Pasta, Parmesan and Parma Ham

La Vecchia Taverna in Oliveto Citra

As some of you will no doubt have realised by now, many of my favourite restaurants in Italy are truly rustic. This is because, in my experience and humble opinion, the most rustic restaurants are the ones which tend to serve the best food, created with the freshest, top quality local ingredients, for decent prices and in generous portions – no need to choose between quality and quantity here!

Parma Ham
Domenico looking scary

This place, discovered by our friend Domenico (the same one whose birthday I wrote about in December), ticks all of the boxes, and has a few peculiarities which make it memorable and interesting to photograph.

The Starter

Some restaurants serve you some nibbles and a little prosecco “on the house” while you wait for your food arriving. The Vecchia Taverna puts a real twist on that idea by pulling a wooden trolley with a whole parma ham up to the table, sticking a carving knife in the ham, and walking away. I’m not kidding – here’s the proof.

prosciutto crudo
Abandoned ham.

They also served platters of cold cuts, cheeses and seafood salad. Yes, we could have stopped eating right there. But we would have missed out on the best part…

The Pasta

They say that presentation is everything. When the presentation actually makes the food taste even better, you are definitely on to a winner then! This was the case with the first of the three primi we ordered, as they served it (tubetti con cozze e fagioli = tubetti pasta with mussels and beans) in a hollowed out parmesan cheese wheel.

Parmesan pasta
Pasta in a cheese wheel
Alternative bowl
A new use for cheese…

The best bit was at the bottom, because the heat of the pasta melted the wheel, leaving a delicious goo to be scraped up.

The next primo was a seafood special;  linguine con tartufo di mare = linguini with ormers. Served simply with parsley, a little chilli and freshly ground black pepper, before being tossed by the chef on the spot.

pasta with ormers
Sea truffle pasta and lots of black pepper
linguine with ormers
Now that’s what you call FRESH

The third primo (yeah, I know, three first courses and perhaps they should no longer be labeled “first”) was gnocchi with sausage and porcini mushrooms (ceps). This was wonderfully rich and aromatic (as you can see from Mariagrazia’s avid expression) but I was so stuffed I could barely eat more than a forkful.

mountain pasta
That pasta is in grave danger…

I will leave those of you who have seen me eat to contemplate in awe the sheer quantity of food they must have served in order to defeat me.

The Dessert

Believe me when I say I didn’t touch a single one of these delights. A couple of people managed to eat a mini babà, and I don’t quite know how they managed it!

Italian desserts
I was too full for any of these…
Walnuts Noci
I’m not keen on walnuts but this was just too cute!

As you can see, this restaurant is worth visiting just for the wonderfully original way they present their food, and I promise you that it is as good as it looks. The price was decent as well, at just 25€ a head to eat and drink like absolute pigs.

Presentation                  *****+
Taste                                   ****
Value for Money             *****
Italianness                           *****+

Pretty close to top marks!

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