The truth is that it feels silly to try to explain any of this with words.
|Could there be any other idea of perfection than homemade hobo backgammon in the Italian Alps?|
The feelings stretch deeply to that pure and shiny spot inside of each of us that can only be described with the sound of belly-deep laughter or the sight of a dog sunning itself on a porch.
|Allow me to introduce you to lardo. This is straight-up pork fat, rubbed with local herbs and spices and cured in a salt brine. You should eat some fat every day, so why not keep it simple rather than hide fat in greasy potato chips or a slice of cake? Throw it on a warm piece of bread and watch the fat soften into sweet sweet salvation.|
Italian food just gets me. It makes me weak, speechless, giddy. It is food based simply on what is local and fresh. From there, you find the highest quality items among your participants, and then you cook with them. Could you ask for more?
I am volunteering as a way to travel. I am avoiding the "real world" and working for various families in exchange not for money, but for simple room and board. At least that's the gist. But what I'm also getting is culture.
|High in these alpine towns, the water comes straight from the source, leading to these pure and rustic "fountains" found all over the mountainside. When going for a walk, I just strap a cup to my belt and have mountain juice any time I please.|
Take my current situation, for example...
Genuine Italian meals—cooked with the skill of a chef—twice a day. Carefully chosen wine served at dinner that is not only local, but moreover made from the nebbiolo grapes (i.e. the grapes used for Barolo wine) that literally grow in our backyard. Two generous and amazing hosts to work and eat with. A view of the Alps from my bedroom window. Twelve absurdly silly and friendly Bernese Mountain Dogs to play with at any given moment (and no, "twelve" wasn't a typo).
And in exchange? I have to find 25 hours at some point in the week to devote to helping to prune and arrange the vineyard.
|The view from our window during our three week stay here|
I can do these hours in three days and have the rest of the week off, I can do five hours for five days, etc...The arrangement is my choice.
And so, with Paolo as our local master chef (and Marisa, his wife and official taster), I believe I'll have some recipes to be sharing with you.
While the French take foods and spend hours concocting them into something new and rich and complex, the Italians just take what's good, keep it simple, and eat it.
|Bresaola "salad" and a view that'll make you cry.|
Case in point: Bresaola. This salt-cured, air-dried beef originated in the very Valltelina Valley that we currently call home. It comes from cattle that graze in the local Alpine meadows and since only the leanest, fat-trimmed cuts of meat are used, it ends up being a relatively "healthy" choice in the realm of charcuterie. The herbaceous mountain diet combined with the salt, herbs, and seasonings that are massaged onto the rind before aging it for two to four months produce a heartbreakingly flavorful end product. There is no need to incorporate this divine meat into some haughty dish. Slice it thin and eat it as it comes.
Bresaola with Arugula and Parmigiano-Reggiano
Ingredients (per person, multiply as necessary)
5-6 paper-thin slices of high-quality bresaola (you can even make your own...)
A handful of arugula
A few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano (the real stuff)
High quality EVOO
High quality balsamic (not balsamic vinegar—you may have to find pure balsamic at a specialty shop)
Spread out the slices of bresaola on a plate, sprinkle on a handful of arugula, 7-8 hearty shavings of Parm-Regg, and a quick glug of EVOO and balsamic.
Remember: keep it simple. No one ingredient should overpower the others, no matter how much you love cheese or want to try to be healthy with extra arugula. Savor the balance.
And just for the record, I'm not the only one who likes a leisurely meal...
|One of the puppies has honed the art of eating to a master-class skill|
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