Last week I was in the South of Italy, where women, usually loving mothers, get up at 4am to peel and wash and puree in order to make sure the food is ready, fresh and plentiful for noon. Where mother-in-laws of others proffer home-made limoncello when you stop in to say hello, and daughters of cousins pop by with chocolate molten baby cakes, made specially for you. Southern Italy, where even if you are 72 you wouldn’t dream of using tinned tomatoes (heavens, the preservatives!) but nope you buy kilos of tomatoes in the summer and then you get up at 4am (it’s a recurring theme) to make sugo before it gets too hot later in the day. Where it seems the original super-woman-mother must hail from, as these ladies don’t just make a couple of liters nope, they are super-mom and make 500 liters, to a) store in the pantry, b) give to “u filiu” the sons (roughly translates “as, oh my poor dear sons, who are so far away it breaks a mothers heart” who live far away, so that they get a taste of home whenever nostalgia hits. Of course these ladies also serve hand-made pasta, with home-made meat-balls and I find myself feeling old, old, old in the face of Southern Italian exuberance, vitality and the energy to get up at 4am, even if you are retired and could therefore with a good conscience stay in bed..
And the worst of it is, these women are not smug and proud for churning out delicacies and intricate foods as though on a factor conveyor belt, nope, when you say “wow, that must have been a lot of work” they wave their hands self-deprecatingly and say “Oh,this, no this is nothing.. I got up at 4am and I have been kneading and chopping since then, or cleaning pulpo or mussels, or putting sea-grass in brine…..” They don’t even want any gratitude or admiration, they really just do the work to make others happy. Truly advanced souls, these women.
After a week in the old world with wine for lunch and dinner (rough from the neighbours garden, every time a bottle is opened I find myself saying “is this how it is meant to taste?”), visiting uncles and aunts, neighbours and more neighbours, sitting and chatting and valiantly refusing the biscuits, cookies and cakes on offer (I did try the limoncello though) I find myself 10 kgs heavier, back in my faster paced world and ill-equipped to handle even the thought of going into my kitchen. Why, you might ask. The answer is simple: the house has been cleaned and the kitchen is pristine, soon guests will be here, and I want the place to be perfect (without putting any work in). So instead of cooking we’ve been eating with local relatives, or making it to the sushi place just on time to pick some up (no 24 hour service here) or picking up kebab (sadly not the Iranian kind, what can you do). Terrible I know but I will be cooking tomorrow.
In the meantime I wanted to share some photographs of Puglian delights with you. There is a beauty in the pride of a salesman in his wares, I think. I find it truly touching. The young man below was so happy with our interest in his sausages and breads that he kept giving me tastes, and of course in order to support the economy we bought a lot from him, it was a real experience.
Very big, very tasty bread:
I find myself childishly delighted by silly things, the sausage above, which reminds me of a pine-cone, is actually called “le palle del nonno”, a very fine, very tasty pork sausage. The nonno is a grand-dad the palle, well I leave it to your imagination. The little round things below, are wonderful, addictive, and one of the best things to enjoy with a glass of wine: taralli, there they even sound divine. My favourite are taralli with fennel, the ones below are plain with olive oil, and being small taralli, they are called tarallini, the ones at the bottom taste of onion. If you can get your hands on the artisanal ones, get them and try them. The mass-produced ones aren’t half as good, but hey, at a pinch they will do. Serve with nice crisp white wine, in the garden on a warm spring day.
cheese and another sausage, this one is called “coglione del mulio” – where mulio is mule and the “coglione” – well your guess is as good as mine.
Oh and the bunga bunga chili – if your presidents make you cry (in the case of a recent Italian president there would be quite a lot to make you cry, especially as a woman) – it’s best to make a joke and make bunga bunga chilis.
PS before anyone points out that some of the produce above came from Calabria, or other regions, I know, but the title would have become a little overloaded at that point, so tis artistic license.