■ 9 January 2012 by James Martin
Today, the internet has mounted an assault on my Italian food desires. Some days are like that. You’re thinking of those seasonal eats that Italians get and wham, suddenly the web is awash in people talking about such delectables as Puntarella and bollito misto.
This is the time for that Roman favorite puntarella—a type of chicory, a bitter green that sprouts in cold weather. It’s the harbinger of spring, a winter salad dressed with anchovies, spiky tastes the Romans relish.
Puntarella is the perfect foil for a bollito misto like the one Kyle Phillips reminded us exists at Trattoria la Baracchina, which I’ve spoken of before and put in the Tuscany for Foodies mobile app. Bollito Misto is one of those dishes that are deceptively simple. It seems you just toss in a great variety of meats and vegetables into a pot of simmering water. Not nobile meats either, the old hen and some cuts of beef that have to cook forever to be palatable. But timing is everything. It’s when you slide that particular meat into the simmering broth that’s important. A dish of a certain genius…
And the great thing is that when you go into a restaurant with your family and friends and an entourage of waiters ferries out this enormous wheeled cart atop which sits a silver pot with all this richness of flavor, these cuts of meat set like jewels in steaming broth, and the head waiter starts cutting pieces, and everyone is calling out what they want, what they lust after, and what the waiter doesn’t have to bother putting on the plate. You are witnessing the Italian contradiction, these throw-away meats in a deceptively simple peasant concoction served expertly with a flourish from a gleaming silver vessel by a waiter who’s been doing this forever and with pride. A grand richness from low off the hog. A social occasion calling for celebration; a dish you’d feel silly ordering alone.
I’m really hungry now. I wish there was an Italian bus from California to Italy. It would be fast and cheap. But when you wanted to take it, the drivers would be on strike.
The Italian contradiction. You gotta love it.
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