Where to begin…by the time you read this post my family and I will have started our grand adventure. The big news (that I have been bursting to write about for months) is that the whole clan are moving to Italy until May! I scheduled the post to coincide with the time of our departure (literally).
My man Dave and I will be teaching the metals part of an art program for American students abroad in the idyllic setting of the Etruscan city of Cortona, in Tuscany.
I am so excited, giddy almost, at the thought of leaving my hum-drum life for the experience of a lifetime. I have visited Italy before, but this time it is different. I will not be a tourist, I will have an apartment and a job, and be immersed in a different kind of hum-drum.
This will of course include lots of cooking, and I plan on sharing each and every evening meal with you. I may not cook everything I write about, but I will fill you in on the Who, What and How of every dish. This should be fun!
Of course there is no way I could go to Italy without having a little Bon Voyage party to celebrate , as well as to say goodbye to some friends.
I did a very corn-ball thing and had a theme for my little gathering. One night I watched the movie Eat, Pray, Love with my daughter in the kitchen while making dinner. It is a true story about a woman who travels to 3 different places in the hopes of “finding herself”
The first place she visits is Rome. It is beautifully shot, and filled full of wonderful glimpses of daily life, like taking you down the higgledy-piggledy streets, into rustic apartments, as well bustling cafes and restaurants. The thing that stayed with me was a scene set in some leafy courtyard garden restaurant where she, and her party of new friends sat chatting, laughing, but most of all; eating. After months of being there she confidently beckoned the waiter to her side and proceeded to order dinner in italian, impressing her table (and me) to no end.
She spouted off a long list of amazingly sounding foods, and I was mesmerized. I played it back and told my daughter (while scribbling down as best I could what she said) that this was the feast I was going to prepare before we departed. And that is what I did!
I had to first try to figure out exactly what was served, then find out how everything was spelled, and what each dish entailed. Then I had the task of finding the right ingredients, and finally plan on how I could possibly swing cooking and serving such a variety of dishes in one evening.
Somehow it all came together with seeming effortlessness. My friend Tom volunteered to make the apparelled with Rabbit, and, when my friend Lisa requested a dish, I gave her the daunting task of cooking Linguine with Clams, making the sauce entirely from scratch!
I bravely took on the rest of the menu. No one really knew what was being served, save from knowing that it was all in the movie. Tom happened to swing by the day before when I was not around and he saw the menu. He immediately wanted to know if he could make something else, and if I were possibly out of my mind to take this on.
I was determined, and planned every dish down to the last detail. I knew I could prep most of it the day before, and the morning of, but some things (like the spaghetti alla Carbonara) would have to be made when the whole dinner was in swing. Carbonara has to be served right when it is made, so I made sure to have everything else ready, or very well prepped.
My friend Bird was coming in from New York City and she hurled herself headlong into all manner of tasks. She kept asking, “what can I do next” and so, I entrusted her with all sorts of fiddle-y things…like pulling each thin sheet of prosciutto apart, draping some of it on Tuscan melon, and the rest of it to be wrapped on my freshly hammered scallopini.
My daughter was also on hand feeling like the foreman on the job. She told me what jobs were done, and what needed to be done next. When she heard that I needed a mallet to pound my pork into scallopini she begged for the job, and who could blame her? There is nothing more satisfying than wielding a hammer in the kitchen!
The tripe dish was another issue. Not one person was excited about the prospect, from my husband saying “gross!” to Lisa emailing to say she would “try everything, but the tripe”. I was hesitant myself as I had never tasted it before, let alone cooked it, but it had to be made. It was on my menu, and that was that! I read all sorts of cookbooks on tripe and liked Mario Batali casual excitement on the subject the best. The ideal tripe to buy he said, was the honeycombed variety which came from a calf’s 2nd (or was it the 3rd?) stomach.
Try as I might, the only tripe I could find came in a big grey block! I called all around, but in vain. I sent my man Dave and our friend Bird to the local Farmer’s/Flea Market and they called and described what this block of gel looked like. They tried to put me off with words like “dead grey color” but I made them buy it anyway, especially since I knew they had bumped into our other friend Tom, who assured then that this was the real deal!
The prosciutto with melon was another little mystery. I knew the melon in the movie was yellow, and I laughed out loud when as my daughter and I scoured the fruit section, discovered two types of melons for sale, one being “Tuscan Melon” Having become obsessed with procuring all things Italian for this dinner, I felt the stars were aligned to keep me from getting stressed out.
The mystery surrounding this dish was how it was served? Myself, my daughter and friend decided the only way to find out, was to play the scene in the movie and stop to investigate. Julia Roberts (the actor playing the role of the writer Liz Gilbert), seemed to be able to bite into a piece of melon effortlessly. Upon close inspection (which involved the two of us yelling excitedly at my daughter were to pause!), we discovered the melon section was cut away from the skin, save for the last bit; how clever. The diner didn’t have to bite into it like corn on the cob. It was easy to pull away since the knife had already done the job for you!
It was simple; the melon was sliced to perfection, and then shrouded in prosciutto. It turned out to be one of my very favorite things. It was a dynamite accompaniment to just about every other dish on the table.
While re-watching that scene I also noticed big glasses of bread sticks on the table; off to the market yet again!
It was a miracle, but food was made and the table set with 15 minutes to spare. I even had a chance to take a shower!
It was truly a night to remember. Friends arrived armed with bottle of Italian wine, and we settled into the business of eating. I did not serve anyone. Plates were on the table, food was in the kitchen and everyone ate in whatever order that struck them.
Tom amused me the most. He kept referring to the menu I had printed out, and then asking me where that dish was. I would tell him and carry on. When he inquired as to the whereabouts of the carbonara, I told him I had to make it yet, upon which he replied he would wait for it. “Why?”, I asked. It tuned out he wanted to eat progressively from the top of the menu to the bottom; so much more sophisticated than the rest us hedons!
I raced into the kitchen and it was made in no time at all. I always worry that my eggs will cook into a grainy mess, but the sauce turned out creamy, glossy and heavenly (more of the stars being aligned theory!)
There was no dessert served in the movie but this feast needed something celebratory to finish. I made Maria Batali’s Zuppa Inglese (with a couple of minor changes), and everyone who had declared themselves ready to burst had a nice big bowl; yum!
It was a lively and loud with people who hadn’t seen each other in ages tried to catch up, to a new friend at the table who was thrown in at the deep end with a bunch of strangers but managed to hold her own.
The food was amazing, even if the tripe was eaten out of politeness (the actual “tripe lovers” loved it!), the smoked ricotta was actually smoked mozzarella, and my veal was pork.
I will miss my friends (although they have all vowed to visit!), but eagerly look forward to living, working, eating and cooking in a fresh new place.
I am especially exited to be going home (Ireland) on each end of my trip, and cannot wait to cook with my sisters. I just though of three great “F” words; Family, Friends, Food.
*I will be posting most of the recipes cooked above over the next few weeks, so you can look forward to perhaps trying your hand at making a couple of them. The one regret I have about this post is I somehow never got a picture of Lisa’s Linguine with Clams dish! Maybe that is a blessing in disguise as she is now going to have to make it for me again to get some pictures; ha ha!*