No, not some lewd sex and food combo, I’m afraid. Slow Food on the beach constituted what turned out to be the most pleasant of all the culinary surprises I encountered on this Puglia eating extravaganza.
A day on the beach usually means fodder food from a bar, over-priced and under-nutritious. You have to make allowances for this now and again, and not fret about it. So it was that we headed to Torre Guaceto beach, located in a nature reserve near Brindisi and one of Puglia’s finest. We set up camp under our designated umbrella and settled in for some pleasant beach activity – reading and snoozing.
Torre Guaceto is a lovely sandy beach. There was not a bar in sight, other than a solitary beach hut serving takeaway food and drink. To which we headed at lunch time, having first lowered our expectations in order to avoid disappointment.
Well, blow me down. They weren’t just serving any old food, they were serving Slow Food food, and wonderful food at that. Slow Food is an organisation founded in 1989 as a protest against the opening of a branch of McDonalds at the foot of the Spanish Steps in Rome. Although this protest did not stop the golden arches from casting their shadow over this historical landmark, it created a resistance of self-styled eco-gastronomes. Slow Food is now a global movement which promotes, celebrates and protects traditional, regional gastronomy, staging events such as dinners, tastings and farm visits. Slow Food UK has numerous branches, or convivia, staging events aimed at preserving our culinary heritage – foods such as Colchester Native Oysters (worth preserving, I can confirm), Formby asparagus, Gloucester Old Spot Pig, and many others. See http://www.slowfood.org.uk
From this unprepossessing hut I chose a farro salad (farro is a barley-like grain, but better tasting – nuttier, I’d say) consisting of finely chopped green pepper, courgette, tomato and grated mozzarella with an extra virgin olive oil dressing. Mr Cross had a plate of mozzarella, tomato, parma ham, basil and bread. Each dish was 5 euros each. On top of that, the paper cups and plates on which everything was served were biodegradable.
Without getting too carried out by all this excellence, it’s worth pointing out that it’s not that Italians choose to eat healthily – they don’t. Their knowledge of nutrition is surprisingly limited. They just prefer fresh, good quality food. Even then, only for lunch and dinner. Breakfast is appalling, often consisting of sweet biscuits dunked in milky coffee, or if in a bar, where breakfast is frequently consumed, some sort of pastry or brioche with a radioactive-looking yellow gunk, passing as cream.
We voted to have all breakfasts at home and to this end purchased some fabulous fruit. I selected locally grown produce: juicy peaches with bright yellow flesh, succulent melon, fat black grapes and deep purple plums. A fresh fruit salad is just the ticket for providing a high level of carotenoids, the plant chemicals which provide protection from the harmful effects of the sun’s rays. A dollop of cold, live natural yogurt went really well with this fruit mix. This was just the starter. For seconds we had a platter of cold meats and cheese. God forbid we should start the day without some serious protein. Then it was off to the nearest bar for a shot or two of very, very decent coffee.