The Italian Sunday Lunch

Menu A KM Zero
Sunday lunch in Italy is a huge cultural tradition. Far more than a meal, it is a socializing ceremony embraced by families, both nuclear and extended, couples of all ages, and groups of friends. It's also a boon to travellers who are facing a day of closed museums, shuttered stores, and reduced services.  It’s worth the trouble to find a restaurant that specializes in Sunday lunches, and reserve as early in the week as you can.  Many such restaurants are in rural settings, and people start arriving for lunch about 12:30, and the stragglers are generally there no later than 1:15. It normally takes two or three hours for the meal/ritual to unfold, depending on the number of people and the style of serving.

Recently, we had a terrific Sunday experience at Montagna Verde, in the hamlet of Apella in the town of Licciana Nardi. This is in the foothills east of Aulla in the northern part of Tuscany which is also part of a vaguely defined area called Lunigiana. (see Getting There and More Info below).   The wonderfully informative website Ciao Lunigiana had mentioned that five restaurants in Lunigiana were participating in the program Menu A KM Zero ( KM Zero is a new Italian term for local food) during October and November. Since Montagna Verde had won this competition in 2008, we e-mailed to make a reservation before coming to Italy.  The restaurant is part of an agriturismo venture in an old stone building with a tower high on a hill.  It has been completely restored with a restaurant, rooms, and a barnyard/garden.

Lunch, Dish by Dish
We were seated in a stone-walled dining room that rang with Italian voices – three large tables, a few four-seater tables, and just a couple of twos.  A bottle of red wine and a carafe of water were on the table, and after we settled and looked around a little, the procession began.  The antipasto was…beyond ample.  The first plates were local air-dried ham, local salami, and culatello, served with a bowl of warm sgabei, a fried dough that’s a local specialty, and a bowl of just-warm tiny lightly-pickled onions, the best I ever had.  When those were nearly gone, a plate with pieces of vegetable torte: one made with potato and leek; another with squares of fried polenta topped with the best mushroom sauce on earth; a third with squares of grilled flour pancake cooked with onions.  Next, two pieces of castagnaccio, a chestnut pancake, and a big dollop of amazingly creamy ricotta, made right there on the farm.  And to complete the antipasto, a sformata, a little tower of perfectly cooked farro with pignoli and a few sweet bits of minced grape.

Future castagnaccio.
You’d think that would be enough, and there was a break here to contemplate how good all those dishes were and to drink a little wine and a lot of water. We looked out the windows at the rusty fall foliage, watched the kids play outside, tried to eavesdrop on the other tables. We thought ahead about the pasta, but…the procession continued.. .and there were no decisions to be made. This pause allowed the staff to get the whole  room in synch, so that at just at the perfect time, the waitresses arrived with large white platters filled with tortelloni.  The squares of pasta were filled with a light porcini filling, and doused in butter that was flavored with sage.  The waitress put three large tortelloni in my dish and said quietly “there’s more coming”.  Three was ample, and, just in case, they came through again 10 minutes later to make sure everyone had enough.  This was getting serious, and there was another brief pause before the next platters came out, these heaped with home made pappardelle with a sauce of cinghiale.  It was a hearty mountain pasta, not one of the refined versions from the plains, and it fit wonderfully with the ambience.  And then the ravioli appeared, with a simpler but hearty sauce of lean beef and tomato.

This was getting dire.  Now the meat course is the one I can generally live without, but despite our plans, we found ourselves with a plate of perfectly tender stinco di maiale (roast pork leg), cooked with a bit of rosemary and garlic, and a heap of roasted potatoes.  And what fool could resist trying the second part of the third course - the local lamb, a bone-in piece topped with seasoned breadcrumbs and baked in the oven.  The meat of the lamb was mild, succulent, delicious, while the skin was crunchy.  At the end, we were forced to wave the white flag of surrender.  The manzo - beef strips topped with wild radicchio and shavings of Parmigiana smelled heavenly,  but it was physically impossible for us to continue.

After we sat for a while, marvelling at the stocky pensionati having seconds of lamb, digging into the beef as if they were hungry, we asked for coffee, and one of us had a small piece of ricotta pie, despite his previously stated intentions.  And then we sat for a while more, and prayed for accelerated digestion. The cost of this amazing meal for two was just 54 Euro, all inclusive.

A garden and farm animals provide diversion
 in the recovery phase after lunch.

All Sunday lunches aren’t usually like this, but they often have a ceremonial, processional element, and hurry is not in the cards.  It’s an experience you can’t have every week – you’d probably explode – but it’s more than worth seeking out on a lazy day.

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Travel Tip_____________________________________________________________________
Renting A Car in Italy. If you drive in urban areas at home, you can drive in Italy. Car rental prices are important, but don't rent based solely on low price and stick to well known companies. We have two articles to help you:  Link: Independent Car Rental Reviews for Italy and Link:Car Rental Tips for Italy - Pick It Up Right 
In them, we recommend the car hire broker Auto Europe where you can compare companies, reserve with a low price guarantee, purchase no deductible insurance, cancel easily, and have 24/7 customer service before and after the car hire. If you will rent a car and want to do us a favor, please use this link: Auto Europe.
The views at Montagna Verde are huge,
and all the children are above average.

Getting There  Google Map Exit the A15 (La Spezia-Parma) autostrada at Aulla and follow signs toward Licciana Nardi and Villafranca which lead to the SS62 heading up the valley. Watch for a right turn toward Licciana. At Licciana follow signs to Tavernella. The left turn up to Apella is just after Tavernella, and the way to Montagna Verde is well signed.
 More Info 

The list of all 32 restaurants participating in Menu A KM Zero is at the Parco Appennino website (IT) The restaurants are in the mountains in Lucca, Massa-Carrara, Parma, and Reggio Emilia provinces.

A typical Montagna Verde menu for this event can be seen at KM Zero Menu (IT)

Montagna Verde on You Tube A four minute television segment.(IT).

Written by Martha Bates