Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Of all the places that we could have landed in Italy, where we could have established our very American beachhead, it is not likely that the tiny village of Cannara would have been at the top of the list. But here we are, our farmhouse and farmland located just across from a busy cemetary (busy with visitors, not new tenants) just a stone's throw from the "leaving Cannara" sign. Our neighbors are vast plots of uber fertile farmland, swallowing our tiny three hectares (mule not included) but the lack of defined boundaries making it look vast in the process. From our little onion farm you can see the beautiful illuminated stone city of Assisi, arrive in minutes at the popular and cosmopolitan Bevagna, visit one of dozens of Montefalco wineries, overflowing with character and most drinkable wine. Yet despite all of the treasures that await us just minutes from our Cannarese base, we call this sleepy farming hamlet home and happily so.
There are countless reasons Cannara turned out to be the perfect place for us in Italy and Ernesto and his Perbacco restaurant could be the most important one. And today it was the only reason we would want to be in Cannara.
* * *
We often are somewhat shy about mentioning in print certain activies, towns to visit, restaurants to try, fearing we are giving away the crown jewels of our years of traveling in Italy. That is definitely the case in recommending Perbacco in Cannara, but we simply cannot resist ourselves. We have had too many perfect experiences there to keep it to ourselves. We'll shout it from the mountaintops - go to Cannara! Go to Perbacco!
We have eaten at Ernesto's quirky little restaurant on at least a dozen occasions and through the friendship we have developed with Ernesto, have been able to arrange private cooking classes during his day off for us and the guests at our villa, which we have enjoyed perhaps half a dozen times. And there hasn't been a single time when the experience was less than perfect, less noteworthy than memorable. Although it took a number of visits to crack Ernesto's private exterior, today we are greeted with warmth and true friendship, and are invariably treated to thoughtful, purposeful dishes, prepared with great attention to detail and jaw dropping flavors. Every meal there is a journey, giving true meaning to the expression about life being a journey. A journey with great food.
But the cooking with Ernesto is special. And yesterday was no exception.
As usual we arrived a little on the late side of 9:00, Suzy, our twin teenaged sons and me to begin an hours long conversation, demonstration, exhibition, participation and mass ingestion that would last until 4:00 in the afternoon. That's right, seven hours in the kitchen and around the table, more time in one day than most Americans may spend in a month. And as we staggered home from Ernesto's, our bellies distended, each of us to a man (or woman) was replaying the high moments, recalling the tastes, and thinking about our next visit.
This being perhaps our sixth cooking class with Ernesto, he prepared a menu not of Umbrian dishes, the cuisine he grew up with and which is his specialty, but a number of dishes from nearby Emilia-Romagna, where his wife and her family are from. Different nexus but same result. Pleasure for the palate and the mind.
Throughout the day we watched Ernesto and Annarita at the demonstration table that was set up in the front of the restaurant, went back to the kitchen with them to test the progress of the various dishes, chopped and mixed ingredients, rolled out and cut pasta and felt ownership of what was to come to the table later. We watched in amazement as Annarita would effortlessly mix pasta and bread dough, kneading it with one hand in smooth motions we found impossible to imitate. We listened in rapt attention as Ernesto explained the genesis and provenance of a particular dish and showed us the ingredients, speaking about their origin and teaching us about how to identify and where to find the best ones.
Ernesto is a man who should have his own cooking show on TV but not simply so one could learn recipes. Anyone can learn recipes from a cookbook. His show would be not on the food network, but perhaps on the history channel. Or perhaps National Geographic. Maybe the Discovery Channel. But until he gets his own show we will continue to return as members of his studio audience, enjoying the show and the journey.
Bill and Suzy