A Summer in the Islands

By Matthew Fort

A carefree exploration of the culture and cuisines of the Italian islands

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Siniscola, Sardinia, June 2014

 Unfortunately, Il Talismano is shut that day, but a young man cleaning the dining room suggests I try the Trattoria da Bovore on the other side of the road. It’s nondescript to the point of invisibility. Without the young man’s advice, I’m not sure I’d go in.

It turns out to be one of a disappearing breed; a modest, family-run trattoria. The walls are white, dotted with photos and pictures in haphazard arrangement. The floor’s black and white composite marble, the tablecloths and napkins, coral pink. It may be modest and visually undistinguished, but it’s obviously a place where people eat regularly.

I have a plate of moscardini alla diavola, tiny octopi braised until they’re as soft as kid gloves in a tomato sauce full of their flavour, piquant with chilli. Next, spaghetti con arselle e bottarga.  The arselle — clams — are plump and flushed with garlic and fresh with parsley. A generous grating of salty, minerally bottarga seasons the dish.

A young woman brings the dishes and carries away the empty plates. On the other side of the room, her two young children are having lunch with their father. Every now and then the young woman stops to sit by them and make sure they’re eating properly. A group of four informally dressed  men, a solitary man and a middle-aged couple are all absorbed in the business of lunch. The young woman’s mother pops out of the kitchen from time to time to see how things are going. One of the group of men asks her if a particular dishes has garlic in it? No, says the cook/mother, just onions. Could she add garlic? asks the customer. No, says the cook/mother, and that’s that.

I have room for seadas, or sevada as Lina Casu had written in my notebook, a thin circular tart served hot, filled with molten cheese and with honey poured over it, and dusted with grated lemon peel. The pastry of this seadas is delicate and biscuity, the filling of goat's cheese mild and chewy, and the honey sweet with a hint of citrus from the lemon peel. It’s a masterly pudding.

And finally, finally a little plate of pompia sweetmeats, one version cooked in honey that has the texture of warm wax, the other candied with orange and mixed with almonds, which is chewy and crunchy, fruity and nutty.

It’s been an ordinary lunch on an ordinary day, just good, simple, brilliant food cooked with precision, assurance and instinctive understanding, without any fuss, any show, any flourishes. I compliment the young woman looking after me on the excellence of my lunch. She looks surprised and pleased. There are days when you’re glad to be alive and thank providence for unexpected joys and this is one of them. 

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Bevelie Shember
 Bevelie Shember says:

Lovely to read this, I can imagine being there, can't wait to buy a copy of the book.

posted 28th February 2017

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