British expats often cite bacon as the thing they miss most from home, usually as a prelude to dissing local versions, unfavourable comparisons being every expat’s specialist subject. In reality, most bacon eaten in the UK, much of it produced in Denmark or the Netherlands, is watery and over-salted and, if you believe recent warnings about the dangers of most forms of processed meat, not worth eating.
I like bacon enough to stocks up on Ayrshire middle made by Ramsays of Carluke when I am back in Scotland. But pancetta, Italian cured pork belly, is a pretty good substitute as the salty sidekick of poached eggs. It is the quality of the eggs, and the precision of their cooking, that counts more in this timeless combination. In Italy, I miss French bread more than bacon, or anything else from perfidious Albion.
Good eggs are not hard to come by in Rome. Ours come from a stall in our local covered market, the Mercato Trieste, named for the nearby Corso Trieste. But all the local corner shops have very good quality eggs and grocers usually have a selection marked ‘da bere’ , literally, drinking eggs; fresh enough to eat, or drink, raw.
Italians never gave much credence to the, now apparently discredited, theory that too many eggs could be bad for you because of their cholesterol level. Emma Morano, the world’s oldest person until her recent death, thrived on three a day – two raw, one cooked – for the best part of 90 years. She cut down to two at 110, and never ate her greens!
I last wrote about her on her 117th birthday, when her doctor told me he thought his patient’s psychological resilience was the most important element in the cocktail of factors explaining her status as the last recorded survivor of the 19th Century.
She put it down to having had the strength to leave a violent husband in 1938, no easy thing to do in the Italy of the 1930s.
“The diet she has would have destroyed the liver of most people. But with Emma I think she could have eaten pebbles and she would still have lived a very long time.
“What might be more important is that she has always had a very strong character. It has always been her who decides what she does or doesn’t do.” Dr Carlo Bava.
One of Emma Morano’s favourite treats was Colomba, an egg and butter-rich cake similar in texture to the better-known Pannetone. I had it for the first time this Easter, which it is associated with, for reasons I have yet to discover. Turns out a nearby Pasticceria Grué does some of the best in Rome. This was a chocolate & pear version.
To be continued …