Back in the Kitchen
Despite the fact that we must eat each day, I don’t necessarily feel like cooking every day. Or eating every day. Or sometimes even thinking about food at all. In recent weeks, this is how it’s been. I’ve been uninterested in the topic of food altogether. This is a tricky thing for me. Not only do I have a house full of hungry boys, we also tend to build our social plans around food whether it’s meeting friends for a picnic, dining out at a restaurant or gathering around a table to exchange war stories over a home cooked meal. It’s also pretty difficult to write about food when you don’t even want to think about it – let alone eat it. Factor in a renovation that has left me with a missing kitchen wall and a backyard full of mud, meaning no grill and no summer herb garden. Would you be inspired in this environment? I didn’t think so. As of my last post, I said was headed out for a bit. I didn’t say where or why…but the good news is I’m back and the kitchen is once again calling my name (that is, the half of it that is functional).
Having just celebrated ten years of marriage, Andy and I took a much anticipated trip to Italy to explore the beauty of Lake Como and wander around the adorable seaside towns along the Italian Riviera (the idyllic scene pictured above is Portofino). Thanks to my gracious parents, the trip provided a chance for just the two of us to soak up the sunshine, the stunning views and experience all the region had to offer our bellies – ripe summer tomatoes, handmade noodles, fresh seafood, cheeses, espresso and of course, gelato. Did I mention all of this was accompanied by generous carafes of local wine? Even and especially at lunch? We quickly acclimated to the slow, relaxed pace of the Italian lunch. It was as if no one had anywhere to go for the rest of the day. These Italians are onto something here, I thought to myself. Conversation and laughter were as much a part of the tranquil mid-day meal as the food and drink itself.
What is not to love in Italy? Abundant, everywhere-you-turn smoking aside, there is little unworthy of adoration. The inspiration began to seep back into my bones little by little, as my mundane worries melted away in the warm sun. By the middle of the trip, I was scribbling notes on napkins and the hotel notepad sitting by the phone, jotting down components of the dishes that startled my dormant taste buds and begged to be replicated at home. This trip provided the rest, the alone time with my husband and the relaxation I needed to fully recharge – I was counting on that. I knew we’d eat well and I’d love the food, but I wasn’t so sure I’d come back eager to return to the kitchen. The renewed spark was a welcome and unexpected side benefit.
What struck me about Italian food was its simplicity. The best dishes used precious few ingredients, but every component was of highest quality and importantly, in season. Over the course of the next few months, I’ll be experimenting with some of the standout dishes from our trip.
This week, I recreated a traditional Ligurian pasta sauce made from fresh pesto and tomatoes. In fact, pesto originates from Liguria. You can find it just about everywhere served with trofie, a twisty little hand rolled pasta made with only flour and water (no eggs). Pictured above (just above the pesto) is the sweet little beach town of Santa Margherita Ligure, which is filled with tiny shops and winding narrow streets. Ferry boats go from here to Portofino and Rapallo, which is where we stayed, all day long. Each of these areas offered its own version of the pesto-tomato sauce. We enjoyed sampling a few varieties including one with a touch of cream. The version I’ve made here is the most basic, with just tomatoes, pesto and a heavy hand on the garlic. Serve this chunky sauce with fresh pasta if you can, as I think it’s the best way to showcase this lovely sauce.
In Italy, pasta was often served as a second course intended to be enjoyed before meat or fish. The portion was small by American standards (no surprise there). Pictured above is a typical Italian “secondi”-sized portion, which is roughly 2-3 oz. of pasta. I’d say it was about the size of a tight fist. We liked to order a green salad to eat before this course, though in many cases we found the Italians having the salad after the meat or fish course. Salads always came undressed served with sea salt, fresh pepper, vinegar (usually red wine or balsamic) and a high-quality olive oil. We have returned to having salad this way at home. Dressing schmessing, I say.
So there you have it. I was happy for a break and now I’m pleased to be back. I missed you. Even though you didn’t hear from me, I was thinking of you and hoping you are enjoying summer favorites like peaches and zucchini and tomatoes, now at their very best. I will return next week with yet another installment from my Italian adventure. Any guesses as to what’s coming? Here’s a hint: it’s cold and creamy.