This question is rhetorically posed by Riley’s mother in the film ‘Inside Out’ when exasperated by another new-fangled concept after moving to a fictionalized San Francisco from Minnesota. Reinventing the wheel can be frustrating for everyone involved – and different isn’t always better.
But apparently, the Italians do put broccoli on pizza.
Pizza Salsiccia e Friarelli
A white pizza, which has mozzarella drizzled in olive oil instead of tomato sauce, as well as fennel sausage and leafy green broccoli florets known as broccoli rabe stateside. I mistakenly ordered it our last night in Italy before I realized what pizza ‘bianco’ meant. But I enjoyed every bit of it.
We just got back from an Easter holiday in Puglia. The province makes up the heel of the boot of Italy and is known for its buffalo mozzarella, corpulent red wine and unspoilt beaches. Especially unspoilt in April, when the only people who think it is warm enough to be at the beach are from Glasgow.
We were lucky enough to be invited by an Italian/Spanish couple we have become good friends with, who also have two daughters around the same ages as ours, also born in London and Glasgow. Last week we ventured to their parents’ summer place for a joint family holiday in the south of Italy in search of some much-needed sun after the long Glaswegian winter.
We found the warmth we were looking for in Lecce, a small town with an ample old walking district as well as a Roman ampitheatre and more gelatarias, cafes, bars and restaurants than anyone could visit in a month.
There were over 15 churches and numerous historical buildings in the town but my religious experience was at the local market. The green bounty of spring was in full abundance. Artichokes, asparagus, fresh peas, fava beans, zucchini flowers and over five different types of tomatoes which all tasted more like tomatoes than any poly-tunnel variety that I had eaten all year.
The apartment where we were staying was on the bottom floor of a converted palazzo and across the street from a 60 year-old enoteca. I use the Italian word ‘enoteca’ to give it some gravitas, but ‘enoteca’ just means wine-store. But what a wine store!
Enoteca Pippi is a third generation family-run business supplying all of the local restaurants and an outlet for all of the local producers of Puglia wines. It also has a built-in bar where their house specialty is a blood-orange flavored aperitif humorously described as a ‘cocktail non-alchoholico con gin’. If you sat outside the apartment on any given evening, you would see a great cross-section of the Lecce populous: young men in for the first post-work beer, affluent couples stopping by for a special bottle with dinner, the wife running in while the car idled, older men in for a chat, a bottle, and maybe a cheeky spritzer before the bike-ride home.
Our bedroom window opened out onto the street across from Pippi’s. The walls in the palazzo were so thick that there was no cell-reception. My wife, who was stuck on an important business deal throughout the holiday, ended up spending many mornings, and invariable afternoons, shouting down the phone with her blonde head stuck out the window, shielded from the sun and neighborly embarrassment only by her oversized sunglasses.
I often spent the late afternoon out in the sun, across the street, sipping on a ‘cocktail non-alcoholico’ while our daughters tended to the sleeping or dietary needs of the newest generation of the Pippi dynasty, Pippi’s great-grand daughter, Alice. Alice’s mother worked in the store alongside Alice’s grandfather, Fabio, while the grandmother took care of baby Alice. The girls loved baby-sitting baby Alice too, taking her for little walks up and down the street in her super-deluxe Italian-style pram. And baby Alice loved baby-sitting the girls, sharing her little biscottini and breaking into tears anytime they tried to leave her side. So along with the cocktails, my afternoons at Pippi’s were rather relaxing.
It was easy to idealize this life from my vantage point in the sun: running a successful independent business alongside your entire family, knowing everyone in town, on good terms with every restaurateur and wine producer able to put an incredible local bottle of wine on the table for under 6 euros. An older gentleman, whom I had assumed worked there, when I saw him taking boxes from the storage unit on our side of the street into the store on several occasions, explained to me that he was actually retired. He just liked to hang out and help out so that he could be part of the whole scene. I wasn’t the only one enamored with Pippi’s.
My wife hanging from the window, dialing into her latest GoToMeeting call, saw the draw as well. Was this a modern family version of ‘La Dolce Vita’ and if so how much would it cost in a corporate takeover?
But they always warn you not to put too much stake on a holiday romance. Running a high-risk, low-yield business within a traditional Italian patriarchy in a small provincial town might not always be as ideal as it seems on a sunny afternoon in April. While your own worries may melt away with the assumptions you make about another family’s idyllic life, they too might have looked at our globetrotting existence as something glamorous to aspire to, in comparison with their more localized outlook. I’ve heard it can be hard to create a life of opportunity outside of the close circle of family contacts.
As they say, the grass is always greener on the other side. And apparently, in Italy, so is the pizza.