One of the things that amazes me every time we travel in Europe is the way that “fast” food is interpreted. Now, I don’t mean “fast” in the sense of something one would pick-up in a drive-through and eat in the car while driving from one errand to another. I do mean lunch in its most routine sense — the lunch that an average Joe or Josephine would eat on a workday. My latest example brings us to a fabulous bolognese sauce.
As I mentioned in a previous post, we went somewhat off the usual beaten path for tourists during our recent trip to Tuscany and visited Pistoia, a lovely town known for its lively street market. Then, we took a scenic route back to Lucca by first driving up into the hills and then back down, to finish our day with a stop in Collodi — named for the author of Adventures of Pinocchio — for a visit to the charming Pinocchio Park. We were hungry as we left Pistoia, and we were planning to stop for lunch en route. But the villages along this route are very, very small, and they just don’t see a lot of nonresident traffic in the winter — that quickly became very clear. So the few restaurants we saw tended to be closed. We drove for maybe 40 minutes, and then we saw it — an old building containing a bar and a pizzeria, with an “open” sign and foggy windows that spoke volumes of how warm it was inside. Did I mention that the weather on this day was overcast and windy?
We enter the restaurant, where no one seems to speak English, and the other patrons’ uniforms suggest that they are all local utility workers on their lunch break. Every one of them was seated facing a television which seemed to be airing a local news program. And they were eating pasta with this gorgeous, homey-looking sauce. When my husband received the Ravioli with Bolognese that he had ordered, I quickly recognized it as the sauce that the locals were all eating on their pasta. It looked and tasted delicious! Looking around, it seemed as if this lunch was as “everyday” to the locals as stopping at for a sandwich at Subway might be in the U.S.! Imagine that!
When we returned to the U.S., I kept thinking about the bolognese sauce. After comparing a number of recipes, I decided that this recipe seemed very close to what we had in Tuscany. As I made this sauce, I remembered that on my last day in Tuscany, as I visited the string of stores in the village center to gather ingredients for dinner (butcher shop, produce shop, bakery, etc), I found myself making the loop directly behind the same woman, such that we both chuckled as I held the door for her at the last shop. That day, I saw each of the items she purchased, and I am now absolutely certain she was making bolognese sauce! It was so much fun to cook this Bolognese sauce in my kitchen and imagine that Italian woman doing the same in her kitchen so far way! I’ll never know her name, but I feel certain I’ll think of her each time I make this recipe!