In March of 2010, at the encouragment of Deborah, several friends from several countries decided to embark on an adventure. We decided to cook our way through Marcella Hazan's 'Essentials of Italian Cooking'. Everyday a new recipe, everyday a new adventure. We posted on Facebook and on our blog Pomodori e Vino. The rules were very simple . . . If it was your turn you made it. It didn't matter if it was tripe, cotechino, or prune gelato. We would work our way through pasta and variety meats.
In this adventure, I was very smart to pair up with a partner. Jan and I took on Fridays; then we split the recipes. I think Jan and I will agree we were lucky with the recipe draw! We spent the next 15 months cooking Italian.
The recipes were only a part of the challenge. In 15 months . . . I have worked 2 jobs, traveled to London and Italy twice, had breast surgery, buried my father and my father-in-law, planned a beautiful wedding and watched my daughter get married, and waved my son off to cook in the wilds of Michigan. L-I-F-E in a nutshell. Though it all, we have faithfully followed Marcella's recipes and posted our attempts.
The other Huge part of the challenge was finding the ingredients. I live in Alabama, where Italian is chef-boy-r-dee with a southern accent. It is near impossible to find young artichokes, whole chestnuts, or fresh ricotta cheese. My weekly trips to Piggly Wiggly were more interesting because of this challenge; I carried Marcella with me every time.
I feel that I feel like I can call her Marcella, because through this process she and Victor have been in my kitchen every week. They have followed along our journey, and commented on our progress. She has been kind and generous... and very absolute in her recipes. I cherish each comment she has made along the process. I was rightfully chastised for implying Tuscany was Italy, using chicken breasts once again, the thickness of my veal. . . but, more than once she refered to me as her talented southern cook.
Sandi, who could have imagined an Alabama belle making such deft tortelloni! You've proven that if one really loves pasta one doesn't have to settle for second-rate store bought stuff. It has to do with whether eating well is worth making an effort or not. And that, I understand, is what Southern cooks know something about.
I have not one, but two favorite memories, through out this process. The first, of course would be when Jan and I were in Venice at the same time. We were able to find Victor's favorite little shop at the Rialto market. With Jan's excellent Italian, we purchased the ingredients we needed for our recipe. We made our Botarga together in Jan's little apartment overlooking a canal... we drank a toast to the Hazan's and our fearless Pomodori. This is a moment that we will both cherish for the rest of our lives.
My second memory is my son and I in the kitchen together, making Gnocchi. Flour and potatoes everywhere, laughter, with a little wine and some gorgonzola~ We experimented together until 'allora'... we had the perfect gnocchi. I am a firm believer that making memories in the kitchen are treasures you can't replace.
More than once, Marcella commented that she wished we were neighbors. I would love nothing more than to share my polenta, and a glass of wine as I stir the risotto and listen to her stories. She has left with each of us the treasure of 'Essentials of Italian Cooking'. It is up to us to share these treasures with others.
Jan, Marcella, and Victor~ Thank you for the journey!