14 April 2013

pizza in penryn

i've always loved italian food - mozzarella, parmesan, basil, olives, quality olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes, pasta, pesto, gnocchi, anchovies, focaccia, ciabatta, pizza, gelato........ the list goes on. oh yes, and wine too. balsamic vinegar is one of my favourite things. aged and thick. if you get a good vintage it is truly amazing. expensive but cheaper than a fine wine habit.

when i was at secondary school i was lucky enough to go on an art trip to florence. even the basic pasta and tomato sauce we had every night in the hotel was a million times nicer than any pasta and tomato sauce i'd tasted. lunch was disappointing. a dry white roll (without butter) with a slice of processed cheese or ham, a chocolate bar and the choice of an apple or an orange. yet when we left the hotel and were herded through the busy streets we passed cafes, restaurants, indoor food markets, outdoor food markets.... the smells wafted after us and the beautiful colours were a sight to behold.

i was 15. i didn't care much about the art. i loved cats and there were cats everywhere. all i was interested in was photographing cats lazing in the sun, cats curled up on walls outside crumbling buildings, cats with their kittens...... and ice cream. i'd never seen so many cats in all my life. there was a park where people would go and leave food for all these strays and it was full of hundreds of disheveled scraggy moggies fighting it out over a piece of fish. i was captivated. i grew up on a sheep farm and it was like watching the shepherd turn up to feed the flock. bleating sheep sprinted from all corners of the field to besiege the tractor in hungry anticipation. this was just like that. a little bent grey haired lady with an apron and headscarf would enter the park with a plate of meat. she'd chatter away in italian, scrape her scraps onto the ground and within seconds she'd be surrounded by a thick furry patchwork carpet of tabby and tortoiseshell and black and white and ginger. the cacophony of miaos hit me like the cries of orphan babies. i'd get out my camera, see the school party begin to disappear, linger as long as i could, snap a few shots and run and catch up. then, if the teacher we were with was kind, she'd let us buy an ice cream.

being ushered past all this amazing italian produce but restrained by invisible leads was like torture. seeing but not being able to try. so at my first opportunity (after my art foundation course) i plotted a way to return to italy so i could finally taste some of this food. i chose to be an au pair for the "aristocracy and landed gentry" of rome! my thinking being, that if i opted for an affluent family they would have the best food. i wasn't disappointed. despite having to suffer spoilt, disfunctional rich kids, the family had their own polish housekeeper and cook. but on top of that they had a family friend who was "one of the finest chefs in rome", pepe. and he came and rustled up something experimental and delicious once a week. i sampled the most mouth-wateringly wonderful food and wines i've ever tasted in my life. i discovered real fragolino, but that is another story.

the job was mostly hellish but i escaped often enough into rome to eat pizza and ice cream. so much ice cream. despite her excessive wealth, the mother was extremely tight. she was also extremely insecure and jealous. jealous that her neglected children became closer to their au pairs than her (she decided to change them every three months for this reason) but jealous that i was thinner than her. she made it her mission to "put some weight on me" because "no italian man would find me attractive without a bit more...... (she gestured to my breasts and bum, her hands wildly  drawing firm curves in the air).... a woman's figure"! did i care? i was fed up with being constantly followed and harassed by italian men on mopeds who didn't understand that a whole bottle of hair gel could be used in more than one application. this news was a relief! i wasn't that thin and she wasn't much larger herself. i thought it was great. she bought me cakes and ice creams. it was the only thing she offered to buy me. i liked seeing her mild resentment and reluctance at parting with ANY money on my behalf. and i didn't put on weight. how could i? i was running around after her two very energetic, unco-operative children for long hours each day in their huge villa and vast grounds. at any one point at least one of them had bolted into the distance and i was having to burn off those bitterly bestowed ice cream calories in the chase. so no. i never did become attractive to italian men. 

but....... back to the present. you can imagine how excited i was to discover homemade sicilian pizza in the friday market in penryn of all places. just a few doors up from the shop. steve and liz have a stall selling their delicious homemade bread, quiche and italian pizza. it's only there on a friday and sometimes you have to visit early because it sells out fast. the pizza bases are organic and made with semolina and the toppings are recipes using their home grown veg. steve's grandmother was sicilian and he recreates some of her recipes. one of these is fig, melon and parma ham. but he's also inspired by recipes from milan and rome and i guess, makes up his own too. it satisfies my longing for italian food and at the moment is the next best thing to eating in italy. and for the penryn arts festival he plans to sell homemade ice cream from a 1950's style milk bar in his garden. but i have to be careful. i'm no longer that wispy teenager and although i've never been well enough endowed to become a fully curvaceous woman, i did find that my bum was a hinderance when trying to climb up my chimney. i did find that i couldn't fit into as small a space as i thought i could. i understand why children were sent up chimneys. i'm mildly concerned that i have, over the years, inadvertently achieved a limited appeal to some italian men. but maybe the hair gel of the early 90's is a thing of the past so i need not worry.

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