Really it’s pot luck tonight that Berta’s Sagra dinner just happens to be one of my favourite vegetables. Captain Planet and I are escaping the torrential rain that’s been with us all week for a Sagra del Rabarbero (Rhubarb).
Berta runs Sagra dinners every Wednesday night. A ‘Sagra’ implies a local fair, usually a celebration of the bounties of the earth – meaning food, as in a preparation or a raw ingredient. Vini does something similar but themed around regions in Italy. The four-course dinner with a menu featuring a different seasonal ingredient each week is $55 and we’re taking the difficulty out of choosing what to drink and opting for the matching wines ($30).
To start it’s a selection of antipasto plates; ‘Bruschetta sardine and fennel’; ‘Goats curd nasturtium samphire’ and ‘Tomato olive cucumber’. With this we’re drinking Il Bacco Verdicchio ‘09 Il Coroncino. I’m starving and the little salty and sweet nasturtium parcel is gone in a matter of moments.
If you read this blog, you’ll know sardines aren’t my favourite thing (they sit in that ‘too fishy’ category), although I did have some amazing sardines caught fresh off our boat in Croatia last year, so I’m a little more forgiving of them. Tonight, they’re delicious – fresh, meaty and salty with a sweet fennel and rhubarb salsa of sorts.
The tomato, olive and cucumber salad is my favourite; the briny salty olives with the sour crunchy rhubarb – I never would have thought to put raw rhubarb in a salad.It’s bucketing with rain outside now and a waterfall of water rushes down the bright muraled wall of the laneway behind us.
Phil the rhubarb farmer from Fitzroy Falls comes out to tell us a little bit about his prized crop and enlightens me on a few rhubarb facts – Rhubarb is perennial; The leaves are poisonous; The colour of rhubarb stalks can vary from crimson red, through light pink, to light green and colour is not related to its suitability for cooking; There is a such a place called the Rhubarb Triangle in West Yorkshire where you can hear rhubarb growing. That last fact was courtesy of Captain Planet (he’s full of great useless information like that), I didn’t believe him at first, but it’s true – listen here.Next course is ‘Rotolo bitter greens ricotta’. Rotolo is probably one of Italy’s less obvious pasta dishes, originating from the region of Emilia-Romagna, at the top of the Italian boot. The dish consists of a sheet of pasta covered with filling, rolled up to form a roulade, then poached and served in slices. Usually the pasta is filled with ricotta and spinach and served with a ragù or bolognese sauce, but tonight it’s all about Rabarbeco and our rotolo is filled with bitter greens, a little rhubarb then served in a rhubarb reduction. The plate does look a little like the floor of a slaughter-house but it tastes deliciously suprising… earthy, bitter, sharp and sweet. Oh, and we’re drinking La Maggiorina ’10 Le Piane
Although we weren’t aware of the theme of tonight’s dinner, the man at a table across from us certainly was – perfectly colour matching in the bright rhubarb red pants he’s sporting. The next course I’m really excited about – it’s my favourite, lamb; ‘Slow roast lamb shoulder saffron blood plum beans’. The melt-in-your-mouth lamb is strewn through the tart but sweet reduction of rhubarb and plums… love. With this we’re drinking Montepulciano D’Abruzzo ’09 Zaccagnini (note the cute piece of the grape vine tied to the bottle).
I’ll admit I have been thinking about dessert for the past hour as sweet things are what I most associate rhubarb with, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised by its versatility tonight, so I’m not sure what to expect.
‘Zuppe inglese white pepper strawberries’ – I’m sure translates to ‘English soup’. A quick search on Google tells me this is another dish that originates from areas at the top of the Italian boot and is somewhat of a trifle with layers of sponge, custard and liqueur. It’s like a crumble/trifle in a glass… strawberry and rhubarb compote layered with crème anglaise and topped with light peppery biscuits crumbs – delicious. That pretty glass of blushing pink bubbles is a Radice ’10 Paltrinieri.
I wish I could remember the lovely dessert wine… a chilled, dark red plumy wine that I’ve not tried before. Lovely.
In the coming month Berta will showcase the beetroot, zucchini and eggplant. Keep an eye on their website for your favorite or try something new, either way, you won’t be disappointed.
Berta – 17-19 Alberta Street, Sydney NSW 2000 – 02 9264 6133