Monday, June 30, 2008

Under the Arugula

Ok, I admit it. I'm probably one of the last people on the planet not to have read Under the Tuscan Sun (and while I'm passionate about art history and a good thriller, I didn't read The DaVinci Code, either--started to and couldn't get into it). I saw the movie with Diane Lane and loved it but of course, the movie is rarely as good or the same as the book. What is a joyful discovery about the book is that it is really a love affair about a house and a country. There is no great tearing off into uncharted waters alone--Frances Mayes is with a new love interest, although she had gone through a divorce--and she does return back and forth to her home and life in the United States.

I'm still in the beginnings of the memoir but one of the best parts is her description of food--she even has two sections on recipes: "Summer Kitchen" and "Winter Kitchen." To paraphrase Henry James, "summer kitchen" is one of the loveliest pairings of words in the English language. I'm rather partial to summer kitchens but more about that another time.

Early on Mayes describes a frequent meal that she and her partner make in their recently purchased Tuscan home. There are five ingredients: pasta, pancetta, cream, cheese, arugula (also called "rocket"--it reminds me of the wild watercress that we have in Kentucky). There is no recipe so, in similar fashion as Mayes would have done, I improvised. It was a delicious and easy summer meal. I served it with a good baguette. Of course, my trip last week to Trader Joe's was made with the purchase of a pre-diced box of pancetta, a bag of pre-washed arugula and some good shredded cheese in mind. Mayes would have gone to her local Italian vendors or open-air market.

Here is how Mayes described the dish, followed by how I prepared it. I tried, and succeeded, in replicating that seemingly breezy way that Mediterranean cooks seem to have with a few simple, fresh ingredients. Like so many French and Italian recipes, there is no exact science, more of a conjuring from what is on hand, something my friend, and fellow Cupcake, Edie often does with her "magic blue pot" (a lidded LeCreuset). [Edie is also in her first season of garlic-growing at Bee's Wing Farm and is conjuring up ways with the bushels of scapes she has recently cut. And speaking of bee's wings, I know she will also appreciate this uncanny device of cross-blog pollination.]

Those first pastas are divine. After long work, we eat everything in sight then tumble like field hands into bed. Our favorite is spaghetti with an easy sauce made from diced pancetta, unsmoked bacon, quickly browned, then stirred into cream and chopped wild arugula (called ruchetta locally), easily available in our driveway and along the stone walls. We grate parmigiano on top and eat huge mounds.
~ Frances Mayes
Pasta with Pancetta and Arugula a la Mayes

• Cook a box of good fettucine (1#) according to package instructions
• Meanwhile, sauté diced pancetta until nearly crisp
• Add several cups of arugula (I used a bag of it) until wilted
• Add enough cream to make it saucy (I used light cream, but it wasn't enough body; heavy cream provides thickness for the sauce)
• Add some freshly-ground black pepper (if you salt the pasta you will find that sufficient, as well as the natural salt from the pancetta)
• Toss with the freshly cooked, drained pasta and some shredded cheese
[Serves 4-5, depending on your preferred "mounds" of pasta]

Ironically, as Mayes prepared that in her new Italian home with fresh local market ingredients, amidst all the promise and potential a new home can have, I was preparing it in our New Hampshire home which is being boxed and packed in gradual increments while we await a new owner, as Mayes' villa did before she found it.

And so each evening we tumble like "field hands" into our deliberately easy dinners, covered with dust from our book and "stuff" sorting or emptying of the barn. It is a odd, uneven transition for me, an unusual summer, and while trying to "seize the day" I'm getting a bit bogged. So, to offset that "boggy" state of mind, I will try to blog a bit more often.

Less boggy: more bloggy. And more books ~ the television has hardly been on and I have no idea what is happening outside of our yard and house. Sometimes I rather like it that way.


Bee's Wing Farm said...

So glad you're having a bit of an escape to Italy amidst a rather rainy New Hampshire June! You might also really enjoy The Reluctant Tuscan as well -- the writing is wonderful (Phil Doran) and the descriptions of food as well as "homeplace" are so much fun. Irreverent, in a Cupcake kind of way.
Thanks for a great blog -- I enjoyed the tea room again as well. Would that CCCCC would be so!

Ladyfromthewoods said...

I've no idea what pancetta is and have never had our wild watercress. But this made me absolutely drool in hopes of having trying this dish one day. Maybe we should start cooking our lunches together! I'm a "gotta participate" type student.

The packing up of your NH house (Italian villa) into "keep and sell and store and give-away" could also be compared to Frances' choosing what reminded her of who she wanted to become, (or stay) as she moved onto the next chapters. Grab what feeds your soul and what you need. You have the blessing of knowing what promises await. Look forward to lots and lots of ladybugs! (Seriously, those boogers invade every summer.) LOL!

Sorry to be cheesy...I'm semi-avoiding something: a day of shopping for three different, size 10-11 shoes for an 11 year old's taste. Do they make such things?

Love to you! Teresa

MrsCatherine said...

Oh I think Teresa's idea is wonderful! It reminds me of the cooking club started by the six young ladies in NYC. What was that book called? The Cooking Club? That is something to think about and maybe plan on especially with our guys! Let's do it!

Lunch is next at my house when you return Catherine - we can't wait. Funny you mention pasta. I was thinking of making Penne a la Carbonara with chicken for our lunch. I have made carbonara with cooked bacon (not crisp) in lieu of pancetta and it works well. A salad, fresh made garlic bread and a melt in your mouth cheesecake...well hopefully that is! What do y'all think?

Ellie still has not had her puppies yet. I think I was orginally correct about her due date - who knows?! This city girl is getting a huge lesson in this that is for sure! We have a dog show (with Sir Otis) on the 12th and I sure hope Ellie has her babies then.

xoxo Cat - who has not read Under the Tuscan Sun - so you are not alone. Oh wait...but now that you have...that would make me the only one who has never read it! ;O)

Rose said...

I've not read the book but I have seen the movie. I loved the movie though I am sure the book has much more to offer. So maybe I'll add it to my list of "someday" reads.

I can hardly wait until you write about summer kitchens. Something I have always wanted here on the ranch. It's awful to do all the canning and preparation of the garden harvest in the house. The heat that fills the house is unbearable!

Paula said...

Dear Catherine,

Thank you so much for visiting me and for your kind comment. I love your Pantry book, it is well-written and the beautiful photos are so inspiring... just like your blog!

Have a lovely week!

Catherine Seiberling Pond said...

I wish I could have you all over here to our "villa" in New Hampshire for a big Italian feast! Last year two friends and I (one is a Cupcake, another is a Cupcake and Pantry blog follower, too) went to Boston's North End...we always intended to do a big dinner with our findings and ingredients. Another time and place, perhaps!

But I will gladly conjure up such a meal from our ridge in Kentucky. I'm sure that Lexington, Cincinnati or Louisville must have a good Italian market? Actually, I can probably find most things over at Kroger's!

Blessings, Catherine