They flew two-and-a-half hours to Rome Fiumicino, caught the half-hour train into the city, then a two-hour train to Naples, one hairy taxi ride to the port later, and a dash to the hydrofoil on which they motored out of the bay, waved goodbye to the ancient city and one hour later disembarked on the island of Ischia. It was raining and the clouds were low over the dormant volcano. As soon as they arrived, they walked down the hill from their self-catering villa to the waterfront.
DR SIN: Let’s go and eat where there are lots of people.
MRS LOMEZ: But there’s no one out now. It’s only seven o’clock.
After searching up and down for somewhere a bit livelier, they finally settle back where they started at a restaurant called Busso. Here they eat foccacia and bruschetta con pomodori.
BOTH: Look at those tomatoes! They’re so red. And the bread with fresh rosemary is so tasty.
But this were but an entree. They were to eat at Busso another time, penne all’arrabbiatta and fettucine fruta di mare, to revisit the pesce grande pacing the too-small fish tank in a daring escapade to reclaim its freedom in the open ocean. And this would also not be the only time they ate bruschetta, oh no. The most brilliant cherry tomatoes chopped up with basil, garlic and tossed with olive oil on toasted bread was to be had many times, at the Cafe Internazionale in the town square after the Easter Monday reenactment of the angel reuniting Jesus and Mary, and at another bar further down the seafront, all they remember of its name is that it included Bar Ristorante. But first, later that night: Carpaccio restaurant, interior.
DR SIN: Of course, I was never going to have a problem on holiday, with rabbit (coniglio) and various creatures from the sea being special dishes of the island. I’ll have the fettucine fruta di mare.
MRS LOMEZ: And I’ll have a pizza ai funghi. Fairly plain, others would say simple or honest in flavour, with just a tomato sauce and mushrooms from the woods but no mozzarella! C’est incroyable, I don’t even have to ask them to hold the cheese!
Dr Sin never did eat rabbit while on holiday. Pizza senza mozzarella, however, was also to be had in Porto and at Il Limonata, not far from the villa. Also back in Naples at ‘O Scugnizzo while waiting for their 74 euro (!) train to arrive to whisk them to Florence, they ate pizza and pondered how expensive train travel is. But back to Ischia, and more specifically to the greengrocer down the road from the villa, where Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez mooched for many minutes gazing at the deep colours and inhaling the herbiciferous deliciousness of vegetables.
MRS LOMEZ: You would never know a vegetable could bring so much joy to one’s heart, even yours Dr Sin.
DR SIN: Mrs Lomez, you don’t know me that well at all if you think that I cannot swoon over a vegetable, or technically, a fruit.
While shopping for supplies, they also availed themselves of local wine. Next time, they will not make the mistake of thinking that just because it is Italian, it is good, no matter how cheap. On their last day in Ischia they were shown a good local wine at the Pirate Taverna in Sant Angelo, drinking Antonio Mazzella biancolella, which seemed to be a chardonnay. That night they found a rosso which made up for the days of drinking table wine. When everyone has some vines in their back garden, the table wine is bound to taste like it was made at home. And limoncello can be found in delicatessens as well as specialty shops, so don’t buy from the first person to offer you a free shot.
They left Ischia on a grey day with rain, threatening thunderstorms. As they motored out of the harbour, the pesce grande which they had earlier freed swam alongside the hydrofoil before it gathered speed. Little did they know their island sojourn would be the most intimate they would get with fresh vegetables. The peas they took with them and snapped open on the train later that day were a tender reminder of what had been.
MRS LOMEZ: Love is a brilliant red cherry tomato.
DR SIN: I will no longer block your attempts to purchase vine tomatoes that come in quantities of three for £2 at the supermarket back home. There really is a difference.
MRS LOMEZ: But will they taste like the tomatoes of Ischia? Sadly, I think not.
In Florence, it was no more difficult to both be catered for. On the Piazza di Santo Spirito, Cabiria offered free food with your aperitif between seven and nine each evening, including some crackin’ roasted potatoes. Next door at Borgo Antico, the meat lovers ate pasta with wild boar while the spaghetti with tomato and parsley appeased the vegan, washed down with a Frescobaldi Nipozzano. There was no fear of eating egg pasta, as this was all marked as ‘fresh’ or ‘special’.
MRS LOMEZ: Italy is all right for vegans. Maybe not ‘all’ right but certainly not all wrong. Even Perche No! offers a cabinet full of vegan gelati, some made with soy milk, the rest with water.
The final culinary delight for both Dr Sin and Mrs Lomez was found at da Nerbone in the Mercato Centrale. While Dr Sin feasted with their Florentine host on a plate of boiled meats, Mrs Lomez digested ribollita, a soup of cannellini beans and bread, surprisingly yum with lashes of olive oil and a plate to share of fried artichoke, all washed down with a carafe of the vino rosso.
When trying to recreate the ribollita at home, Mrs Lomez made the mistake of using seeded wholemeal bread, not white. Staring wistfully into the bowl of soggy stale bread, she tried to remember the flavours of their time only one week ago. But it was already so long ago and so far away.