he one thing I do not enjoy in the world of food is the moment that I find myself with no appetite. Perhaps with a cold, when taste buds are whacked, or perhaps when I have been offered something to taste between breakfast and lunchtime, or lunchtime and dinner, and have accepted, and am pained to discover my appetite lacking that precious edge it has before the lovely meals that brighten every day.
It feels terrible.
I love food and eating and sharing meals with others but I do not love snacking, never have. Eating little drabs of this and that between meals has never appealed to me. I love being hungry, I love the anticipation of what surprises might be on my plate at a friend’s dinner party, or what a chef might do with what I ordered at a restaurant, but most of all, I love cooking, putting savory and healthy tastes together and making sure they get along.
I do this without tasting along the way and without losing that anticipation that makes any meal so surprising and delicious.
Instead, I rely on my nose and eyes. Things just look right when they are right and they certainly smell right when they are ready. Okay, okay, I might taste a little spoonful of tempting potato or leek soup or take a bite of a dish that might need more salt or lemon, but it is heaven to my quivering taste buds to make a curry out of whatever is lurking in those leftover Tupperwares in the fridge and not taste it until dinnertime despite the marriage of turmeric, cumin, ginger, garlic and the other titillating ingredients that make a curry irresistible.
But I resist, because anticipation is a stronger seduction.
Temptation is strongest, however, in the streets of Rome. For years I have strolled through the lovely little back alleys that take me to the open market at Campo de’Fiori where I discover a plethora of perfumes from fresh cut parmigiano, ripe country cheeses, seasonal fruits and vegetables, like the exquisite little fragoline from Lago di Nemi or the tender fava beans of spring, caffé from the bars and the always-present rich smell of Rome itself.
And with a severe case of the Elevensies, it is not easy to buy a fresh braid of mozzarella di bufala at my favorite salsamenteria and not succumb to adding a couple of little ovoline to sink my teeth into! Or cheat and open a package for a little slice of prosciutto destined for my lunch table. Call it will power, but it is my love of appetite that keeps me on the straight and narrow during a shopping morning.
But the true test is the visit to my incredible bakery where a long pizza bianca has just been laid out on the counter like a red carpet at Cannes. Smells of its golden crust, loaves of country bread from Lariano, and the fennel-flavored biscotti that have just come out of the oven could easily drive anyone into a frenzy of forfeiting all for that little innocent bite of chewy pizza, but with a resistance of steel, I am able to secure my purchases in my shopping cart and shut the cover. Out of sight, out of mind, right?
Well, not entirely.
The delight I have in thinking about my eventual lunch or dinner and that first taste of fettucine with artichoke sauce or even a simple bruschetta topped with tomatoes from the garden and slick with Italy’s life’s blood, the fragrant olive oil of Umbria or Tuscany or Liguria, is what hones an appetite building to its peak.
Who would wish to dull that seductive pull toward a table laden with riches? And the next time you reach for an energy bar or are manipulated by advertisements calculated to dull your appetite with processed snacks, imagine that magic moment when you savor that first bite of spaghetti with clams or even bite into a really good tuna fish sandwich or BLT!
I must admit, however, that when my sweet vegetable seller calls me over mid-morning to pop in my mouth one of the first succulent apricots of June, I do not resist.
But I’m only checking for ripeness, right?
No one is perfect.