Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Partly Local . . . In More Than One Sense

This afternoon, out of nowhere, I was hit by a craving for an Italian sandwich.

The Italian is a regional specialty from the Portland, Maine area. To me, it is a taste of home, in a different way from the way that my parents' cooking tastes of home. I can go months without thinking of Italians at all, but then a day like today will come along and suddenly I won't be able to get my mind off Italians until I prepare an ersatz version for myself and wolf it down (or, better, get to Maine and enjoy the real thing). It's like when you get a bit of music stuck in your head and can't shake it until you dig out the CD and listen to the whole song.

The ingredients for an Italian the way I like it are: Italian sandwich bread, sliced provolone cheese, tomato wedges, long slices of green pepper, dill pickles, black olives, olive oil, and salt and pepper. (A more traditional Italian would have sliced ham as well, and would probably come with so-called "American cheese" instead of provolone, and would likely include chopped raw onions.) Italian sandwich bread is the one ingredient I cannot get in Virginia. The base for an Italian sandwich is a long, narrow roll, similar to a "sub roll," made of a very soft, slightly chewy white bread. I have never found anything like it outside of Maine. So, when I am in Virginia, I make do with whole wheat sub rolls. Since I can't get real Italian sandwich bread anyway, I figure I might as well go for the benefits of the whole wheat.

Today I prepared this semi-locally-sourced, out-of-region comfort food for myself:

  • tomatoes from the Farm at Red Hill

  • green peppers from the Farm at Red Hill

  • dill pickles from the Charlottesville farmers' market

  • whole wheat sub rolls

  • sliced deli provolone

  • black olives

  • salt, pepper, and olive oil (which in a Maine sandwich shop would be pronounced "salpepperanoil")

I had hoped to make an even more locally-sourced version of this treat. A week ago, I purchased these delicious whole wheat rolls from a vendor at the Tuesday afternoon farmers' market that has started up in the parking lot at Whole Foods:

I was amazed to learn that not only were the rolls baked in Virginia, but the wheat was grown and milled here, too. I had thought that, like James and Alisa of The 100 Mile Diet, I would have a lot of difficulty finding wheat grown in my region--if I could ever find it at all. I was surprised and delighted to find these soft, chewy yeast rolls made by Portwood Gardens over in the Shenandoah Valley from local wheat.

Last week I enjoyed the whole wheat rolls with my cock-a-leekie soup and tomato, basil and goat cheese burgers. They were gone by the weekend.

Today I went back to the Whole Foods farmers' market hoping to buy another couple pans of the rolls. They are the wrong shape for Italian sandwiches, of course, but I figured I could find some way to adapt them. To my disappointment, the baker from Portwood Gardens was nowhere to be found.

So, my Italian sandwich this afternoon turned out to be not as locally-sourced as I would have liked. (Naturally some parts of the sandwich--the olives and olive oil come to mind first--are impossible to find locally raised.) But I enjoyed it nevertheless. It satisfied the craving that I had. And it set off a train of thought about eating local.

I am hoping to do a post sometime soon about my reasons for trying to eat more locally-sourced food. For now, I'll just say that one of the pleasures of eating local is getting to know the flavors of a region. Focusing on eating local food here in Virginia has led me to try things I might not have otherwise, like collard greens (now a favorite) and traditionally-cured slab bacon. But I arrived here in Virginia with a gastronomic history from another region, and sometimes the pleasures of eating local (in a certain sense: clearly olives have never come from Maine) are the pleasures of eating in a locality that is far away.

1 comment:

Jeff from Harrisonburg VA said...

Thanks for the tips - I had an Italian craving today & found your blog entry. My family is from Maine.