By Emanuele Stefanori & Michela Guida, translated into English by Ruth Stephens
Chapter 1 – Da Ettore
In the heart of a country shaped like a boot, at the top of a hill richly covered in trees and vines, stands a delightful mediaeval village.
Within its high walls a labyrinth of streets and alleyways wind upwards around the many little red-roofed houses. On the main street, old workshops display to the outside world local crafts and products which are typical of the region. Every Tuesday, in one of the main squares, the market stalls attract all the women of the village with their shopping trolleys. On Sundays, the men gather at the small tables outside the bar next to the town hall to drink coffee, read the newspapers, smoke cigarettes and pass the hours playing cards or talking politics and commenting on the latest football news. On other days, life inside those high walls passes uneventfully, enlivened at weekends by little groups of tourists taking photographs of the magnificent views and filling the trattorias.
In the shadow of the old bell-tower and its clock, half hidden in a little side street, a wooden door leads into the restaurant ‘Da Ettore’. The two rooms of the premises are in a traditional rustic style. The stone walls are hung with large copper pots and old oil paintings portraying scenes of life in the fields. Among high shelves full of bottles of wine and wooden barrels, ten or so tables are laid with a simple elegance. Beside a beautiful chimney, now only ornamental, is a small bar and a table with a cash register. Behind it can be seen, if one looks carefully, a black and white photo fixed to the wall: a man in his forties with a bushy moustache and a hat is posing in front of the entrance to the restaurant with all his family. He is elegantly dressed; Signor Ettore Agnolotti liked to be impeccable on every occasion.
With his wife, Lucia, Signor Ettore had opened the restaurant some years before the photo was taken. The son of farmers, after the war he had moved into the village to find work. He had started as a waiter and dishwasher in a hostelry near the market while dreaming of one day having a restaurant of his own. As the days passed he collected in an exercise book his mother’s recipes which had been passed down from one generation to the next. It was, in fact, the tradition of these recipes which spurred Ettore to make his dream a reality and chart his own future. And one day came the chance of a lifetime: he was offered the position of head chef in the hostelry’s kitchen. Having gained some experience in front of the stoves, Signor Ettore bought his own premises with the intention of finally reproducing his mother’s recipes, which he had jealously guarded in his exercise book. Very soon the quality of his cuisine and the courteous geniality of the Agnolotti family become famous throughout the surrounding area.
Oreste, Signor Ettore’s son, had started helping his father from a very young age, learning to cook and carrying on the family tradition. On coming of age, Oreste had inherited the restaurant but hadn’t changed either the name or the excellent atmosphere. And still today, whoever dines at Da Ettore can see an old notebook with a black cover, propped on the mantelpiece of the chimney.