An outing, with a healthy complete meal packed into a lunchbox, is surely one of the great joys of life. The Paleo Diet puts a new perspective onto eating on the go. I make sure to fill my lunchbox with protein, vegetables, salad, and healthy fats. It needs to be fresh, it needs to be delicious, and if it looks gorgeous as well, then so much the better.
The other day the man and I went off on separate excursions. Both were embedded in the sights and cultural traditons of the Italian Veneto. He went to eat a traditional feast, and I packed a main meal salad and drove up to the high plains.
Veneto Culture: Polenta e Osai
The General headed off just after breakfast to spend a day with his mates. Here in the Veneto they have a tradition of roasting very small birds – think sparrows – on a spit. It’s a hang-over from the wars when food was scarce, and to be honest I don’t know if their joy is to be found in the crunching of bones and beaks and the acrid taste of organs, or in their connection with history and culture. I’ve witnessed this roast on a couple of occasions, and I once ate a bird. Once was enough. They look like something found after a bomb has exploded. There’s no flesh to speak of, and that which there is is charred. Blackened, bulging eye sockets. The wars, as far as I’m concerned, are long over, and sometimes you just need to let go.
Not everyone who attends these roasts partakes of the birds, and of those who do, they’ll only eat three or four. It’s not a gluttonous occasion, at least not for the osai. Maybe for the rest. Slices of pork rump, bacon and chicken fillets are layered on the spit along with the birds, so that the dripping fat of the pork is continuously coating the drier white meats. Beneath the spit, slabs of polenta absorb each droplet of fat which falls. Patiently rotated, a crisp and golden crust, full-flavoured with saturated fat, wraps the soft and mellow centre. This is Poenta Unta, fried food at it’s best, and it’s worth pigging out on. Cornmeal isn’t Paleo, but Polenta Unta once a year or so is, I dare say, a worthwhile transgression. It’s one of those things, though, that Fiorenzo has to stay well clear off. It incites his acid reflux within minutes, which is a sad thing, him being a Vicentino and all.
(The photo above: that’s our friend, Gino. He’s who I’m talking about when I say, ‘We went to Gino’s for dinner.’ He and Fi have been friends since childhood, when Gino, who is a few years older, would come by on the scooter to take them both off to their trumpet lesson. He has a Trattoria and does really good grilled pork ribs among other things. No polenta unta in that shot, unfortunately. I don’t know why they skipped that part of the roast – seems to me it’s one of the best bits!)
So, The General was out the door by 9.30am, leaving me and Roxy on our own.
I made this lovely Basil, Mint and Lemon Pesto, and filled my lunchbox to the brim.
What Went Into My Lunchbox
In the lunchbox:
- From top to bottom there’s lettuce, cucumber, radish, tuna, the pesto, carrot, and zucchini.
- Under the tuna there’s blanched cauliflower and fennel.
- For fat there’s four fat green olives, for freshness a sprinkling of chives, and for saltiness there’s a teaspoonful of tiny capers.
- For the dressing, I drizzled the lot with extravirgin olive oil and popped in a quartered lemon.
About 200 meters up the road from here there’s a fresh water spring that tumbles out of the hillside, so I stopped there to fill up my bottle of water.
Veneto Sights: Granezza and Monte Corno
Granezza, from Monte, is just 15 minutes away. It sits at 1246 meters; here, we’re at around 600. After winding past Folgaria, up past Tacabanda, Val di Porco and the British cemetary, you might, if it’s a clear day, stop at La Casa Della Guardia to admire the view right across to the Venetian lagoon. And if you have Veneto roots, you might sigh and murmur, ‘Viva la Serenissima!’, in nostalgia for when the Venetian Republic was one of the movers-and-shakers of the world. Below the monument at Monte Corno turn left, and pull over at ‘Tottenham Corner’. The nickname was given by the English soldiers of the 1st World War. Inside Gianni’s trattoria you’ll find a curious collection of momentos, dug up, uncovered, discovered: fossils from when this place was covered by sea, and artifacts of the wars.
Rifugio Granezza is just 200 meters on, but drive slow. You’ll have to, anyway, if the cows are on the road. They’re brought up from the valley at the beginning of June, and through until the end of September they graze on alpine grasses and chew their cud lazing amongst the flowers, their heavy bells clanging and chiming through the clear air. The malgas, the summer alpine dairies, are in full swing making butter and cheese, and people flock to them for the freshness.
At Granezza, we found a lovely surprise. Along with the fat, grunting pigs slothing away in their mud, and the baby donkeys with their enormous ears, there was a white mule with it’s colt. When I went close to take some photos, I saw it was still wobbly on it’s legs. A man came along and confirmed what I’d thought: it was newborn that day. The placenta was just over there, drying in the sun.
How incredbible is life? Wobbly, yes, but stable enough after only just a few hours. Clean, without a trace of it’s birth, and already nibbling on grass.
A little Picnic Inspiration?
How to Wrap a Lunchbox – this is how I do it – it’s ingenious, and keeps everything tidy.
Basil, Mint and Lemon Pesto – the pesto in my lunchbox.
Basil and Pinenut Pesto alla Genovese – the traditional recipe from Liguria – dollop a big spoonful onto your packed salad.
Moroccan Inspired ‘Cous Cous’ Salad with Carrot, Dates and Mint – add some protein to this – some fried-to-golden chicken breast, maybe? – and pack it into your box. Yum.
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