One of my favourite long essays from the book tells the story of a food stall in Padova.
Parked in one of the central piazzas from mid-afternoon until dark, ready to sort out your pre-dinner snack, La Folperia (this the telling name of the stall) dishes out plate after plate of folpetti – boiled baby octopus droused in emerald-green salsa verde. This is not all it offers, mind. Max and Barbara, the affable stall ownders, can also sort out some seafood salad if you like. But it’s certain that octopus is the main point of attraction for both regulars and newcomers. Or, at least, I know it was for me.
I paid this stall a number of visits during my University years, always for folpetti, and always with a glass of white wine in hand. On these occasions I had the chance to observe the habits and behaviours, manners and hydiosincrasies, of the patrons gathering around this stall. But also to ask a few casual questions – how it’s the octopus cooked, for how long – and record them for future use. For I had never had octopus so tended before. And, to tell you the truth, I rerely have afterwards.
“The main lesson you have to learn is simplicity,” is Anna del Conte’s warning to whoever wants to approach Italian food. “For what you leave out is just as important as what you put in”.
These few words have been resounding in my head for days. I have surprised myself thinking about them a lot. Not just in relation to food, mind, but to other aspects of living, too. What we leave out of our kitchen, of our home, of our lives matters as much as what we put in. Aren’t we who ultimately decide what to include and what to leave out, just like in a recipe? We choose which flavour our life is going to have at any given time. Except, perhaps starting over isn’t as easy as a round of washing up. Or is it?
There were a couple of nights a few weeks ago, before the heat decided to come and make itself comfortable, in which the air sweeping from the harbour carried an unusual chill. One night, on our usual evening walk along the water – the ritual that separates the working part of the day from that of leisure, contemplation and unrushed time in the kitchen – we had to put an extra layer over our t-shirts. We walked hugging ourselves the whole way, wondering where such breeze was coming from, dark clouds gathering swiftly over our heads.
We rushed home just in time before the first downpour started. Another followed shortly, and then another, at seemingly regular intervals, as if the sky was emptying itself by the bucketload, taking a break between each. We thought it a good night for a robust bottle of red and for lingering in the kitchen and around the table while waiting for a warming dinner.
My favourite chicken recipe of all times. It’s an riff on a recipe from A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David: Pollo in Padella con Peperoni.
In her recipe David uses a whole chicken cut into pieces, while I tend to use just thighs, drumsticks, and sometimes wings. The dark meat of these cuts adds an extra dimension to the dish. It also helps balancing the sweetness of the sauce, to which a splash of white Vermouth is added (my call). In addition to the thyme and basil that the original recipe calls for, I included a few tarragon leaves: used sparingly, they really give freshness to the dish without covering the other flavours.