Thursday, August 23, 2007

Mi ricordo di Puglia

It is summertime, and so I have been thinking about, and eating, things roasted over coals outside…and I found this memory:

We are in Puglia, and it is time for lunch. The octopus and was already on the grill when we arrived. We could see it there -- slowly roasting over a low fire – through the wire mesh fence which surrounded us and the other diners on this seaside concrete terrace, only a few meters from the sea. (We are in Italy, so it’s the “sea”, in this case, the Adriatic, and meters, not yards.) It has contracted in the heat of the fire, a strange muscle, looking like a live octopus poised to strike passing negligent prey. Instead, it is grilling

We are there for the ricci, the fresh urchins, which we scoop out of their prickly shells with torn-off pieces of pane duro, a kind of very dense, yet very soft white bread that absorbs the urchin roe perfectly. There is some kind of local white wine in a pitcher. Then come the spaghetti with clams, and my own grilled octopus, with olive oil and lemon.

Almost everyone around us is eating the same thing, though some just stick to the urchin, bread and wine, then a coffee, and that’s all. There are large bottles of soda on a few tables, for diners who look like they should know better. It makes me wonder. Some people are having pasta, or some grilled fish, but fish grilled elsewhere, on a grill out of site behind the kitchen shed, no doubt where my octopus was grilled, because the original octopus remains on the grill, on the other side of the fence, alone. I am beginning to worry about its fate, that it has perhaps been abandoned.

After our meal we pay and linger outside the dining terrace enclosure, talking with the two brothers and their wives, who all run the place together. A young fellow appears on a scooter, says his hellos all around and chats and jokes for a few minutes, a friend or perhaps a cousin, maybe even a much younger brother. Plates pass to and fro, full then empty, more wine, trays of coffees from kitchen to terrace. The young man comes back from the kitchen shed with a sandwich, his grilled octopus squeezed between the two halves of pane duro.

Tomorrow we'll call our fishmonger.

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