o here we are, springtime in Rome after having abandoned my fifteen newly-planted San Marzano tomatoes, a row of fresh coriander, beets, and radishes, plus perfect fat fava beans, heavy on their vines, which I pinched this year, as the Spanish do, to make the beans more abundant and accessible. It worked and I longed for my perfect pods with pecorino as we drove away. Planted near the compost pile, my precious Sweet Love rose bush burst out with ten blooms the day I shut my suitcase! Will the compost urge them to bloom again for our return? Sigh…
At least we have the comfort of a marvelous house and cat-sitter for little Loulou, our adored diabetic kitty, now improved thanks to Vitamin B12, and an enterprising young man with compulsive tendencies to keep the garden and patio in a condition that would enable us to serve dinner on the tiles, if need be. The sudden disappearance of my Italian parsley for spaghetti alle vongole a few weeks ago, its leaves mistaken for a weed, only meant that he needed a quick lesson in herb identification, but he’s a quick study.
I think I’ll sleep nights in Rome. I hope.
Leaving for a long trip has never been my favorite event but our distant Italian family is sorely missed.
As for the garden, France is going through the rapid phases of severe drought, and those tomatoes may not move past puberty unless things change. Following city rules, I scrupulously set the timers for before nine a.m. and as I don’t water after six anyway, I’ll leave their fate to Mother Nature. Two little villages near us not on city water have NO water as their deep wells have dried up.
Maybe investing in bottled water companies really fast would be advisable.
And yet, here in the world’s most beautiful city (my view, and it always has been), the Trevi fountains are flowing and street drinking fountains still run, helped along with three days of rain just after our arrival in full, golden sole. And we must throw in the coins our French doctor in Collioure, in love with Italy, has given us to ensure his return.
Because I have left my fava beans, hundreds on the vine, in France, I am now happy to need pecorino for the Roman ones. And of course there are my usual staples of flour, yeast, and fresh rosemary for focaccia. You may wonder why I bake in a city of bread, but I bake wherever I am, our favorite bread supplier is a long walk away and focaccia, bowl to mouth, is only a little over an hour. Sometimes impatience wins out, but I’ll have many mornings of pizza bianca from our distant bakery over the next month.
Rolling my caddy home with its treasures, I found that our long-time Pakistani friend’s tiny store near our apartment had been sold to a vegetable vendor, and stacked crates of artichokes, fresh greens, unbelievably beautiful fruits, and even mozzarella delivered daily were now a five-minute walk from us and open six days a week, a cook’s heaven.
On our last stint in Rome, visiting friends from LA who were touring Italy had left us a generous bag of orecchiette, little hand-made ears of pasta from Puglia, to go with a sauce of cima de rape, also called broccoletti, which to me has always had a seductive subtle taste of vanilla along with its lovely mustard green flavors.
Not easily found in France, these Pugliese “ears” made the first lunch in our Rome home particularly poignant with memories of so many distant friends who adore this city. We had with our mozzarella tiny sweet tomatoes and basil. We marveled at the skill of Pugliese women who turn out their tender little rounds of pasta so quickly by hand, as we feasted on a salad of the shoots of chicory, called puntarelle, another delight never found in France, tossed with anchovy, garlic, and lemon. Cooking always settles me in and the stress of travel lifts a little.
But the twelve-hour drive through a hundred and fifty six Ligurian tunnels from the French border had taken its toll the day before, and a perfect golden dessert mango from the little shop of treasures down the street led the way to yet another of Italy’s sensual pleasures, the soothing after-lunch reposo.
I suppose my tales of two cities, each one special in its own way, and so unlike one another except for their beauty, their exquisite cuisines, and fond friends and family, could include more similarities, but I feel so at home in both, and filled with joy at the beginning of our spring sojourn, I can only say, “Vive la différence!”