You probably picture the same thing that I always did when I thought of The Italian Dream. It came from the Barillo pasta commercial with the happy extended family sitting under the leaf-protected pergola having a simple yet gorgeous meal with Andrea Boccelli singing in the background. And yes – there was wine on the table.
In fact, I dreamt of that right up until last summer when I actually experienced it. I hope I won’t make you jealous if I tell you that it was more wonderful than I thought it would be, even thought there was no Andrea Bocelli.
Enter Simona, Nick and Sagraincasa. Introductions are in order. Simona is a young Roman native who has always loved to cook. She is gorgeous, with dark hair and those exquisite pale blue eyes that can either be cold as ice or, as in her case, twinkling and welcoming.
Nick is a handsome English photo-journalist. While he might be slightly less outgoing than Simona, he is equally warm and ready to make you feel at home.
And home is what we’re talking about here. Their lovely house is set on the side of a hill, with enough land to grow incredibly fresh ingredients, and a wonderful view of the vineyard-covered hills on the opposite side of the valley. I guess I should also mention that on the side of the home with the best view and the gentlest breezes, they have a covered patio with a long table that comfortably holds 12 people. This is where we enjoy their Sagraincasa Supper Club.
A sagra is a festival – usually honoring a particular food — and during the summer, every small village worth its name has a weekend devoted to — for instance — porcini mushrooms, or cinghiale (wild boar), or focaccia, or pecorino cheese, or carciofi (artichokes), or…….. You get the picture. If it can be eaten, some town somewhere will have a sagra honoring it.
So “sagraincasa” means a food festival in the home. This is not a restaurant. Fortunately for us, Simona is an artist, and more than just cooking, she loves to create dishes out of whatever is fresh that week from their garden, combining those ingredients into dishes that please not only the senses of smell and taste, but also sight. If you get in their website (which I HIGHLY recommend), you’ll see Nick’s photographs of her creations, and believe me – as good as they look — they’re even better to eat. I should also mention that because Simona is a verified sommelier, she pairs her foods with the perfect local wines.
How do you get there? Hmmmmm…..that’s very difficult. They only have people in 2 times a month, 12 at a time, and I’m very happy to say that I’m with a group of friends who try to sign up VERY early. When we know there’s an upcoming lunch, we’re there!!!
Which, believe it or not, is the point to this whole story. As a visitor to Italy, it would be very difficult for you to find an experience like Sagraincasa. You might be with a small tour, or have a very good private tour guide who would take you into a home for a meal, and that experience would be wonderful. But this is with a couple who is well-known in the community, and because we are lucky enough to be part of that community, it becomes an even more personal experience. And those personal experiences are what turn a trip of just visiting all the must-do sites into a trip of a lifetime.
If you know someone who lives in Italy – or France, or Germany or Argentina or Hong Kong….any place you want to visit – and that person says that you should stop to see them if you’re in the area – you really should take advantage of that. For instance, I love Provence, and have been lucky enough to have been there several times. But if I had a friend who lived in one of those lovely towns and they said to stop by – I’d be back there in a second. Their perspective would add so much to my knowledge and enjoyment. I know that the places they would introduce me to that are off of the normal tourist radar would end up being my favorite Provencal memories.
I have deliberately not included any photos from our wonderful visits to Sagraincasa in hopes you’ll go to their site (http://www.sagraincasa.it/). Nick captured both the food and how much fun we were having eating it much better than any of our amateur photographs. Go to Archive on the right side, click on giugno 2011 (meaning June), and then scroll down the titles till you get to “Where there’s a will there’s a way”. We’re in that very happy group, eating those incredible looking dishes. Do the same thing for luglio 2011 (July), and we’re the group in “Oh! Susanna”. Then think to yourself: would I rather have the possibility of experiencing beautiful food in this gorgeous setting with a group of local friends, or would I rather be seeing one more Medieval church?