Saturday, June 28, 2014

Italy Haunts my NY Soul

I have tweeted it, Facebooked it, emailed it and proclaimed out loud; "Italy, I wish I knew how to quit you." And much like when a confused and thoroughly addicted Ennis said it to Jack Twist, it is a hollow wish that is in direct contradiction to what is in his heart and soul.  It's more of a lament about not being able to have what you truly want, all the time.  For me, that desire is Italy.

These days, my desire for Italy has escalated to a level that has me questioning whether I have crossed the line from interest to obsession.  Have I made the leap from fan to stalker? Is this a pathological interest?  When I can't make it through the Italian Grocery store without ripping open a box of Kleenex to dry my tears.  Or when I sit at the bar of one of my favorite NYC restaurants in a trance, listening to the bartender yell directions to the busboys in Italian.  Or when I have an almost complete breakdown at a cooking class  given by a famous Italian chef, I start to wonder, are these the warning signals letting me know that that my train is about to jump the track?

All of those examples really happened.  What is even more disconcerting is that they happen often.  The most recent of them happened just this past Thursday night.

I had made a reservation at Eataly for a cooking demonstration/dinner with Chef Cesare Casella as an anniversary present for my husband.  After 23 years of marriage, you start to run out of ideas for gifts and as my husband also loves all things Italian and had enjoyed the black and white Rome episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, where Chef Casella made an appearance, I thought he would enjoy this.

The menu was pure Tuscany and Eataly delivered on its promise to match wines with all of the dishes that Chef Casella prepared.  The dinner included :

Pappa al Pomodoro:  A tomato and bread soup, drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and a generous grating of Parmesan.  They paired this with an Italian Chardonay (did not know such a thing even existed).
Risotto: Prepared with pear, scamorza and walnuts.  Again, liberally dosed with Parmigiano Reggiano and paired with a lovely Rosato.
Chingale alla Cacciatora - Hunter style boar stew, marinated in red wine and cooked with rosemary, tomatoes and vegetables, which they matched with a Tuscan Chianti.

Every bite of the meal was delicious and Chef Casella spoke with passion and pride about his upbringing in Italy, his life in the restaurant business and the Italian food principal of simple, local and fresh.  I listened in rapt attention to his tips about when to use a white vs a red onion, why you should use and not discard the stems of the parsley, how if the rosemary is young, you can chop and use the whole thing, but if it's old and the stalk is woody, pluck the leaves and leave the stalk behind.   Every detail was consumed. Not a crumb of food or information was left behind. There is nothing unusual about that, I suppose.  What was unusual though, was that on at least three separate occasions during the course of the demonstration, I burst into tears.  Not sobs, mind you, but bouts of teariness that had me running for the ladies room to compose myself.

The first and most significant wellage came when the introductions of the sommelier, sous chef and star chef himself were being made.  I got hit with a thunderbolt of jealousy and that I wasn't the sous chef that got to stir the risotto next to the chef.  I have certainly never felt that way about anybody or anything EVER before.  I was quite taken aback by it.  As the night progressed and the stories of Italy continued on, I was overcome with emotion over my desire to be in Italy and to use the amazing ingredients that chef spoke about with so much love and joy.

As a "woman of a certain age" I am definitely suspicious of any emotional dis regulation.  I suppose I could short circuit at any time and if I were crying over cat food commercials and information security training that I took at work, I would definitely go the hormonal route.  Such is not the case however.  I am, I believe, truly and deeply Romesick.   A condition cured only by my first glass of wine in front of the Pantheon or a slice of prosciutto from Roscioli or by witnessing a sunset from Isola Tiberina.

The pictures which follow are from the class at Eataly, which I highly recommend and some of my favorites from Rome.  I offer them as an excuse,  for my emotionally charged and possibly irrational behavior.  Or maybe, they are more of an explanation and my behavior makes sense.  Total and complete sense.

 "It's difficult to be simple." #truth