A few years ago my husband and I traveled Italy. A stop on our travels brought us to the quietness of a cooking villa where we lived with a family and learned the simple art of Italian cooking. That’s where I realized my love for creating morsels of goodness that satisfy the soul. I love to cook and everything that accompanies it. The sites, the sounds, the smells; the Art. Italy stops the craziness of the day to enjoy a meal. Being a chef, cooking in Italy is creating in a room with a sensory view.
A small stone villa in Tuscany. Stones that are as solid as concrete, yet cracked in all the right places. Stone walls that outline stoves, refrigerators, grills, sinks, and cabinets made of stainless steel. Pristine appliances. Pots, pans and utensils hanging in easy reach. Cool stone walls that keep out the heat and absorb the smells of the ingredients used to create. In my mind I am there no matter where my physical location.
Mixing flour and water, rolling out the dough, cutting the thin pasta and setting it to the side to dry.
Going out to the garden to pick fresh tomatoes, zucchini, onions, peppers lettuce, basil, oregano. Bringing the basket filled with freshness into the kitchen. It’s almost too beautiful to touch. Take a picture, it could be a painting some day. Art.
Next the ragu for the pasta. The freshest ground meat combined with onions and peppers sautéed in olive oil, kosher salt and pepper. The scent of those three ingredients with simple spice awaken the senses. I par boil and chop the tomatoes and add them to the beef mixture. Simmer on low until the juice of the tomato escapes the fruit. The last ingredients fresh basil and oregano. I’m in heaven, in my element. I’m in my room. Surroundings peaceful and quiet but for the softly simmering ingredients.
Dessert will be gelato and wafers, fresh strawberries and freshly brewed coffee. The strawberries burst with fragrance as I slice them. I sneak a couple slices. It’s the chef’s privilege. Taste while preparing. Yes, it is a privilege.
I leave my Italian kitchen and prepare for my guests. It will be a quiet dinner with friends. Meals in Italy are not hurried they are slowly enjoyed. Conversation and consumption commingle at the table. No hurry to finish and clean up, just relax and enjoy.
I begin the final touches before my guests arrive. A simple salad of fresh lettuce, tomato and mozzarella. A light balsamic dressing has been created from olive oil, vinegar, sea salt and pepper with just a dash of sugar, and will be added to the salad right before serving.
Zucchini is cut in half with the middle scooped out. Panko bread crumbs with basil and olive oil are mixed together. The zucchini is stuff and baked right before serving. The zucchini will be served with bruschetta as an appetizer.
Last but not least the bruschetta. Simple toasted slices of French baguette, brushed with olive oil and rubbed with garlic. There will be fresh bread and olive oil with parmesan served with the main course.
My guests arrive. A choice of wine, infused water, or ice tea is offered and sits on the table — Enjoy. We gather around the table which is outside on the patio. Nothing better than sharing a meal with nature.
My friends sit as I present the appetizer or as they say in Italy, Aperitivo. The bruschetta and zucchini are perfect. We talk, eat, crunch, and drink. As my friends are continuing crunching and conversing, I sneak away to the kitchen to put the pot of water on to boil for the pasta. I combine the dressing with the salad, fill the wooden salad bowls and dust with fresh grated parmesan.
Salad is served. Fresh and simple. We sit, eat and talk. No hurry, the busyness of the day is forgotten. The main course is ready. Homemade pasta and ragu accompanied with fresh bread, with small plates of olive oil and parmesan for dipping. We eat and drink. The slow scents of the meal, the simple fresh entrees, and good friends. As the old Lowenbrau commercial used to say, here’s to good friends, the night is something special — Yes.
We finish with dessert and coffee.
So simple. So relaxing. Food fills the senses. The joy, the Art of cooking. The beauty of an old kitchen with tools to create. Yes, heaven on earth — So relaxing, so fulfilling. My room with a view for sites and senses.