Obviously at that point I took Marcelo's drink and biscotti from him. Then I told him about the convent.
He didn't complain about his living arrangements any more after that.
He did, however, bring me to dinner one evening. That was when I met Paola, Goddess of Kitchens and Sass.
From the confident slant of her hips as she proffered the serving bowl, to the grin which met the moans of pleasure at her mushroom penne in wine sauce, it was evident that Paola was a woman who knew exactly how to wield her feminine power, and did. She quickly arranged everyone at the table to her liking and decided who would have the privilege of fetching the bread with the cool nonchalance of someone used to being obeyed. When she entered the room I no longer wondered at the boldly colored modern art prints, the safari patterned pillows and strange trinkets dancing along her shelves. In fact, my only question at that moment, which I have no shame in relaying was: 'how do I become this woman.'
Step 1: Cook Like a Goddess
It was surprisingly easy to get Paola to reveal her culinary secrets to me. I shyly asked after her recipe for ragu, which, if the raptures with which Marcelo described it are any indication, is more than edible. (the recipe is included in the list below) Once she started rolling, excitement building as she shared her passion, there was no stopping her. Her daughters were sent running in and out of the kitchen, not for recipe books, since everything was streaming straight out of Paola's head, but for the italian-english dictionary. The rest of the table never had their mouths empty long enough to throw more than the shortest affirmatives on the exchange.
Many minutes, a writing cramp, and several flips through the dictionary later, I was left with these fine gems of the culinary arts, scrawled and heavily corrected in my Italian notebook. I now present them to you, so that you too can make offering to Paola at her stovetop alter.
*stars (and suggestions) denote recipes I've tested since returning to the states. Untested recipes have notes.
If you figure out how to put these recipes in the post so you click on the post if you want to see them and everyone else doesn't have to scroll, drop me an email or comment here. Also, if you try any of the recipes in this blog I'd love it if you'd comment and tell me how it worked, and if you did anything different with it. Happy Cooking!
18 ounces fresh fettuccine
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups grated Parmesan
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
ground nutmeg to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, and drain.
Stir 2 cups of the cream and the lemon juice in a heavy large skillet to blend. Add the butter and cook over medium heat just until the butter melts, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Add the pasta and toss. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of cream, and Parmesan to the cream sauce in the skillet. Add the lemon zest, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Toss the pasta mixture over low heat until the sauce thickens slightly, about 1 minute.
Optional: Saute veggies in butter and toss with pasta before serving. Maybe sweet snap peas, asparagus, or peppers.
8, with yolks and whites separated
1/3 cup sugar
1 pound mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 cups cooled espresso
2/3 cup brandy (or rum)
30 lady fingers
2 ounces grated bittersweet chocolate
Mix the sugar into the egg yolks. Add a little mascarpone at a time to the egg yolk mixture, and mix until smooth. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Set this aside as well.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. (start whipping on high right away, else the eggs won't form peaks no matter what you do)
Fold the whipped cream into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in the beaten egg whites.
Put the espresso and alcohol in a bowl so you can dip the lady fingers.
If you want, you can layer the cream in the bottom first. Paola likes to put the lady fingers in first though, cause it's prettier. So, dip the ladyfingers in the espresso/alcohol mix, (quickly so they're coated but not soggy!). Layer them on the bottom of the pan, and sread the cream on top. repeat until you have as many layers as you want with cream on top. Top with grated chocolate and cocoa power. Enjoy.
Basil and Pine Nut Pesto*
2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts
2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese, or Parmesan
Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Add oil and process until fully incorporated and smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cheese.
(options: substitute some fresh tarragon for some of the basil, by preference.)
(not from Paola's kitchen, but keeping with her almost reverent attitude towards fresh basil)
1 (32-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained
1 cup fresh basil leaves, washed and spun dry
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled, plus a couple more
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 large French baquettes, sliced 1-inch thick (about 36 slices)
1 1/2 pounds fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In the bowl of a food processor, add drained tomatoes, 1 cup basil leaves, olive oil and 2 cloves garlic. Pulse until smooth, but somewhat chunky. Season with salt and pepper.
On a baking sheet, line up baguette slices. Toast in oven until light golden brown. Remove from oven and rub peeled garlic cloves on the toasted side of each slice, then lay a piece of mozzarella on top. Place bread back in oven and melt cheese slightly. Remove from oven and spread one tablespoon of the tomato mixture on each piece.
Paola's Famous Ragu (untested, but heartily and unanimously recommended by all at Paola's table)
1 lb sausage
1 lb ground beef
whole garlic cloves
(optional thinly sliced carrots and celery)
Cook the olive oil, garlic, and carrots in a pan for about 2-3 minutes. add the meat and cook until brown.
Boil water, drop in 6 whole tomatoes and cook for about 5 minutes.
Take the tomatoes out and remove the skin. Slice, and add to the meat.
Add fresh basil and salt/pepper to taste.