Sunday, April 8, 2012

Italian Easter pranzo bursts with flavor, friendship, yearning for family

An all-you-can-eat platter of
coniglio. Molto buono!
Sunday, April 8
We are privileged today to enjoy an Easter lunch, Italian style, here at Casolare dei Fiori. The crew has been working all week to get the food and grounds ready for the nearly 200 people who come to a fantastic catered pranzo. I have no doubt we are the only stranieri present, so we get a true peak at a completely Italian event.

The food is never-ending and indescribably delicious. Aperitivi (before-meal drinks), nuts and chips are served outside, and once seated, we start with an antipasto plate with varied types of crostini and salami, along with fried pasta. Oh, I almost forgot, pickled onions and green olives, too. Drinks are local Montecarlo red and white wines. Also water and non-alcoholic fruit juices are available. Then not one but two primi piatti: risotto with asparagus and pappardelle al ragĂș. We are offered second helpings, but we are experienced enough to refuse, knowing we need to save space for what is to come.

The antipasto has about 10 different items.
For the secondo, we have a contorno of fried potatoes and three types of meat: chicken, lamb and rabbit, and we sample a little of each. All are bursting with flavor, which is typical of the meats and poultry we find here. Because they are raised on small farms and fed natural foods, the livestock is not as plump but much more savory. It is similar to the difference between eating out-of-season fruit and vegetables and ripe, locally grown produce. People who have ever grown their own strawberries and tomatoes will understand this comparison.
Risotto asparagi

Next comes a sampling of bistecca fiorentina, sliced and seasoned with aromatic herbs, that explodes flavorfully in our mouths. The dessert, tiramisĂș, comes with more choices of drinks, which I decline, but I think they may be spumante and vinsanto. All this is followed by a powerful cup of espresso. Also on the menu are after-meal liquors, but we have to pass on these as well.

Pappardelle al ragu
We are seated at a table with Claudia and her twin girls, who will be 3 years old next month. She is Luca’s wife, but of course Luca is fully involved in the preparation and serving of the meal, so he is not able to join us. However, we also sit next to her parents, who help take care of the bambine. We appreciate that they take the time to converse with us and make sure our cups are always filled with wine.

The pace is leisurely, typical for a festive pranzo, since conversation among the families present is an integral part of the event. The servers, however, work at a feverish pace. They are in constant motion, dishing up courses and serving and removing plates. Between courses, some people step outside for a brief walk around the grounds or to smoke a cigarette.
One of Luca and Claudia's twins enjoys playing with her bread while seated with her grandparents.

We saved room for tiramisu, but I
couldn't quite finish the whole tray.
The entire meal takes a remarkable four hours. We explain to our tablemates that in America, we put all the food on the table at once, and the meal is over in less than an hour. But we add that we appreciate the Italian style, because of the way it promotes conversation and togetherness. I can easily see, though, that many Americans would complain that the service was interminably slow. The meal takes longer than average even for Italy, and I think that is because it is Easter, but it could also be partly that the staff just can’t go any faster, considering the number of guests and variety of plates.

Because we don’t have close family here and struggle with the language, we don’t receive the full benefit of the experience, but we enjoy the companionship vicariously. At one point, I look over at Lucy and see tears on her cheeks, and I know she is thinking about and missing our family. That is part of the price we pay for our adventurous nature. We enjoy and appreciate so many things about Italy, but we can never really be at home here without our family. It is ironic that we have come here to see the Italian lifestyle up close, and what we are seeing today, though both delicious and poignant, tells us that we really need to go home if we want to experience one of the most important aspects of being Italian—the family. Either that, or we need to bring everyone over here!

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