In Italy, Food is a Family Affair

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Photo by Faith Willinger


Oasis Sapori Antichi is surely one of the most appropriately named restaurants in Italy. It's in the Irpinia area of Campania, a few kilometers off the A16 (Napoli-Bari), in the middle of nowhere, and the flavors are ancient. The restaurant is a family affair, involving the collaboration of over a dozen members of the Fischetti family.

Mom Giuseppina and her sister, Vituccella, help Fischetti offspring, daughters in the kitchen, sons in the dining room, along with cousins, spouses, and kids--Nicola, Raffaella, Serena. Carmine, Puccio, and Nicola actively source the greatest local ingredients; Maria, Lina, and Maria Grazia do them justice, cooking with recipes and flavoring with roots, using old-fashioned techniques. They use a food mill for purees (emulsifying with a blender is easier, faster, and the choice of most chefs) which produces a totally different texture.

Four tasting menus offer diners a bargain--beginning at 19 euros for a three-course business lunch.

One meal isn't really enough to do the menu justice. It's difficult not to overindulge on the selection of all-levain breads and foot-long flattened crisp strips embedded with onion. There's always a taste of something delicious after you've worked up an appetite studying the menu, like an eggplant parmigiano fritter, or broccoli greens potato mini-croquette. I can never resist the mini-woven basket of ricotta, as delicious as it is adorable.

Appetizers include bull's eye egg with potato cream and Irpinia black truffles, exceptional baccalà--in light-as-air fritters (zeppole), or a warm salad with sun-dried sweet red peppers (pepperoni cruschi). Difficult choice--fresh pasta, hand-formed (laccettini, trilli, fusilli, maltagliati); or ravioli filled with the exceptional above mentioned ricotta, or burrata, wild greens, manteca cheese, and Irpinia black truffle; or local hard wheat pasta--candele, or paccheri, sauced with regional, seasonal condiments, or my favorite, spaghettoni with Menaica anchovies and Cetara colatura (traditional anchovy juice).

There are rustic soups--minestra maritata in the cool weather months, pancotto with seasonal vegetables, legume stews. Local lamb, pork, or rabbit are among main course offerings. And save room for dessert. Home-made sorbetto and gelato, pastries and spoon-desserts that feature regional specialties like sour cherries, chestnuts, and almond-hazelnut caramel. Cooked Aglianico is a must.

Four tasting menus offer diners a bargain--beginning at 19 euros for a three-course business lunch. Carmine has sourced the region's finest wines (of greatest interest to me), and the list is lengthy, well-chosen, well-priced, but also includes many fine wines from other regions of Italy and beyond.

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Faith Willinger is a chef, author, and born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and has spent over 30 years searching for the best food from the Alps to Sicily. More

Faith Heller Willinger is a born-again Italian. She moved to Italy in 1973 and was seduced by Italian regional cooking. Faith has spent more than 30 years searching for the best food and wine, as well as the world beyond the table from the Alps to Sicily. She has no regrets about mileage or calories. Faith was awarded the prestigious San Pellegrino award for outstanding work as an ambassador of Italian cooking. She lives full-time in Florence with her Tuscan husband, Massimo. Her son Max lives in Milan. She's the author of the bestselling (9th printing) guidebook Eating in Italy, the cookbook Red, White & Greens, and the narrative recipe book Adventures of an Italian Food Lover. Faith teaches in her kitchen in Florence on Wednesdays, supplied with freshly picked produce from her favorite farmers. Check out her web site at www.faithwillinger.com.

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