Thursday, November 29, 2012
If you’re like me, and you have to make a five hour drive from point A to point B, you’re probably looking for a point C. Somewhere in between where you can stop off and have lunch. We make the drive from Rome to Bari all the time, but never ever make more than pit stops along the way. While I love my Autogrill as much as the next girl, I always dream of wandering off into the beautiful countryside around Benevento to explore.
Why don’t we stop? Because we’re going down to spend time with Domenico’s mom, and we’ve usually left Rome later than we had anticipated on a Friday afternoon.We end up driving fast and furious to make it in time for a dinner of focaccia and panzerotti. And then on the way back, we're usually trying to avoid Sunday evening traffic leading back into the city.
But this time, on our way back to Rome on Sunday, for the first time ever, we left early enough to include a lunch stop along the way. Armed with the newest edition of the Osterie d’Italia guide, we figured out where we would be about 1pm, and narrowed it down to a few choices.
I’ve talked about the Slow Food guide in the past. It’s my go to bible for finding authentic, usually slightly rustic, local trattorie. A wonderful feature is the little map in the front of each region. I just ran my finger along the A16, and chose what seemed to be the perfect place: Di Pietro.
Just three kilometers off the autostrada, the restaurant had all three Slow Food symbols (good wine, local produce and artisan cheese). It was in a small town I had never heard of. I imagined that since it was in the middle of magically lovely countryside, (that we usually just speed past), it had to be beautiful. You know. A handful of ancient stone buildings huddled around a pocket-sized piazza.
When I called to reserve, the owner said “We’re just under the portico.” Exactly! A old portico was the only thing missing from my vision.
The photo above is what we drove through to get there.
The photos below? What we actually found.
This area of Italy was hit hard by an Earthquake in 1980. While the shifting tectonic plates did a lot of damage, the corruption and floods of money that flowed into the area did worse. As it turns out, the original picturesque town of Melito Irpino was one of the sad casualties of rampant thievery.
Because there was an ancient town, just liked I imagined. But the local ‘powers that be’ decided to scrap it. Literally. It was completely razed to the ground.
And what you see here is what the brilliant planners (brought in from other regions) laid out. At great profit to a few locals of course.
(side note: Remember the scandal in 2002 involving Annamaria Franzoni from Cogne? It was her father’s construction firm that is responsible for Melito Irpino Nuovo)
All to say: not what we were expecting. As we entered this architecturally challenged corner of Campania we thought that finally, Osterie d’Italia had failed us.
We almost turned around.
I’m so glad we didn’t.
Following the disturbingly yellow, sign we headed for our destination. Walking under one of the god awful modern porticos, we made walked through the front door. And knew we were in our kind of place right from the minute we sat down and found a pile of local apples - beautifully bruised and scarred - as a center piece on each table.
We thought we’d have a quick lunch. Hah. No such thing.
Even though we said 'no' to antipasti, it showed up anyway. Thickly sliced salami from nearby Grottaminarda. Crispy hot focaccia still warm and slightly smoky from the wood burning oven.
Rustic frittata and sformata, both with local greens and fresh cheeses. The most amazing sweet and sour pumpkin.
Had we known we were getting such bounty we may have ordered a bit less to come after. Or maybe not.
Minestra maritata was a brothy soup made from broccoli greens. Big chunks of local sausage floated on top, all sprinkled with bright red pieces of peperoni cruschi. Who knew pork soup could taste this healthy? Domenico ordered the local pasta, hand made cicatiella. Again, veggies were the star and the chewy little shapes were smothered with broccoli greens and peperoni, and topped with crispy bread crumbs and tons of garlic and hot pepper.
By this time we were actually full. And so truly regretted having ordered a meat course. Until it came.
The stuffed lamb belly turned out to be incredibly light. Really. I'm serious. It was actually the thin layer of the meat below the ribs, used to wrap around a filling made with eggs and breadcrumbs. So more of a meaty sformata than the 'lamb belly pig out' I had imagined/feared. With the most intense tomato sauce on top that I’ve ever had. Just pure, concentrated tomato.
Domenico had the agnello cacciatore, which was perfectly cooked in a light sauce with - again - the beloved peperoni cruschi. And yes, we did use the home made bread to sop up every last bit of sauce.
We didn’t want to order dessert . Really we didn’t. But then I figured we needed a bit of sugar to revive us and see us on our way for the rest of the three hour drive.
I thought crocantino was going to be a cookie or two. It turned out to be something that was as much fun to eat as it was delicious. The hard shell of sugar and nuts came with its our own personal little mallet. We took turns slamming away, and managed to finish it all.
Two coffees, and we headed back out into weird and ugly Melito Irpino. A walk around the porticos (the sure sign of an architect from up north. Who needs porticos in dry south Italy?) and we headed out of town. A town I am very glad is now on our map.
Corso Italia 8