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.
Moving away from Italy was possibly the best thing I could do to truly become interested in the food of my origins. Before then, Italian food was just food, normal food, everyday food, something not worth talking about, not original, surely not interesting. I knew about regional differences, and I had a pretty clear idea of what the most iconic and traditional dishes from each Italian region were. Travelling around the country with my family, I would try the specialities of the area. Also, sometimes at home, my mum would prepare something exotic like sarde al beccafico (rolls of butterflied sardines with bread crumbs, pine nuts, and raisins, Sicilian style), or fagioli all’uccelletto (stewed beans, Tuscan style). Still, I was interested in the flavour, in the story maybe, but not in the recipe.
Living abroad, though, I became more of a nostalgic cook and more curious about Italian traditional recipes linked to a place and a culture. I have been travelling back to Italy quite often, looking for traditional dishes, eating in local, honest osterie, imprinting the flavours of Puglia, Piedmont, Tuscany, Rome, Friuli, Umbria, and Sicily in my memory. I also started to collect Italian cookbooks – something I never thought I would do – digging into recipes as much as into the travel stories and everyday tales the author would unfold around them. I discovered a fascination for traditional yet unusual recipes that were new to me, and I found it especially in books written by non-Italian food writers – Claudia Roden and Elizabeth David especially. I loved seeing the food and the country through the eyes of someone who was not originally from there, but could still appreciate Italian culture and its local cuisines, and had the curiosity to go beyond stereotypes and write honestly, reporting regional differences and bits of the culture that Italians would bring in the kitchen and to the table.
If I have to visualise the best scenario for an aperitivo, I see a Venetian square bathed in the warmth of a summer evening light. The square is not crowded, but lively with people gathering and forming small, chatty groups standing at the doorsteps of the most popular bars. I see a handful of friends around me, each of them with their drink in hand, all of us cheering, suddenly relaxed by the simple presence of each other as we chat the evening away. I see someone going back for a refill and some nibbles – perhaps some crostini or cicchetti. And one of them will certainly be eggs and anchovies.
Eggs and anchovies (meso ovo, in the local dialect) is a traditional Venetian cicchetto, which can be found in almost all the respectable bàcari in town. A poor dish, aimed at satisfying some serious peckishness with simple, easy-to-get ingredients, it has for long been one of the most democratic snacks to go with the glass of wine. they are as good consumed in a Venetian alley as they are at home, perhaps with a glass of
Now, if you don’t find yourself any close to a Venetian square, rest assured that they will be as good at home, better still with a spritz to keep the Venetian theme.
We came back from what was supposed to be a relaxing weekend escapade to Paris but rather turned into a stressful couple of days. It was snowy. Very snowy indeed, making Paris all white and magical for a few hours, and then a complete disaster. A layer of dirty slushy was covering all the sidewalks and roads, from Rue de Rivoli to Place d’Italie, melting into muddy, ice-cold puddles.
Long queues awaited us at every step, from the ticket machine at Gare du Nord to the Starbucks in Boulevard de Strasbourg. Also, we somehow managed to get treated rudely by everybody: from the manager of the Vietnamese restaurant, who stripped the bowl still containing some delicious Pho from my hands; to the waiter at the wine bar near Canal Saint Martin, who almost killed me when I asked whether we could have the cheese and bread while we were waiting for our main (‘It will be a while’, he said, and well, I was starving).
Anyway, thumbs up for the Edward Hopper Exhibit, which was the main purpose of our trip, and for the out-of-this-world bread and pastry experience at Du Pain et Des Idées, a bakery (the bakery, the best bakery in Paris, and arguably in the world), near République, which was luckily right in front of our Airbnb. Also, for the many natural wines drank, and for a romantic stroll under a cotton-soft snow.