Armed with laptop in hand, your editor had a date this morning with his girlfriends. They were all a-twitter (old-school, not the newfangled digital variety) since being informed that they have become Roman cuisine authorities among English speakers around the world, and were looking forward, as was your editor, to today’s Q&A session. Thank you all for your Qs. Their As follow…
“Paul from Australia,” I say in Italian..
“Oooh, I have a niece in Sydney. She doesn’t come visit often but she went there with her husband…” This goes on for five minutes during which she recounts her entire family’s genealogy and migration history, followed by a cross-family compare and contrast session with the others, all requiring regular nods of “ohh, molto interessante” and “ooh che bello” before we return to Paul.
“…sends thanks for the pasta e ceci recipe..”
“Ooh yes…that’s a good one. Oil, garlic, anchovies, rosemary….” Here they go over the entire Pasta e Ceci recipe (again), the time we all first met when I asked it of them, how I botched it (they still remember and made a point of pointing it out), and begin a whole disquisition on similar recipes such as pasta e fagioli and fagioli con le cotiche – pig rinds. Ten minutes later we finally get back to Paul.
“…and says that he makes it for his girlfriend in the evenings when she returns from University.”
“Eeehhiii..eehhiii…eehhiii!!” They burst into a fit of giggles… I don’t get it and look around a bit clueless. They fill me in, “Yes, smart man, he’s keeping her plump!” I nearly fall out of my chair laughing with them.
Next question: “Margaret…”
“Oooh, mia cugina Margherita…” and here we learn all about cousin Margherita and extended family… 5 minutes later…
“..has two questions. First, she sent in an article from a food expert in the New York Times…,” raised eyebrows all around denote expectation of important knowledge about to be shared, “who suggests that due to the financial crisis we all save energy and boil pasta in less water..”
“BAAAAAAAAHAHHHAHAAAA…..”, hilarity induced apoplectic fit erupts across the board. The other café patrons are actually staring at us all, and I can now say that I have seen 80 year old Roman matrons actually slap their knees repeatedly for laughing so hard.
“Come no?! Se te v’oi magná ‘a colla é perfetto… aaahhaaa!” (Sure, perfect if you want to eat glue.)
Five minutes are required before we regain our composure enough that I can continue. “..and her other question is: what technique do you use to cut onions for a marinara sauce?”
At this point the giggles have so set in so much that when one of them immediately says “EH, con il coltello….” (with a knife), the previous scene repeats itself all over again and I see more than one of the girlfriends shed a tear from too much laughter. (Btw, yes, they cut the onion in half, then each half in a parallel and 90° pattern of cuts.)
Conversation pretty much goes on at this level for the rest of the “date”, and despite it all we cover quite a bit of ground. I ask them Barbara’s question about what one needs for mostaccioli: “Don’t know, sorry”, “Not a Roman dish”, “..but a good denture is a start!”
Then I ask Susan’s question about pizza rustica ; their answer is pasta sfoglia, homemade or from the supermarket, and “i rimasugli in frigo” (any leftovers in the fridge). They do point out that in Rome these are usually made covered or open like a pie, often with leafy greens inside (spinach, escarola, cicoria).
I even get a recipe for cariofi e alici al forno (baked artichokes and sardines) which I will try and write up in a future note.
Above all however, what I learn is far more valuable. First, these gals don’t cook according to recipes. Their knowledge is such that they prepare things from scratch, from what’s in season, what inspires them at that moment, etc., and that they wouldn’t know a measuring cup or spoon if one bit them in the leg. And second, and far more importantly, they might sit together for a couple of hours every morning of their lives for coffee…
…but humor is by far the real elixir being drunk here.