Saturday, April 26, 2008
Three nights in Rosà... and four hours in Venice
We had been driving for eight hours in pounding rain and fog only slightly less puddinglike than riz au lait. Finally, after many wrong turns and some predictable griping about Italian road signs, we arrived in the little-known town of Rosà (nice, name, don't you think?). Our great friends from Canada were staying in Cittadella, just a few kilometers away, but suddenly the distance seemed insurmountable. "We'll just eat at the agriturismo tonight," we told our friends.
I should have known that there is no such thing as "just eating" at an agriturismo, a farmhouse that doubles as a restaurant and often as a bed and breakfast. La Dolfinella's owners cheerfully told us to come to the dining room no later than 8.30pm - what they didn't say is that we would be polishing off the crumbs of our ricotta torte three hours later. Before that torte (which would make a second appearance at breakfast) came a meal that could be described with many adjectives, none of them a synonym of "balanced."
There was polenta topped with chunks of meat, grilled white asparagus and a lot of melted butter. There was crespelle, a kind of crepe, with a mascarpone, ricotta and herb filling. There was the creamiest risotto made with more white asparagus, which was at its peak when we visited. I was starting to think that I might have eaten enough when the main course came: thin slices of roast pork from the farm with sautéed potatoes and salad. Oh, and with each course there were earnest offers of seconds.
When I complimented the signora the next day on the quality of her husband's cooking, she shrugged matter-of-factly. "It's Italian cuisine," she said.
I hardly need to explain why I had soon forgotten our ordeals on the road. As for Rosà, it's one of the few places in Italy that I would not describe as pretty. The Veneto has a lot going for it - the Dolomites, half of Lake Garda, cities like Verona and Venice - but the downside of its wealth is the thousands of trucks and hundreds of warehouse-style outlets that we passed on the way to our destination. That said, the medieval towns of Cittadella and Castelfranco are beautiful, friendly and a lot easier on the nerves than nearby Venice.
Once in the area it seemed silly not to see Venice, and the rain politely stopped for the duration of our whirlwind visit. I can't pretend to have formed any original thoughts about the city in four hours, but I did see enough to convince me that there is much to discover beyond its sometimes gaudy surface. I even spotted a restaurant where I would have liked to eat, though we contented ourselves with inoffensive panini this time (not a tragedy considering what we had consumed the night before, and what we would eat the next day).
We strolled through the Rialto market at closing time, and I marvelled at the sight of trimmed raw artichoke hearts floating in lemon water. What a brilliant idea! Why has nobody thought of this in France?
In Castelfranco we hooked up with our old friend Fabio, who specializes in sniffing out extraordinary restaurants in unlikely locations. He took us to the out-of-the-way organic osteria Pironetomosca (Via Priuli, 17/C, Castelfranco), with quite a stylish decor compared to the farm kitsch at La Dolfinella. This didn't prevent the kitchen from turning out country-style food such as my white asparagus flan with creamy leek sauce, thick spaghetti (I've forgotten the exact name) laced with chunks of duck, and enormous slab of beef roasted all night long at a low temperature. This might sound like rather a lot, but I'm not joking when I say that it seemed relatively light compared to what we had eaten two nights before. We even headed straight for the gelateria in Castelfranco after this meal.
Probably my greatest discovery of this brief trip was the white asparagus from Bassano, just up the road from Rosà. Though we didn't make it to Bassano, along the strip-mall-like road between Cittadella and Rosà were stands selling its DOP asparagus, tied into fat bundles. In France I had already learned to appreciate the delicately bitter taste of white asparagus; these sweet ivory stalks that barely needed peeling were something else altogether. They were delicious boiled standing up or steamed with a lemon and hazelnut vinaigrette, but braising turned out to be the best method of all - thanks, Susan, for sending out this recipe at just the right moment.
* I know I've been promising to tell you about Liguria, but my Easter weekend in Finale Ligure has lost its immediacy. This is a place I plan to go back to again and again, so with luck you won't have to wait long to hear about the best places to eat spaghetti allo scoglio, pasta with pesto, and focaccia dressed with nothing more than olive oil and coarse salt.