First - the recipe. It begins here. On the Adriatic in the town of Milano-Marittima. I came here to see where my Godfather - Uncle Canttaneo (known in America as "Chuck") grew up. He was a gentle man with a hearty hug. He had a rose garden in Queens. And his paintings graced the walls of his home. I can still hear his greeting to me whenever I walked in the front door.
I must start with Biancaneve - the hotel run by my Uncle's family. We didn't stay there because after trying to book by phone, my lack of meaningful Italian (I speak food) was a barrier. And while I had met some of my Uncle's family - I had never met his nephew. We had no intention of strolling into their lives unannounced - just planned to snap a few photos on our morning walk.
But first, the recipe gets interesting here - on the terrace of a restaurant. A dog came in from the street and immediately gave us a joyous greeting as if to ask:
"Where have you been? I've been waiting for you!"
The dog's shy owner tried to shoo her away from us. Indeed the waiter was most insistent that he do so. But this was one determined dog. She wanted to be our friend and she simply slipped under our table and refused to come out. In the worst Italian, we asked the owner the dog's name.
"Luna," he replied.
"And your name?" we asked the dog's human.
As Lorenzo went under the table to retrieve Luna, Luna fled and she and Lorenzo embarked on a Keystone cop chase around the terrace of the restaurant. The waiter was not amused. We were. Luna returned with one more happy greeting and then allowed herself to be captured. Lorenzo and Luna went on their merry way. Paul and I enjoyed our encounter with Luna and Lorenzo but now it was time for seafood.
The next morning we made our way to Biancaneve. Click on the link for some lovely photos - it's all seaside rustic charm. As we turned the corner and saw it, things happened so fast - I didn't get good photos. I held up my camera and three people came from the house - Signora Berti and two of the staff. I didn't want them to think I was a hotel-stalker, so (again in broken Italian) tried to explain my tenuous relationship to their hotel. All they needed to hear was "Canttaneo" and before you could say "ciao," Paul and I were inside enjoying cappuccino and crostada.
And then - in walked Luna!
"Luna!" we cried.
And in Italian, I hear a surprised, "You know Luna?"
"Si, we know Luna."
And Lorenzo soon followed Luna into the dining area. It felt like old home week. It felt good. It felt right. Luna look satisfied. As if she had planned this.
It was arranged that my Uncle's nephew Marcello would meet us back here for lunch. So after phone calls and Italian-English charades, Paul and I explored the old town.
And returned for lunch. All four courses of it.
The pasta - which I now fondly think of as Pasta Luna.
Fresh, simple - and because food - for me - is forever intertwined with the company and circumstances of breaking bread at a table - I will state that this was some of the finest pasta in my life. Made by my Uncle's sister-in-law and shared with his two nephews and my husband. And Luna.
At one point during dinner, they decided to put Luna on the patio. Well, Luna's no dope - there are three entrances into the dining area. She was shooed out one door, walked around the patio and returned via another door within the minute! And stayed. I'm sure she thought she brought us together - she wasn't going to miss the celebratory lunch.
Pasta Luna (this generously served 5)
1 pound (fresh if possible) tagliatelle noodles
small amount olive oil
3/4 -1 pound minced pork
salt and pepper to taste
1 pint cherry tomatoes - finely chopped, most seeds removed (don't go crazy)
4 baby zucchini - minced
red pepper flakes
handful of coarsely chopped Italian parsley
pasta water to moisten
Cook pasta according to package directions - saving 1 cup of the pasta water to moisten. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large skillet and brown the pork. Add some salt and pepper if you wish. When pork is browned, add the tomatoes and zucchini. Lower heat and stir until the vegetables soften. Either add the pasta to the skillet or mix it all in a large bowl. Add red pepper flakes according to taste and add pasta water to moisten. Add chopped parsley and combine. Serve - passing some Parmigiano-Reggiano of course.
Are you just sighing thinking, "But - so simple. Why so special?" Because all came together sweetly. Nothing overpowers. All are joined in pitch-perfect harmony. You'll notice no pungency here - no onions or garlic or leeks. All is tender with a wee bit of heat from the red pepper flakes. But you know - Italian recipes are sometimes mere suggestions. Change the meat or eliminate it. Play with other vegetables. What allowed the dish to not be ordinary was the careful mincing of both the meat and vegetables. That kept the dish delicate and elegant. It's seamless. And it took care. Care adds flavor.
We also had chicken and potatoes baked with rosemary and a lovely pepperonata dish. Followed by sorbet. There were more courses for lunch than I make for dinner!
Luna and her beautiful family. I think that dog knew more than she let on!