These pictures are from a wonderful lunch at a little restaurant in Pesaro. Being by the Adriatic the menu was big on seafood. To start an incredible antipasti of frutti di mare - shrimp, marinated salmon, fresh sardines, crayfish, squid and a type of smoked trout.
Dickie's Cosa Nostra, a history of the Italian Mafia, is a best seller and I can see this one, subtitled The Epic History of Italians and Their Food, going the same way. His premise, and in my mind rightly so, is that Italian food is not good old fashioned country cooking that tourists - and many Italians - believe it to be. It is a urban cuisine based on the taste buds and pocketbooks of the city dweller.
These clams had been cooked in a tomato-zucchini-garlic broth and tossed with penne - pasta con le vongole is a favorite all over Italy.
History tells us that people in the countryside ate poorly - poverty does that.
The poverty of the peasant diet still echoes in a number of proverbs that have been handed down.
When the peasant eats a chicken, either the peasant is ill or the chicken is. Among the poor of the countryside, chicken was a costly rarity reserved for the sick. Peasants were often only able to eat animals that had died of disease.
Garlic is the peasant's spice cupboard. Spices were essential to sophisticated cuisine from the middle ages until at least the seventeenth century. But the rural masses couldn't afford them. Garlic, leek and onion, by contrast, stank of poverty. Which is not to imply the well-to-do refused to eat these pungent vegetables - just that they looked down on anyone who had no alternative when it came to giving food flavour.
St. Bernard's sauce makes food seem good. St. Bernard's sauce was the most important ingredient in the peasant diet for most of the last millennium. But happily the recipe* has now faded from memory. It means "hunger".
A history of Italian food written as the story of what peasants actually ate would make for a stodgy read. Many pages would be devoted to vegetable soup. There would be a substantial section on porridge. Bread made from inferior grains, and even from things like acorns in times of hardship ...
Delizia! - John Dickie
Hodder & Stoughton
The frito misto was piled high with octopus, shrimp, calmari and other seafood goodies. Lightly battered it only needed a few squirts of lemon to bring out all the flavours.
Dickie looks at Italian cooking in various urban centres over six different periods right up to the new prosperity of the past few decades. I'm particularly intrigued by the chapter entitled Faulty Basil - how great a wordplay is that?
The primi (pasta dishes) were so big that there was no considering a secondi (meat-fish dish)but there was room for a creamy coffee sorbetto. The whole had been accompanied by a nice wine from the Marche, aqua frizante and finished with a coffee and local amaro. And it cost half of what we would have paid for the same meal in Roma.
*Despite Dickie's comment I was able to find a recipe for St. Bernard's sauce but how faithful it is to the original I can't say.
04 ottobre - San Francesco d'Assisi