In Italy, I’ve learned, an increasingly popular way to take in the countryside and delicious food simultaneously is to dine at an agriturismo. Yesterday, our good friends Josh and Becca invited us to join them for lunch at one nearby called Borgo Antico. We left the base and drove for about 45 minutes along a modern two-lane highway. A fertile valley stretched out on either side of the road, filled with grazing sheep and country villas. On the rocky hillsides, abandoned castles surveyed this brave new world resignedly and little towns bustled with Christmas preparations and live nativity plays.
I guess I expected something more rustic of an agriturismo… perhaps because of the word “agriculture” in the name? Certainly I was not prepared for an entrance with a modern power-operated gate within thick stone walls or the lush groves of citrus fruit along the lengthy driveway. We parked behind a sprawling villa and walked into the dining room. Tables were set with gleaming glassware and red-checked tablecloths and across the flagstone floor a cheerful fire crackled in a large fireplace.
After the rest of the lunch patrons arrived around 1:30pm, we all were seated and the food began rolling out. And oh! such food! We started with crusty white bread and extra virgin olive oil (pressed on the property from their olive groves), and then slices of cheese spread with marmalade over cured meats, roasted artichokes, cheese quiches, sun-dried tomatoes, hard Sicilian cheese cubed and dressed in olive oil and spring onions, spicy marinated olives, eggplant parmigiana, and more that I’m forgetting. We told ourselves to slow down… but I couldn’t get enough of all the cheeses.
After awhile the appetizers stopped and we took a few moments to sip wine from one of the several decanters on our table. This vino da tavola is a Sicilian staple and goes so well with the food. I don’t know if they water the wine down or what, but it is very light and refreshing, and not at all heavy or stupor-ifying… which is not what you need in the middle of a 3-hour lunch anyway.
(Also, this is affordable like America doesn’t know. A bottle of vino da tavola in our local shop costs about 3 euros for half a gallon. Elliott and I just had some with our dinner tonight of local roasted rabbit, potatoes, and zucchini.)
Next came two pasta dishes: one with thick, chewy noodles (not hollow and very made-by-hand) and another winter pasta offering with beans and short thin noodles.
And then the meat dish: one beef dish and one roasted-chicken-and-potatoes platter.
And then the insalata course, or salad. I love the fresh salads here: a few types of lettuce tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. And that’s it. No Ranch dressing, no Bacon Bits, no shredded carrots, no plum tomatoes, no apples, no croutons. So simple.
And finally the dolci course… the sweets. Always a hit for Becca. They served miniature cannoli, citrus gelatin, and mandarin oranges from their groves.
“Leave the gun, take the cannoli.” And I did. These two cannoli were left over and I took ’em home with me. And ate them as soon as we walked in the door.
Lena and I went to town on their sweet mandarin oranges. They sell them by the crate along the road near our house. A crate for 3 euros. Yes, please.
After we were finished, we walked out into the orange grove below the villa to play hide and seek with our friends’ kids and take some pictures. In retrospect, I felt deliciously full but not overstuffed after that meal, which is what I’ve heard about Italian cuisine. Now I just need to learn to cook like a Sicilian!