L’Opera della Cucina
17 January 2011
Podere Conti, Pontremoli, Italy
Tonight I really gained insight into the birth of opera. The depth of tradition and honor in this country is something you can feel deeply in your cells, and with a little research one can integrate quite smoothly. I recommend starting in the kitchen, since it is the most sacred of spaces, second only to the centuries-old churches perched high on mountaintops and nestled into villages. The birth of an opera in this century, one might think, is highly unlikely, but I can assure you that an American in the kitchen of a traditional Italian home is a think tank for operatic composition.
I was trusted tonight to finish making supper, so that the adults in the house could get a handle on their four very ecstatic children (it was Tibo’s 6th birthday today.) The baby wasn’t terribly keen on anything tonight either, so it seemed natural that I take over the kitchen duties. Now, I’ve been known to find my way around a stove or two in my day; a spread in Wine Country was a near-weekly event. I slid in to drain the farfalle, keep an eye on the sauce, dry and reset serving pieces, and grate the Parmigiano/Reggiano. Then I proudly placed my little mound of grated cheese right in the middle of the table, and waited for an “mmmm” or an “aaaah.” But no one moved a muscle, as if they see this quality, this authenticity every day. Oh, right… they do.
I second-guessed myself and removed the cheese from the table to get an okay from Cornelia.
“Is this enough for all of us, Cornelia?” I asked in earnest, showing her the hill I’d created.
But tradition crossed dear Cornelia’s face. Although she smiled lovingly and pointed out that I should use the smaller treads on the grating box, inside my head I could hear the music building. I had dishonored tradition and now I expected a church attendant to come out and sing about which side of the grater could spare me my life, while the king shook his fist and ordered my death because the Ministry of the Kitchen had heard news of an impending cultural overthrow.
The third act is all resolution. There was no death at the sword in the name of the Lord, or even love for that matter. Just a basic rule of thumb: use the small holes to grate for pasta, and a shaver for salads. There is no middle-sized “pre-packaged-mozzarella-shaped formaggio d’America” involved in this grating thing. Cornelia assured me that she was the same way when she moved here, and Antonella confirmed that only a foreigner would grate cheese that way, so I’ve already learned a very fundamental part of being Italian. Things Rosetta Stone doesn’t include in her curriculum...