You’ll probably overlook Meldola in the region of Emilia Romagna. Unless you’re out to explore the network of feudal castles in the province of Cesena, our target one weekend.
Meldola boasts a crumbling rocca, the fortress spanning centuries of bellicose history, from the first millennium until the 1870 earthquake devastation.
The town offers little else – or so we thought, until setting out in search of a trattoria or ristorante. One recommended was closed, the other so hidden away in labyrinthine backstreets that we never did find it. And we almost walked right past La Meridiana. Easy to do: it looked like a nondescript family home.
There was a doorbell but no need to ring it – with a push, the door swung open to an enticing display of antipasti. In the dining room, chatting families filled the tables encircling the huge wood-burning oven. The owner of La Meridiana – Vito by name, we learned – spun through the dining room like a whirling windmill, seating guests, pouring wines, serving up tortellini or ravioli, delivering orders to the pizza-maker at the bread oven while also gently directing the two young waitresses (nieces, Cristina and Valentina).
We ordered the straccetti al radicchio (savory slices of shaved veal topped with radicchio, pine nuts and balsamic), sharing an antipasto plate first. Artichokes and eggplants-under-oil, sundried tomatoes, pickled onions, local salamis and a sharp cheese fanned out on a large plate and la spianata (literally, “the spread out”), the area flat bread topped with rosemary, accompanied on the side.
“No squaquarone?, Pino asked. “Subito!” responded Vito, reminding young Cristina that squaquarone – a soft romagnolo cheese – should always accompany la spianata as an antipasto.
For many diners, a plate of spianata topped with slices of prosciutto and dollops of squaquarone was lunch. Others opted for spianata topped with a savory array of grilled vegetables.
At the bread oven, pizzaiolo Adriano, worked rapidly, kneading the dough, then patting flat the small discs, brushing them with olive oil, sprinkling with rosemary, then sliding the spianate into the bread oven with a long paddle.
When I asked Vito how long Adriano had been making pizze and spianate, “Since toddling around with a pacifier in his mouth,” he replied with a wink.
“Veramente… since I was fourteen,” Adriano corrected with a smile as he slid more spianate into the oven.