In Italy, Food is a Family Affair

By Faith Willinger
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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 baccalĂ --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.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2009/09/in-italy-food-is-a-family-affair/24531/