Book excerpts · Books

A thousand days in Tuscany

From Marlena de Blasi’s 2004 book: 

“[…] I have never before gathered eggs from under a hen. Fernando has never before seen a hen. We bend low into the shed where perch a dozen or so fat lady birds. There’s no shrieking or fluttering at all. I approach one and ask her if she has an egg or two. Nothing. I ask in Italian. Still nothing. I ask Fernando to pick her up but he’s already outside the shed smoking and pacing, telling me he really doesn’t like eggs at all and he especially doesn’t like frittata. Both bold-faced lies. I start to move the hen and she plumps down from her perch quite voluntarily, uncovering the place where two lovely brown eggs sit. I take them, one at a time, bend down and nestle them in my sack. I want two more. I peruse the room. I choose the hen who sits next to the docile one. I pick her up and she pecks me so hard on my wrist that I drop her. I see there is nothing in her nest and apologize for my insensitivity, thinking her nastiness must have caused by embarrassment. I move on to another hen and this time find a single, paler brown-shelled beauty, still warm and stuck all over with bits of straw. I take it and leave with an unfamiliar thrill. This is my first full day in Tuscany and I’ve already robbed a henhouse before lunch.

Back home in the kitchen I beat the eggs, the yolks of which are orange as pumpkin, with a few grindings of sea salt, a few more of pepper, adding a tablespoon or so of white wine and a handful of Parmigiano. I dig for my flat, broad frying pan, twirl it to coat its floor with a few drops of my tourist oil and let it warm over a quiet flame. I drop in the rinsed and dried blossoms whole, flatten them a bit so they stay put and leave them for a minute or so while I tear a few basil leaves, give the eggs another stroke or two. I throw a few fennel seeds into the pan to scent the oil, where the blossoms are now beginning to take color on their bottom sides. Time to liven up the flame and add the egg batter. I perform the lift-and-tilt motions necessary to cook the frittata without disturbing the blossoms, which are now ensnared in the creamy embrace of the eggs. Next, I run the lush little cake under a hot grill to form a gold blistery skin on top before sliding it onto a plate, strewing it with torn basil. The heat of the eggs warms the herbs so they give up a double-strength perfume. Now I drop a thread of fine old balsamico over it. And, finally, let it rest.

Fernando and I batter and fry the sage leaves and celery tops, eating them right from the draining paper while standing in front of the stove, daring to move only our upper bodies and even those parts with the skill of second-story men who samba. The kitchen is smaller than the one in Venice, smaller than any kitchen that doesn’t come in a kit. We fry only a few of the blossoms and all of the tiny potatoes and green beans and carry them out to the terrace with two glasses of Vernaccia and the frittata. […]”

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