“Slow and methodical, stretch and pull and push”: Alessandro makes pasta in Tuscany
I died and went to heaven, along a road that wound through Tuscan forest over a ridge into a wide valley where the wavy lines of harvested wheat swept into the curves of the hills so that the whole landscape seemed to be painted with Van Gogh’s wandering brush. August lion coloured fields and baked clay soil, like walking on abandoned tennis courts overgrown with wildflowers. And emerging at the end of the road, a villa fit for a Roman senator. A view of a landscape dotted with medieval towers, a square of green lawn, a pool, a garden heavy with emerald zucchini and fat red tomatoes.
I knew this was my own heaven because the kitchen had been appointed according to my fantasy specifications: a stone sink, two big stoves under a wide old chimney, a wood burning oven, a refrigerator stocked with ricotta and stracchino, the Italian cheese that my mother always says likes to run away over the table, a bowl of oranges and lemons, a tub of 00 flour and a large tin of olive oil.
“What shall we have for dinner?” asked Alessandro, majordomo of this dreamland. “I have made a tomato sauce and a bolognese,” he pointed with a pair of kitchen tongs at two softly puttering pots of rich molten red. Alessandro was a small kind of angel with a thin moustache and a wide smile. He said he came from the south, from Puglia. He was grilling slices of zucchini in a ridged pan.
Dinner on the terrace with my family. The crimson streak of sunset matched the colour of my Campari. The funny thing about heaven is that in real life I never liked zucchini—I found it watery, marrowish bitter. But in this magical place it was delicious: fresh and sweet, only half cooked, a little charred, still firm and toothsome (I had forgotten that word “toothsome”; I wonder when we stopped using it to describe that perfect moment of al dente resistance).
Zucchini epiphany, as if delivered from the original Garden of Eden, fresh al fresco: the perfect food is grown not cooked; the perfect meal is not bought but made, and made with care and attention and shared with love. Every afternoon Alessandro and I made…