Back to food -- in Italy it is hard to avoid. Always magnificent and full of surprises.
Last summer we traveled coast to coast in southern Sweden and the summer before in Greece. Although they are quite different countries they had a similar approach to food -- the same everywhere. Menus didn't vary much, more seafood by the coast, but always cooked in the same way. In a small off-the-beaten-track Greek village, we hoped to find a special local dish and instead found a menu of Greek salad (feta, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes) and souvlaki. Amazing that a country with so many sheep produces only one kind of cheese!
Not in Italy. It takes just moving a few kilometers to the next town to find a slight variation to an already particular regional dish. Last weekend, we discovered the area around Sestola, in the Apennines north of Pistoia, the ski resort to Alberto Tomba as a child and host to the 2007 under 20 national volleyball finals.
And what did we find? Tigelle, or crescentine, which are a kind of variation on the nearby piadina, only thicker like a raised pancake and smaller in diameter. They were everywhere, the local speciality. Our pensione sent us to have the best crescentina about 8 kilometers out of town and off we went for lunch with a group of 14.
The crescentine came hot and split open, ready to be lightly spread with a paste made from lard, garlic, salt and rosemary which melts to send off a pungent glow. To this you lay prosciutto or salami and dust with parmigiana before closing the top and biting in.
You can vary the inside with local pecorino cheese and add salad on the side before turning to the crescentina's sidekick, the gnocco, which is a fried bread puff that invites yet more prosciutto or salami or cheese and as you near the end of the feast, nutella or jam.
Instead of local wine, we dug into a five liter jug from Puglia that one of the couples from Leverano, a small town in the heel of Italy, had brought along for the trip. The restaurant owner even joined us for a glass -- cheers.
Food is integral to the concept of campanilismo, or "loyalty to your bell-tower", by giving Italians something tangible that connects them to their roots, to their hometown, to themselves. They can be particolare by connecting to the particular way their particular town makes a particular regional dish, of course within the very strict rules that govern what constitutes good taste.
Local food specialities help create the foundations of identity, not only within the community, but of yourself as a part of that community. The roots of the Italian "group thing" reach into the belly.
Off again tomorrow, this time to the Adriatic coast for the under 18 national volleyball finals. Wish the M.Roma team well!!