We were learning art with Irma Fiorentini. It happened that we were learning it at the right time. On Friday Irma’s main squeeze Roberto would be coming from the big city as he usually does on weekends. He would cook us a meal. That’s Roberto over there on the left, squeezing the passatelli into the brodo. Note that he is smiling.
To say that Roberto had a passion for cooking would be a severe understatement. Roberto cooked with a head-on giddiness you might see in a child upon receiving the best Christmas present there ever was. He was in his element—and his element made him very happy indeed. And if you don’t believe happiness rubs off on nearby onlookers clinging to a wine glass in one hand and a cell phone camera in the other you’re sadly mistaken.
Food is unlikely to be cooked well without a cook’s joy to sauce it. Drudge makes sludge.
So there is Roberto, squeezing little breadcrumb and cheese earthworms out of his ancient press into broth while we sip and egg him on. Passatelli in brodo, another peasant dish of the Emilia Romagna. Simple, tasty, life affirming. Bread crumbs, parmigiano, eggs, nutmeg, lemon zest. Squeeze. Done.
Like a good story, the meal had structure. Courses, from the Passatelli in Brodo to the salmon with three sauces, to the dessert flowed and cavorted with Robert’s wine selections. And the story, as so many of them do, had a twist, it looped back upon itself at the exciting conclusion, when Roberto constructed the Mont Blanc, or, um, Monte Bianco.
Like the first course, brown earthworms of spiced chocolate and chestnut made up the flanks, and whipped cream capped the whole deal.
As in real life, as with the storms that brought the snow. a bit of unsettled weather accompanied the topping. The mixer sent puffy pellets of half-whipped cream through the air, interrupted only by Roberto’s sweater.
It was not a disaster. It was a cause for more laughter, a beautiful celebration of the food that had given joy to poor people for hundreds of years before ending up on our plates—and we found it when we weren’t expecting it, a juicy bonus.
It’s not just about the raw materials, in art as it is in cooking. Remember that if you remember nothing else.