July 14, 2007
21 Days of Pasta: Dreaming of Italy

laloggetta.jpgToday, for the first time in months, I set off with my youngest son for the organic market in the 17th arrondisement of Paris. I was slightly worried that none of the merchants would have shown up, this being Bastille day, after all. But a good number of them were there, and the fact that it is a holiday meant that there were fewer customers to get in my way. So I looked forward to a satisfying morning re-acquainting myself with my favourite stalls and choosing fruits and vegetables at the height of summer delight.

The only problem is that despite what the calendar may tell you, Paris is not in the height of summer. To be exact, since May we have had two beautiful sunny days: yesterday and today. I enjoyed shopping for cheeses and fish (hurrah - wild salmon!) and sausages, but the fruit and vegetable part, which normally would be making my heart beat faster, left me a bit cold. Like the Paris weather for the last six weeks.

Luckily for me, three of those weeks were spent in a place where the calendar and the weather agreed on the time of year: Italy. The day after we arrived at La Loggetta in Chianti, the Critic and I set out on an exploratory mission to find a grocery store. We drove to the outskirts of Sienna and followed signs for ipermercati (they had a helpful little shopping trolley symbol on the signs for non-Italian speakers like us). And we found a foodie's paradise. Imagine: we left a cold, drizzly Paris where "in season" fruit was not yet in season and the sun did not show its face. And we arrived in Italy, where fruit and vegetables were gloriously in season. True, the sun did not show its face for the first few days, but with juicy tomatoes and peppery olive oil on hand it did not feel like mid-winter. I started a food diary on the trip, which unfortunately and due to circumstances well within my control (surely I should have managed not to lock the keys to the car in the trunk of said car, with the laptop?), I was unable to keep up. But I do have the list of food we bought on that first expedition: three varieties of tomatoes, bell peppers, lettuce, fennel, cherries, peaches, apples, lupini beans, dried peppers, hot peppers, eight kinds of cheese, two kinds of ham, bacon, cereal, anchovies, capers, sausages, three kinds of bread and a basil plant. Pasta types: 125 (tortiglioni), 44 (sedani), 206 (fiocchetti), 61 (farfalle), 61 (ditali rigati), 4 (vermicelli).

On that first shopping trip we bought three kilos of pasta. We ate it all and a kilo more, bought over the course of the stay. I had decided in advance that I would try to stick to local cuisine when cooking - after all, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do" must also apply to Chianti. I even brought a cookbook of Italian recipes, thoughtfully given to me this year by the Critic for my birthday just before we left.

And you know what? By the end of it, I was not yet tired of pasta. In fact, as a result, I've increased the variety and quantity of pasta I get from my twice-a-month trip to the supermarket.

And purely as a favour to the reading public, I'm going to spend the next few weeks reproducing some of the dishes I tried and sharing them with you. Starting, today, with turkey in a creamy rosemary and lemon sauce.

Creamy, lemony turkey and pasta (serves two)

I found the basics of this recipe in a food magazine in a doctor's office outside Radda in Chianti. It seems that doctor's offices the world over are all the same and you can find out of date magazines in every waiting room. I can't read Italian, but it has enough words that are similar to French or English that I understood the basic concept of "cream, lemon, rosemary, poultry" and thought it sounded delicious. And so it is. The Critic was not blown away by it, but I thought it was delightful: very fresh tasting and light, despite the rich cream.

(And for those who are curious why I spent precious hours of our holiday in a doctor's office, it was because I was bitten below the eye by a mysterious insect and my face had swollen up until, the Critic tells me, I looked like an Ood. It's better now.)

300 grams turkey breast (chicken can be substituted, but turkey is particularly good with the strong citric and rosemary flavours here)
2 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
juice of half a lemon
3/4 cup light cream
generous pinch of sea salt
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
garnish: freshly grated Parmesan

Suggested pasta: farfalla or fiocchetti or rottini, i.e. something with curves and bumps to catch and hold the sauce.

This dish is not only delicious but quick and easy, taking less than half an hour from prep to serving and needing only seven ingredients (my friend Zena's definition of an "easy recipe"). Start the water boiling for your pasta first. Then slice the turkey in small bite-sized pieces. Heat the olive oil and butter in a frying pan until they begin to froth. Add the turkey and allow to brown a bit before stirring the meat. By now, your water should be boiling. Measure out your pasta (about 250-300 grams, enough for two) and toss it in the boiling water. You can add a glug of olive oil if you like; I never notice much of a difference when I do.

Add the chopped rosemary to the turkey and stir for a few minutes, until the aroma of the rosemary starts to waft through your kitchen. Turn down the heat a bit and add the lemon juice. Use it to stir up the browned bits of turkey that have stuck to the bottom of your pan. You could stir in a bit of white wine at this point, too, if you have any on hand. Pour in the cream and stir. Taste the sauce: it may need more lemon or more salt or rosemary or maybe all three. You want a punchy sauce, because when it is absorbed by the pasta it will lose some flavour.

When the pasta is done, drain it and add it to the sauce. If your frying pan is not large enough to accommodate the pasta, scrape the sauce in a large pasta bowl before draining. Toss immediately with the sauce. Taste again for salt (remembering, however, that your guests will be adding Parmesan, which is quite salty) and serve.

If you are the kind of person who usually has lemons and poultry on hand and, like me, have a rosemary plant, this is the kind of last minute dinner you can whip up on short notice. It isn't low calorie. But it is delicious.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at July 14, 2007 8:13 AM Print-friendly version

Except for the bug bite, it sounds like a perfectly wonderful vacation! I love pasta recipes like this, especially with good Italian pasta. I rarely eat it at home, but when in Italy, I must have pasta every day.

Posted by Lydia on July 14, 2007 at 11:40 AM

I'm reading a book that talks about the difference between American and Italian pastas and I think I understand not being sick of the pasta. It sounds like a great trip

Posted by barrett on July 14, 2007 at 1:02 PM

Lydia, the bug bites were bad. And so was the day that the toddler nearly managed to run into a busy road on a blind curve (I gave him a rugby tackle and we both escaped with scrapes). That was easily the worst point of the trip, actually. But the weather was gorgeous and so was the food. The Critic and I even managed TWO dinners out in nice restaurants, thanks to the wonderful nieces who came out to help with the babysitting!

Barrett, I felt too silly to mention it in the post, but I swear both the Critic and I are convinced that even the store-bought pasta in Italy is significantly different from what we get in France. I have been buying Barilla brand since we got back and somehow it's lacking the bite and flavour of the stuff we bought at a cheap supermarket in Tuscany! I'd be interested in hearing what your book says about it!

Posted by Meg in Paris on July 14, 2007 at 4:10 PM

Except for the bug bite, it sounds like a perfectly wonderful vacation! I love pasta recipes like this, especially with good Italian pasta. I rarely eat it at home, but when in Italy, I must have pasta every day.

Posted by Air Max on March 7, 2012 at 9:53 PM
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