Cooking With Capote is a community-based writing project I am starting for the month of April. The goal is to encourage bloggers to write about food, but specifically: their emotional attachments, stories and family lore around certain culinary traditions. It is a way to cull together a collection of well-written food memoirs and recipes. A sort of writerly version of those dreadful Junior League cookbooks our mothers once purchased and used.
Tuscany. The name conjures plenty of cliches about sunflowers, vineyards, rolling verdant hills and castles. Doesn’t everyone in the world imagine themselves meandering through the wine country and beginning a life of cooking and eating well?
I went there myself with the simple idea that because I was in this famous land of enchanted cuisine, the fairy dust of centuries of epicurean excellence would just wear off on me.
We decided to rent a villa with a kitchen in the middle of a vineyard. I imagined it would look like this:
Photo credit: By Samuel Sloan (Modern Architect) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
In reality, it looked like this:
Photo credit: Public domain, via Oven Fresh.
I exaggerate, except, not. The nearest market, a five mile trek through sketchy one lane dirt roads, possessed Buitoni pasta, tomatoes that looked like they were grown in a hothouse and waxy-looking basil.
During our vacation, I cooked pasta that might as well have been produced in Milwaukee. No offense, Milwaukee. Your pasta probably tastes loads better. Our meals sucked, the “villa” sucked, Tuscany sucked. I tell everyone I know that I. Hate. Tuscany. Everyone looks at me like I have seven gelato-shaped heads.
Me, contemplating the bad food, in Tuscany. I lived in London at the time, and had decided I should look like a walking advert for Burberry.
I believe that if you want to go to Tuscany, and really enjoy the experience, either don’t do it on a budget, or stay in a town like Siena or San Gimignano.
All of this is a long-winded tale as to why I have a love-hate relationship with cooking Italiano.
I had this elaborate plan to cook poached salmon with dill tonight. I was forced to abort that mission rather abruptly when our local market had no dill. (And they always have dill!). I decided instead to cook gnocchi, the one Italian pasta I have a love-love relationship with, and so I bought the really expensive $19.99 gnocchi, stuffed with porcini mushrooms. Imported from
I know, you are blanching at the price. But, it makes at least three meals worth of dinner. So says I.
I decided to accompany the gnocchi with rainbow chard. Now, I am wary of Michael Pollan. I’ve read “Omnivore’s Dilemma” and “In Defense of Food”. I disagree with him on many points. I agree with him about a few things: CSA farmers and the wonders of rainbow chard. I LOVE rainbow chard. It is the most delicious vegetable: in fact, there is a close tie between rainbow chard and brussels sprouts in my mind for BEST vegetable. (Now I’ve completely lost you. I probably already lost you at the Tuscany hate.)
I decided to use a wonderful-looking Food and Wine recipe. I pulled out the Chard. Somehow, our crisper made it REAL crisp.
Whoops! I thawed it in the strainer with warm water. Then I worked on the prep.
What a beautiful vegetable. The prep was a bit finicky. I had to cut out the “ribs” and cut the leaves into two-inch strips.
Meanwhile, I picked sage from our herb garden.
I boiled the gnocchi until it floated to the top of the water. I fried the sage in brown butter, then gently cooked the gnocchi in the brown butter. It looked like this when ready:
It was divine. Take that, Buitoni.
The rainbow chard turned out delicious as well.
It doesn’t LOOK delicious, because the natural light was gone by the time I finally made it.
All this is a big apology to Italian cooking. Apparently, I had to return to my native California to be able to cook real Italian food.
Please comment below with a link to your own recipe or dinner. Share the food love.