16 May 2013-18 May 2013
Sometimes inspiration for cooking contests means getting out of the kitchen, away from some things food for a while, and indulging in new venues, sights, smells, places, and people–here’s one of my nomadic adventures that has energized me and provided boutiful fodder for creative ideas and new thoughts about food!
Finding family you never knew you had is one of the interesting benefits of Facebook! In my first married life that gave me four wonderful sons, I was a ‘D’Antoni’—a tight, loving, competitive, and exceptionally athletic family. That’s how I connected on FB with Antonella D’Antoni—never did I think that a little over two years later we’d be visiting her, her husband, Fabrizio, and daughters, Carolina and Margherita in Poggio Mirteto Italy!
From Cologne, Germany, we flew Air Berlin to Rome—not really knowing what to expect, we arrived, and meeting us at the airport was Antonella—a beautiful bouquet of fresh flowers in hand from her garden—and Fabrizo and Maria, her friend, a shopkeeper in the village, and one who speaks English fluently!
Emotions know no language other than love, hugs, smiles, and tears, and that’s what erupted as we all met in person for the first time! Our first stop was a café for our first deliciously rich and robust cup of Italian espresso, cappuccino, and just coffee! Chattering incessantly over coffee and then on the nearly hour or so drive from Rome to Poggio Mirteto with Maria translating, the twinkles in each other’s eyes made it evident that there was going to be great fun, but never in my wildest imagination did I realize just how much!
Driving to their home in the compact European Fiat was over the busy and congested strada from Rome eventually led to small roads through the lush and green countryside speckled with homes, farms, sheep and rolling hills and villages—then as we neared their spectacular villa, we were on a narrow winding road that meandered up the hillside and eventually led to the gates entering their villa.
Their home can only be described as pure grandeur—in my mind’s this is what I imagined an Italian villa to be—terrra cotta tiles, high ceilings, antique patina wooden beams, comfortable and welcoming large white sofas, antiques that reflected rich family roots, photographs of generations of family together celebrating communions, confirmations, weddings, verrandas and views of the entire countryside, olive trees everywhere, a lush green vinyard and the cucina! Oh, the cucina! In the center a Carrera marble top vintage table handed down from Fabrizio’s Mama—it was as if it was speaking of all the pasta, bread, and sweets that had been made on it, and all the meals that had been eaten at it!
And, the large dining room—the walls adorned with beautiful dishes, pottery, and Italian ceramic colorful plates and décor was only second to the exquisite long antique table that seated comfortably 12-14 with mismatched chairs—I knew that many a ‘tango familia’ dinner had been celebrated there! And here it was, again in bursting regality–fully set, in Boho fabulousness, for a large family dinner! More family and friends would be coming for the multi-course dinner that Antonella had, no doubt, been preparing for days! Antipasti—Mix of Italian traditional salami, prosciutto, parmesan reggiano, olives and more…Primi—Lasagne al Ragu…Secondi—Spezzantino Di Vitella in Salmi…Contorni—Verdure Grigliate—Insalata…Dessert—Tiramisu…Vini—Della Casa.
We toasted, ate, laughed, toasted, ate, laughed—constant chatter was eruptingfrom everywhere at the table, and in a seemingly effortless fashion, Antonella served and cleared dish after dish, while herself at the table and enjoying the meal—it fascinated me—her ease, her organization, her fabulous style and design of food, plating and presentation! Yes, this was Antonella’s Kitchen, delicious food, wine, and more—it was the creation of a Master Chef!
By midnight, maybe later, we were ready to call it a day and what a day it’d been! I think we both collapsed in the comfortable bed fresh with crisply ironed linen sheets and the shutters and window open to the Tuscan-like panoramic view. Around 4:30 a.m. I was awakened by a symphony of chattering birds and the distant sounds of roosters crowing—this concerto of magical sounds continued for the next couple of hours until the sun began to burn off the midst of the low lying clouds. It was better than any concert of Boccelli, Josh Groban, or Pavaratti—I lay there in pure ecstasy knowing that this is what adventure is all about—finding freshness, finding the unexpected, finding dreams!
The next 24 hours, before we boarded our train to Florence, were full and packed—leisurely strolling the colorful village square strewn with restaurants, bars, merchants, shops and stores of every kind—strolling through the medieval part of Poggio Mirteto where there was the intact church, buildings and a monastery, a relaxing two hour lunch back at home in the kitchen, the table dressed in a bright red and white check and vibrant colors of arugula, parmesan reggiano, breads, vino, and more—spending special time with the accomplished and beautiful daughter, Carolina and Margherita, and Antonella and Fabrizo—lounging in the open sun in the backyard, honeysuckle and lavender wafting in the air with the cool breezes. Finally, before dinner an excursion to Rieti, only about 30 minutes from their home, to visit the medieval Santa Maria della Foresta monastery, convent and church—‘Buon giorno, buona gente’ ‘Good morning, good people’—the famous words San Francis saluted the Poggio Bustone inhabitants in 1208. And, since then yearly on October 4th, the residents of this town salute each other with this phrase and hold a feast to celebrate the Saint.
Our second night’s dinner was dining out—this time the family grew—we were meeting Francesco, Claudio, Marina, and Mama (Mia!)—there was Franco, Maria,
Lorenzo, Allegro, Barbara, and, of course, Antonella, Fabrizo, Carolina, Margarita—and Ally & Ben! We started about 8:30 pm and closed the restaurant around midnight—Francesco was professing his love for Claudio, ‘she makes my head crazy,’ and asking Ben to in his wedding—tsunamis of love crashed over all of us—no language barriers were stumbling blocks—food, vino, beer, and dolce la vita swept all of us into the marvelous world of family!
©Alice D’Antoni Phillips Ally’s Kitchen