This capacious stew comes from the Marche, a mountainous and lovely area of Italy between Umbria and the Adriatic. Here one leaves the big-name towns behind and sinks into an enfolding countryside not much visited by our fellow countrymen. I have especially fond memories of Ostra, a tiny hill town a little north of Ancona where I had the feeling, to quote the purplish tones of my 1978 diary, “of being suspended in a great pastoral meditation tank.” The intense quiet, the purity of air, the Tiepolo sky, the Adriatic sitting in the distance: all contributed to our overflowing cup of five-star deurbanization.
It was, in short, a place to listen to rain pattering lyrically on the window, cuddle in the afternoon and have a saucer of macaroons by the side of the bed.
At the Albergo Cantinella a waiter who looked like Arturo Toscanini served us breakfast while the Signora ordered the groceries. At the Trattoria La Vittoria a padrone who said he was related to the great composer Rossini served us, on checkered tablecloths right out of an MGM musical, to the tune of Italian Rock, not Rossini — well, that unearthly pastoral pianissimo couldn’t go on forever — an admirable dinner of risotto with wild mushrooms, rabbit sauté and zabaglione. If this was being Ostra-cized it was obviously the way to go.
And it was all totally NEW, we had never encountered a photograph of Ostra among those engagement-calendar scenes one studies every first of the year and hopes one day to step into, in the flesh, as we did in fact when we crossed the Piazza del Popolo in Rome, strolled the Galleria in Milan, turned a corner and found, in Ascoli Piceno, that enchantingly cloistered market place, the sort of market place where a Capulet and a Montague might have bought their peas and carrots.
And did you know that cats in Italy dine on leftover pasta? We spotted some happy lunchers going at it in the alley behind our Ostra inn. Tagliarini, I guess, is the genuinely edible equivalent of a ball of string.
In a pot brown 4 to 6 lamb ribs or 2 large shoulder chops without added fat, adding in due course 1 chopped onion to be softened in a little olive oil at the side of your skillet. If the onions start to blacken, park them on top of the chops.
Now add most of 1 28-ounce can of tomatoes (you’ll want to mash them down some), 2 pressed garlic cloves and a little oregano, lower the heat and simmer the lot for 20 to 25 minutes, covered (chops will take less time than ribs); then stir into the pot 3 previously steamed carrots cut into finger-length juliennes plus about 1 cup of thawed frozen peas and simmer all for 10 or so minutes more, uncovered, over somewhat higher heat, until your sauce has some body to it.
Shower your Tenerumi generously with minced parsley and serve in soup bowls or cupped plates with mashed potatoes – but an interesting alternative is to skip the mash and add pre-boiled potato cubes to the carrots and peas above.