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 MayesPasta 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.