Real men don’t eat meringue

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - KATE COLLINS

DEAGON, QUEENS­LAND ITAL­IANS call day­time se­duc­tion in­ter­mezzo but the re­ally saucy stuff hap­pens at lunch. Our restau­rant trawl on back roads from Conegliano, an hour from Venice, takes we three con­sent­ing gour­mands through gilded Re­nais­sance scenery to a rus­tic trat­to­ria where fel­low din­ers prove good eat­ing is still GFC-proof and lunch will never be the bar­bar­ity of fast food at a desk.

Trat­to­ria owner Memmo re­cites to­day’s menu for his clien­tele of truck driv­ers, road work­ers in sin­glets and Ar­mani-suited man­agers who seem to spend at least half their work­ing day fan­ta­sis­ing about food. An­tipasti is com­posed of a trio of seafood: creamy crab mousse spread on fresh cros­tini; skin-pink gnoc­chetti con sal­mone; and far­falle pasta with pale Canaletto-green sugo of wild herbs and scal­lops. Clau­dio also or­ders von­gole di venere — tiny and suc­cu­lent but­ter­fly-shaped mus­sels sweated in wine and oil — and he shares them across our three plates. I wipe crab mousse on to bread but Bep­pino in­ter­rupts me. ‘‘Like this,’’ he says and scoops the mousse straight from knife to mouth. What other ta­ble man­ners should I learn? He purrs and re­fills all our glasses from a carafe of foam­ing, fizzy prosecco from th­ese vine-clad hills where food with­out wine is a sin, ditto churches with­out fres­coes, sex with­out ap­pro­pri­ate se­duc­tion.

Things hot up when Clau­dio and Bep­pino or­der my dessert. Tiramisu? Torte di mele? But I want meringue. What ar­rives is to the cloy­ingly sweet Aus­tralian ver­sion what Sophia Loren is to Kylie Minogue. This Ital­ian meringata is so firm that Clau­dio says it needs a cou­pling of cof­fee’s dark mas­culin­ity to yield its sweet, soft core.

Sur­pris­ingly, the cof­fee he or­ders is cold, slugged with grappa ( known, rather ap­pro­pri­ately, as graspa in Veneto di­alect); the sug­ary taste of the meringue is drowned in bit­ter, brac­ing caf­feine. I reach for a spoon but am gen­tly re­strained and told the meringue must melt slowly.

My friends smile and feed me spoon­fuls. It is shud­der­ingly strong. Real Ital­ian men don’t do dessert so for Clau­dio and Bep­pino it’s a fi­nale of Fer­net-Branca. I take con­trol at last, forc­ing the last melted meringue on them. They yield, say­ing they will wash away their sins with a slurp of the herbed medic­i­nal di­ges­tif. Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to Fol­low the Reader: travel@ theaus­tralian.com.au. Colum­nists re­ceive a Kathmandu Travel Se­cu­rity ID kit of a brightly coloured lug­gage strap, tough ABS lug­gage tag, se­ty­our-own com­bi­na­tion lock, money neck pouch and car­ry­bag ($79.98). More: 1800 333 484; kathmandu.com.au.

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