La Bella Vita - Mostly
It’s August, so it must be Ferragosto, and if it’s Ferragosto, then it must be festa time in Montone! We are in the midst of our annual, week long medieval festival, the Donazione della Santa Spina.
August 15 is the official Ferragosto holiday in Italy, but one can go ‘on ferie’ (fair-ee-a) or vacation, anytime during the summer. We can all thank Emperor Augustus who, back in 18 B.C., thought it was a great idea to take a little break from work during the dog days of summer.
A funny thing happened last fall, maybe even in the middle of the night. We woke up one morning and there was a “Casa dell’ Acqua” in the Montone parking lot over by the elementary school. And another one had sprung up in the nearby town of Umbertide. When you live in Umbria, you get used to certain things: horrifyingly bad roads, spotty internet, wonky electric, and now, no bells in town. The story is always the same: no money and a fatalistic shrug of the shoulders. So when something new and shiny shows up, everyone notices.
In the US, ‘parm’ comes in four generic flavors: chicken, veal, meatball, or eggplant. Usually heavy, goppy and greasy, it’s an overweight distant relative of the sleekly elegant Italian parmigiana. Think Jersey Shore versus the Amalfi Coast.
In Italy, a parmigiana is made from vegetables like eggplant or zucchini, or even combined with some potato. It can be a light main course, or a contorni (vegetable side dish). In the summer, a parmigiana served at room temperature, along with a chilled white wine, is pretty much the perfect hot weather meal.
According to Paolo Rodaro, there are only four kinds of wine: red, white, good, or bad. If you taste a wine and think, “Hmmm…might be off.” and you taste again, and maybe a third time, Paolo thinks you are wasting time. You were right the first time, send the wine back. He uses real corks, dismissed screw tops as an abomination, politely listened to the virtues of glass caps and then changed the subject to sex. If you do not look a person in the eye when you clink glasses you will be condemned to seven years of bad sex! And so the conversation meandered during a lovely evening at the Enoteca Wine Club in Umbertide as we ate Antonella’s delicious food and tasted the wines from the Rodaro cantina.
Twenty years ago, Napoli Restaurant was a classic spaghetti joint on the corner of Spring and Sullivan streets in Soho, NYC. Actually, it was ‘our’ spaghetti joint back in the day when we were living cheap and going out didn’t require a mortgage to buy a bottle of wine.
Flash forward to the new enlightened us who live in Italy and have eaten many clams, preferably picking them up at the port from the fisherman, with a cold bottle of local wine in the shopping bag. Here’s the time warp part: eating linguine alle vongole at the Italian seaside is probably cheaper than those dinners at Napoli. See, life isn’t always cruel.
Surely there are plenty of mad women in the village of Le Forna on Isola di Ponza, but it’s the mad chefs of Le Forna that captured our hearts and stomachs. From crusty pizza to oily, inky black spaghetti, to delicately fried fish, to impressive apertivi, to a feast on a boat, these men know how to cook!