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Italy, Pasta and My Heart

If life were normal, I’d be deep in the planning stages of hosting one of my glorious Italian adventures. Every cell of my body vibrates with the anticipation of jetting off to my beloved Italy. It was with heavy hearts that my husband and I rescheduled our summer holidays on the sunny Amalfi Coast for next June in the hopes that, next year, we will be able to travel to this country we love; hug the people there that we love and soak up the sweet, sensuous energy that is Italy. But the health and safety of our guests is paramount to us, so we are postponing travel for summer groups. Our hearts are break at the thought of not being there.

I will go on record as saying that while I may not host a group right now, as soon as the borders of our country and Italy are open and it’s safe to travel, you’ll find Robert and me on the first flight to Rome.

In the meantime, I content myself with a couple of rather obsessive ways to bring a little bit of Italy into my home and life until I can be there once again. I have increased my espresso consumption, choosing a cup from a different region each day (my collection is…extensive, shall we say).

I have watched Rick Steves episodes about Italy at least a dozen times each.

I have watched “Under the Tuscan Sun,” sometimes with the sound turned off just to see my beloved Cortona.

I study Italian daily to keep my language skills sharp.

Robert and I have discovered (thanks to a dear friend) an Italian police series on Rai One television called “Inspector Montalbano” set in Sicily in the town where Robert’s family lives. Each night our ritual is to work out, shower, make dinner and settle on the sofa to watch Salvo Montalbano solve cases, eat Sicilian food and drink coffee, while we listen to the gorgeous language we love being spoken in an enchanting way. It has saved us. If the lead actor knew this, he’d smile at saving the sanity of two Italian-Americans in Philadelphia.

Of course, the biggest way I stay in touch with my beloved Italy is in my kitchen. Just as when I was a child, the heart of our home is the kitchen and in it, my husband and I find peace and serenity, especially in these challenging times. The best part about cooking from our combined Italian and Sicilian heritages is that we are both really adept in cooking and specifically, the peasant food of Italy. Polenta, pasta, pizza, bread, simple but elegant vegetable and grain dishes, bean stews and soups seem to be in our DNA so we can’t help but cook these humble but nourishing foods that are the core of our combined ancestry.

Robert and I live a vegan macrobiotic lifestyle so there’s daily miso soup, whole grains and a bit of sea vegetables here and there, but these Asian-style dishes blend beautifully with our Mediterranean cooking in their simplicity and umami. It’s a win-win.

I cook Italian vegan dishes most of the time, with pasta and beans at the forefront of my cooking. Richly flavored ciambotte (stews) redolent with seasonal vegetables and beans simmer in a flavorful broth that just begs to be wiped up with crusty bread. Fresh seasonal vegetables feed us like royalty when cooked with a bit of olive oil, garlic, lemon juice and sea salt. I cook like my mother and grandmother (I thought all kids came home from school to pots of pasta e fagioli and fresh baked bread) and now, more than ever, I am finding my comfort in their dishes, in their simple style of cooking and eating; in their commitment to fresh seasonal food; in their love of family and friends.

I long for the days when we are once again around a table with the ones we love the most, fresh food on the table, laughter in the air, and a glass of wine raised to our blessings and to life.

Spring has returned to Italy even in this time of continuing darkness. Next summer, if not sooner, you’ll find me there.Who knows? Maybe some of you will even join me.

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