Home on the couch

I have been cooking in Italy for 6 weeks straight, breakfast, dinner and sometimes even lunch, and you would think, you would hope that I could figure out what to make for dinner when I got home. No, I can’t. I went shopping, I bought loads of food, I put it all away, I opened the fridge, I looked in there, I closed the fridge, I opened it again, I opened a few of the drawers down below, lifted up the door on the cheese bit and then asked Ferd if he didn’t want noodles and butter with a yogurt and honey chaser for dinner and a peach for dessert. He said “what about chocolate, why don’t we just have chocolate?”. Fantastic idea. I lied through my teeth and told him people can’t eat chocolate for dinner, it’s not allowed, it’s against the law and reason.
Talking behind the cover of the door of the fridge, I ate my first course of chocolate. I gave a square to Ferdinand and told him he could have it to wake up his taste buds if he swore to Jesus that he would eat the rest of his dinner.
For my second course, I cut up ripe tomatoes and tossed them with ripe olive oil, and sea salt. I ripped some fresh mint over the top and broke up a piece of French feta over the top of that. To top the whole thing, I cubed some baguette left over from breakfast, drizzled it with olive oil, added salt, and sauted them until they were crisp. And that’s it. For dessert I finished Ferd’s yogurt and honey which is beatiful with peaches on the side.

Eating up front

I had just a little bit of a miracle happen last night. I got moved on up to first class with my whole family for the first time ever and for no good reason. I didn’t even have a skirt on. They whispered something about it when I was checking in, but you know I don’t always hear things right. The man could have easily said “you may have no class”, but I’ll tell you what, we got upstairs and I was sure I heard my name being called. It took quite a bit to maintain my composure, to sweep over to the desk with my unshowered self and not so clean jeans and say, “I am Faye Hess”. Instead of I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU. I LOVE YOU.
In case you have never flown first class on Alitalia, and you were wondering it if the food was any better than the poor excuse for pasta that they serve in coach, no it is not. There are real plates, napkins and forks, more space, fewer neighbors, but the food is the same. It isn’t fresher, it isn’t better and there isn’t more of it. I want to say that they should be ashamed, but I was so entirely happy making my seat go all the way up and and then all the way back and picking out prifotteroles (rubber) from the dessert tray that it was no bother not to actually eat.
We came home and made a mix of all the dry cereals that were left in the cabinet and went to bed.

It is the end of my Spring tour, and I am a bit tired, but so revived by everyone who came to cook. I had no computer whatsoever for the whole of last week, and as much as I missed writing, it is good to be disconnected for a minute. Even my phone went out at the end.

My fingers can’t speak at the moment, so I am going to tell you all about the last week in the Chianti tomorrow. Love to you all,

Faye

Raw fruit

You never know where love will find you, and it can be even when you are too tired to notice and not always in a man (or woman) suit.  In the market this morning in Camucia just as I was leaving the press of people fighting for fresh fish and tableclothes and gossip, there was a small table of strawberries that were blood red, a deep red rose red that if you never knew what to look for in a strawberry, still you would know that these were the ones you wanted.  I  will make nothing with them.  I want only them as they are.

La Ribollita

It is impossible just to give, or you can do it, you can give and give and give and give some more, but if at some point you don’t start getting from somewhere, something will give out.  You need to be restored every once in a while, and if no one is around to give to you, then you either have to change who you are hanging around with, or make soup.  The foundation of soup is, “sit down and let me love you.”  The stronger the foundation, the better the soup.  You can make soup with a boullion cube and add a little water to it, but it is a little like trying to get love from a Coke commercial.

Put some cannellini beans up to soak and let them sit for at least four hours or overnight.  Rinse and get them in a big pan with new water, a spill of delicious olive oil, salt, a fresh sage leaf or piece of thyme and a whole clove of garlic.  Bring to a boil and then simmer until they are soft.  Use a pound of beans.

In another pan add a healthy spill of olive oil and then add three small onions and the inside stalks from one head of celery cut into a fine dice.  Season with salt and cook over a low to medium flame until they are delicious, about 25 minutes.  Add a 28 ounce can of tomatoes, that you have crushed with your hands.  Simmer for 30 minutes.  Smash half the beans and add to the tomatoe mixture.  Add the rest of the beans and their liquid.  Saute a few whole cloves of garlic and add cleaned and chopped swiss chard, one or two bunches and then season with salt, cover, and cook for about 10 minutes.   Strain, then give it another drizzle of olive oil.  Put a bit of the greens in the bottom of each soup bowl.  Taste the soup for salt, pepper and olive oil.  Ladle on top of the greens.  Add homemade croutons and smush them into the soup.  Top with parmigiano reggiano.

 

Knife skills

It can be challenging to hold a knife in your hand that looks like it could easily remove a limb along with a slice of tomato but the thing is, if you are tense to begin with, thinking of all the different ways that you could cut yourself is not going to work out too well.  The first thing you want to do before you even pick up the knife is to breathe.  Breathing gives you clarity, which you need if you have a weapon in your hand.  The rest is about rhythm.  The accent is on the down sweep; a chef’s knife moves down on the board away from you, and up to come back, with the tip of the knife never leaving the board.  It isn’t something that is easy to learn in a minute or a day, you just have to keep trying until the knife becomes an extension of your hand and feels like it will do exactly what you intend it to do.

We cut the zest from a lemon to make a lemon cream sauce for our fettucine, reducing heavy cream with sprigs of thyme and five whole cloves of garlic until the garlic is as soft an overripe banana.  We cut ribs after they had braised in white wine, rosemary and more garlic for three hours in the oven, and we cut the tips off of string beans to marinate them in olive oil and basil and lemon.  For dessert we had zabaglione with fresh strawberries and just a dallop of mascarpone.

Racing cars and flat noodles

My last group left before the sun even.  It is hard to get so close to people, and then boom, they don’t show up for dinner anymore and you wonder how you will ever get through the next week without them and halfway down the dirt road I just have to pull the car over and collect myself.  In the evening though, that very same Saturday evening, more people come and I feel like I have got to be one of the luckiest people in the world with all the amazing people that find their way to cook with me.  Last night I almost didn’t make it back to class because Ferdinand and Jonathan took me out for our favorite pizza in Perugia. It is cooked in a wood burning oven by two guys from Naples. On the way there and without warning, all the roads were blocked.  It can happen in Italy like that, which can be good and bad for your system depending on how badly you need to get on a train or turn on a light or cross a road.  A frustrated plumber called the police and all the ropes were torn down so we got through in the end and even saw a few of the antique cars that were racing from Rome to somewhere, with their tops down and silk skarves flying and goggles and looking like they had not a care in the world.  I on the other hand had to get back to roll out the pasta with a massive rolling pin, starting with hand and going right up to the elbow, because bruises or no you have to do what you have to do to get it right.

Friday

I have decided my new favorite salad is zucchini cut as thinly as you can, close to paper even, and then tossing them with a little salt, olive olive oil, balsamic and lemon, not so much balsamic so that you can’t taste anything else, but enough to know it’s in there.  Over a very low heat in a dry pan, toast pine nuts until barely golden.  Thow those in with the zucchini, using about about 4 parts zucchini to one part pine nuts.  Add the same amount of raisins as pine nuts.  Drizzle tiny arugula leaves with olive oil, lemon and salt.  Combine everything and toss.  Add some finely diced shallot or if you have the energy, roasted onion that has been roasted with balsamic, sugar, orange juice and olive oil, and then sliced when it is completely soft and cooled from the oven.  Resist grating cheese in.  It is important to taste things just as they are sometimes.

This is beautiful with a piece of absolutely fresh fish that has been grilled over a wood fire.  When the fish is done, just drizzle with a little of your best olive oil, sprinkle with salt and squeeze with lemon.

Half my group has gone to Florence today and half of them have gone to Siena.  There is no telling when they go off to a big city what time they’ll be back.  It is hard in an Italian city, not to be seduced by nearly every turn that leads to just beyond where you are.

Open markets for the linenless

I have just been to Citta di Castello for the market and huge as it is, I was disappointed that so much of it is dedicated to tableclothes and underpants. There were no more than two stalls of vegetables and fruits unless you happened to find the stone steps off of the main drag that lead you though an ancient hallway of fresh fave and artichokes and cherries and aggretti and even plenty of pecorini and fresh fish. It has gone amazingly hot in the sun so I have to rush it all back to the house before it melts and Ferdinand is aching to swim in the pool with his new armbands, which in Italian translate to “life saving porkchops.”

Cook for the weather

If you leave the house in the morning in Mercatale and you happen to be caught by any number of old ladies that are sweeping their steps or just keeping a general watch on who is doing what when and how and with whom, you will hear it whether you have time or not about the danger looming like doom in not wearing the appropriate clothes for the weather. They would have been proud of my menu for tonight, since a blanket of cold air is sure to settle with the fog as soon as the sun sets. I am making sausages with white beans and tomato with rosemary and for the salad, left over slices of roasted eggplant that we made last night, tossed with sauted onion, red pepper, balsamic and parsley that hits the oil for the onions before the onions do, so that it turns a brilliant green and gives up everything it has to offer. Add a mix of olives and even some capers if you have them. I also threw in the bread crumbs that were from our pasta with fresh ricotta, lemon, raw arugula leaves, golden slivers of garlic, and the (bread crumbs.)

I am serving it with a big green salad, and for dessert, just to keep up with the cold weather, because the lemons looked like they were fit for a god, I made shortbread with lemon curd. Lemon desserts don’t really go with tomato, but with the eggplant and pepper in between and the salad after that, who will remember.