Here's a tip: if you happen to be dining out with your Italian in-laws it's always best to stifle your urge to look skyward and thank the gods for the dish you are eating. If you have a favorite table dance, drop that routine too. Obvioulsy, keep the mmmm, mmmm-ing to a mmminimum. Why? Because otherwise you'll have to answer the most frightening question an Italian mother-in-law can fire at you: "You seem to be enjoying that," she'll point out, followed by a chilling pause, and then......."How does it compare to how I make it at home?"
When you find yourself in this crossfire, one should:
a) Si faccia finta che non capisco la sua lingua. Translation: Feign stupidity. Play the language gap card.
b) Create a diversion. Quickly draw her attention to your father-in-law who is no doubt doing something irksome at this very moment.
c) Wipe the stupid, ecstatic grin off your face and lie through your teeth. Learn these words: Assolutamente no!
d) Come clean and admit your dish was sent directly from the gods.
e) anything but d.
If you answered "d", you just bought yourself a lifetime of twice-boiled pasta and last week's meat loaf whenever you come to visit. Oh, and forget about ever sleeping with her daughter again.
And, here I was the other night, gnawing on a rabbit leg, cooing a bit too audibly for my own good, when I got hit with the full interrogation.
You need to understand what a bind I was in. My mother-in-law's specialty is roast rabbit. (She also makes a sinfully good pigeon and pheasant). She's proud of her rabbit prowess and is secretive about every aspect of its preparation from her supplier to the spices. But it's pretty clear she can source the best coniglio in Central Italy. But she only makes it on special occasions like a Sunday dinner when we come to visit them in Perugia or big holidays.
And so, this weekend on the island of Ischia, for July 4th we went to Il Bracconiere for a nice meal to celebrate American Independence. I told them the tradition was barbecue, conveniently leaving out the hotdog and hamburgers part. Acting on a tip from a chatty bartender who knows his roasted game, we circumnavigated the island until we got to its highest point and arrived at Il Bracconiere. (Here's the chef on YouTube reading poetry.) Bracconiere too is famous for its coniglio. And, so it was like a clash of greats: Liliana on someone else's turf to sample the rabbit that the Ischitani in the know rave about.
A few bites in, she turned to me and dropped the bomb. And so....?
I immediately looked to Massimo for my diversion. There was none. He too was distracted by the coniglio, as was Xtina. I decided to face my inquisitor. It was different, I stammered. She let me off easily. We agreed the rabbits of Ischia are different from Umbria and we tucked into the rest of our meal. We then moved on to another 4th of July tradition: the cinghiale, or wild boar.