I’ve prepared more than I thought I would for my trip to Italy. We are going in April and I admittedly bought a black versatile going out to dinner dress, three going out to dinner blouses, a going out to dinner jacket, sandals that will be comfortable for walking but also dress up a jean skirt, and two new pairs of jeans. I scheduled a facial three days before I leave. I will definitely get a manicure. I think I am just excited to go.
I have wanted to go Italy my whole life and I would like to feel good while visiting. It’s as if every day I’m there feels like it will be a momentous occasion. The way I’d plan for a big, high falutin’ black tie event is the same way I plan for my lifelong anticipated trip to Italy, it turns out. At the same time, I have a real desire to not over pack. I want to choose a “color palette” and this is not a sentence I ever thought I’d write since I’m more of a “eh–lets just wing it, it’ll be fine” kind of girl, but the thing is, I don’t want to have to pack too many shoes. The more colors and styles of clothing you have, the more shoes you need, so wanting to pack minimally requires MORE planning, not less. I find this annoying. To have my clothing choices be effortless, I have to put in a lot of planning up front. I’m judging myself for it, but it just is what it is at this point.
My sister went to Paris last year. She wore things there she doesn’t wear here. Black lace tights, red peplum skirts with a cream lace top and moto boots with buckles. I laughed about it. Why don’t you just go to Paris and look the way you look? I said. Why dress in Paris costumes?
It’s not like I never buy new things for vacation. I almost always do. A new swim suit and cover-up for Anguilla. It’s just that mostly, I keep it to a minimum. Who am I when I get to go to Italy? Apparently the kind of nutcase that buys a whole new wardrobe and schedules facials before the flight.
I’m regretting not booking more days in Rome. Too many people who’s opinion I respect, when they find out I’m going to Italy, have said “I loved Rome. Oh my gosh, you are going to love Rome!” Where were they when I was planning my trip? I had read that Rome was a dirty city and to not expect much magic there. To instead spend more time in Tuscany or Amalfi. So that’s what I scheduled. I will only be in Rome for a day and a half and regret is settling in hard core. But then again, how could I regret spending time in Italy, *anywhere?* You need to know who the type of people are leaving reviews. You cannot just decide because Harry and Martha and Leo from Michigan didn’t love Rome, that you won’t either. What if they are all uninteresting people who don’t find the majesty in the juxtaposition of a busy, modern city set in a landscape from a time gone by? That there could be a cafe with yeah, maybe some pigeons and trash out front BUT also a stone pilar that looks like it was part of a building that got destroyed in 800AD, you know? I wonder about these things. Or what if the people who all said “stay in Amalfi” were too fancy for me? What if they were the people who dress in Gucci from head to toe and someone I wouldn’t ever take advice from anyway? My guess is I’m going to hopelessly love all of Italy. That I won’t fancy one thing over another but inhale it all like dessert—chocolate cake, donuts, hazelnut gelato, cream puffs, fig, chocolate and marscapone bread pudding—because how can you compare which is better? It just depends on your taste. And I never met a dessert I didn’t like. I’m already lusting over all I’ll miss in the North. Genoa, Bologna, Venice.
My PT Ray, is half Italian with a penchant for Chianti’s. His family lives in north east Italy, right on the border of Austria, and he grew up visiting them. He also told me he makes a fantastic bolognese sauce. How do you make it, I asked? With very, very finely diced carrots, celery and onions. I don’t like a chunky bolognese and so it’s crucial you get the vegetables small enough. I use pancetta and bison instead of beef, red wine, cream, and a smooth tomato puree. Again, I like my bolognese smooth instead of chunky. You add everything little by little and let it all simmer together until it’s rich and thick. He made sure to tell me that people from Bologna will tell you never to use cream—only milk. But he does it anyway because it’s just too outrageously good, he tells me.
Milk or cream, I didn’t care. All I knew was I got really hungry for Bolognese sauce. So I ran straight to the store and bought all the ingredients for it. I don’t have his recipe, but he told me enough. If I google the way Marcella Hazan makes it, I should be in business, I figure.
I’m going to make the tastiest bolognese sauce known to man, I thought, very pleased with my decision. I even bought real spaghetti pasta to layer below. Usually I make a quicker style bolognese for topping spaghetti squash with, but that will never do today. I’ve always fancied chunkier style sauces, but the way Ray describes meticulously chopping everything finely makes me hungry for a smoother sauce. I bought tomato puree instead of plum tomatoes for crushing between my fingers.
I’m excited about my tripe and the anticipation is building.
But I’m not leaving yet, and so I’m still in prep mode. So tonight I will render the fat from pancetta and add vegetables and wine and tomatoes and beef before simmering it away until it’s a tender, thick, succulent puddle of red. I shan’t forget the nutmeg. And then we’ll feast.
If I’m going to over-prepare for Italy, I figure, I better include lots of feasting.
6oz pancetta, chopped
2 large carrots, mined
3 large celery stalks, minced
1 yellow onion, minced
3 tablespoons butter
2 lbs ground beef or beef and pork combo
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 cups white wine
1 28-oz can tomato puree (or 28-oz whole plum tomatoes w/ their juice and crush tomatoes through your hands before adding them into the sauce)
parmigiana reggiano for topping
buttered spaghetti for serving
Brown the pancetta with a little olive oil in the bottom of a heavy pot over medium high heat. Add butter, onion, celery and carrot. Cook about 5 minutes. Add ground beef, salt and pepper and crumble with your wooden spoon and cook on medium high until cooked. Add milk and cream and simmer until almost evaporated. Add wine and let it simmer until it has almost evaporated. Add tomatoes and nutmeg and another sprinkle of salt. Bring to a boil then turn the heat down to a low simmer and cook, uncovered for 3 hours, stiring occasionally. If sauce begins to dry out (fat will separate from meat), stir in a bit of water and keep cooking. Make sure all your water has evaporated before tasting for salt and adding more if needed (pro tip: it probably needs it) and serving. Serve over buttered pasta. Please butter it. Don’t be embarrassing.
PS- This is why I wrestle fiercely with editing. When writing, you are “supposed” to pick a subject and then write about that and nothing else so you don’t distract from the thing you are talking about. In this case, bolognese sauce and Italy. But then I go into over-preparing for my upcoming trip and then tell you a little ditty about my sister and how I’m a hypocrite and I thought “Krysta, you need to cut this part out, or just mention it briefly” but I just didn’t want to. Additionally, this PS address should be edited out as well. But you know what I love? Nuanced, rambley writing that leads you someplace by way of somewhere else—the long, scenic way. I like things layered and simmered and rich, like bolognese (see what I did there?)