ISO Piccante

I laughed a little too hard recently when reading Anne Lamott’s words, “By the end I was deteriorating faster than I could lower my standards”. I cannot be the only human whose covid days, home-cooked meals and masked conversations have become excruciatingly banal.  We’re all yearning for discovery, spice and a rollicking time anywhere but where we’ve spent these endless covid moons. And now, with the word ‘vaccine’ in the headlines, everything I prepare suddenly has a little more garlic in it again. Just like that, visions of future travel float past like soap bubbles blown by audacious children. I chase every last one.

• There goes a day in Alba, Piedmont, punctuated by Sandro, a sommelier and member of the ‘Order of the Knights of the Truffle and Wine of Alba’, who pours and shaves his vino and tartuffi with a generous hand. We’re tasting wines. But we aren’t standing around primly spitting careful little jets of world class wine into sterile spittoons. We’re swigging it down, feasting around a harvest table with local winemakers, passing the plate of tajarin. Each wine maker arrives with a prized appellation up one sleeve and a few stories up the other, always a pungent truffle or two in their pockets. A gently poached egg smothered in white truffle shavings. A glass of Barolo. Pop.

• There goes that dynamo chef in her home kitchen in gritty Palermo, Sicily, who lures us in with her vast knowledge of ancient Sicilian grains and keeps us there with her cunning personality and sheer culinary talent. Timilia. Tumminia. Pop.

• There goes the head strong bee keeper from Ostuni, Puglia in her red Cinquecento, chasing her hive as they migrate to cultivate wild honey. Cheese and honey pairings happen in this home as a daily practice, not a staged event. Hand-rolled artisanal pastas line the counters as we pass through to the cellar, where any number of us could live out the next pandemic judging by the amount of tip top quality preserves on the shelves for personal use. They are advocates for the well being of their bees and the local environment, while growing their own food on a modest plot of land. The practices of this average Italian family are why I’ll never stop planning to return to Italy again and again. Pop.

• There goes a university student with her commuter bike through the streets of Bologna, on her way to class at the oldest university in the world. She won’t need to swerve for many tourists in this hip, sophisticated city of arches, which is partially why it is so compelling. She takes for granted that she is passing world renowned food markets and restaurants in Italy’s food capital. Tortellini in brodo, Tortilla di ricotta, candied fruit, Parmiggiano Reggiano. Pop.

Before I know it I’ve smashed 6 cloves of garlic, now simmering away in extra virgin olive oil, on their way to becoming the peasant staple of ‘spaghetti aglio, olio, e pepperoncino’. Adding the heat of hot pepper flakes indicates the promising return of a spunkier version of daily life. Indeed, colour will return to our faces again, plans to our calendar, a little piccante to our future assumptions. The lust for intense flavour, novelty and human connection feels well within reach and damn, it smells good in here.

Meredith seems to be sharpening her passport and dusting her maps with hot pepper flakes. She’s ready. If after 9 months of lock down you’re also beginning to eye the horizon, you can fire her an email and tuck into some slow-cooked plans for 2021.

Visions of future travel float past like soap bubbles blown by audacious children. I chase every last one.

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