate and interesting.
With those tagliatelle (pronounced tal–yah-TELL-ay), immediately above, is a rabbit ragu. Hold on, now. I know Americans tend to recoil from rabbit as food. They’re little and cuddly and cute. You might think: It’s like eating a baby. Think again.. At this point in our trip, we are on our sixth pasta dish, and the rabbit wins paws down. I’m joking. But I’m not joking. Tagliatelle with rabbit ragu is amazing. I won’t make anyone eat anything they don’t want. But I hope you will consider trying a rabbit roast or a hunters rabbit (cacciatore) or a rabbit ragu.
Autumn time and the eating is easy. Shown below, Santarcangelo.
“With my Gaggia,” he says, “I’ve stopped tamping. I get better crema. Try it.”
The coffee, he means, in the filter basket.
It’s a Saturday morning. I’m making him an espresso in my Delonghi Dedica Deluxe Pump Stainless Steel Espresso Machine. When you make espresso with a machine, tamping is a thing. It’s part of the process, the ritual. I’ve always tamped. The pros in coffee bars tamp. Every machine I’ve owned came with a tamping tool. When I tell him with this machine I only gently tamp, just leveling the coffee off, he says I might get better crema leaving it loose.
“Canducci Tiziana.” That’s how they call my wife when it’s her turn. Last name first. We’re at the Repubblica di San Marino Instituto di Sicurezza Sociale (aka the hospital), where she’s here to see an orthopedic doc. A few weeks ago at the Bargello museum in Florence, while I was in the gallery at the top of the stairs, the one with Donatello’s David and Giambologna‘s Mercury, two fleet-footed guys, looking with new-found interest at theirs and other sculpted feet, while she was climbing the stairs to join me, something happened and she tumbled down six or eight steps, injuring a few of her appendages. To wit: a knee and a wrist.
These days, when I make reservations in Italy I give my wife’s maiden name. A table for four at 7:30, for Canducci. Same thing when I call the heating repair man (it’s cold in the apartment or there’s no hot water). I say, “This is Canducci on Via Olivella in Serravalle. Can you come and check out our boiler?”
Always last name, Canducci.
I never say Bailey. Ever.
Names are essential. And they can be complicated. How hard do we want to work at them?
“Breakfast of champions,” I say to the kid sitting at the next table.
We’re in the hospital bar. It’s nine in the morning. I’m here with my wife, who’s going to have some stitches pulled. (She fell down a stairs, sliced her knee, broke her wrist. No, we say when someone asks, and everyone seems to ask, I didn’t do it.)
The boy takes a big bite from his breakfast pizza, tomato and cheese, and leans toward his father, who’s reading the pink sports gazette men in Italy love. I nod toward the pizza. I imagine he’s thinking, “Weirdo.”
Pizza is a common breakfast food over here. You see them, the size of pancakes, in the pastry cases at the coffee bars.
For me pizza in the morning was always hangover food. Leftover pizza, that is, obviating the need to busy yourself, providing the spicy, oily bulk that seemed to soothe and stabilize a woozy stomach. Usually washed down with a coke.
Both here and at home, we usually opt for pizza on a night no one wants to cook. Over there it comes to the door. Over here I walk two minutes up the street to the main piazza. The bar is called L’insolito Posto, the usual place. Think Cheers, the bar from the television show, only in this tiny village in San Marino. Weekends, if you want to eat inside, you need to make a reservation.
Once it was a coffee and breakfast pastries bar. Now it’s doing what lots of bars do. Coffee and pastries (and probably pizzas) in the morning; aperitivo (a pretty sumptuous appetizer banquet) and drinks in the early evening.
And pizza. Thin crust. Wood burning oven. Last night was one of those lazy nights. It took 5 minutes to cook my pizza margarita, which costs 5 euros. I walked it home and ate half of it, thinking I would eat the rest in the morning. But didn’t. Maybe it’s age. Or I wasn’t hungover.
The statute of limitations on leftover pizza is about 48 hours. Something tells me reheated or cold, that margarita will be the best thing I eat that day.
We’re on our way to Ro e Buni for a fat pasta lunch. This restaurant (called a “tenuta,” meaning an estate), is off the main road that passes through Villa Verucchio. A sign says there’s a golf course back here somewhere. I’d look for it but I’m totally distracted by the orchard next to the road. Orange fruit heavy in the branches. Looks like oranges. But, no, these are persimmons. In Italian called “cachi” (pronounced “CAH-cky”).
Twice now I’ve chosen not to eat polenta. My wife and I are in restaurants. It’s a choice between tagliatelle and beans or passatelli in a vegetable sauce, or polenta, I reluctantly say no to the polenta.
Last night it happened again. This just has to stop.
Oh, polenta. It comes to the table vivid yellow, this cooked corn flour mush with a sauce ladled over the top of it. Last Sunday, at Osteria del Pisello, their polenta with pea sauce.
You eat it with a spoon. It’s still hot. The red sauce, peas or beans or ragu or whatever, is likely to leave an reddish-orange olive oil sheen, as you stir, mix, spoon, and lift this wonderful food your mouth. To borrow a phrase from Raymond Carver, it’s a simple, good thing. That’s the dominant culinary principle in this region. Simple is good. More likely, simple is perfection.
When she was a kid, my wife says the practice was to pour out the polenta on a large cutting board and put it in the middle of the table, cover it with ragu. No plates. No servings portioned out. Each individual, spoon in hand, having at it.
In one of my undergraduate psychology classes I learned about what researchers call “the just noticeable difference.” We’re talking levels of perception. At what point does one lose the ability to distinguish one sensory input from another that is a measurable gradation less or more in strength. What is the just noticeable difference between the pleasure you take in one dish you love over another you love? That’s the fix we are in when we eat over here.
As we say these days, indulging in cliche, It’s all good. (This is cliche I can live with.) Seen below, last night’s polenta from Trattoria Rinaldi.
And I do mean truffle, the white ones and the black ones, those gnarly, earthy nuggets of delight, the ones you dream about, their shavings falling like heavenly snow flakes on your tagliatelle. Yes, those truffles.
In Italy they sometimes extrude the food. In the case, for example, of passatelli.
Eaten in broth or with sauce, passatelli are a mix of breadcrumbs, egg, a grated hard cheese such as Parmigiano or pecorino, lemon zest, and nutmeg, all mixed together into an “impasto” and then extruded. Passatelli would be a quintessential farmer or contadino food, the base being dry leftover bread. (Ribolitta, a typical Florentine and Tuscan dish with leftover bread as its base, also comes to mind.)