I’m planning the menu for dinner with a couple of friends tonight. When I went into the village shop this morning, there was a wooden crate showcasing several fresh porcini, collected by the daughter-in-law of the shop owners. Opportunistically I decide to make an insalata di porcini, by slicing the small young ones very thinly, dressing them with extra-virgin olive oil, that I bought directly from the olive estate, and lemon juice.
The garnish is a sprinkling of nepitella (also called mentuccia in other parts of Tuscany). Calaminta nepeta is an aromatic herb which grows wild in the mule track in my village and all over Tuscany. It has the strange characteristic of smelling different to different people. Some say mint, but many to people it's more like marjoram or basil.
The rice harvest in the Piedmont is happening now, and I still have some rice from last year. It must be used. I choose a package of riso venere, a black whole-grain rice, that was given to me by the co-operative that distributes the farro grown by my friend Paolo Magazzini. I know they only represent small, artisan producers of very high quality. The specially aromatic rice combines well with seafood, so I plan a seafood risotto.
I visit the mercatino (outdoor market) in Fornoli to buy some calmaretti (small squid), gamberi (large prawns) and scampi (Dublin Bay prawns) from the fishmonger who comes once a week from Viareggio on the coast with the fresh catch. I don’t have to tell him what I want. I tell him I’m making risotto al mare for three, and he tells me what I need, accompanied by an oral recipe — he is passionate about fish, knows exactly where each fish on his stall comes from, when they’re in season and has very fixed ideas about how they should be cooked. Garlic, parsley and white wine for the risotto. I tentatively suggest a little onion. He looks horrified. You only use onion with frozen fish to disguise the fact that it was frozen. It will kill the flavour of fresh fish.
The contorno (vegetable) will be bietola (Swiss chard) from my orto (allotment, veg patch), steamed and sautéed with garlic.
Yesterday my friends from Zato gave me some green figs and new walnuts from their own trees. They’ll be good for dessert.
Ticking off the ingredients for my meal, only the lemon comes from someone I don’t know. All the rest I can trust implicitly to be fresh, wholesome and to taste exactly as it should.
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