While we’re in Italy, Tizi accumulates treasures. Mainly chocolate. Over time we’ve put providers on our maps, in Rome, Florence, Siena, Venice. When we’re hanging out in San Marino and Pesaro, which is usually the case, her go-to place is Cioccolatteria & Confetteria Talmone. Now we have a new place, in nearby Fano.But…, but…
I remember a distinction professors made on their course reading lists: required reading vs suggested reading.
Put Gennaro down as required eating.
That’s Da Genarro.
It’s on a hillside high above the Adriatic, on a two lane road called “la panoramica,” through a national park called San Bartolo. I wouldn’t say the restaurant is in a village. It’s not a village so much as a brief deviation. If you don’t deviate, you’ll miss it. And trust me: you do not want to miss it.
My wife and I disagree. The question is not whether to use it. We’re both parsley positive. The issue is when, during cooking or added afterward as a garnish. I’m during, she’s after.
It has not always been thus. For many years we lived in perfect harmony, parsley-wise. Diced parsley was one of those first-things-first things, like diced or chopped onion-celery-carrot. Then one day a chef friend came to dinner. We must have had something long-cook on the stove, like a braised meat. He raised the lid and lowered his face to the pan. “Always add parsley near the end,” he said. “Cooked, parsley is bitter.” It was a pronouncement. He confirmed what my wife must have always sensed. He named it. And that was that.
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.
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.)
Is there a more guilty pleasure than a fritto misto (frittura, as they say here)? You can see what you’re eating, sort of–rings of sliced calamari, curled shrimps, spongy scallops, a stray chunk of fish, and, if you’re lucky, some thinly sliced or shredded zucchini–all lightly covered in a crispy brown batter, lightly salted.