In mid May Juliet and I visited our dear friends Nicolas and Giulia in Verona, Italy. These guys are master salad makers. Nick and I had gone down to the fruttivendolo (the fruit and vegetable shop) picked up killer lettuce, tomatoes, cukes, and a container of fresh mozzarella di bufala while the ladies relaxed in the modern apartment just a 15 minute walk from central Verona.
Of course, when we come to Verona we want Bresaola; the air dried beef roast that is one part texture of prosciutto and the other part flavor of jerked beef. When we arrived at the deli or salumeria where all the greatness was laid before us, we got our bresaola and then could not help but grab a handful of shaved mortadella with the requisite pistachios interspersed with the meat.
This is not your grandma's bologna they sell over on the boot. Mortadella here is just succulent (I hate that word, but it really is) and soft with a very lacy texture which holds the bits of nut in place and unfolds layer after layer of piggy part fatty yumminess.
When Nick and I got back, the table was being set as we showed off our goods. We told the girls how I almost stole some saffron at the deli because I had it in my hand and simply walked away. We went back in to pay and the woman behaved as if we were old friends making an honest and completely innocuous mistake. This is one of the reasons I love Italy. I can pretty much operate much like I did as a kid in a small town in Texas with "I'll pay you laters", "can I sit here for a minutes", and "oh yeah I owe you this from last weeks." There is a trust and belief that people will do the right thing in the day to day. Utopia, Italy is not and I am sure some of my readers will tell me about how the pizzeria in Florence ripped them off. I don't doubt it, I am simply saying in local culture, among residents, there is a code. I like this code and I believe in it.
After the walk, the stories, and the time to wash all the veggies, we were starving and this may be one of the reasons this was the best salad from our entire trip. It could also have been the lovely bottle of Pecorino (yes this is in fact a wine from Le Marche) from the brilliant bio-dynamic producer Aurora we enjoyed along with our lovely salad and salty meats.
Or it could have been this....
In the end, I am confident it was the quality of all the ingredients, the talents of our wonderful hosts, and a blessed day of conversation fueled by conviviality, mutual respect, and the overriding sense of curiosity and exploration that surrounded this gathering of Blissful Adventurers that made this lunch extraordinary. Somehow we took our grappa-soaked selves to a winery for a tasting later that day, then in the middle of the night, our very existences came into peril.
....to be continued