A birthday barbecue for a girlfriend in Salsepolcro last night. The hostess, one of those people who has the magic of opening her home and heart to someone she never met. She led me to the orto. I struggle to get six heads of lettuce growing in my garden and struggle again once they’ve grown to find them amongst the weeds. Hers was a work of art and labor, hills and gullies planted in rows that pushed the limits of being a garden and hovered on being a farm. Cucumbers hanging from a woven wall of branches, tomatoes of every type, watermelons, Brazilian cabbage, Italian cabbage, onions, celery, herbs,
lettuce, zucchini, and borlotti. She walked through, laughing and cutting until her basket was full with everything that would join the meat for dinner.
Sausages, pancetta, ribs, and steaks, sautéed collards, butter greens with cherry tomatoes, a gratin of potatoes with red onions, finished with thyme and salt. For dessert, a cake covered in curls of chocolate and a tiramisu that I had made on the fly. I got the invitation about an hour before and Mercatale is many things, but not a shopping metropolis. I legged it to the village and bought a bottle of Vin Santo, a box of mascarpone, eggs, sugar, and pavesini, more like cats’ tongues than ladies’ fingers. Separate 6 eggs, whip each with a spoon of sugar per egg, slowly incorporate the beaten egg yolk (beaten until it holds ribbons) into 500 g of mascarpone. Add the whites. Soak pavesini in mixture of slightly sweetened espresso with a healthy pour of Vin Santo (I use Lungherotti’s Dulcis) just long enough for them to hit the liquid on both sides. Line a pretty pasta dish about 10 inches across with them, add half of the creamy mixture, another layer of pavesini, more creamy stuff, and then sift unsweetened cocoa over all. Xo

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