Leaving New York, my home where I’m usually spirited during autumn, has me somehow relieved to be vacating the premises, feeling it’s a city on the verge of change. Or perhaps it is I who am changing.
I’ve been to Tuscany in the high season, and this time it somehow feels right to return during its tranquil time. Perhaps it’s because I know some special locals, or it’s just the way in which this area of the world will embrace you with the promise that you’re never alone.
My home here in Montepulciano is the family owned palazzo, Politian. Sharing its interior terracotta stairs only with the proprietors and their dog, Zooby, I find a peaceful atmosphere outside of the tourist season, and pay homage to this magical medieval place and all that it provides in the present day, while I take part in the daily routine.
The afternoon light bounces off the valley just outside my window, inducing inspiration, except for the man on a bench who sporadically hacks while inhaling his daily dose of nicotine, as he waxes nostalgia or, perhaps, simply waits it out until dinnertime. Bless him.
I speak in staccato like a three-year-old, and the Italians have the patience of their patron saints, while they do their best to communicate back to me, practicing their English. It’s like kindergarten for adults. However, it doesn’t take long until I feel in a groove, having taken Beginner Italian at Il Sasso in Montepulciano, the premiere language school. Perpetually mingling and listening to the local news is the key to learning, and so I venture on with courage.
“Keep it simple” is often said in jest when referring to most tasks in life. People respond to it, and these words have a way of instantly relaxing the mind, acting as a reminder that simplicity produces results, whether visual simplicity in advertising, the written word, or cooking, as long as it’s performed with quality.
The most creative of chefs use simplicity in their preparations, building on their ingredients with techniques that dazzle, whether it be the use of a mini flame-thrower or ornately plating a dish.
Choosing to cook for local Italians in Montepulciano is daunting, full stop. But my friends’ words resonate as I prepare a typical sauce of sausage, garlic, and oil that accompanies simple Pici (typical pasta) followed with typical turkey or simple galletto (a small chicken) marinated with this year’s production of olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and rosemary. The words “'typical' and 'simple' have taken on new meaning for me, and my brain no longer translates them as ‘boring’ or ‘mundane.’ Slow and steady wins the race here, and my friends can taste my patience when I prepare their simple and typical ritualistic meals.
I admit to having corrupted my companion, Pierangelo, with burro (butter.) He asks for it now, and knows that a patata belongs with its partner, burro. I can’t help it. This Irish Lass insists on mashed patata with the turkey. And, when I accidentally overcook the sliced patatas, Pierangelo comes close to embracing the french fry. Hold the mayonnaise, please, there could be a revolt.
And so, we move on to enjoy our medieval chicken, and I look forward to a series of adventures in Tuscan life.