When it comes to cuisine, Italy proves quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. Here, Agriturismo sits at the intersection of Agriculture and Tourism and is home to the Italian tradition of stuffing company silly, with the best food you can make.
Eating at an Agriturismo in Italy
Take for example La Fontana Del Tasso. This Azienda Agrituristica rests snuggly in the rolling green hills of the Basilicata region, stretching up from the sole of the boot. A dubious drive through winding roads, is rewarded with dish after dish of food so good, your eyes close instinctively as the fork crosses your lips.
In Italy, heavily stickered doors, are a good thing and La Fontana del Tasso’s door is covered with the ones that matter to locals and tourists alike.
Once seated in a warm wood planked room, panoramic views of the farm from which you are about to eat welcome you. One simple question is posed: “Vino?” A quick “Sì” earns the reward of a bottle of label free house red with no discussion of price or type. Italians believe in their right to wine. From restaurants to hotel minibars, providing wine is seen as a service and is honestly, modestly priced.
Unfortunately, Italy ranks high in the EU for Non-English speakers. So it helps to travel with an Italian speaker when venturing away from the major cities. However, should you find yourself in the elevated, lush green interior of Southern Italy, without a bi-lingual local, remember two things.
- Italians are welcoming, even those who do not speak Italian.
- The word “Degustazione,” translation: tasting. Trust me, you want that. It’s the equivalent of that prized menu item New Yorkers love, a Chef’s Tasting.
Starting with traditional meats and cheeses and evolving to more complex hearty fare, La Fontana del Tasso serves their tasting menu with pride in the knowledge you are about to be stuffed.
Be it the light tang of fresh Ricotta or the sun-warmed flavor burst of homemade tomato jam, that gets you, it’s Food “Game-On.” You’ve been warned, go easy on the pane (bread)!
Spicy Salami, salty Prosciutto, it’s so nice to taste the real you. Why, is that more of you tucked into that Melanzana (Eggplant) with melted mozzarella, how could I resist? Is that you on the Bruschetta? Yes all of you “get in my belly!”
Think you’re getting full? Yes, that’s a smirk of satisfaction the owner is giving you as she brings out these gems. She knows, she knows you can’t resist a Frittata like your Italian Grandma would make, or that perfectly crisp potato plucked from the ground just outside your window. Maybe, just maybe, you should have because what comes next is not common place.
The three most spectacular and hearty dishes have just hit the table. Crisp bread soaked deep in tomato and red pepper flavors. Nutty, buttery Fava beans you’d fight Hannibal Lecter for and a grain misto with complex, subtle earthy flavors that you just, can’t, stop, eating.
It is at this precise point, that you understand those Italian Grandma jokes “Mangiare, mangiare!”
Just in case you’re counting, La Fontana del Tasso has served up 13 outstanding, unique, flavor packed fresh dishes. At this point, you’re full, beyond full, you’re truly stuffed. Yet, looking at the dishes strewn across the table, you simply can not bring yourself to think of one you would have passed up trying. And then… for the love of God and all that’s holy is that another dish!
It arrives, your final plate from the Degustazione, and it is good. Damn good. Addictively good even while stuffed.
Few dishes this simple have surprised and delighted me in my culinary journey. Crispy with a slight sweet red heat, farm grown, dried and fried then lightly salted, Homemade Red Pepper Chips. Where have you been all my life? That’s precisely what I was thinking. I would give up potato chips for all eternity if these bright fry babies would show up again on a table in my future.
Bringing the dried peppers carefully sewn with string to our table, our Host explained how drying the peppers in the shade is the key. She goes on to explain their use in multiple dishes and ingredients including the salami, stew and eggplant rolls.
In the end, the Red Peppers are not even the best kickers.
The first. As our Host, casually clears our countless dishes, she asks, “Primi? Dolci?” That’s right. All those dishes were the Appetizer of the Degustazione! We could have eaten the entire day away, but alas we cried Uncle, stop, basta. There was simply no physical room left in our stomachs for more food, no matter how amazing it promised to be.
The Second, on receiving the check, our total was only 46.60€. That’s right nearly two bottles of wine (of course there was a refill!) 14 dishes of the finest food experience available for two people, plus taxes and gratuity and your still waking out for under 50€.
It’s little wonder Small Farmers throughout Italy found a way to grow their income by hosting and feeding vacationers. Agriturismo both honored and extended traditional Italian food production and allowed Small Farmers to stay on their land, keeping property in the family.
The only dark spot on the trip was realizing few tourists venture far enough into Italy to experience the Basilicata region. La Fontana del Tasso itself is nearly three hours drive from the closest airport and thus, remains one of Italy’s hidden gems.
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