We’ve been working on the back garden for the past few days and lunch has generally been a sandwich eaten sat in the sunshine. Today however, as the time approached one o’clock I put a pan of water on the hob and grabbed a few things from the fridge to prepare lunch. Then I heard those seven words, when spoken by an Italian will strike fear into any foreigner. No not, ‘What-a ya doing with-a my wife eh?’ Nor, ‘Touch-a ma car I touch-a ya face’. No, these words chilled the English blood in my veins, more than a visit from five men in black suits carrying violin cases saying, ‘Ya know what-a happen if-a ya squeal?’’ A horses head in the bed appears tame compared to an Italian saying to you, “Can you cook some pasta for me?”
Suddenly what was just going to be spaghetti with pesto becomes a trial. It couldn’t be more nerve wracking if Michelangelo had asked me casually, “Oi, can you just paint the eyes on the baby Jesus for me while I pop to the loo?” So the free pasta we got from the local supermarket gets put back and a fresh packet of maccheroni alla chitarra by De Cecco is removed from the cupboard, after all the Italian in question is from Fara San Martino, so it would be impolite to serve pasta made anywhere else other than Fara. The jar of pesto goes back onto the shelf and the freshly made one in the fridge is retrieved along with the hunk of Parmesan.
Beads of sweat form on my brow. Questions race through my head; is there enough salt in the water? Is it a rolling boil? How long shall I leave it in for? not to mention the whole al-dente issue that we’re constantly reminded of. Several minutes later it was assembled and served with lashings of grated parmesan on top and I waited for the response from the Italian man sat on the patio. He chewed, nodded, smiled then said, “It’s okay.”
Later that day when breathing and heart rate had returned to normal, he said, “Your pasta today was good.” Result, a smiling straniero in middle Italy.