A 'Homefood' Experience
Evening of Wednesday, June 23
If you've been reading earlier sections of this trip report, I've made several oblique references to 'homefood'. Well, this is the section where I go into detail on this subject. I do this because the evening of June 23 was when we partook in a homefood event. So, read on...
'Home food' is a joint project between Egeria Di Nallo, a sociology professor at the University of Bologna, and The Association for the Guardianship and Protection of the Traditional Culinary-Gastronomic Heritage of Italy
(that's a long one!). The project describes itself as "allowing guests to experience dinners in the homes of Italian housewives who have been specially chosen to provide an authentic Italian experience". These Italian housewives (and no, I have no idea if there aren't one or two househusbands out there) are dubbed Cesarine
-- not really a word in the Italian dictionary -- but perhaps a new term, used to coin those who are masters of the kitchen. These Cesarine must undergo some sort of accreditation before they can start hosting homefood events in their homes: they must be skilled in preparing the local traditional cuisine of the area in which the meals are being held, must have enough space in their homes to comfortably accommodate guests, etc.
You can read more about this project by visiting their website here
Before leaving on this trip, I had gone through the process of registering and applying for all of us to be guests of one of these homefood events. They accepted us, and, for a quite reasonable fee, we signed up for a particular event that was occurring in Bologna on the evening of June 23, 2010 at 8:30pm, at the apartment of Cesarine
Luisa Mambelli. I picked this particular event because (a) it was on a day where all five of us were available, (b) it wasn't too far from Riva, our home base during this period, and (c) the items on the menu for the event looked delicious.
You're probably wondering what the menu was. Well, here you go:
- Home made focaccia bread
- Strichetti (a type of bowtie pasta) with ham and peas
- Coniglio (rabbit) della Balia with a zucchini pudding and stuffed cabbage leaves
- Roselline di patate duchesse (duchesse potatoes)
- Torta col cuore di crema all'amaretto (cake of amaretto cream)
- Carefully selected regional wine
Arriving at Luisa's Apartment
To put all of this into context, we had just finished the climb of the ferrata and traverse across Cima SAT high above Riva (see previous section). It was 5:30pm and we were hot, dirty and sweaty in a little village some distance away from our apartment. We needed to be made presentable, then show up at a particular address in Bologna, more than 200 kilometres away, by 8:30pm.
Needless to say, we didn't want to miss this very interesting and likely very delectable event, so we efficiently made it back to Riva, to the apartment, got everyone showered and out of dirty hiking clothes, back into the car, and zoomed off south towards Bologna, where Italy's high-speed Autostrada allowed us to arrive at a shady and pleasant-looking apartment block in the suburbs of Bologna at 8:29 pm.
I wasn't sure what to expect from this 'homefood' outing: Would we be the only ones there? If not, how would they arrange the nationalities of the attendees? Did Luisa and her family speak english?
As we were parking on the street on front of Luisa's apartment, we noticed another car pull up behind us and park, and a family (parents and 2 kids) popped out, and looked around for a bit. They didn't quite seem Italian, and the way they looked around in an unsure manner seemed to point to them being foreigners, or at the very least, out-of-towners. We overheard a snippet of english that clinched that idea, and given that they were there precisely at 8:30pm at the same address as us made me pretty sure that this was another bunch of attendees of tonight's dinner. "Hi! you here for the dinner, too?". "Indeed we are", they replied.
Now joined together as one 9-person force, we made our way to the gate and rang up Luisa's apartment. A voice answered in Italian, and, being the one with the most knowledge of that, I replied. The door lock buzzed, and we were let in to an open common area in between several of the apartment buildings. It wasn't clear which way to go, but soon a waving figure from a balcony in one of the apartments signalled the way. It was Luisa herself, pointing us to the door of her building and telling us what floor her unit was on.
Greeting us in Luisa's well-furnished apartment was (of course) Luisa -- a middle-aged lady with a smiling demeanor; her mother, well-dressed and gracious; and her teen-aged son. Both mother and son had been recruited as assistants to Luisa for tonight's meal.
We stood around a bit in Luisa's apartment, getting to know the family that we'd walked in with. Turns out they were from California, and they were here on an extended trip to experience Italy's culture and food (food especially was a focus of theirs).
Luisa explained that we were still waiting for a few more parties, which surprised me. Already we were at nine people and figured that that would be a large enough group to fill her hands. She directed us to a large table set up in her living room. The others who were coming, she said, would eat in the dining room.
Not too much later, the other guests arrived (guess we didn't really need to arrive at 8:30pm sharp, did we?). We briefly introduced ourselves, finding out that all of them were from various parts of the US. An entirely english-speaking crowd. Was that by design, I wondered, or was 'homefood' mostly popular with english-speaking westerners?
We sat down, eager to taste the first course of our home-cooked meal. We had done a fairly strenuous climb, and had eaten very little overall today, so we were pretty famished.
First up was the foccacia bread, which we sampled with some quite interesting sparkling red wine. Looking at the label, it was indeed local to this region. I couldn't remember the last time that I'd had a sparkling red wine. In any case, this one was pretty decent.
Next up was the strichetti with ham and peas. This was quite delicious, with a firmly al-dente pasta in a light creamy sauce and with tasty slivers of prosciutto-like ham. There was a lot of this pasta to go around, and we were super hungry. I had several plates of this stuff, probably too many, considering how much was to come!
Next up was a zucchini-based pudding (and this wasn't a dessert dish). I'm not usually a fan of zucchini, but this was suprisingly good. Again, I had more helpings of this than I should have.
Next, roast rabbit surrounded with little whipped roses of potatoes -- the 'patate duchesse', I presumed. The rabbit was quite moist (which is difficult to achieve with rabbit) and still contained some offal within. The liver was -- again for something I don't usually like -- surprisingly good.
Although the food was excellent, I was by this time getting majorly stuffed. It was more than just having a multi-course meal; we were permitted and encouraged to have multiple helpings of each course, and being as famished as we were after the hike, this was an easy trap into which to fall! As a result, I was pretty much bursting by the time dessert came around.
Cake with a heart of amaretto cream was just not something I could pass up, despite my testing of the stretch limit of my stomach. I carefully managed to fit two delicious slices of it in.
After all of the food was served, everyone gathered in the living room for a bit of end-of-the-evening chit chat. Via the few people around that spoke both english and some italian (there were three or four of us), we had a fun conversation about us crazy canadians fitting so much into a single day (they had a hard time believing we had driven down from Riva just for the dinner). We thanked our guests for the wonderful evening, and said our goodbyes to everyone, including the family from San Francisco.
A very worthwhile experience, these 'homefood' outings. We must do one again at some point.
Another long autostrada drive brought us back to Riva in the wee hours of the morning. Once again... a very long day!