Helping Make the Pasta

Suggested Wines: Chianti Classico, Montefili (Grapes: Sangiovese and Local Varietals); Le Stanze, Poliziano (Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon)

A few years agter my parents opened Vipore, my nonna Cesarina came to live with us. She helped in the kitchen, around the restaurant, and mostly, taking care of me. Since I had been born the same year her youngest son died, I was her favorite grandchild, which made her my favorite adult. Cesarina did everything for me, from brushing my hair to laying out my clothes in the morning- my shirt, pants, socks, and shoes. If I got scolded, I would console myself in Cesarina’s skirts. If I had a secret, I shared it first with Cesarina. On Saturday afternoons, when Cesarina went to visit our cousins in San Concordio, I was her companion. That meant that on Saturday mornings, before our trips to San Concordio, Cesarina would make fresh tordelli- a ravioli typical of Lucca that is stuffed with ground beef, pork, and chicken- so that Mama and Papa wouldn’t run out while we were gone. The tordelli ere her secret recipe, and Cesarina was very territorial about who she allowed to help her with the task.

One morning, I went to watch Cesarina as she made the tordelli. I know this was the day I decided I would become a chef. I was thirteen, and Cesarina started to show me how to roll and cut the pasta. Her hands flew, tucking and pinching like a seamstress. My first tries were disastrous, but when Papa came in, he was so encouraging that I caught on quickly and was soon producing perfect, savory rectangles.

I went to see Mama to brag, but I think she barely heard me. Instead she grabbed my hand and took me with her to check on the lamb and potatoes, which were roasting in the outdoor oven. I breathed that smell a million time since, but I’ll always remember the air that day. I was overpowering, a smokey haze of sage, rosemary, oil, garlic, and lamb roasting over wood. I watched Mama pull out the pan, splash on red wine and lemon juice, and toss in a handful of salt. When we got back in the kitchen, I asked so many questions about the meat and roasting, the pasta and the ragu, that Mama told me to be quiet and stay in the corner and watch. She may have been impatient, but she was a good teacher. I never went to San Concordio again with Nonna. From then on, I spent my weekends learning in the kitchen.