Nonna Maria on the Farm

Suggested Wines: Rosso di Montalcino, Poggione (Grape: Sangiovese); Pareto, Ruffino (Grape: Cabernet Sauvignon)

Translated literally, the Italian word furbo means “foxy” or “sly,” but those words don’t capture the real meaning of furbo. Furbo, in fact was my grandmother Maria, Beppe’s wife, who would buy shoes a size too big because she thought she was getting more shoe leather for her money, who would skim cream off the top of the milk she sold the local dairyman and who made sure the dame dairyman never noticed by serving him a glass of wine, or even two, whenever he’d call. It was Grandma Maria who tutored me about farm life, taught me how to milk the cows, how to make butter and ricotta, how to feed the chickens.

When I slept at Grandma Maria’s and Grandpa Beppe’s, I was always in the same camerone, or big room, where they kept huge closets filled with old clothes, sacks of grain waiting to be sold, old mattresses, and anything that didn’t have its own rightful place. Grandma would wake me up early and we’d go to the cow shed. Bianchina, the younger one with the doleful eyes, was my responsibility. I had to wash her teats with warm water before she would give up a drop of latte. Grandma tended to Mora, who liked to be sung to.

Later, with the fresh milk, Grandma would make ricotta, which she wrapped in plastic bags from the grocery store and sold to our neighbors. The warm ricotta was delicious. I especially loved it mixed with sugar and rum and ground coffee. It didn’t take me along to learn how to open the bags and sneak out a few spoonfuls, a trick that didn’t sit well with the customers. They would complain to Grandma that their containers were a few etti, ounces, short and she would begin yelling my name. That was my cue to disappear. But I knew she wasn’t really angry. If anything, it gave her great satisfaction to know her grandson was trying to be as furbo as she was.

Nonna Maria would have prepared this meal with great pleasure, because it’s only real cost is time. The other ingredients, from the onions to the rabbit, are cheap and plentiful in Tuscany. If only we had Maria to prepare it!