26 November 2011

Somewhere in our past we each have a particular moment, an instant when our entire expectation of food changed. Usually it’s a shift to simplicity, and in my case, well no exceptions here.

Several years back, after flying into Rome, I drove north through Umbria into southern Tuscany to Chiusi. It’s a typical Tuscan hilltop town: ancient, beautiful and half-asleep.

It was a baking, torpid afternoon and I was in the mood for a decent eat. Filled with anticipation for the lusciousness of elegant Italian cooking I headed to the only place in town not beaten down by the somnolent heat.

Not much of a menu, two things only. Bruschetta, or affetato misto, and the bruschetta had sold out. Affetato is a selection of sliced cold meat served with bread, olive oil and occasionally some olives.

Not much you might think. So did I. Oh but how wrong I was.

The guy who ran this bar baked his own bread, pressed oil from his own olives, and made all his own cured meats. The bread was dense and chewy, the oil peppery, unctuous and aromatic. But the meats, oh the meats.

The prosciutto and sausages were a tender introduction; moist, flavoursome and rich. The salami burst with spice intense enough to ulcerate my tongue. Rough, but very sensual. Lastly there was a meat I didn’t recognise, purple-brown and shaved finely. Now I finally understood the true simple brilliance of Italian food.

It was bresaola, a traditional air-dried beef first made in Valtellina in Italy’s north. Salted and spiced then left to slowly dessicate in draughty cellars. While some curing processes change the intrinsic flavour the meat, bresaola intensifies and highlights the pure character of the beef. It is testament to the patience of this method worked out over millennia.

You’ll find bresaola at quality Italian delicatessens. But two things to keep in mind, always insist that they shave it to order for you, and eat it on the same day you buy it. Oh, and pour yourself a decent glass of red, take a deep breath and steel yourself, because your gastronomic world will never be the same again.
Baked pears with bresaola and pickles tomatoes

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