The idle ramblings of a Jack of some trades, Master of none

May 2, 2013

Burning Pirciati

In The Scent of the Night, Andrea Camilleri’s upright Inspector Montalbano has heard of a little trattoria that has opened off the provincial road to Giardina, and betakes himself there. With some difficulty he finds the humble establishment and is not impressed with it at first. But when the heavenly smells waft towards him, he finds himself floating to a table. The service at Giugiu ’u Carritteri, in true Sicilian style, is laconic.

"If you feel up to it, I’ve got burning pirciati tonight," said the man with the moustache. 
Montalbano was familiar with pirciati, a kind of pasta, but wondered what the ’burning’ referred to. He didn’t want to give the man the satisfaction ofbeing asked how the pirciati were cooked, so he limited himself to a single question: 
"What do you mean, ‘If I feel up to it’?" 
"Exactly what I said: ‘If I feel up to it,’" was his reply. 
"Oh, I feel up to it, don’t you worry about that." 
Finally, a woman’s voice called out from the kitchen. 
The pirciati arrived. They smelled like heaven on earth. The man with the moustache settled on the doorjamb as though settling in to witness a performance. 
Montalbano decided to let the aroma penetrate all the way to the bottom of his lungs. 
As he was greedily inhaling, the man spoke.  
"Want a bottle of wine within reach before you begin eating?" 
The inspector nodded yes; he didn’t feel like talking. 
A one-litre jug of very dense wine was set before him. Montalbano poured out a glass from it and put the first bite into his mouth. He choked, couged, and tears came to his eyes. He had the unmistakable impression that his taste buds had caught fire. In a single draught he emptied the glass of wine, which didn’t kid around as to its alcohol content. 
"Go at it nice and easy," the waiter-owner said. 
"But what’s in it?" asked Montalbano, still half choking. 
"Olive oil, half an onion, two cloves of garlic, two salted anchovies, a teaspoon of fine capers, black olives, tomatoes, basil, half a pimento, salt, Pecorino cheese, and black pepper," the man ran down the list with a hint of sadism in his voice. 
"Jesus," said Montalbano. "And who’s in the kitchen?" 
"My wife," said the man with the moustache, going to the door to greet three new customers. 
Punctuating his forkfuls with gulps of wine and alternating groans of extreme agony and unbearable pleasure (Is there such a thing as extreme cuisine, like extreme sex? he wondered at one point), Montalbano even had the courage to soak up the sauce left in the bottom of the bowl with his bread, periodically wiping away the beads of sweat that were forming on his brow. 
"And what would you like for a second course, sir?" 
The inspector understood that with that ‘sir’, the owner was paying him military honours. 
"You’re right. The problem with burning pirciati is that you don’t get your taste buds back till the next day."


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