Bella Italia- how could we be in London and not visit Italy immediately?
Somewhere between deflating the blow up mattress at Alex’s and buying plates for our new flat we visited my Dad’s side of the family in Southern Italy.
Grassano, in the province of Matera in Basilicata, is a small town of about 5,500 people. My grandparents were born, raised and married in this village. During World War II my great grandfather, Franco, was captured and imprisoned by the British in Northern Africa. It was here that the history of my family was altered. His captors gave him an ultimatum- remain incarcerated or migrate to Australia. The decision was an easy one and by 1952 my great grandparents, my already married grandparents and their siblings sailed to the other side of the World.
From the moment we met Gabriele, my Dad’s cousin, we knew he was a kind soul. We arrived in Grassano at 2.30am after a four and a half hour drive from Rome airport. Gabriele was all smiles giving us a big hug and two big kisses each, as though he had known us all his life. This initial meeting set the pace for the three wonderful days we spent in my Grandparent’s village with my family.
Gabriele is one of four children. Each of them is as wonderful as the next. Antonio is the eldest, followed by Genoveffa, then Gabriele and finally Domenico (who lives in Rome, but I will write about him later). The three eldest siblings have the most charming children you will ever meet. We all fell in love with them immediately. We spent three wonderful days getting to know our relatives and eating and eating and eating and eating….you get the point. It’s my perfect idea of a holiday!
Everyday we would eat the most delicious pasta, pizza, vegetables, cheese- OH! THE CHEESE! Everyday, Gabriele would head down to the local deli and come back with the most amazing cheese we had ever eaten. This is not even a slight exaggeration. The mozzarella was like nothing I’ve ever tasted. If you think you’ve had good mozzarella, think again.
Gabriele’s grandfather was actually a cheese maker. Before he died he handed down his recipe and it is the one still in use in Grassano to this day. Everything is local. The milk comes from Grassano, in fact, we had driven passed the cows on the way in. The quality is out of this world! An honourable mention goes to the Scarmorza which was almost as delicious as the mozzarella. But the other highlight was, without a doubt, the ricotta. The texture, consistency and flavour were spot on. Even Kristian, who is not a big cheese person, went crazy for it. We ate it on fresh bread, drizzled with honey that Gabriele’s father in law produces. The most delectably simple snack. I still dream about it!
I really do envy the Italians for the quality of food that surrounds them. Yes, you can purchase food of a similar quality in Melbourne or London, but you have to go to a specialty shop and spend half your wage to get something that only comes close to what we were eating. For the Italians, particularly those in the smaller towns, they aren’t buying what they would call a ‘specialty’. It is their everyday food. It’s affordable, delicious and local. Gabriele and Antonio could tell me the origin of every single food item on our lunch and dinner table. And I tell you, it was all within a very small radius of our location, with most of the food coming from Grassano itself. Needless to say, we had a magnificent time eating everything from pasta to horse.
Yes, you read correctly, horse. Equine meat is very popular in Southern Italy as well as regional France. In Grassano, there are several butchers that specialise in horse meat. Just like most of you reading this blog, horse meat is not something we are accustomed to and we were a little hesitant. However, we are all very open to trying what the locals are eating and, more importantly, I had absolute faith in my food savvy cousins who assured us it was delicious.
On our second evening in Grassano we jumped into our Fiat Large and followed Antonio, Gabriele and Genoveffa and their families around winding corners until finally reaching our dining destination. A little restaurant specialising in horse.
Once again we were blown away by the food. Everything from the antipasti to the dessert was impeccable. There was nothing that I could fault. The horse meat was absolutely delicious. Prior to trying it, my cousins described the meat as dolce, sweet. We thought it was such an odd way to describe meat. But after tasting it, we all agreed that it was the best description of the flavour. Deliciously sweet meat.
The highlight of the evening was the ‘Pignata’. Horse meat in a delicious tomato sauce, slow cooked for six hours in a special clay pot. Divine. We were all in awe. I can’t even find the words to explain how good it was. Absolutely phenomenal. As we drove away from the restaurant that evening, we had we had all been converted.
After arriving back in London, we were talking with friends about our favourite type of meat. Without hesitation, Amy piped up, proudly exclaiming, "Well, horse is obviously my number one!"
Spoken like a true Italian.