I am coming to you today as an old friend you don’t see for a while would: I’m full of things to tell you. The excitement is such that I might speak quickly and jump from one thing to the next without much of a connection. But I’d rather be overflowing than forgetful. So please stick with me, and we’ll get to the recipe before you know it.
First and foremost, I meant to tell you about Veneto, my cookbook (you see it up there), which will be released this Thursday. I feel like I’ve talked about it for so long now, that I’m struggling to fathom how fast time has passed. One week and those of you who preordered it in Europe will have a copy at their doorstep. I’m excited and terrified. Most of all, though, I just can’t wait for you to see it. It’s time.
Then, the book trailer.
The constellation of mosquito bites on my ankles tells me that this has been a good summer after all. A summer of early mornings spent rocking on a chair with a novel in one hand and a cup of coffee that would inevitably go cold in the other. Of Saturdays at the beach, roasting on the scorching sand of a Venetian shore. And of nights eating watermelon under the pergola, seeds and all, sugary juice running down my forearms. Balmy, humid evenings with the scent of corn wafting through the air; with clear skies and bike rides and peachy sunsets that matched the colour of the drinks in our hands.
I haven’t spent a whole summer at home in Veneto in over ten years. I didn’t realise how much I missed it, not until now that it’s almost gone. And although my main reason to be here isn’t leisure, I had to remind myself to soak it all in, all the small details that frame the idea of ‘home’ – the smells, colours, the light, the heat, the flavours – and that make my stay here all the more timely and, in a way, needed.
In the few years before starting the beautiful journey that is writing a cookbook, I have been working for a company that sources excellent fruits and vegetables from the continent. Predictably, what I liked most about my job (which happened to be rather polyhedric in its own right), was the travelling, and that’s because these working trips gave me the chance to visit some very inspiring growers and farms all over Italy.
During one of these rather serendipitous trips, I got to meet an old tomato grower from Liguria. In a market dominated by mass-produced, tasteless tomatoes, seeing that he can still make a living growing heirloom Bull’s Heart tomatoes (outdoors and extensively) was nothing short of enlightening. Even more eye-opening, then, was seeing people willing to pay a premium for them. They all seemed to say they were worth every penny, not just because their flavour was outwardly, but because these wonderful tomatoes reminded them of their trip to the Italian riviera. I could really see their point.
Eggs seem to be the last thing I eat before leaving for a long trip, and the first when I come back.
We made eggs on that rainy Monday, the day we left our little Wimbledon flat behind us – white walls and all. The meal felt nostalgic, a dejà vu of sorts. We ate on the set of plates we didn’t want to take with us, which made us feel even more unrooted, fully conscious of our nomadic nature. All around us was an empty apartment, tainted by the same sort of emptiness we found when we first moved in three and a half years ago. Our life was now packed into eight heavy boxes and four suitcases. The time had come to move again.
We made a meal with what we had left in the house: in the freezer, we found a bag of ragù we thought we could keep for Christmas; there was one good bottle of red wine left, which we wanted to save for a good occasion that never really came; and then, a little Parmesan, some bread, and four eggs. Cooking with these few ingredients, we managed to create something that was so decadent it made us slightly ashamed. Still, we didn’t regret a single bite of those soft eggs cooked in meat sauce, topped with grated Parmesan, mopped up with bread, and washed down by Valpolicella. It made us full, yes, perhaps too full to move bags and boxes down the stairs; and a bit tipsy, too, maybe too tipsy to face a plane ride; but it made us happy, giggly, and it washed all sadness away.
We left for the airport right after lunch. The front door closed behind us as the rain was falling heavily outside. We knew we were going to be back soon, but it still felt like the end of a chapter – the white walls now turned into white canvases, ready for other people to mark their lives on them. To my surprise, I was OK with that, with all of that really – the change, the novelty that was awaiting us, the unknown. I knew it was going to be good for us. I didn’t shed a tear as the plane took off, not like I do every time I leave Venice. That was the sign I wasn’t really leaving home, but I was rather going towards it – finally landing in Venice to stay for a while.
I have been travelling a lot in July, not so much in August. The two months had a noticeably different rhythm and a very opposite feel. July felt suspended, ethereal, with me constantly on the move and up in the air, struggling to feel settled or make sense of where I was, for I wasn’t anywhere for long enough.
August, in contrast, was a static month, and yet one full of restless anxiety, of changes, of big announcements and strict deadlines. I suppose all these factors, in different ways, are part of the reason why I have been absent from the pages.
However, I did want to share more about a short visit I paid to my homeland back in July, and to my nonna in particular. (You might remember her from this chicken story. Well, she just turned 95 and made her first appearance on a foreign national paper.) When I visited, I found her in her beloved ‘basement kitchen’ while she was jarring tomatoes and making fresh tomato sauce. Needless to say, she jumped on the chance to teach me a thing or two about canning while we chatted the morning away.