A recipe for my Norwegian

This is by special request, because apparently I made this when Dorte was visiting. It’s my favorite pasta.
There will be no picture, because it is white. Put in a colored bowl, because it isn’t winning any prizes for beauty otherwise.

Pasta al Limone

4 tablespoons butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
grated peel from four lemons – no pith, just the yellow part
1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano (no substitutes! use the real thing!)
* fetuccine made with 3 large eggs and about 2 cups flour (this is Hazan’s take and I never do this. I prefer a very small cut of hardwheat pasta instead, I make almost angelhair sized semolina spaghetti or buy something similar.)

Make the sauce in a skillet or pot large enough to accommodate the pasta when it is done. Combine the butter and cream in the pot and bring to a boil. Once it is boiling, add the lemon juice and stir thoroughly. Add the lemon peel and continue stirring/boiling until the sauce is reduced to one half of its original volume.

Now the originator of this particular version says nothing about salt. To me, if you are using lemon juice, you eventually have to talk about salt or sugar. It is at this point that I taste and add salt, keeping in mind that I will be later adding salty Parmigiano.

Turn off the heat.

At this point, you can pour the sauce into a heatproof bowl or measuring cup, press plastic film onto the surface and keep in the refrigerator until you need it. It makes it a good first course for a party as it leaves little to be done at the last minute.
When you prepare for the meal when you will eat it, put it into the pot and bring it gently back to hot.

Cook the pasta in salted boiling water. When it is cooked, but still firm to the bite (probably 1 1/2 – 2 minutes for fresh ), drain it and add to the pot with the sauce. Place over medium heat and toss thoroughly for just 15-20 seconds. Transfer the pasta and sauce to a warm serving bowl. Add the grated cheese and toss. Serve immediately with additional grated cheese (I like mine with a bit of fresh ground black pepper, too!).

Tips from my kitchen: buy the lemons a couple of weeks ahead of time and keep them at room temp and the juice will be more powerful. You may have to grate other lemons to get the peel, though. If you live in Italy, use panna di cucina, but read the label and use one that is just reduced cream without gums, etc. added. I also think you need to add some of the pasta cooking water to the sauce pan before adding the drained pasta. It does not toss well or get blended if you don’t. This should end up creamy, lemony-salty, luxurious and sort of Princess food. Select a Princess color bowl.

I have to fiddle with this recipe every time I make it. In some months the lemons are as big as your head, and you don’t need 4 lemons-worth of peel. I use much much more lemon juice than that. I actually cannot remember ever using just 2 tablespoons of lemon juice in it. When I make it during Lent as a meat-free meal, I pass lots more cheese, although I don’t know that that’s necessary, it somehow seems to relieve my mind of that nagging worry that someone who comes to dine and doesn’t eat meat may die on the way home from protein depletion.

Warning: fiction in the road

The small pieces I am posting for a while are all unplotted mood pieces; attempts to get inside the head of someone completely unlike me. If you don’t want to suffer fiction, leave now.

Mrs. Lopek Fall in Love
“See, here is my lovely wife, who has no time to be hospitable to my friends. She has no time to cook, to clean, to bring drinks.” It is already three drinks into Alec’s evening and he has begun on Gena. Gena makes a smile that isn’t a smile; a Mona Lisa curving of the mouth that doesn’t reach the eyes. He heaves himself to his feet and reaches out with one paw as if to cuff her as he heads for the refrigerator. She ducks away from him and walks into the living room. “Bitch!” he mutters, “She knows nothing but spend, spend, spend. Lazy bitch.”
In a tiny sitting room behind the living room, Gena sits in the light of the one lamp she has lit and sews a hem in the suit skirt she will wear to work tomorrow. She still wears the almost smile and burns like spring sun in the yellow lamplight. She is round and golden, one of the soft blondes that endure through the years, always feminine, tender looking, no matter how tough she must be. The needle goes in and out of the black material, surely hard to see in so little light, but it is easier to see what she chooses to remember in the dark.
Once she was young in Paris. Her job was to be womanly for an old man who may have loved her; she’s no longer sure of it. She still has the jewelry, the pretty dishes, the fur coat, the many evidences of being treasured, but Alec has torn and burned the pictures. When she looks through her many albums, the photographs tell her there was no Gena before Alec.
Here, Gena and Alec in front of a fountain in Rome. There, Gena and Alec’s sister in Prague. Alec holding a squirming naked Gena over the lip of a swimming pool on Ibiza. This Gena is born at twenty-eight. Where has the other one, the one she thinks she remembers, gone?
“And the pain? It’s better? Worse? Does the medication help?” Dr. Wrimmer asks. Gena sat in his plastic-covered chair, wrapped in a paper sheet.
“I don’t think there is any difference,” she answers in their common language. “I don’t think any of this will make a difference. It’s something else. I think it is all stress, all stress! Too much to do, not enough money, not enough…” she stops, unable to articulate all the missing things. It’s too cold to sit in an ugly cream-colored room with plastic laminated renderings of human reproductive organs, plastic chairs and paper sheets. She shivers and looks directly into his eyes.
“You are cold, my love. Here, let me warm you.” He stands and gathers her up, and, holding her carefully against him, carries her to the examining table. The table is dreadfully icy against her back compared to the heat of his body and his breath, like a drug to her. “Stress,” she breathes.
“I will take it all away, little woman, all away.” Wellness follows everywhere he touches. It flows from his hearty man’s body into hers. He presses health into her neck with his lips, rejuvenation into her breasts with his fingers, life into her loins with his.

The needle snags where the thread has knotted and she has to carefully pull it out and unravel it.
When Alec found her she was struggling to unravel the mystery of succeeding in America. The end of every month found her choosing which bill to pay, which to lie about. Some checks were eternally lost in the mail. Alec seemed to know at once that it was all too much and too expensive and too puzzling. How could she have known that rent and food and taxis cost so much? Until he died, the man paid those mundane things, but when he died he left everything to the wife and children he never saw in the ten years they lived together. Alec never gave her money. He brought food, took her shopping, gave the taximen the fare when he sent her off to work in the morning. He treasured her, and the relief felt a lot like love. Then he burned the pictures and her youth as she remembered it. Paris and being young. There was nothing to do then but to marry.
The next job paid better and had room to move up, a very American thing. Her languages were valuable to her. She thought she’d finally got the hang of it. She moved up and then up again. She got home later, she knew more people, some of whom Alec didn’t know or want to know.

“You are beautiful, you know. I would love to know what goes on in that little head. Can’t we lunch next week?” It is also very American to have intellectual friends apart from one’s husband.

Alec spent her working Saturdays crashing into things like the lawn mower, her French furniture, and her absence. He led what he believed to be a man’s life. He had a mistress for Wednesdays, poker on Thursday nights, and went to work very early so as to be home for a nap and then, usually, a night of total attention to Gena. He bought a vibrator, a very American thing to do, because it was efficient for a wife who worked long hours and came home tired.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with anyone else but us. One man can’t be everything to any woman, nor one woman to any man. It’s a law of nature.” The old man had told her that his love for his wife and her for him had just worn out. “People live too long for just one love. Sometimes love comes serially, if you are lucky like us. Sometimes it doesn’t and there is pain, but it was always so.”

Does Alec love her, or does he too feel that marriage is something else; someplace to keep the furniture, the address book, to make vacation plans and invite the people you know or want to know? She knows with the certainty of truth that she cannot be alone. The memories of the year when she tried to do it didn’t burn with her pictures. If she thinks of confronting him and making him go, the terror is too much to bear and she stops fighting back, throwing herself into his arms and their bed for a few days. She doesn’t hate him.
He seems baffled by her ability to withdraw and disappear although she is in the same house or even in the same room. He doesn’t ask her where she is. She thinks he may be afraid of what goes on in the little blonde head. He berates her in front of their friends, accuses her of every slackness and misdeed in his personal list of unwifely behavior but one. And if he did ask, what could she say? She smiles again, finding her own confession ludicrous.
“I love other men in my mind, Alec. I think of men I meet or even only see, and I let them seduce me. Each one wants something different, and each one gives something different, and none of them are afraid to take what they want.”

Life Burgeons

I am the consummate sucker. This spring a friend pleaded with me to adopt an extra bantam rooster because having too many roosters is troublesome and causes fights and injuries. Not convinced in the least that it was a good idea in the middle of a working farm surrounded by wildness, I held her off by saying a bachelor rooster would be too sad and I couldn’t bear that. She took that as a yes if there were a wife involved, so she arrived unannounced one night with a birdcage holding a magnificent pair.

She told me to leave them in it, covered, for the night and to let them out in the morning so they could learn home. I made them a nice house from a doghouse, built a ramp for it, even, and filled it with straw. I let them out.

These are jungle chickens. You do not see them unless from a window from the house and they flee the moment they see you. They are beautiful in the extreme. Small, but tall, slender and tidy with patterned feathers. In just a few days I had named him Valentino Rossi, because he is small, good-looking and very assertive. Tino for short. This comes in handy when he sings his cockadoodledoo (that is indubitably what he says, and not chichiricchichi) and I respond, “Yes, Tino, good morning to you toooo.” Or, “I hear you, Tino.”

I call them my garden ornaments. They are actually more like garden sprites, which all gardens have, but are very hard to see. A man once told me that I must sit very still in the garden and at the edge of my sight elves and sprites would carefully creep into view. Maybe I am not still enough, because 10 years later I still haven’t seen any.

After a while, on 27th July to be exact, la signora disappeared. I returned from a shopping trip to Florence and every neighbor said, “La tua gallina non c’e’ piu.” They said Tino had been hanging around all the caged and fenced hens all day courting, but no one had seen la signora gallina. What could I do? Nothing.

But the next day at a few minutes past noon she appeared, yelling to beat the band, picking at Tino with her beak and whacking him with her wings. Day after day she reappeared, always angry as can be and punished him for his flirtatious ways. Being a bachelor about town is the norm for a rooster, but she apparently, having gotten used to being the wife of a monogamous male wasn’t having any of that. I noticed that she reflected the passing of summer, because everyday it was a minute or so later that she appeared. Nesting, we all decided, but we never found the nest. Since they couldn’t be approached, slept in various trees until they settled on a fig tree overhanging my orto, or kitchen garden, I realistically figured there was almost nothing I could do. They never once even entered their luxurious concrete and terra cotta home, although I once saw them perched on the roof. I cannot fence everything, and besides, they fly right over anything that’s around so far. From me, only a vaguely Gallic shrug, because how can you protect something you can’t get near? And that is the way the situation and I have remained. Until today.

She has produced four absolutely lovely babies. They are slim and upright like mom and dad and came in two colors– taupe and mustard, two each. Like, I suppose, any grandmother, I now feel compelled to do something, because anything as perfect and wonderful as our four babies deserves at least an intercontinental ballistic missile cover. No? I have already had conversation with all the cats and they seem sanguine about them. My American cats understand about chickens, but the two Italian cats, especially the kitten, were of unknown attitude re: pulcini.

Olga Baldicchi and I were just on the terrace discussing whether bulgur was appropriate food for babies and watching them, when suddenly mom noticed there were TWO dangerous and enormous monsters nearby and did the old “My wing is broken and you can easily kill me” trick. How close to the wild they are!

This is not a food post. Do not think chicken and roasting or frying or any other food thing. Garden ornaments, you hear me?

Oh, any ideas on protection that doesn’t include loans from the World Bank are welcome. I feel stymied. And we need a name for mamma too. Nobody comes to mind as yet that embodies that passion and jealousy, except Anna Magnani, but my neighbor’s name is Anna, so it won’t do.

The Pump Guy

On about the 4th of July, two policemen came to my house with a letter from our water cooperative saying by force of law we were not to use potable water anymore for watering gardens and plants or washing cars or outdoor furniture. There would be a fine of 500 euro for any other than domestic use.
I went to my nice Baldicchi neighbors and said, “I have to buy a pump like yours, no matter what it costs, so I can take water from the river.” Certo! Their cousin down the road sells and installs pumps. Now, why didn’t I guess that they’d have a relative that did everything? Of course they do. As far as I know there are no nuclear physicists among the Baldicchi clan, but then one doesn’t use them much at home.
A couple of days later came the cousin. He is a stately man of about 60, and expert at the whole subject. We discussed where it would go, how the electricity would be reached, how much hose I would have to have, and he said he could be back Monday and it would be working that evening. He returned Friday, instead, but he was as good as his word for the rest.
Time passed, and I heard nothing more. Yesterday he returned to check out the system and see that it was all satisfactory, so I asked him why I hadn’t gotten a bill. I told him if I sold the house I would need to sell the pump with it and I would need proof of when I bought it and how much I paid (400 euro or about $500, but better than a fine because it works.) He said, “Tomorrow.”
And today it was. We started to discuss the difference among US checks and Italian checks and why Italian checks can so often be bad. From there, he went on to criticize the Italian government and the way the world runs. OK, I am used to everybody talking about politicians and taxes; it is the commonest thing in the world here, but I am not used to a demonstration using empty mineral water bottles to illustrate the basic fallacy of modern human life!
“There is one common thing among all peoples,” says he, “one thing that overrides everything. The only perfect law is Nature’s, and it works because every positive has another and equal negative side. We can’t be one people and we can’t save the world without concentrating on philosophy. Every people and every nation must develop wise men who study with their equals from every part of the world to discover what is that central focus of human life.” All this time he was moving water bottles from the recycling bag to show the center point (blue) and the seeking peoples– Arabs, Chinese, Africans, western countries, obviously skipping a lot of them because I didn’t have that many clear bottles. I could, however, see those yearning wise men and women talking, talking, maybe moving bottles around as they sought one common truth.
“I am not optimistic about the future. If I were told that if I died for it, humanity would find truth and live better, I would die, but I don’t think anyone is dying for any truth. They are dying for nothing.”
I find these occasions pretty amazing. I have heard searching and pointed discussions among electricians and plumbers and farmers and now pump guys, the kind of men that one expects to talk about soccer. They’ve read. They think. They care. They can’t all be like that, but I’ve met dozens whom I have heard talking about philosophy and with an understanding of world politics that impresses me.
I am equally impressed that I can understand them and ask the right questions and make myself understood. I don’t know if he is right. I don’t know if he moved the water bottles the right way. I don’t know if there is one single overriding truth. I sure wish I could be watching the wise ones when they start the search, though.

Why do I know the people I know?

Hardly any of them care about food, and I do.
Hardly any of them push dirt, and I do.
They are all so active!
I am thinking about that. You can, too. Let me know if you find out.

Here is another friend/pinocolo partner, Alberto. He owns a restaurant, Castello dei Sorci, which really is a castle, although you eat in a farm building nearby, unless you’ve booked a special thing in one of the castle rooms. Now look at this very intelligent and nice fellow: do you think he ever eats? I have seen him consume food one time in all the years I’ve known him.