Sunday, January 11, 2015
In the photo of my sitting room below, you will see that in the hearth there is a grill for cooking meat. This is apparently still a very common feature of life in these parts, and the grill, which looked like it hadn't been cleaned in years, was here when I moved in and had obviously been well used.
Tonight, I tried it, and mmmm-boy!
I had observed the technique at a favourite restaurant in town
where there is a large traditional wood-burning open hearth oven/grill.
If you are ever in Norcia, you absolutely must eat at least once at Granaro del Monte restaurant. And try the fegatino. It is in a large vaulted medieval banqueting hall kind of place, in the 16th century palazzo of the hotel Grotta Azzura, one of the four hotels in town run by the wonderful Bianconi family (who have been exceedingly kind and welcoming to me and my friends).
Anyway, the technique is as follows: You start your fire fairly far forward in the hearth. When there is a good bed of coals, push the rest of the combustible stuff (wood) way to the back and let it keep going. Rake all the coals forward into a pile. Flatten them out with your poker, and put the grill on so that it's not more than an inch or so above them. If your grill doesn't have little feet like mine does, just put two largish pieces of wood on either side of the coals for a stand.
I did lamb tonight, and just marinaded it a little, rubbing with seasoned salt, then letting it sit in some olive oil and red wine. I didn't have any rosemary, but this is really great if you let it grill with the rosemary sprig right on the grill. It doesn't take long, and if you've got a good cut of meat, it will do exactly what it's supposed to do, which is get nice and crispy on the outside, and seal in the juices and be incredibly tender.
You can also use the grill, as they do at the Granaro del Monte, to make toast.
If you come to Norcia, one of the first things you see on the main strip are these iron monger shops that sell all sorts of things made out of steel, copper and cast iron to use with your fire.
There are pans for toasting nuts, including chestnuts, all sizes of grill, copper pots and tripods, hooks and ladles and fire irons and warming pans, and all sorts of old fashioned looking things. Of course, the first thing you think is that this is just touristy kitsch, and in a way I suppose you'd be right. Except that I've learned that a lot of people still do use these things, at least some of them, and they're sold to locals.
I get the feeling that life here, until they finished the tunnel to Spoleto in 1996, hadn't changed much since the time that painting at the top of the post was done, and I think it probably looked a lot like that.
I've also learned how to "bank" the fire, so the next morning you can start it again quickly to get the tea on.