Thursday, September 10, 2009

Transcendental Alimentation

As the warmth of Summer begins to fade and the garden gives up its last few treasures, I am trying to squeeze the most out of what is left. I had high hopes for the garden, but it all didn't go as planned. My inexperience and enthusiasm combined to create expectations that were tossed about by the poor weather and the blight that hit the tomatoes in our area.

When I started to plan the garden, I did so out of some necessity. Money being tighter than it was, planting a garden just makes good economic sense.

As I started checking out the seed catalogs (at what point did I turn into someone who looks at seed catalogues) and websites, I spied a tomato. That's how these thing always started I'd imagine. But it wasn't just any tomato. It was the tomato of my dreams. It was Pera d’Abruzzo, ripe, ridged and remarkably delicious. You can see a photo of it here.

I first met this tomato in a farmer's market in Venice. I bought it, tucked it into my backpack and headed off. Later, I was hungry and in need of a rest after walking for a few hours. I pulled the tomato from my bag, rinsed it off in the drinking fountain and sat down on a park bench on the island of Murano. I ate the tomato while sitting there looking out at the island of my dreams. As is. No frills, no fuss, no salt. It was perfect. The perfect tomato on the perfect day in the perfect place.

From there, I hatched my plan. Fortunes change and they change again and at the moment, I am not in a position to afford an Italian vacation. So I decided I would plant my memories of my Italian vacation. I splurged on $11 worth of seeds. My Pera d'Abruzzo, capers, Quadrato Rosso D' Asti peppers, basil Genovese and fiore di zucca (zucchini blossoms). I started them all in my sisters greenhouse. I coddled them and measured their growth and made great plans for our future together.

As time when on and the weather got warmer I planted them out in the garden. The bunnies made quick work of the capers. They didn't stand a chance, really. The basil and peppers flourished. The tomatoes had a promising start but to my great sadness were early casualties of the blight. I buried them in a black bag and moved on.

The peppers have appeared in all manner of dishes from sauces to bruschetta. They finished up last week. I ate the last one standing over the sink. The wonderfully abundant basil has been eaten on or with everything possible and have even made myself a year's supply of pesto for the freezer. It is getting sparse but looks like it has a few more weeks to go.

That brings us to the zuccas which quickly grew big green leaves and sat there. Big green leaves and nothing else. For weeks. Then the little buds started to emerge. And they just sat there. For days. Just when I was about to give up. They started to bloom. Six at once.

I scrambled for the perfect recipe. They all sounded so good. I settled on a filling of ricotta, garlic, basil, asiago and pine nuts. I washed and dried the blossoms and removed the fiddly bits inside. Using a baby spoon, I stuffed the blossoms with the mixture. I sealed them up and dipped them into a batter of egg, flour and sparkling water. Then, using skills I really didn't possess, I fried them quickly in olive oil.

When they were ready, I put them on a fancy plate, poured myself a glass of San Pellegrino Limonata and took it all outside.

It was magnificent. If I do say so myself. I took my first bite and I was transported from my back porch with its view of rust belt urban decay to the tiny cafe in the Canneregio where I tasted them for the first time. I felt the sunshine, smelled the sea air and heard Sarah Vaughan singing 'Someone to Watch Over Me" as I sat and ate them one by one.

As I took the last bite, the moment was broken by the whistle of an incoming train that deposited me onto my back porch.

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