I've just a few distinct taste memories from when I was in single digits, and one of those increasingly foggy recollections is most definitely of the olive oil my Genovese granny would sprinkle on bread, eggs and pizza (she called it "pizza," but it was more like what we'd call "foccacia").
For decades, I've searched for that flowery, misty taste. I have sussed a gustatory glimpse here and there, but never quite recaptured it. I've gone through bottles of extra virgin olive oil from Italy, California, Mexico, and nothing matched that flavor I recall less clearly with every passing year.
A few nights ago in Florence, I went shopping for agretti, a marsh grass available only this time of year. I spotted it on sale in Mercatello sul Metauro (I was staying at Palazzo Donati, Via Bencivenni, 29, and it was interesting to me that others, even members of the Donati clan, were a little uncertain of what exactly this weed was – it's got a very narrow growing window, here now gone soon).
"Comé spinaci," the Florentine store keeper helpfully offered as I bought a bunch of agretti, figuring quite rightly I didn't know what I was doing. I treated it like spinach, both boiled and sauteed.
I also picked up some olive oil and lemon, as I'd heard that was the way to dress this delicate spring vegetable.
I'm staying at Riva Lofts (Via Baccio Bandinelli, 98, Firenze), where in exchange for some help with their website, they offered me a room with a kitchenette, so I prepared agretti, which I've not seen on any Tuscan menus.
I found this tender, transient vegetable quite lovely in a primavera kind of way, a cross between mung bean sprouts and, of course, spinach.
Though I'm sure the Riva Lofts' kitchen would have given me some olive oil, I decided to buy my own, and so, low on Euros, I purchased the cheapest little bottle on the shelf.
I ate my agretti with the oldest Tuscan pecorino I could find and some bread. The above shot doesn't even show the olive oil drizzle – I wasn't even thinking about the stuff; it was just lubricant. Or so I thought.
Of course what moved me most with this meal was the olive oil. I've never cryed while eating, and I didn't start that night, but let's just say I flirted with that kind of surrender to supper. I ended up guzzling over the agretti, it seemed, almost as much of the olive oil as I did Senese vino.
Now, I tried to take into account the fact that I was sitting here in my genetic homeland, looking out my lorry-sized windows at the Tuscan hills, the Duomo poking up in the foreground like one half of the primordial pair of mammalian ludicrosities, but the olive oil I bought -- Salvadori brand and I doubt it gets more downscale -- is the most powerful thing I've tasted in a very long time. It was my grandma's cheap-ass olive oil, and it gob-smacked me with the sensation of when I realized, for the first time, that I was Italian.
Best 3.20 Euro I ever spent.
(Was stopped twice in the street that day by Italians asking me for directions. I liked that. A lot).
Answer Book 2016
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