And so away from Amalfi, leaving the dolorous Chinese tourists to their lemon cake and the chill. Our driver took us back along the coast road, scary hairpin bends with cliffs above, cliffs below, until we began the descent into Salerno.
By the time we were back in Eboli, we’d all got to feel rather bolshie. We were supposed to have a final dinner with one of our hosts, with whom we had hardly communicated, and who didn’t speak English anyway. Also, N. had had something of a bad experience with the strange man on our corridor, who had emerged from his room as she passed, threatened her, threatened to call the carabinieri, and so on. N. was shaken. The girl at the desk had said that it was nothing, that his wife had left him, and so on. That his wife had done that seemed to us entirely sensible.
So we planned revolution. We met charming young Vita, who didn’t know the restaurant where we were supposed to eat, but thought that it had something to do with sandwiches. That didn’t sound promising. Our host didn’t appear. We stomped out into the night in ungrateful dudgeon.
Very fortunately, our route up into the old town, where we hoped to find somewhere half-decent to eat took us past the one where we were expected to eat. It didn’t somehow bring the average sandwich to mind. There were several piles of olive-tree logs disposed by the front door. Hope sprang in my heart. N and J were cajoled into having a look inside. Well, we could always turn tail.
It was dark, candlelit, a log fire burned enthusiastically in a grate. The owner was lean, bearded, muscular, and also enthusiastic. Dudgeon dissolved.
He spoke a little English, and Vita was a marvellous help. N quizzed about the wines… Ah, friends of his had vinyards. He opened a bottle. N said ‘Very nice… but…’ He opened another. This time N. smiled. The area can obviously produce some splendid wines, and we were mystified why we’d not been taken to those vinyards rather than the one we’d visited. Bottles of the best are pictured above. Anyway, the ghost of Elizabeth David vanished, witch like, up the chimney. We let Mr Beard, who obviously knew what he was talking about, assemble the meal for us. And so it began.
Plates of rustic delicacies arrived. A marvellous, rich flavoured bean stew. Heart shaped pieces of herby, cheesy, polenta, with a small dab of perfect tomato sauce, a stew of one of the local sorts of endive (midribs only eaten, a variety of escarole) with potatoes, local olive oil (mmmm… marvellous mix of bitter escarole, potato, aromatics), tiny squares of pizza on the thinnest of bases, and even tinier beans in what we thought was heavily caramelised onion marmalade with sprigs of thyme… Dissolved dudgeon became delight.
Then… well, a row of pasta ripiena (we forgot to ask what they were called here – more bottles had opened), stuffed with mushrooms from the hills. But what knocked us out was that they had been drizzled with a sharpish honey, and scattered with crushed pistachio nuts. That may sound outlandish, but was totally sensational. World class, we declared. There may even have been a few groans of pleasure.
Now we discovered what Vita meant by sandwiches, and what the log fire was for, apart from to keep us warm. Mr Beard was heating up what looked like ordinary curved roof tiles in the flames. Six at a time. When he judged the heat right, he took them from the fire, poured a ladle-ful of a quite stiff batter over each, piled the tiles one on top of the other, and pressed the whole tile and batter sandwich together. He plainly enjoyed the performance.
After a few minutes, the tiles were separated, the flatbreads, as they now were, mysteriously didn’t stick to the tiles, and were piled into a plate. Spread with tomato sauce, stuck together in pairs, he sliced them and set them on our table.
The word ‘interesting’ sprang to our minds. The breads were chewy, slightly smoky, and had one been sorely hungry, worth wolfing. They did, for us, complement his friend’s dark flavoured wine perfectly, and the whole process was so magnificently primitive that we felt rather priviledged to have tasted its final result.
OK. Next course. Slow roast pig… Nice, not outstanding, but by then the evening was becoming slightly blurred. I can’t even now recall how the meal ended.
We walked Vita back to her boyfriend, skirted a fight where knives glinted in the street light, and reached the orange hotel. We left for home early next morning.
The so splendid ‘sandwich’ restaurant, should you be in Salerno (or even Eboli), was ‘Il Panigaccio’. Mr Beard was Gustavo Sparano, and the website is http://www.ilpanigaccio.net. Go.
We bought delicious honey from http://www.mieleambrosino.it – who have a whole range of products worth investigating. But there are many other small producers in the area, and if I can get hold of their websites, will list as many as I can.
The restaurant that James loved was Osteria Gattapone, owner Lorenzo Forlano. The website is http://www.osteriagattapone.com, though the photos don’t show the place as designed by Francesca.
If you would like a charming and enthusiastic translator in the area, I can put you in touch with Vita.