May 24, 2011

Bramasole Pleasures

Arriving at Bramasole, our house in Cortona, always brings a rush to the senses. In late May, the ginestra, wild yellow broom, sweeps across the hills like a brushfire.  The whole slope below our mountain house is aflame and we roll down the window as we drive  for the golden scent.  This is the time that the cuckoo is heard in the land.  It really does say “Cuckoo, cuckoo,” and if you answer, it will keep on the conversation forever.  One day in June they’ll be gone.  That’s the essence of Tuscan spring, really–an ephemeral collection of pleasures.  Fave are one.  The day we arrived, Albano came over with a basketful, picked that morning in his garden.

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A favorite pasta is simply pici with fresh fave, little cherry tomatoes, great olive oil, and grated pecorino. In Tuscany, the fava is revered at this time of year, especially when it’s served as a snack or antipasto with some very fresh percorino–also of the moment.  We were lucky that the same day Albano brought the fave, Lapo stopped by with a gift of twenty-day-old pecorino.

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Lapo and his family are neighbors who have a very personal agriturismo, Casale della Torre.  www.casaledellatorre.com We send friends there for the experience of living with a friendly and authentic Tuscan family.  Lapo is also a shepherd who makes cheese regularly.  His guests often get to participate, as do Ed and I. Usually the cheese-making ends with some WWII-era records playing on an old phonograph and Lapo swirling me around the cantina with the ancient smells of rennet and sheep milk. The cheese is creamy soft and mild, and with the raw fave, a deeply indigenous pairing of tastes.

We are here in time for the last of the local asparagus.  It, too, will disappear for a year.  To anticipate that absence, we are roasting a full pan every night. We just lay it on parchment, drizzle with our oil, add salt and then run it in a hot oven for 5-7 minutes, depending on how thick it is. We both prefer the local kind–fat and crisp.

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I was happy to use the colander shown in the photo.  I love old kitchen equipment and found two 30’s or 40’s aluminum colanders at the monthly Arezzo antique market last summer.  I’ve missed using them.  Often old cookware is superior (sometimes not).  This colander has feet and very small holes, which means you can wash things like farro and lentils without them slurping through.  Meant to last, the handles are sturdy and the colander is BIG.

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The other one I bought is lighter and has a handy hook on the side so it can go inside a pot. Look at the graspable handle and the nice form!

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The Arezzo market is the first weekend of the month. I like to look for vintage aluminum espresso pots and the neat two-tiered pails workers used to take their lunches in–as well as my usual naive religious artifacts and paintings. The colanders are the best I’ve ever used.  A simple joy in the kitchen–and there are many other such joys that take one back to a connected and rational way of life: living in the season, using the powers of nature.  Another small pleasure–every house has a stendino, a folding rack for drying clothes. On returning here, I forget the dryer and choose that endlessly renewable source, the sun.  I like hanging out clothes and later gathering them, warmed and rather stiff.  In full sun, they dry as fast as in the dryer and smell like spring.

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Ecco Maggio!  That’s an old song–Here’s May.