May 1st is Labor Day all over Europe, and it is a great big holiday in Italy. Most stores are closed, and everyone celebrates, if not in a Labor Union demonstration or parade, at least with a picnic or BBQ.
Friends invited us to a ‘grigliata’ – a grilled meats festa – and we agreed faster than it takes to say the word (greel-ye-ah’-ta). They weren’t kidding when they said ‘meat!’
Oh, there were a few vegetables, most of which were used to make the spiedini, what we think of as ka-bobs. But by and large the meal was about Meat. Grilled Meat. And it was the best thing we ate this week. Pictured above are sausages, sottofilette di vittelone (cutlets of not-still-veal not-quite-beef), some other kind of beef cut, cubed pork for the spiedini, costine (pork ribs), and, just visible at the back of the table, one of the two salami we consumed. The meat was cooked over a wood fire, which gave it a smoky flavor in addition to the usual BBQ charred flavor that is so good. And that’s the only recipe for it I can give you.
Our contribution was a little odd: the Captain’s Boston Baked Beans. We first served them here a couple of years ago and to our astonishment our Italian friends adored them. They join Meat in getting the nod this week for best eating. The recipe is here, or over on the right under Good Recipes. The beans go splendidly with Meat, especially with the grilled sausages that our friends served.
To the right of the bean pot are some fava beans, which are planted in November or December and harvested about now. They are served with a fresh cheese called Primo Sale. Fava beans fall into the same category of eating as, say, our Thanksgiving turkey – they are required to be eaten at a certain season, but not everyone adores them. They are put out on the table as you see them here, and you just unzip them and eat the beans inside. They’re good in a raw-beany kind of way, but five or six at a sitting is sufficient.
An unexpected treat was a small grilled cheese called Tomina, about three inches across and an inch high. Our friends put it on the grill and cooked it until it was slightly brown outside and almost gooey inside. Cheese (Brie, to be exact) is one of my desert island foods, so I was really impressed with the grilled approach.
For whatever reason my picnic plate kept taking on the appearance of the Italian flag – here are two iterations. Maybe I’m becoming Italian after all!
The first one shows the grilled tomina in addition to one of our hostesses and another guest. The second one looks kind of lame, but the salami was soft and full of flavor. That’s the teeniest little piece of primo sale cheese, and you can see what an unzipped fava looks like too.
It was one of those meals that started early and ended about four hours later. As ever with an Italian meal, it is about the food; but it is also about the conversation, which was wide-ranging and interesting. A good time was certainly had by we two Americans. When we left we felt that we might not eat again until June. But we have.