Florence, Food, Fresh made pasta, Perfect food, Reflections, Sabbatical

Exploring the Tuscan Countryside – Part 1 Update: On Fresh Ravioli and Perfect Food

I just had the ravioli (just cheeses as noted in my prior post with a bit of nutmeg in the mix) that I’d purchased from Maccheroni e raviuoli in San Casciano on Monday. For me, good food can be almost a religious experience. Prior to today, though, I have had one truly transcendent food experience.

The year we lived in Russia, we spent quite a bit of the time in late spring, early summer at our “family’s” dacha (summer house in the country). They had an amazing garden and my favorite thing was to pick and eat fresh, ripe raspberries warmed by the sun. On one particular afternoon, after swimming in the Volga River, I picked some raspberries and brought them into the house. Normally I would have shared them immediately with whoever was around. On this afternoon, our Babushka smiled at me and told me to wait. She asked me to pick more, told me she would be back shortly, then left the house with a jar and a bag.

I did as requested and filled another pot with fresh raspberries. When I returned to the house, she still wasn’t back. Grozvater (grandfather in German) gestured for me to wait. I put the raspberries on the table and went into the other room to lie down on the bed, relax, and read until Babushka came back.  I ended up falling asleep. Some time later, I awoke to Babushka’s voice whispering in the kitchen. I stretched, got up and walked into the room.

Babushka turned to the counter and picked up her small jar, now full of what I can only describe as a white, buttery looking substance. She put some berries in a bowl for me, topped them with the buttery substance, and handed me the bowl and a large spoon, a broad smile on her face. As it turns out the buttery substance was fresh, village smetana (sour cream). To call it sour cream, given what we call sour cream in the states,  especially the packaged kind we get in grocery stores (the only kind I’ve ever had) is probably a crime. It was thick, smooth, creamy and flavorful. The sourness was not too strong, making it the perfect pairing with the sweet raspberries. I put the first bite in my mouth and savored the flavors, distinct, then blending on  my tongue. It was, without doubt, the most delicious food I had ever tasted. The memory of that first bite and all those that followed stick with me almost two decades later. I don’t know if you’ve ever had this experience, but in that moment, on that particular day, I realized that I could die content. My children were with me, happy and well loved, we had enjoyed a delightful morning, and I had eaten the perfect food. Life was perfect.

Today I had another transcendent food experience. It might not stay in my memory as the smetana and raspberries have. It might not be the memory of another perfect day, but it was delicious. At the pasta shop, the pasta maker told me to keep the pasta for a day or two in the refrigerator to let the flavors mix, but to eat it within three days. He recommended serving it with melted butter, fresh chopped sage, salt and pepper, sauteed briefly in a pan. I was then to put the ravioli in the pan and coat each side with the sage butter mixture.

I have a confession to make here. I am not traditionally a fan of sage. I find it to be harsh and overbearing. It tends to dominate any food I’ve ever tasted it in, so I was not sure I’d like it. As a backup, I sauteed some garlic and tomatoes in olive oil, added chopped basil, red pepper, and a bit of salt. I thought I was good to go. I’d try the sage butter, but there was no way I was going to waste this ravioli if I didn’t like it. I was prepared. I was also 100% wrong. That second sauce is in a small bowl in my refrigerator to be used at another time.

I melted the butter in a small pan (less than 2/3rds of a teaspoon), diced up two fresh sage leaves that the proprietress of the eco-agriculture saffron farm (more on her and there in a later post) had given me for just this purpose, sprinkled with fresh ground pink Himalayan salt (it was in my cupboard), and black pepper. When the butter released the sage aroma, I knew it was ready. I carefully drained each ravioli individually as it rose to the top of the boiling water, and dropped it gently into the butter, coating both sides.

sage ravioli

The aroma of the sage was heady, but not overpowering. Tentatively, I took a bite. Mmmmmmm… The pasta was a perfectly cooked al dente (slightly chewy), the cheesy filling firm and warm. The sage butter aromatic and flavorful. The best part, all the flavors melded together to create perfection on my tongue. The sage butter was the ideal savory complement to the slight sweetness of the nutmeg enhanced cheeses, which held their own quite well in the trio of flavors delighting my palate. I am pleasingly satisfied.

While today is not (yet) as epic as that late spring day in Russia, it has promise, promise that I must now go to meet. I wish you all a great day! Caio for now!

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