Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lunch on a farm in Italy

Eating out in Italy is both leisurely and expensive, but it pays dividends in the freshest seafood and seasonal vegetables. Even if you're avoiding poultry and meat as I am, you'll still find a warm welcome and plenty of choices on menus.

This past Sunday, my last full day in Italy, I took a train from Gallarate, a bustling commercial center where I was staying, to Arona, a town on Lake Maggiore, in the lake country north of Milan. A five-minute ferry ride to the other side of the lake deposited me in Angera, where I began the long walk up to a hilltop fortress with a doll museum and gardens.

As I walked and walked and walked on this warm, sunny day, the town's name, Angera, reminded me of the word angina.

When I saw a small farm, I stopped to photograph the view and a couple of ponies. A dozen sheep were nearby. I began walking again and saw a sign that said "Agriturismo," and realized the farm took overnight guests or at least served lunch.

It was 11:45 in the morning, but if I waited until 12:30, I would be seated for lunch, a young woman in the restaurant said. I walked around, photographing chickens, grape vines, and an old oxen yoke.

The woman directed me to a table on the terrace, and soon the place was full, including a second level. She rattled off what was available -- antipasti, a starch course and entrees of fish and meat. I thought it was a set meal for a set price, but as it turned out, I was ordering a la carte and could have skipped the tagliatelle I ordered (photo).

In Italy, portion size varies with the restaurant. I often ordered three courses, fearing there would be too little food with two dishes. But sometimes, portions were big enough to share.

It was a wonderful meal, among the best I had. There were a dozen appetizers "della casa," only two of which were meat. I went back for seconds.

I enjoyed grilled eggplant, vegetable fritters, a plain omelet, fresh goat cheese, roasted red peppers; small, sweet onions; polenta with tomato sauce and anchovies, and then I enjoyed them again.

Risotto, gnocchi and pasta were offered, but I chose the tagliatelle with zucchini and zucchini flowers. An elderly server brought me an oval platter with enough pasta for two, asked me if I wanted grated cheese and then forgot to bring me any. The noodles, which could have been hotter, were dressed in cream and butter, which I never eat, yet I polished them off, and tried not to feel too guilty.

My entree were oven-baked salmon trout fillets from the lake I had just crossed, roasted potatoes and a sauteed green that resembled a cross between escarole and celery. I washed down my meal with a quarter-liter of wine and sparkling mineral water. Espresso was included, but wine, water and bread were extra.

The lunch took an hour and a half, and the Italians around me happily chatted away between courses. My bill came to 28 euros or $40 (the U.S. dollar was worth 78 cents when I left on Sept. 8, but  fell to 70 cents a few days before I flew home on  Sept. 20). 

Societa Agricola La Rocca, Via Rocca Castello, 1, 
Angera (Varese), Italy; 0331-930338.


  1. What are you trying to do, make Elisa jealous? She's probably suggesting a feature series "Eating out on under 50 Euros" and pushing for an assignment to Italy already. By the way, what was for dessert?

  2. As I was leaving, I saw them serving pie topped with ice cream or big bowls of ice cream. Meanwhile, I walked off my meal on the road up to the castle, and was tempted to pluck a huge pear growing on a tree in the garden.

  3. Good thing you left the pear alone. I can see the headline in the Hackensack Chronicle now, "Hackensack man busted in Italy over purloined pear."

  4. And I saw the biggest rosemary plant ever -- five feet high.

  5. Victor, you might want to consult with the pizza snob to verify if your meal was authentic. I am sure you can find him at A Mano.

  6. Thanks. I understand he uses his mano to jerk everybody around.


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