Tuesday, August 23, 2005


At long last we had the family from Ternana’s to our house for lunch. Although I joked that it was a bit intimidating to prepare a meal for four fantastic cooks, that really wasn’t the reason it took us so long to invite them. To be honest I felt guilty asking these people who work long hours six days a week, every week, to give up their one day off to come to our house for lunch.

The last time we were in Ternana’s I suddenly just invited them…even Art was surprised. I figured that August would be the last time the kids school schedule wouldn’t complicate things, and basically just decided it was now or never. As expected, they accepted our invitation and we set the day for Tuesday, the sixteenth, the day after ferrogosto.

Ferrogosto is one of those partly pagan, partly religious and partly traditional holidays. It’s the biggest summer holiday, held on the fifteenth of August, the feast day of the assumption of Mary into heaven. Even diehard workaholics manage to get away for a long weekend during this time. We knew that Ternana’s would be closed on Monday for the holiday, then on Tuesday, their regular closing day.

Now of course I had to figure out what we’d fix for lunch. We’d told them we’d have a picnic with some traditional American foods, but I didn’t want everything to be unfamiliar. Art was in charge of the ribs and the barbeque sauce, the rest was up to me.

I wanted to keep the appetizer simple and not too filling, so I decided that Pecorino cheese drizzled with honey would be quick, simple and delicious. Because the Greek pasta salad had been such a hit with the last group, I decided that this could serve as the pasta course, keeping with Italian tradition, yet giving it a new twist.

The vegetables are traditionally served with the meat course, so I decided that cole slaw would be my American dish. I hoped that it was as popular with the Testatondas as it has been with the other Italians I’ve made it for. Just to be on the safe side I also planned to make tomatoes gratinata and caponata, a Sicilian eggplant dish. One of the nice things about Italian cooking is that except for pasta, things are usually served at room temperature.

Salad always comes last, and I decided to keep this simple too with a fennel and orange salad. It’s light and refreshing, and wouldn’t be too heavy after the big meal. Dessert would be a traditional Italian crostata filled with the jam I’d made from Belinda and Giacomo’s golden plums, and the apple crumble dish that (incredibly!) all the Italians seem to love.

We had to buy everything on Sunday because the Monday market wouldn’t be held due to the holiday. We bought eggplant, celery and onions for the caponata, fennel and oranges for the salad, red green and yellow peppers for the pasta salad, apples for the dessert, tomatoes to be stuffed and a chunk of salty aged Pecorino.

After working all day Monday in the kitchen, I didn’t have a lot to do on Tuesday. I baked the tomatoes stuffed with bread crumbs, pecorino cheese and parsley and that was it. Of course I had planned it this way! As Art built the fire in the barbeque we discussed the best way to arrange the two tables to best accommodate our guests. We had also invited Wendy, who hoped she would be able to get away, but I wasn’t really expecting her.

I sat out the caponata and pasta salads so that they could come to room temperature. The ribs had been sprinkled with tenderizer the night before and were ready to go. I had the freezer packs in the freezer to keep the drinks cool, although once again hot weather was NOT GOING to be a problem!

The phone rang about ten, and I hoped that it wasn’t our lunch guests calling to cancel! It was Giacomo…inviting us for dinner….that same night! They had just returned from Amsterdam and knowing how little Belinda was home, we couldn’t refuse. Belinda’s co-worker Craig, the one who’s buying the house in Rotecastello, would be there, along with his girlfriend Barbara who’s a guide in Naples. Just when I thought our schedule was starting to slow down….

I volunteered to bring dessert, thinking maybe a good old fashioned apple pie might be nice. I had made a plum crostata for them the last time and they really seemed to like the crust. I think I make mine a little thinner than the Italians do, probably because I’m used to an American pie shell, and I had promised them an authentic American pie for the next time. I figured I’d have plenty of time after the lunch crowd left.

At one fifteen I had a mini panic attack and was afraid that the Testatonda’s had forgotten about us! We had just seen them on Sunday, and our parting words had been “A Martedi!” (Until Tuesday!) Luckily they pulled up about five minutes later and the fun began!

Rita was most anxious to see the house and of course we started off in the kitchen. Everyone was most complimentary….you have to remember that in this family, EVERYONE is a cook and knows their way around a kitchen.

They seemed to like the rest of the house as much as the kitchen, saying that it felt comfortable and elegant! Elegant isn’t a word I would use to describe me or my style, but I’ll take compliments in any form.

We moved to the backyard where the peace and tranquility of our town and our specific location are at their best. Art really outdid himself with the ribs…they were cooked to perfection…and they were a big hit with everyone.

The barbeque sauce seemed to be a big hit too, and we discussed the ingredients. The only thing missing in Italy seemed to be the Worcestershire sauce, so after the kids went on and on about how much they loved the sauce we gave them a bottle of Worcestershire….wonder if they’ll really make good ole’ fashioned American barbeque sauce?

I was relieved when the cold pasta salad was also a hit, and I’m glad I didn’t realize until two days later that I forgot to add the feta cheese. Of course the cole slaw was something new for our guests, and it too was a hit. The lunch continued with lots of good conversation. These people are just so nice and we feel so blessed to have them in our lives.

The funniest thing happened when I served the dessert. I guess I’m going to have to get used to people eating more of the apple crumble than I expect, but even more amazing than that was the reaction to the crostata. Fillipo, who has of course been the lucky recipient of wonderful cooking all of his life, declared that the crostata was the best he’s ever had….and had a second helping….and then a third! Wow! Was I ever flattered!

Marushka told us that it would probably snow tomorrow because Marco, who NEVER eats sweets, had eaten not one but TWO helpings of the apple crumble. He suggested I open my own restaurant, but I told him it’s a lot more fun when you’re only doing it for friends!

We talked and enjoyed the mild weather, then about four o’clock Pino announced that it was time to go. I think he wanted to get his afternoon nap in before it was too late. We thanked them for coming and they thanked us for having them….what a great afternoon! And now we’d need to rest up too for our dinner later that evening! Thank God we’d have several hours to recover!

Unfortunately the idea of a nap sounded quite inviting to me too, so I decided that we’d take the leftover desserts to the dinner. I knew no one would be offended, and it would be a great way to get those desserts out of the house and away from me and Art.

Belinda served Thai food for dinner…something I’ve never had before. Not only had I never eaten Thai, I really didn’t know anything about it, but by chance I had just seen a cooking show featuring many of the ingredients she used for dinner….coconut milk, fish paste, bamboo, lemon grass. It was interesting to eat something new, and something I had just learned about. Belinda and Giacomo are both great cooks too….I guess that’s one of the reasons we like them so much…we share a common passion.

We ate on the covered terrace, watching the sun set and the moon come up. Can life get any better than this? It was late by the time we got home that night, but it had certainly been a fun….and filling day!


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