Real men don’t eat meringue
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.