29th May 2007
The house stands solid and square on its own small hill ringed with trees; olives, walnuts, pines and acacias. Behind it a verdant wood, and all around golden, rolling fields and distant mountains. It is an honest country house, the arched loggia being its only real extravagance. The old red bricks saturated with years of sunshine glow rosy in the twilight and swallows dip in and out of the cantinas.
It seems strange now, and a little disloyal, but this house was not our first love. We had a brief and ill-fated flirtation with a melancholy farmhouse in the surreal and haunting Crete Senesi.
Ambrogio Lorenzetti - Allegory of Good Government (detail) 1338-40, Palazzo Publico, Siena
Now I can see it for the disaster it would have been; too harsh a landscape and too remote. But, at the time we were bewitched; a blind love, passionate and ill-advised, and when the sale became too complicated and ultimately the price too high I cried the hot, disappointed tears of an unrequited lover. Another year of fruitless searching followed and then, just as the old wives say, when we were least expecting it we found this house, and it was ‘the one’.
The best thing I ate today;
Pizza a taglio.
The Pompeiians ate pizza, without tomatoes of course, because it took another 1,500 years before the first pomodorini washed up in the Bay of Naples and the fiery Neapolitans claimed them as their own. It is an ancient food, directly descended from the Roman breakfast 'bread with relish'. In its primitive form, it is dough, tomatoes and mozzarella, the topping is sparse, the base thin and scorched with the flavour of the oven. It is a basic peasant food and a beautiful sight to behold.
It is these simple foods. so perfectly made, and the Italians' passion for them that make Italy one of the greatest food cultures of the world. For me the best way to eat pizza is as a street food, no fuss and no cutlery. Buy it by the slice from a 'Pizza a Taglio', the varieties are infinite; from the Roman style Pizza Bianca with onions or zucchini (no tomatoes) to the classic Neapolitana, the oily flavours are robust and savoury. Take your slice (I chose speck and radicchio) wrapped in wax paper to a warm stone step in the shade of a church and eat. If you're lucky the Pizzeria may also sell rough red wine in plastic cups to go with. Perfetto!
Where to get it;
Anywhere where you see the sign 'Pizza a Taglio'.