Offally Good

05 Feb 2003

Irpinia, an area of the Campania region in the south of Italy, is a land that is, unfortunately, still affected by the terrible natural disasters it has suffered. And as if that were not enough, it has also been subjected to ill-coordinated, haphazard local administration and interests not always motivated by the noblest standards of conduct.

When you visit, you get the feeling that only now is it gradually looking to the future, that the vital—I would say noble—culture of ordinary people is set to become a real economic resource and an asset that deserves to be displayed with pride.
At long last great wines are being created that make the most of a unique area. Complementing the wines is a gastronomic culture and culinary tradition of huge significance.

A symbol of this is the Trattoria Valleverde (0825 626115) at Atripalda, 4 km from Avellino, which since 1959 has stood out for its extraordinary culinary artistry. It was opened forty-four years ago by tiny Zì’ Pasqualina, who easily deserves to stand among the leading names of our national gastronomic culture for what she has achieved within the walls of this trattoria of hers.

Zì’ Pasqualina no longer spends so much time in the kitchen, but her presence is felt. Sprightly and helpful, she wanders in from time to time, or can be glimpsed while resting in her sitting room at home next-door. She has passed on her skills to the worthy hands of her daughter-in-law Enza, son Rino, nephew Sabino and his wife Bruna, while other relatives and friends help out. As is usual in these parts, only women work in the kitchen.

I will only mention a few dishes, though everything is excellent at Zì’ Pasqualina’s (a common name for Trattoria Valleverde). Eating there was a mouth-watering pleasure: I rediscovered forgotten flavors, and was able to relive local culinary traditions.

The minestra maritata, an age-old hallmark of Campanian cuisine, borders on absolute perfection, with escarole, cardoon, chicory, black cabbage, cotechino sausage, pig’s trotters, bacon and pork rind combining wonderfully. It is salutary to be reminded that the pleasures of the table are not something elitist or reserved for the affluent: in spite of their poor origins, these ingredients produce an incomparable wealth of taste.

Sugo alla genovese is prepared superbly well here. This meat and vegetable sauce, another classic of Campanian cuisine, is served with penne: I was able to sample many versions during a recent trip to Naples and environs, and Zì’ Pasqualina’s truly was the best.

I should also make particular mention of the pasta e fagioli</I, pasta and bean stew, here enhanced by cotechino sausage, the veal meatballs (polpette) in their own sauce and the fabulous suffritte, a stew of pig’s offal (liver excluded), first fried, then boiled and finally immersed in tomato paste and used to dress bucatini.

Anyone interested in gastronomy—be it for love or for work or for study—who has not eaten at least once at the Trattoria Valleverde should certainly make sure they do so. Not that there’s any need to hurry: the legacy of Zì’ Pasqualina is in safe and competent hands.

Translation by Ronnie Richards

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