The woman at the desk was sympathetic but unable to help. ‘Ciao, ciao,’ she said into the phone. ‘Ciao,ciao. Ciao,grazie.’ She put down the phone and looked from my wife’s tear-streaked face to our children who were languishing on an empty trolley. ‘Well,’ she said to me, brightly. ‘You’ll have to go shopping!’
Sure – I love to shop in Italy! I handed the keys to a bellhop (who scratched his head at our rental car’s empty trunk), got the rest of the family settled and went out into bright sunlight. Duomo, check! Baptistry doors, check! I skirted the tourist stops on my way to La Rinascente, central Florence’s big department store. Designer clothes galore, but no children’s clothes that I could see.
We went at it as a family the next day. ‘I vestiti per i bambini? Si, si,’ a smiling padrona nodded sagely and pointed us into a labyrinth of tiny streets. Several turns, and we were deep into a Florentine neighborhood. Very few people were on the street, but we could hear shouts and laughter from open doorways. Halfway down one block, we found the clothing store: closed for the mezzojourno – the midday meal. We traipsed silently back toward the leather market.
On a nearby corner, the wafting smell of garlic drew us in. Something about our strained faces gave the proprietor a new burst of energy. He beamed at us, opened his arms, showed us to a table with overblown gestures. We were enveloped in a kind of steamy funk, with fresh cheer and laughter all around us. A glass of wine, sodas for the kids, and we slowly drew ourselves back into the world. And then, the crown of comfort: a huge plate of spaghetti carbonara, big and bold and bursting with flavor. Comfort food at its best.
Kid’s clothes? We’ll just forget about it for now. Mangia, mangia – let’s eat!
Spaghetti Carbonara with Roasted Garlic
Serves 4 hungry people
2 eggs at room temperature
10 cloves garlic
2 ounces good olive oil, divided
8 ounces prosciutto, cut into ¼” strips
6 ounces pecorino romano cheese, grated just before adding
1 pound spaghetti noodles (not thin)
Ample water for boiling noodles
Liner Notes: This is a simple pasta preparation. What is of absolute importance is that the components and the pasta bowls are all hot when the final dish is assembled. This assures the complete melding of flavors and adequate cooking of the eggs.
Roast the Garlic: Preheat oven to 350º. Peel 10 cloves of garlic and cut into almond-sized pieces if the cloves are large. Put a generous tablespoon of oil onto the center of an 8-inch sheet of foil, plonk the garlic on top and fold to make a sealed pouch. Bake for 12 minutes, and set aside. Do not open foil pouch for at least 5 minutes after removing from the oven.
Cook the pasta: Bring water to boil in a large pot. Add the pasta and time for 1 minute less than the cooking instructions.
Cook the prosciutto: Heat the rest of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-low heat. When there is 5 minutes left on the pasta, add the prosciutto. When there is 2 minutes left on the pasta, add the garlic. Lower the heat if necessary. You want these ingredients hot but not sizzling.
Heat the bowls: Put 4 pasta bowls or wide soup bowls into the oven to heat for 2 or 3 minutes.
Final cooking and plating: Remove pasta when slightly undercooked, and drain in a colander.Whisk the two eggs vigorously and set aside. Bring the prosciutto and garlic back up to medium heat and toss in the pasta, primping it as you would a stir-fry. Cook for a minute or two.
Remove the bowls from the oven and set to one side. Add the noodles, dividing them and the toppings into four portions, and put some of the egg directly over each portion, stirring slightly. When the egg has set (30 seconds or less), top generously with pecorino romano cheese. Toss lightly.
Serve immediately with thick slices of foamy ciabatta bread (or Lago di Como bread) and slathers of fresh butter. If this doesn’t make you feel better after a long day, then I’m afraid there’s no hope for you! (Just kidding of course.) Enjoy!