and I have packed every pot and pan in the house, the cutting boards, my knife, the olive oil, ordered the fruits and vegetables to be delivered and in and hour we’ll be on the road for New Hampshire. A detour upstate NY to pick up the tent for Ferdinand and me and then a week of teaching cooking by a great big lake with loons. Ferd had a Petey’s burger out last night to get himself ready.
Days before the festa in Lisciano begins, people of the village begin rolling each strand of pasta by hand, looping groups of strands into little piles, and dusting them with flour to have them ready for lines of people who wait for hours to eat them. we had ours sauced with Ragu and drank montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I tried amaro (bitters) for the first time. Two young men who had already been at the bitters long enough to lose their sense and clear vision made their move on me. “Signorina” they said, “we like you.”.
“I,m old enough to be your grandmother” I said and left in my cute Prada shoes, worth every penny.
It,s not easy not having work after working morning after day after night. You don,t know what to do with yourself. On a normal day I wake up at about 6:15, just before the alarm goes off on my phone. I shove myself out of the bed and under a cold shower of water from a flexible tube that I hold in one hand with soap in the other.
Drive to the bar for coffee. Say buon giorno to Bella as she slides the coffee across the counter to me, good morning to Oliver, who walks into the bar five minutes after I do, drive to the big house to make breakfast. Eggs, cakes, coffee, hot milk, juice, yogurt, fruit, granola, make sure everybody,s happy, send them off into the world of Italy, clean up, sweep up. Shop for food, throw the bags in the car, walk over to the butcher, sit down in the red chair til all the ladies in there have shared everything they need to share, then I order the meat, drive back, set the table if I remember to, put everything away, sleep for fifteen minutes by the door in the dining room, wash the fruits and vegetables, chop, smash ants, prep, plan, wait, greet my weary loved ones from their day of wandering, pour wine, rustle up some snacks, light a fire in the barn, oil the chops, stir the risotto, introduce knife skills via “the hug”, whip clouds into cream,
encourage bottomless pit of love re cooking, encourage the leap of giving everything you,ve got, of smelling, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and wanting. Get it all on platters, pour more wine, light the candles, eat, drink, clear the table, wash the dishes, drive back to my bed and set the alarm.
This morning I got up anyway.
everybody,s gone. No more students and Ferdinand and Jonathan have left for Spain. Tuesday night I,ll be home. til then I,ll eat potato chips and peaches and fizzy water.
The wildlife that flew into the kitchen last night to wave us off:
the moth that came dressed for dinner
As far as I know there has not been much sleep finding its way into this house at the edge of a field on the far side of Mengacini. They wake up early and stay up late into the wee morning hours talking and lounging and gazing up at the summer stars, sipping on
Chianti. They were in Montevarchi yesterday, gleaning the secrets to hand rolled foccaccia and sitting down to a Tuscan feast of three different kinds, plus salame, prosciutto and melon, mozzarella and tomato, panzanella and my king of all kings, lardo, sliced paper thin and sitting on slices of unsalted bread. The day before they went to the hot springs and today they are in Perugia. it,s our last night together. I have made a leap from the menu on the page because I felt like it. We,ll have pork al late with garlic, sage and lemon, string beans with pan roasted cherry tomatoes, a risotto with porcini mushrooms, red wine that I have to bring a bottle to collect, and something chocolate.
fried up pancetta stessa in little cubes for carbonara, set them on paper, brought the water to the boil, seasoned it with sea salt, whisked egg yolks, parmigiano Reggiano, black pepper, bit of cream, bit of the pasta,s boiling watermto temper, strained the pasta, tossed with the pancetta over a low flame, the off the the flame, everything together with more cheese and drops of the cooking water to smooth it out. second course, braciolette or little pork chops over the fire with pickled zucchini and carrots and tiramisu for dessert. they were well fed, but a tiny bit sad that no shops were open on the Monday in Sansepolcro and that the guide was a bit hung over and that lunch stretched well into the afternoon of another cloudless day. Thank goodness the wheat was reaped and ground outside the kitchen door before we lit the candles for dinner in the garden. today they have gone off to Montepulciano. Montepulciano doesn,t believe in closing; I am confident that they will come back healed and hungry.
If you eat dinner in the square of Montone, you are guaranteed a seat for the film festival. If not, you,re on your own. We’re more of the drinks and ice cream crowd, so we came early and made fast moves on the last stack of plastic chairs. Jonathan had made a pre screening pasta and pesto with fresh tomato and mozarrella with melon for dessert. We ate and ran but it,s a hike up to Montone, and I was in my slick soled Italian shoes that are worth it once you get to the top, but aren,t popular on the way up.
It can take awhile to get a film festival started in Italy so it was eleven before everyone was properly thanked for contribution and effort, hard times were remembered, histories were retold, the key of the city was handed over to the screenwriter, his life was put into chapters and then more speeches made in two languages to an audience close to mutiny. We,ll be back tonight for more. There,s nothing like watching good movies with beer and moonlight in a medieval piazza on the top of a hill.
At home I never put sugar in my coffee and I always make it myself. Â In Italy, I get in my car, rattle out of the driveway and up an incline in the road to the bar, order a cornetto and cappuccino, whack the pack of sugar against my wrist like an addict that doesn,t want a grain of it getting stuck in the paper, and then pour it in, watching the sugar peak on its raft of foamy milk before it sinks to the bottom of’the cup.
At home I won,t swim because I feel there is no bathing suit big enough to hide me. Â This morning I dropped my clothes by the side of a reservoir on the side of a hill in Pien di Marte and floated on the water with nothing. Â
It,s important never to assume that everything will always be the same.
Last night we pulled a table through the front door to the top of our many stone steps and had a sit down dinner with Nanna and Morag and no pork. Â Ferdinand is now a pork shunner. Â I served a platter of fried eggplant rounds with sautÃ©ed San tropea onion slivers and cherry tomatoes and basil, one of sweet gorgonzola with a side of marinated artichoke hearts, a platter of raw carrots, celery, fennel and cucumber with lemon and mint, a small bowl of balsamic pickled onions, plain pasta with olive oil and herbs that I picked from round the back, a basket of warmed piadine, and a plate of leftover cold roast chicken. Â I bought a cantaloupe but forgot about it and remembered the tiramisu.
Ferdinand is ten.
At Bonci We ate faro with tuna and capers and tomatoes, orzo with pesto from home grown basil, platters of mozzarella and tomato, platters of salumi and prosciutto, panzanella , foccaccia of all types, and Â lardo sliced as thin as paper that had been pressed in a marble sarcophagus. Â We laughed and drank and ate until we could eat no more with the Bonci family. Â On our last night at Pereto we set up a table outside with candles and colored banners and flowers and ate pasta with lemon, fried fresh herbs and fresh arugula leaves, chicken stuffed with mascarpone, lemon, and rosemary, eggplant roasted, then layered with fresh mozzarella and plum tomato sauce with fresh basil, and a dessert of flour less chocolate cake and bruti ma buoni, almond cookies made from egg white, almonds and sugar that are as ugly as they are delicious. Â it wasn’t until nearly midnight that we went to sleep, so it hardly seemed real the next morning when my group left me and my kitchen and my love for everything else that was meant to be.
We had chicken with prunes and grapefruit at the villa behind the most formidable of all the stone walls in the valley. Chiara changed it up on us and it was delicious all the same. we had lettuce from the garden. Dessert was a timbalo (drum) of alternating lady,s fingers, white and dyed red with chemens pressed against the edges and filled with custard. I,m not as crazy about chemens as the rest of Italy, but it looks marvelous. The ever patient and retired army sergeant from Sri Lanka, dressed in white gloves and coat to help with the meal, was rumored to want to go back to his homeland to open a vacation spot. I can only imagine that the beauty of Italy wears as thin as a fly,s wing when it,s a means to an end.
this morning we are sleeping in.