Discover more from Buona Domenica
Have I lost my appetite for pasta? Plus, more summer recipes, and an update on forthcoming culinary tours
Welcome to Buona Domenica, a weekly newsletter on inspired Italian home cooking. I am still recovering from a broken ankle and therefore not posting regularly. If you are a paid subscriber, paid subscriptions are paused until I am back to my regular newsletter schedule, sometime around the end of August, so you will not be charged. If you are a free subscriber who would like to upgrade to a paid subscription (and I sure hope you are), you will be able to do so when paid subscriptions resume.
SIX WEEKS is a long time to go without pasta. Especially for someone like yours truly, who normally enjoys “a nice dish” (as my mom used to say) at least twice a week, often more. After all, pasta—in the form of tiny pastina stars cooked in broth—was the first solid food to hit my palate. Pastina, with copious amounts of grated parmigiano stirred in, has always been my one true love (in comfort food terms), the fix that has gotten me through every illness and injury, every heartbreak, every injustice—real or perceived.
Yet, oddly, and somewhat disconcertingly, I seem to have lost my taste for it, and, for that matter, all pasta, since breaking my ankle back in mid-June. In this last month and a half, I’ve experienced a pretty dramatic shift in appetite altogether.
It started at the hospital here in Penne. During the week I spent there, more or less confined to bed in a pale blue and white room, leg encased in a cast and elevated on some sort of metal-framed hammock, I lost my appetite entirely. This is unheard of. I am “una buona forchetta,” which translates to “a good fork” but means an enthusiastic eater. I love to eat as much as I love to cook. I am the living embodiment of a live-to-eat, not an eat-to-live person. Still, this development was not so surprising; my loss of appetite was simply a reaction to the trauma.
Also, the food at the hospital was terrible, shockingly bad. Ropy beef stew, leathery cutlets, gluey institutional ravioli smeared in pasty sauce that might as well have come from a can of Chef Boyardee. Talk about trauma. How can this be? I wondered. Am I not in Italy? I survived on the occasional watery mound of cooked spinach and chard; mini containers of applesauce; and homemade banana bread that my neighbor Dianne smuggled in. It was fine; I was there to get a foot repaired, not to eat Michelin-starred meals.
(The other day my cheesemonger Franca explained that the food at Penne hospital was once “top” because it was cooked right there in the kitchen. When they switched to trucking in food from the outside, as so many hospitals have done, presumably to cut costs, quality plummeted.)
The real surprise, though, came when I was discharged. My husband, who had flown back to Italy from the U.S. to be my caregiver (poor guy), asked me what I would like to eat.
I kept waiting for the desire for a bowl of spaghetti al pomodoro to present itself, or that familiar overpowering need for a bowl of pastina—my one and only!—but it didn’t. Not at all. And it wasn’t just pasta. I also lost my taste for bread (what?!). And pastries. And dessert. And wine. Though on this last item I can’t say I feel too badly because Domenica + wine + crutches = Disaster.
So, what have I been eating as I inch my way towards mobility and work to regain my sense of balance? Vegetables. Lots of them, mostly prepared by my husband, who has become something of a vegetable whisperer over the last month. I mentioned the flat beans stewed in tomato sauce (with fried egg on top) he made in my last post. He also excels at sautéed zucchini (just tender, nicely browned in spots) seasoned with basil and a squeeze of lemon juice, plus a variation in which peppers and potatoes (each first cooked separately) are added to the mix. Last week he made the zucchini and potato potage from Everyday Italian, and the other day he cooked a big batch of cicoria, some of which he used to make minestra di riso e cicoria, a longtime favorite of mine which I wrote about here.
There have been lots of tomato salads, of course, because it’s the season. Also, fruit. Apricots, nectarines, peaches, plums, melon (sometimes with prosciutto), kiwi, and juicy, ruby watermelon—the kind with seeds! Meanwhile, we’ve relied on our local shops to fill in any gaps: Nonna Ersilia, our “tavola calda” for eggplant parm; Franca the cheesemonger for fresh ricotta, mozzarella, and semi-aged pecorino; our tiny fish shop for sweet shrimp; and our local butcher for sausages or the occasional breaded veal or chicken cutlet, which my husband fries in a skillet.
I eat small amounts of all these foods, and it seems to be just what my recovering body is craving. Clearly, it (my body) has determined that a nice dish of pasta or a cheese-laden bowl of pastina is not something Sedentary Domenica needs.
The thing is, while I don’t miss pasta, I miss wanting pasta. It feels weird to no longer crave my favorite food. I miss dipping a soup spoon into a generous bowlful of tiny pasta stars or acini di pepe. I miss twirling noodles around my fork and slurping up the briny sauce of a good spaghetti alle le vongole. I miss pulling a box of pasta from the pantry and letting its shape to determine how I’ll sauce it. I miss sitting down to a “nice dish” of hand-cut tagliatelle.
On the other hand, I’m enjoying this interlude of more mindful (if it even is that) eating. I’m almost certain that those carb cravings will return, with force, when I’m back on my feet. I hope that when they do I can find the strength to maintain my balance.
READERS: The only other time I’ve experienced such a dramatic shift in appetite was when I was expecting. What about you? Was there ever a period in your life when your appetite changed significantly?
THREE MORE SUMMER RECIPES!
In my last newsletter, I posted nine favorite summer recipes. (Have you tried any of them?) Here, for your enjoyment, are three more. These have been previously published, as I’m not yet able to move around well enough to cook, let alone test new recipes, without maiming myself. However, they are all worthy of a reminder. Do make them if you haven’t, and if you have, it might be time to make them again.
RECIPE: Pomodori Ripieni | Rice-Stuffed Tomatoes
This classic Roman recipe, in which ripe tomatoes are filled with seasoned rice and baked on a bed of sliced potatoes, is published in my latest book, Everyday Italian. There is an earlier version of it on my blog, which you’ll find here.
RECIPE: Eggplant and Zucchini alla Parmigiana
Layers of eggplant and zucchini alternate with layers of cheese and tomato sauce, fusing together in the oven to create one of Italy’s most beloved dishes. Grilling, rather than frying, the vegetables lightens things up just enough to keep this parmigiana summery. Find the recipe here.
RECIPE: Sorbetto di Ananas | Pineapple Sorbet
This creamy sorbetto is made with fresh pineapple puréed and churned together with milk and coconut milk and perfumed with lemon zest, basil, and mint. Just writing those words makes me want a scoop. Find the recipe here.
CULINARY TOUR UPDATE
I’ve gotten a lot of requests in recent weeks from people who are interested in my culinary tours. I have some good news on that front: I am finalizing details for two culinary tours in Liguria, including one that will combine Liguria and Piemonte and another that (tentatively) will combine Liguria and Emilia-Romagna.
Unfortunately, the Abruzzo tour is still on hiatus and I’m not sure when/if it will return.
I’ll have precise dates and details for the forthcoming Liguria tours in the next few weeks. Here’s what I can tell you in the meant time:
Liguria + Piemonte Culinary Tour: This week-long tour is scheduled for October, 2024. We will split our time between the rolling green hills of the Langhe, Piemonte, and Liguria’s fascinating capital, Genoa. Among the highlights: a day trip to Torino, a Piemontese wine tasting, day trips to picturesque Ligurian villages, and a cooking class focusing on local cuisine.
Tasting Liguria + Emilia-Romagna Tour: This week-long tour is tentatively scheduled for April 2025. It will follow the same basic itinerary as outlined here on my website. Among the highlights; a street food tour of Genoa and a visit to the Renaissance city of Parma, with (of course) a tour of a Parmigiano-Reggiano producer and a producer of balsamic vinegar.
An important note about my Liguria tours: I host these tours in collaboration with Beautiful Liguria, and I always choose the less crowded off season in order to provide guests with a genuinely pleasing experience. Our aim is sustainable, small-group tourism, with a maximum of 12 participants. We focus on showing our guests hidden gems and lesser known destinations. We will not be going to Cinque Terre or places that are likely to be mobbed with tourists and cruise ship crowds.
PICTURE ITALY: Atri countryside, Abruzzo, 2023
As always, thanks for reading, subscribing, and sharing. I’ll be back soon with another post, so please stay tuned, and thank you for your patience. I appreciate it.