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.
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.
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.
And so, and now, another summer month has passed.
We took holidays at the end of August this year, believing it would have made our summer feel longer, stretching it further into early September. We are going to Sicily for two weeks (!), and I can hardly contain the excitement. In the meantime, though, as we roll out of one working week into another, I live with the uncomfortable feeling that summer is slipping through my fingers – too fast, too soon.
I have been resonating a lot with Molly’s thoughts on feeling busy. Being shut in a cubicle while summer is exploding outside makes me feel like I’m missing out on the best things in life – picking berries, baking pies, watching clouds, sleeping in the sun, swimming in the ocean and eating lots of grilled fish, to name a few. Days are so long and (mostly) beautiful here finally that I ache to be outdoors. I blame it on my lack of vitamin D.