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Sesto Giorno: Gino’s Saturday Feast

Jun 02 2013

[Photos: Lita Talarico and Esther Ro Schofield]

By Sophie Brown

Rome is a beautiful city. The streets are gorgeous; the history is fascinating; it is inarguably one of the most romantic and picturesque places in the world. But, in my limited experience of travelling abroad, it has always been the people – rather than the place itself – that really make a city sing. Today, the city sang.

Gino is the only Italian in our SVA class, and over the past few days he has generously (and quite proudly too, I think!) acted as a bit of a guide to all of us Rome newbies. Today, he eclipsed his own generosity and invited the entire class, plus the teachers, into his home for lunch..

Class didn’t wrap up until a little later than we thought, so we didn’t get to the bus stop until around 2pm. We were all pretty peckish by that stage, and the bus seemed to take forever to arrive at the station. When you’re hungry, time slows. In my head, that half hour bus trip took about four hours. It was mid-afternoon by the time fourteen famished design students and teachers arrived at Gino’s house. But it was worth the wait.

Gino’s lovely girlfriend, Maria-Carla – or Mary, as she insisted we call her – greeted us warmly at the door. Then we were ushered into the dining area. Gino’s apartment isn’t tiny, but it definitely wasn’t built to seat fourteen people for dinner. Gino and Mary had joined up a couple of different tables, and scrounged together a stack of mismatched chairs to make room enough for us all. Mary had set the table with plastic plates, forks and cups. Sitting there waiting for us were big plates of caprese (mozzarella, fresh tomato and basil).

We all sat down, and the feast began.

In passing conversation, Gino had mentioned that he was a bit of a star in the kitchen. If anyone thought he was talking a big game, today he really proved himself! This was hands-down the most delicious Italian food I’ve eaten since arriving here.

We piled our plates with caprese, and then big bowls of roasted eggplant and green, yellow and red capsicum were passed around. A plate of salumi (cold cuts of meat) appeared. I layered everything onto some fresh, crusty bread, and then didn’t speak to anyone for about ten minutes. The food was too tasty to talk.

Gino and Mary were flitting in and out of the kitchen, and once we’d polished off the caprese and salumi, they brought out huge bowls of steaming hot pasta. I filled my plate with parmesan-topped bucatini con pomodoro (a kind of hollow spaghetti with tomato sauce) before I realized that there was also a big bowl of gnocchi with mushrooms and peas. And then three beautifully presented trays of pomodori ripieni  (whole tomatoes stuffed with rice, potatoes and cheese) materialized in front of me. Those tomatoes could have been on the cover of a cookbook. I was so full by then, I couldn’t take another bite!

Until dessert came out, and then somehow I managed…

A large fruit bowl was placed on the table, and then Gino dished up fresh macedonia (fruit salad) for everyone. I hadn’t even seen Mary leave the apartment, but she returned moments later with a big box full of wickedly decadent, chocolate-y, creamy profiteroles. When everyone was finished with their wine, Gino and Mary made espressos. I really regretted wearing a fitted top today. I was ready to explode by the end of the meal. Full, and wonderfully content.

It wasn’t just the food that made today so special; although it was an incredibly delicious meal. Today I got to experience genuine Italian hospitality. Gino and Mary are such good, big-hearted people, and they went to so much effort to welcome us into their home. DJ is lactose-intolerant, so they’d made a special pomodori ripieni  without cheese. Reham doesn’t drink alcohol, so they bought a separate, special dessert. There were a few vegetarians at the table, so they made a point of making lots of dishes without meat. Their thoughtfulness was really touching.

And it was fun, too! Meals like this are designed to bring people together, and that’s exactly what it did. It gave us all an opportunity to catch up, and find out a bit more about each other. Everyone in our group gets along really well, so when we weren’t all completely silent and focused on our taste-buds, we were laughing at each others stupid jokes. It was a perfect meal shared with friends.

If this is what contemporary Italy is all about, then I have been well and truly seduced.

Menu

Caprese
Roasted eggplant
Roasted red, yellow and green peppers
Bucatini con pomodoro
Salumi
Gnocchi with mushrooms and peas
Pomodori Ripieni: Stuffed tomatoes with rice, potatoes, and cheese.
Macedonia
Fresh fruit
Profiteroles
Espresso

[Photos: Lita Talarico and Esther Ro Schofield]