One of our new Italian friends described the passion for food here as something close to religious fervour. I was reminded of this when we went to a special food festival at Villa Manin near Codroipo last weekend. Villa Manin belonged to the last Doge of Venice and, I think someone mentioned that Napolean spent some time there also. To be honest, I’m a little vague because none of us were there for the history – our visit was all about the food!
When we arrived the place was packed. Around the edge of the green there were about 30 stalls all selling food typical a village, town or commune of Udine. Not Italy – only Udine. Whilst counties in England will have a dish or cheese or something typical to the area, we couldn’t imagine a county putting on a show where there would be thirty stalls all offering the different dishes that each town and village is known for! Like we say, food is a serious business here!
When we had eventually found somewhere to sit, everyone studied a leaflet outlining what each stall was offering. When we say studying, that is exactly what we mean. A friend had emailed the information to us in advance so we could prepare and many arrived with their leaflet marked with what they wanted to try. We would then dart off in small pairs to go and buy dishes and bring them back to share.
Buying the food was also done in deliciously Italian way. There were a huge number of staff behind each stall. You would queue, someone would take your order and your money and you would then be handed a ticket with your order on it. After this, you were required to shuffle a single step to the person standing right next to the person who took your money and give them your ticket. They would look at the ticket, throw it in the bin and then tell the next person standing right next to what the order was! You would then shuffle a further step and collect your order. Having lived here for ten months now we could appreciate how typically Italian this was and have a good chuckle.
But, oh my goodness! The food!! This mozzarella and prosciutto was so delicious. This being Udine and near Austria and Slovenia there were a lot of foods that you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Italy: strudel and frico, just to give two examples.
We have never loved Gnocchi as it can be very heavy but here it was soft and completely delicious. As well as trying Gnocchi with Ragu, we were served a sweet Gnocchi served with cinnamon and plum jam in the middle. (A very bad picture of it is just above.) It sounds strange but it tasted incredible!
We are certainly developing a similar passion for food in everyday life. Our main meal is usually at lunch time so I am always on the look out for recipes that are “proper” meals but not too heavy and resonably quick to prepare. Broccoli is currently fairly easy to buy so a simplified version of a recipe from this book is being currently being cooked in the Ambrosia kitchen.
I put broccoli florets on to boil or steam and salted water for the pasta on to boil. I finely chop a clove of garlic, heat some olive oil in a pan and throw in some cubetti di pancetta, preferably dolce (sweet) along with the garlic and fry until golden and crisp. At this point we usually serve ourselves an aperitivo of Prosecco but this is optional! When the water is boiling I drop orecchiette pasta in. I drain the broccoli and add it to the pancetta, giving it a little stir and then removing from the heat. When the pasta is ready, I drain it and add this to the pancetta and broccoli. The whole thing gets a good stir and then is served in pasta bowls with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan. The whole thing is done in less than 20 mins and it is delicious.
If I wasn’t food obsessed enough, we are going to Sicily next week. The merest mention of Sicily makes most Italians in this area go misty eyed and wax lyrical about the wonderful meals they have eaten there….
You have been warned!