"Be prepared for a six-hour feast," our friend Donatella tells us. "Giusi has set up a kitchen in the whole barn so six cooks can work." Her sister, Giusi, helps take care of our house when we are not here. The sisters are opposite. Donatella has angular, dark beauty, somewhat like the Mona Lisa’s, and an ironic humor. You can look way into her black eyes. Giusi in America would be Homecoming Queen. She could captain any pep squad. She’s pretty, sociable, and upbeat. They are sisters and best friends. Each time we arrive at Bramasole, they’ve left flowers in the house, and the kitchen stocked with fruit, coffee, bread, and cheese so that we don’t need to dash out if we are tired from the flight. Both are excellent cooks, who learned directly from a mother who still makes her own ravioli.
Giusi’s two young sons are taking their first communion. This calls for a feast. We have not seen Giusi for weeks because she has been preparing the festa. After the service, around eighty people gather at the house in the mountains Giusi and her husband, Dario, share with his parents. Dario’s sister and her family live in another house on the property. They are close to self-sufficient for all their food. The family takes care of a large vegetable garden, raises chickens, rabbits, lambs, and geese. The men hunt, keeping a supply of wild boar at the ready.
Everything they produce, and a lot more, goes into the first communion dinner. When we arrive at noon, the part is in full swing. Giusi gives me a tour of the house. For almost two years she has endured an extensive remodeling. She’s kept the warm feel of the ancient farmhouse, but has installed lovely bathrooms, stone stairs, and an up-to-the-minute kitchen, which, of course includes a wood-burning stove for cooking. Every knob and surface gleams. Every window sparkles. Outside, the prosecco already is flowing and women are passing trays of crostini, Tuscan antipasti of rounds of bread spread with various toppings: porcini mushrooms, spicy cheese, and chopped, seasoned chicken liver. Under a white tent, they’ve set a U-shaped table under balloons and twisted colored-paper streamers. The two boys are seated at the head, flanked by their parents. We’ve peered in the barn where many hands are at work. A table down the center is crowded with fruit tarts, enormous bowls of salad greens. Each woman has on a flowered dress. The barn whirls with color and motion. They’re still chopping and peeling, putting the finishing garnishes together. For each plate, spring leeks, carrots, and asparagus are deftly tied in bundles with a blade of chive. I’m surprised to meet Guisi’s mother. Young and red-haired, she looks nothing like her daughters. She has made cappelli del prete, pasta called priest’s hats, for eighty-odd people.
As we soon find out, there are two pastas. Everyone is served a large helping of tagliatelle with a rich sauce of cinghiale, the wild boar. Many have seconds of this and I’m wiping the edge of the plate with bread for every drop of the delicious sauce. Then comes the priest’s hats with four cheese and seconds of that. The efficient army of women swoops down and replaces our plates after each course. Someone in the barn is washing dishes like mad. Lamb with the vegetable bundles comes next, their own lamb roasted in the outdoor oven. In the distance we can hear sheep and cows, who don’t yet know they will not always dwell in the lush pasture below but will be appearing on these same flowered plates. Two spotted puppies are passed around the table, petted and rocked. In earlier years it would have been babies, but with the Italian birthrate the lowest in Europe, babies are in short supply. A four-year-old flirt in a red dress is making the most of her position. She’s practically ambushed by admirers. Toasts begin but the two boys, along with several friends, have absconded from the table. One gift to them was a computer with games so they’ve run inside to strafe the enemy. New carafes of wine replace the empties immediately. I am through. This is a stupendous groaning board. But Ed keeps eating. A little more lamb? I see him look up and smile, "Sì." And patate? Again, "Sì."
Suddenly three men appear, carrying something heavy. People rush forward shouting and snapping pictures. Too large for their ovens, a gigantic thigh of a Val di Chiana cow has been roasted in a hotel oven in town and has just arrived on a tray that could hold a human. Soon platters of beef and more crisp potatoes circulate. I give in and have some. Oh no, it’s too good. I can’t have more, maybe a taste. Ed is eating like a lord. Two Italian women have asked him if he’s in films so he feels particularly expansive. Salad arrives. Then fruit tart, tiramisù, and the reemergence of the two boys, galloping out like ponies. They shyly cut a three-tiered cake and offer the first pieces to their parents. The cake has rich layers of lemon filling. Out comes the grappa and vin santo. I’m astonished. Ed has some of both. He finds himself arm-in-arm with several men, singing a song he’s never heard. An accordion starts and the dancing begins. I have never eaten this much at once in my life. Ed has eaten a prodigious amount.
At five, we are the first to leave. Our friends Susan and Cole, who married at our house during the restoration, are arriving in time for dinner. We find out later that most guests stayed until eleven, with the beef making several more appearances.
Our friends have arrived early and are sitting on the terrace. Happy as we are to see them, we barely can walk or speak. Ed describes the meal, ending with, "I just hope we’re around when those boys get married. Imagine what that will be like." We collapse for two hours then emerge in the sweet time time of day to take them around our garden, gathering lettuces, zucchini, onions and herbs for a simple salad and frittata. For them. We don’t want to eat or drink for three days. We sip tepid water while they enjoy a great Brunello.
According to Sra, "This event is not about cooking or recipes. It’s about food and quality writing. What I want you to do is share your favourite pieces of food writing with the rest of the world through this event. It could be prose, poetry, a scene from a play, fable, non-fiction, an article from a magazine or a newspaper, a food review, a cookbook review, a post in a blog, haiku, limerick, satire, anything; even writing that looks at food, cooking or eating in a negative light, but it has to have these as one of its main themes."
I chose the above passage from Frances Mayes’s Bella Tuscany: The Sweet Life in Italy. Sorry it’s a bit long but I thought worth reading in its entirety. The writing is so deliciously vivid that I felt like I was there and tasted the food.
If you’d like to participate In the Write Taste, go here to read the guidelines and join in on the fun.
Happy Blog Anniversary, Sra!
Ed. Note: You can find a roundup of the other entries here.
Please help me welcome guest blogger Sra of When My Soup Came Alive! Thanks for being here, Sra!
2008 © When My Soup Came Alive – All Rights Reserved
I’m honoured to be a guest blogger for Paz, whom I came to know even before I set up my own blog.
When Paz invited me to write for her blog, I only had one dish in my drafts, and no story to go with it. And I had promised to send her the post as soon as I could, so ever since we spoke to each other before I sent this post, my hours were filled with thoughts about how to put the egg curry in context.
I’m no great believer in the happy statement that things have a way of falling into place but that’s exactly what happened with this post. I came around to deciding how, in India, when there is no meat readily available to feed visiting guests or even not-so-staunch vegetarian guests, eggs come in handy. Today, I had a guest, and because of having to accompany her on her rushed schedule, we made do with leftovers for lunch, but back home for dinner, we made omelettes with coriander and curry leaf and our meal was made! Immediately special! Despite the presence of a dozen eggs in my refrigerator, I wouldn’t have thought of the omelettes if I hadn’t been thinking about the post.
Guests or not, eggs are a sort of a halfway house – they are seen as making up for the lack of meat, somewhat, and they are dressier than vegetables, or even an elaborate all-vegetarian meal. If you simply don’t have the energy to rustle up a full-fledged non-vegetarian dish, just the presence of eggs will liven up the dining table, and everyone’s minds. It’s as if you’ve made a fair effort to cook something special. Of course, you can even resort to eggs when you don’t want to spend money on meat J
Eggs are friendly – they are easy to cook, are versatile and are done fast. And the egg curry, or should I say sauté, I’m talking about here is a nifty dish that takes only relatively little time to make, and is satisfying as well.
Ed. Note: This dish takes about 10-15 minutes to make, once the eggs are boiled and shelled.
2008 © When My Soup Came Alive – All Rights Reserved
Eggs, boiled, shelled – 4
Onions, minced – 2 cups
Coriander/cilantro, chopped – ½ cup
Curry leaves (optional, but recommended) – 5-6
Green chillies – 3, chopped (or fewer)
Red chilli powder – 1 tsp
Ginger-garlic paste – 1-½ tsp (or very finely chopped ginger and garlic – 3/4 tsp each)
Mustard seed – 1 tsp
Cumin seed – ½ tsp
Turmeric – ½ tsp
Salt, to taste
Oil – 3 tsp
Score the eggs with a piece of the shell – this is to allow the spices to seep in. Three or four gashes will do.
In a wok, heat the oil. Pop in the mustard seed. Once it begins to splutter, add the cumin.
Now turn the heat down, add the onion and sauté. If you’re the impatient sort, add a bit of salt to the onion and continue to sauté – this is to hurry the process. Sweat the onions as much as you can. Wait long enough to let them turn pink and transparent, at the very least.
Now add the green chillies. Sauté. (If you’re using red chilli powder, wait.)
Add the ginger-garlic paste. Mix it well with the onions and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add the curry leaves, stir for a few seconds.
Add the salt, turmeric, a pinch of the garam masala and red chilli powder, if you’re using it, at this stage.
Mix it all up.
Now add the eggs to the onion mixture and keep turning them around frequently (not constantly). They will break a little, or they may break up into thirds and halves but that’s the fun – they get coated with the spices, and the white, now yellow with all the spices, turns a crusty brown here and there as the heat roasts it. A slow fire is the key.
Sprinkle the rest of the garam masala over the curry and fold it in. Garnish with the coriander.
2008 © When My Soup Came Alive – All Rights Reserved