My friend Cyndi says that a successful blog about Italy has to have either lots of torrid sex with swarthy, sexy Italians, or lots of food. The swarthy, sexy Italians, except for dear hubby, are not in great supply, so I guess I will have to try to satisfy my readers with food porn. There's lots to discuss when it comes to Italians and their food, and I will regularly post some of my latest culinary adventures.
We have had some wonderful meals over the years in Italy, and this year is no different. We have enjoyed both great restaurants and, if I do say so myself, some pretty good home cooked meals. Here is one of our latest dining experiences. It was a real treat!
The Agriturismo I Borboni
We happened upon I Borboni after an outing to the Reggia di Carditello. The Reggia was a royal palace built by the Bourbon kings as a hunting "cottage". At the time, the Bourbons were in control of most of southern Italy, and there are vestiges of their reign all over the region. Carditello is in the process of being repaired and brought back to some level of its prior glory.
The agriturismo I Borboni takes its name from those Bourbon kings. Upon leaving the reggia grounds, we followed the signs indicating this restaurant, keeping our fingers crossed for a good outcome. Just a couple of miles beyond the reggia, the signs indicated a right hand turn into a small dirt road through fields of grape vines, tobacco and vegetables. After another 1/2 mile or so, we turned left into a stone driveway and were greeted by a parking attendant overseeing a huge parking lot. Next to the parking lot was an elaborate area of a children's playground, complete with monkey bars, slides, faux forts, ropes to climb etc. Beyond the play area was a very large restaurant, with seating both inside an air conditioned room and outside under a canopy. The entire area was festooned with pots of flowers, adding to the wonderful feeling of being out in nature.
We were seated inside, because all the tables outside were already reserved. We got there just after 12 noon, early for lunch. The staff was having their lunch, so we chatted as we watched the various dishes that were brought to them in the dining area. We knew that good things were to come!
After 20 minutes or so the feast began. No menus were available, no decisions to be made. Everything was prepared according to a small army of women who ruled over the kitchen. It was all based on what products were available or in season, and what the cooks felt would be the best mix of ingredients and preparation techniques.
The antipasto consisted of plate after plate of tasty little tidbits; prosciutto, salami and cheese, eggplant rolatini, grilled zucchini, stuffed pepper, stuffed mushrooms, bruschetta, potatoes tossed in olive oil, frittata, little zucchini blossom fritters, buffalo mozzarella and a platter of "per e muso", a neapolitan "treat" of pigs feet and snout, cooked up and served cold with a squeeze of lemon on it. I decided to pass on that specialty!
We took our time enjoying these lovely little mouthfuls. A half hour later, our waiter asked if we were ready for our "first course" or would we rather wait a bit. We all voted to wait! Eventually, he came out with the pasta dish. This consisted of two varieties of pasta, potato gnocchi and a manicotto, served in a traditional red sauce. By this point we were at the bursting point, but the fun wasn't over.
After another little while, out came the meat course. This consisted of grilled pork, beef, sausage and chicken that had been cooked over an open wood fire. At one end of the dining room, a hefty fellow wielded a butcher's cleaver with strength and skill, hacking apart ribs and wings and then tossing them onto the grill. He continually stirred and turned the meat until it was all cooked perfectly. Along with the meat, our waiter brought us a green salad and some french fries. We were ready to cry uncle!
All of these lovely dishes were accompanied by bottles of water and a great local red wine that complemented the entire meal perfectly. The only thing left was the dessert, and we knew it would be special. The sweet of the day was a nice little tiramisu, served with strawberries on the side.
When the bill came, we were shocked....25 euros per person for an incredible feast that would easily have cost double or triple that in a US restaurant. It was a real treat.
Now a word about what was going on around us as we had our lunch. There were several groups of people celebrating family events; first communions, baptisms and graduations. The room held about 300 people and every table was full. The noise level got higher and higher and it became more and more apparent that baby sitters are not used in southern Italy! Every group had children, from new borns to toddlers to school age youngsters. It also became apparent that most of these children rule the roost and have no idea that they are not in control, because apparently they ARE the ones who are in control. Parents would yell at them to sit down and were ignored. Children started carrying off the carts on which the waiters were carrying the food. One group started pulling up the carpet at the entrance to the room. It was chaos! It's always nice to see people out as families, and children being included in celebrations. It would be nicer to see children who respected the belongings of others and parents who would instruct their children in the proper way to behave in public.
That said, we had a lovely day, a lovely meal and enjoyed a lovely bit of history.