Fardella: a world of flavours
In order to avoid undue technicality, the phonetic transcription of dialect words here will use only some symbols of the International Phonetic Alphabet and omit many diacritic marks that are not readily comprehensible.
The symbol /@/ will indicate the indistinct sound of the er in teacher, which is common to nearly all the dialects of southern Italy; /S/ the sh of show; /k/ an unvoiced velar occlusive like the c in case; /g/ an voiced velar occlusive like the g in gun; J a voiced palatal nasal occlusive like the ny of nyet; /dZ/ a voiced pre-palatal fricative like the j of jeans; /ts/ an unvoiced alveolar fricative like the ts in cats; and /tS/ an unvoiced pre-palatal like the ch in chip. The apostrophe sign /’/ indicates that the stress falls on the syllable that follows it.
Like all human habits, diet changes with the passing of time and the dishes eaten in Fardella today are no longer those of a few decades ago. This does not mean that people do not eat as well today but rather that they eat differently and that the dishes have changed in relation to rhythms of life that are no longer those of past decades. Even though time seems to pass more slowly in Fardella than the big cities, habits still change.
One dish seldom mentioned today is nganda’rat@, consisting of the ears, trotters, snout, tail and less noble parts of the pig cooked on the fire in the earthenware pot known as a p@’Jat@. Banished by the standards of today’s low-fat diet, such a dish survives only in the earliest memories of our grandparents. When Fardella was an almost exclusively peasant society and the slaughtering of a pig a quasi-religious ritual that gathered the entire family around a table that was humble but rich in flavour and tradition, the dishes that reigned supreme in the town were dZela’tin@ (remnants of meat boiled and preserved in pork fat in the form of transparent gelatin flavoured with bay leaves, vinegar and hot chillies); sfr@ttul@’jat@ (morsels of pork neck fried in local olive oil with ground sun-dried peppers, specially prepared in the previous months, sliced garlic, parsley and hot chillies) accompanied by tsafa’ran@’kruSk@ (dried peppers fried in oil till crispy); sau’tsizz@ and sup@r’sat@ (types of salami made with choice cuts of pork seasoned with salt, black peppercorns and minced peppers inserted into the animal’s intestines and left to dry for weeks in a cool, dry place); and vukku’lar@ (a sort of bacon that goes down well on cold winter evenings). Together with others that cannot be described here for lack of space, these are the dishes that peasant families made from the pigs they reared. Though seen very little today in the countryside, these animals roamed undisturbed even in the streets of the town just a few decades ago, highly respected as a source of sustenance for all its families.
Our grandparents’ diet was not exclusively based on meat, which was indeed reserved for special occasions and consumed very sparingly.
As in all peasant societies, great quantities of vegetables were grown and consumed in Fardella. Practically all of the land around the town was cultivated, as part of it still is today. All kinds of vegetables could be found, including chicory, chards, escarole, broccoli and a whole variety of cabbages as well as beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumber and courgettes. And the fruit was equally abundant, including apples, pears, apricots, various kinds of plum, figs and walnuts. Wine was produced in sufficient amounts to meet the family’s needs. The production of all this food has decreased substantially today. The town is no longer an agricultural community. Types of employment have changed and many families no longer produce the provisions listed above but buy them in shops.
Pulses and especially beans are still the basis of various dishes: ’lag@n@ e fa’sul@” (tagliatelle with dried beans), tS@’kori@ e fa’sul@, fa’sul@’gagghj@ e ’wogghj@, m@’nestr @d@ fa’sul@ e pa’tan@. Broad beans also appear quite often when in season: kafa’tjell@ e ’fav@ (type of home-made pasta with a sauce of tomato and broad beans), ’fav@a m@’nestr@ (soup of broad beans and wild fennel). Peas and chickpeas are frequently used too.
As we know, foodstuffs are consumed according to season. While dishes are cooked with fresh produce in the summer, the ingredients in winter are necessarily produced, harvested and preserved by means of highly original methods, many of which are still in use today. Freezing is an enormous help in this connection but in the past, when it was a luxury to have electricity or drinkable water in the home, many foods were dried (pulses), some precooked and stored in glass jars (tomato sauce) and some preserved in lard (salami, etc.).
The consumption of food was also influenced more than today by religious and other festivities. It is still customary to eat meatballs (made with meat, bread, eggs, garlic and parsley) during the period of carnival and the same goes for r@kkj@’tell@ kkwa mul’lik@ (home-made pasta with meat sauce and bread fried with chilli in oil).
What about sweets? There are so many types all the year round. Some have completely disappeared and survive only in the memory of the oldest inhabitants but others are still made with great care.
Christmas is associated with fried foods, both sweets like tS@tS@’rat@ (similar to Neapolitan struffoli, fried in abundant olive oil and dipped in honey) and kav@tsu’njell@ (small ravioli with a stuffing of chickpeas or chestnuts, powdered chocolate, grated dried orange peel, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla fried in olive oil) and savouries like gr@’spell@ (pizza-like doughnuts fried in olive oil and eaten piping hot), which are great by themselves or together with other dishes.
Another important festivity is unquestionably Easter, the time of calzone (folded pizza with a filling of salami, hard-boiled eggs and cheese cooked in a wood-fired oven). Nor should we forget the traditional p@tStS@l’lat@, a large ring of flour and eggs decorated with hard-boiled eggs in their shells, which emerge from the dough like small gilded domes, again cooked in a wood-fired oven.
And when the housewives cooked p@tStS@l’lat@ they certainly did not forget to use the same dough to make the quaint doll-shaped ’pup@ for their children.
A dish that is not so much quaint as truly original is the one served in practically all the homes on the day when the church celebrates the ascension of Christ, namely ’lag@n@ kku ’latt@ (home-made tagliatelle with goat’s milk, lashings of parsley and a dash of cinnamon), a dessert served instead of pasta and perhaps also a main course.
Nor should we forget sangu’natStS@, the traditional winter sweet made when the pigs are slaughtered: short pastry made with the freshest eggs and filled with a cream of pig’s blood (a very small amount with respect to the other ingredients), chocolate, bread, coffee, grated dried orange peel, walnuts and sultanas.
We could go on for pages and pages but the space is limited and we shall therefore reserve this last stage of our short survey for what is regarded as the king of dishes, the one that is still served in our homes and imprinted on the memories of all, old and young, despite the changes. To some extent it has become a the symbol of our town in the surrounding area despite countless attempts at imitation, none of which can really compare. We are talking about raSka’tjell@, which is simply home-made pasta, a dough of durum wheat flour and broad-bean flour, mixed in differing amounts according to taste with water and a dash of salt. The dough is particularly hard to mix and requires a strong pair of arms. Small pieces of pasta are then shaped by hand into little boats that are cooked in a large amount of salted water and served with a sauce of tomato, fresh green peppers and lashings of basil.
This was and still is an important dish for our culinary tradition. At one time it constituted the entire meal and was served in one pot from which all the members of the family served themselves, often at dinner after a hard day’s work in the fields. Today it is cooked far more rarely. For some years now, one day in August has been devoted to celebrating the taste and memory of the pride of Fardellese cuisine in a festival that attracts people from all over the surrounding area.
While our mothers’ efforts to hand down on the art of cooking may not succeed in saving everything that Fardella has produced over the years in the culinary sphere, it is enough for us to be sure that not everything will be lost. This work and the others in the pipeline are driven by precisely this hope. We may not be able to make raSka’tjell@ but we believe that our pride in our origins will remain intact in spite of everything. This is truly something we can and should all wish for ourselves.
We now present a carnival menu starting with home-made orecchiette in breadcrumbs, continuing with the classic main course of meatballs, simply fried or in tomato sauce, and ending of course with a dessert: chiacchiere of flaky pastry in icing sugar.
R@kkj@’tell@ kkwa mul’lik@
Make the pasta (orecchiette) in the traditional Fardellese way with a dough of durum wheat flour, water and salt. Now you can think about how to serve it. You’ll certainly have some bread left over from yesterday or – better still – the day before. Excellent. Eliminate the crust and turn the bread into crumbs by grating or rubbing between your hands. Put it into a tureen and add a spoonful of chilli powder, a clove of garlic, finely chopped parsley and a dash of salt. Heat oil in a pan until it is hot but not boiling and fry the bread mixture, stirring frequently, until it is golden brown. Prepare a simple sauce of ripe tomatoes, oil and salt or a ragù of minced meat. Mix the pasta, which has been cooked in salted water in the meantime, with the fried bread and sauce and serve piping hot.
Once again you need some left-over bread, which should be turned into small crumbs as before and placed in a tureen. Add salami in pieces according to taste but without overdoing it. Chop some parsley and garlic and add to the mixture together with three whole eggs, a handful of grated pecorino cheese and two medium-sized boiled and mashed potatoes with a dash of salt. Mix thoroughly and shape into medium-size meatballs. Leave them to stand for a few minutes and then fry in hot oil. They can be served just as they are or in a tomato sauce prepared beforehand.
Place a kilo of soft wheat flour in a mound on a board and put six whole eggs, a dash of salt and a glass of olive oil in a hole in the middle.
Mix the dough quickly, starting from the middle and working out so as to incorporate all the flour. Shape into ball and leave to stand under a cloth for half an hour. Divide into smaller balls and flatten with a rolling pin into very thin discs. Cut these into strips of varying length and fry them in hot olive oil for a few moments, just long enough to give them a fine golden colour. Place in a colander to drain any surplus oil. Leave to cool for a few minutes and cover abundantly with icing sugar. Don’t wait too long before eating them as they lose their fragrance quite quickly.