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.
The decadence and totally over-the-top nature of this pasta are what makes it so very good. I don’t say this lightheartedly: usually, Italian recipes are very much about the ‘less is more’ approach, and this is what I love about them the most. Yet, sometimes, piling it all up high is just the right thing to do. In the case of this recipe, for example, it works.
The base is a Roman-inspired spring concoction called vignarola. This is a dish made of fresh peas, broad beans, artichokes, sometimes lettuce, sometimes fresh herbs, others bits of guanciale for extra flavour – all braised in oil and white wine until tender and utterly flavoursome. Vignarola is often served on bread, which has the double purpose of carrier and sponge for absorbing the delightful juices left at the end. You can sometimes find vignarola served alongside some fresh ricotta, but mostly, it can hold the stage on its own.
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.
What do you do with day-old bread? Do you throw it away (I hope not), or perhaps freeze it? Maybe pulse it into breadcrumbs, or fry into fluffy French toast? Do you make croutons for soups and salads? I do all these things, but perhaps my favourite way to use stale bread is in Tuscan bread salad, or panzanella.
I suspect that each Italian household has a favourite way of making this salad. Rather than a recipe, then, the process of making panzanella follows a few simple rules. The most important thing for the success of panzanella is, first of all, the type of bread. The best for the scope would be unsalted Tuscan bread, as it holds its shape wonderfully after soaking, becoming wet but not soggy; though any good sourdough would do just fine.
To soak the bread, good wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil are required – the oil for flavour and the vinegar to add a pleasant acidic note to the salad. Finally, the vegetables. In origin, before the advent of tomatoes, these only counted sliced onion, cucumber, torn basil, and other herbs such as wild rocket and purslane (as reported by Emiko). Tomatoes made their way into this salad in recent times only, though quickly gaining the role of key ingredient.
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.