Have you ever heard about the memory of food? If you have ever lived in another country besides the one you live in, or in different ways than the urban life, then you know how food is supposed to taste.
You would remember, or your palate, I should say, would remember a buttery lettuce, the crispness of a radish, the flavorful crust of home-made bread, or how a juicy apple tastes like a real apple and not like a potato.
As a girl going with my family up to the Italian country side was such an exciting event every time and not only because of the winding road around the mountain.
I knew that once we arrived to Irsina in Lucania (Italy), we had left the urban life for sure and entered into an ancient time, where life was very slow and still is, food took center stage in everybody’s day and where people care about what mattered the most to them.
Irsina is a very small town of a few thousand of people including animals, a small Hamlet where my father was born. Nostalgia for his roots brought us to go back there from the city of Bari at least once a month. We knew that besides enjoying my father’s family, we would enjoy the typical mouth-watering dishes of home-made food, wines, breads, sausages and several other food variety preserved under oil or vinegar, such as eggplants, mushrooms, artichoke, peppers, fruit and much more. Most of the food in Irsina is based on home-grown agricultural produce, meats, cheeses, fresh fruits and vegetables, today as many centuries ago.
My Grandfather, nonno Ciccio, was the village artist. Many churches of the village and surrounding towns commissioned him to build almost life-size Christmas characters to fill the Presepe (Manger).The statues were carved in wood and then hand-painted. They represented various people of the village, the butcher, the sheep herder, the doctor, house wives, kids, anybody living in his fantasy.
He built almost life-size wood miniature of villages, animals, houses, street views, fountains, then he placed all the wood characters and filled the scenery of a Manger. They were beautiful, tall, almost real, they stood proud to come alive at Christmas and to be part of the nativity scene.
Nonno Ciccio used to make trenchers, a rectangular or circular flat piece of wood on which meat, or other food, is served or carved. On the trencher he would serve lard and anchovies, one of the dish of his liking that I have never forgotten. He cut the lard from the prosciutto and sliced it paper-thin. He arranged it on the trencher very neatly and inserted one anchovy fillet between each layer of lard, then he chopped parsley coarsely and threw it on top, a swirl of olive oil, home-made crusty batard bread, a nice goblet of home-made “no name” red wine and we could not wait to sit with him at that rough table to eat that delicacy!
At every meal, in the middle of the table, there was a braid of sun-dried chili peppers and a jar of olive oil flavored with chili peppers. Red wine, chili peppers and home-made food was the reason of my grandfather red cheeks. He was a happy camper! While I am writing, I can taste again that delicate flavor of prosciutto fat mixed with the salty and fish flavor of the anchovies. The balance and contrast was perfect with the acidity of the dark green olive oil of those parts.
Fancy, elegant hotels and farm houses in the South of Italy have revived the trenchers, in lieu of ceramic plates to serve appetizers, munches and some very particular old dishes that hold the aura of antiquity and need to be presented with a bit of choreography.
Don’t be afraid of eating some fat and other food that have fallen out of the fashion. Our body needs all food type and every little piece of nourishment without deprivation. That’s the way to stay healthy and happy, the rest will come by itself. Ciao,
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Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved
Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.
She writes often about food and she is the author of two Italian regional cookbooks available in this site at the Book Page:
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lnq8baaAq0M
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts
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