This article originally appeared in
sponsored by
Slow Food recalls cuisine
of days gone by
By ERIC J. LYMAN
TALK magazine published by
Orascom Telecom in Cairo, Egypt.
All rights reserved.


Tucked away off a remote mountain road on Ischia,
the largest island off the coast of Naples, the
Trattoria il Focolare does not cater to a crowd
looking for a meal on the run.

An increasing number of Italian restaurants are
catering to modern tastes and fast-paced lifestyles,
but, thankfully, there is a group of eateries refusing
to abandon what are sometimes difficult and
labor-intensive traditional cuisines. Put off by the
movement toward "fast food," this group produces
what it calls "slow food." Its advocates can be
recognized by a telltale snail logo on the front door.

The Trattoria il Focolare is a prime example. The
trattoria -- owner Riccardo D'Ambra corrects anyone
who calls it a
"ristorante", a word that carries
certain pretensions in Italian -- is hard to get to, its
well-thought-out menu is void of most of the cliché
Italian dishes popular elsewhere, and the food
served is meant to be experienced and
contemplated rather than merely consumed.
And it's all, I might add, delicious.

Take the pasta on the menu when I stopped by for a visit: I had a hard time picturing the "
mezzanelli
selvatice alla pecorara
," so the waiter brought some of the green pasta, shaped like thin hollowed-out
tubes, out to me on a plate. They made it on the premises, he said, using freshly ground flour and wild
herbs picked from the surrounding forest. It was served hot with plump and bright cherry tomatoes and
pecorino cheese. I told them how much I enjoyed it, and so the staff sent me home with a couple of
uncooked portions and instructions on how to best prepare it, free of charge.

The next dish on the table was
coniglio all'Ischitana -- rabbit cooked "Ischia-style," in a clay pot and
filled with precise proportions of white wine, tomatoes, garlic, onions, and wild thyme. The
coniglio is a
dish that D'Ambra, the owner, later told me was once the centerpiece of the island's traditional cuisine,
but was until a few years ago on the verge of extinction. D'Ambra was able to revive it only by raising his
own rabbits. It makes for a perfect marriage with a crisp white wine called Biancolella, produced only
on Ischia.

"Rabbits have been cultivated on Ischia going back hundreds of years," he said. "But the tradition was
being lost as tourism brought in money and the local people started to think of the rabbit as a link to
harder and poorer times. But it's delicious and traditional and so we had to save it. Now a few other
restaurants are serving it and people appreciate the tradition of it."


The guide is a convenient way for gourmands to locate these jewels scattered around Italy, and for the
often-iconoclastic restaurant owners to know they are not alone in their dedication to good taste.
Owners are proud of their association with the guide -- my copy of the latest edition was a gift from an
osteria owner in Naples after we discussed the merits of it -- and they often take a special interest n
Slow Food fans who seek them out.

In recent years, the Slow Food movement has begun producing foreign guides, all centered on high-
quality establishments in Europe and North America. And, unlike the Italy guides published almost
exclusively in Italian, the foreign guides are all published in the colloquial.

"It turns out there's a real need, a real desire for people in Italy and elsewhere experience unique
flavors and age-old traditions, and the Slow Food movement has tapped into that," said Carlo Petrini, a
former journalist who founded the movement back in 1989. "It almost has a life of its own."

When the movement started 17 years ago, it was a group of traditionalists who banded together to
protest the opening of a McDonald's restaurant in Rome's historic Piazza di Spagna. The group
lost that battle -- the McDonald's location is now one of the busiest in Italy -- but perhaps it is winning
the war.

"Let us rediscover the flavors and savors of regional cooking and banish the degrading effects of Fast
Food," the group's manifesto reads. "In the name of productivity, Fast Life has changed our way of
being and threatens our environment and our landscapes.

"Slow Food," the manifesto concludes, "is now the only truly progressive answer."

It's a notion that partisans of the Trattoria il Focolare and similar eateries would find a hard time
differing with.


Eric J. Lyman is a former chef and a freelance writer based in Rome.
TALK
magazine
         Italian Wine Primer


         Welcome to Montalcino


         Slow Cities


         Roman Coffee Break
Summer 2006
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