School lunches are a constant topic when you have school-age children. I will go through phases divinely inspired and others when the children get the same thing for weeks, all the while I remind them they should be grateful for it. A favorite sandwich for both Eva and Branch is a Burrata sandwich. When they discover this in their lunch, I always get a big thank you that evening followed by a dreamy look while they think back on when they first tasted this delicacy.
After my mother Mildred died in the Spring of 2012, I escaped to Italy that Summer on a three and half week vacation with the children, visiting old friends and joining current friends along the way. Food played a prominent role on the trip as we sampled regional cuisine. We were fortunate to join dear school friends in Puglia at a country estate. A local young woman was the care-take of the property and took us on several day-trips to surrounding towns, telling us stories, finding lunch spots and generally guiding our experience. Her mother was hired to send dinner to us on a few of the evenings. I asked and request granted to have her mother come and cook for us in the house so we could learn from her. She had never done this, and was very nervous because she did not speak any English. With the help of her daughter and a very eager group of observers, she loosened up and quite enjoyed the spotlight in the kitchen. She arrived and immediately pulled out a rustic container with a white substance. Her daughter translated that it was Burrata, a local delicacy she picked up from a local farmer on the way. Burrata is everywhere now but it was much more difficult to find even 5 years ago in San Francisco. The children dug right in, spreading the gooey cheese on Taralli, little round hard Puglia crackers flavored with olive oil. The children could not stop eating, drips of the gooey cheese running down their wrists. This scene warmed the heart of the Italian mama and she became more and more animated as the evening progressed.
She made us a homemade tomato sauce, barely cooked, to keep the freshness of the tomatoes served over pasta and topped with a sage-flagged cutlets. By the end of the evening, she invited us to her home on the Southern Coast at the Ionian Sea that weekend.
We traveled the 2 hours to the coastal town where we spent a day at the beach and then cooked whole local fish in their outdoor oven while sipping red wine around their family table. I am not sure if life gets much better than sharing a meal and a cultural exchange with people that speak a different language as a bond is formed around the table.
My son is still eating the appetizer of Burrata during our dinner.
My son was called out of the dining room by the Italian father who had him parade the platter of fish around the lunch table.