Thanks to Diane Shipley DeCillis, we now know why the course of true love never did run smooth.
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At La Dolce Vita, in the village,
the gnocchi lifts itself off the fork,
floats like a cloud in your mouth,
the marinara so fresh,
it ripens the tomatoes, garlic
and basil right on your tongue.
Clemenza’s in the kitchen
stirring the sauce,
telling everyone he really doesn’t eat
that much, it’s the fumes
that have permeated his body,
gotten under his skin
and made him fat.
My date Antonio closes his eyes
after each bite, groans,
Marona, this is as good
as my mother’s.
Satisfied, he lays his folded napkin
on the empty plate and slumps
in the chair while I,
having saved room,
crane my neck looking for the waiter.
What, you want dessert too?
He seems surprised.
I’d like to see what they have,
though I’ve committed it
Aren’t you full? he asks.
Am I full? I think to myself.
It’s bad enough that we have to die,
that I’m not taller, that my metabolism
is molto lento, but to dine with someone
who is indifferent
to a chilled plate
of Panna Cotta,
silky, quivering cream
adorned with fresh berries,
or Torta Strega, cake
perfumed with liqueur,
filled with pastry cream
with hazelnut meringue.
I cannot live on lasagna alone
and the fact that Antonio
doesn’t sense this threatens
our chance for a future.
The waiter smiles as he unravels
the dessert menu, handwritten
on rough brown craft paper.
Umbrian Apple Tart
Selville Orange Sorbetto …
This is so beautiful, I say,
ordering the Panna Cotta.
May I keep the menu?
Of course Signora, he says.
And you sir?
No. Nothing for me,
just a cup of espresso.
Oh Antonio, Antonio what
are you thinking?
How can I trust a man
who doesn’t like sweets?
At La Dolce Vita
what could have been the start
of a beautiful romance—
snapped like a broken string
on a Stradivarius!
— from Rattle #20, Winter 2003
Tribute to Italian Poets. Posted by permission of the author, copyright © 2013 Diane Shipley DeCillis.
* * *
Diane on “Opera Buffa”:
I often write about food and tend to use a collage of autobiographical and other experiences in my poetry, with garnish.
When I first dated my husband, we were joined by another couple at Da Silvano in NY. The food was delicious and it reminded me of an authentic Italian restaurant I’d frequented in Detroit, back in the 70′s. The owner’s mother was a marvelous cook and I remembered meeting her in the kitchen, as she stood over the stove stirring a pot. She was rather plump and made a comment about how just the smell was making her fat. The image of her reminded me of Clemenza in “The Godfather” making his spaghetti sauce for the Corleone’s.
The waiter at Da Silvano presented the dessert menu on rough hewn paper, which looked like a work of art to me (I later framed it). It was the first time I’d had panna cotta, recommended by my husband. It was like the foie gras of dessert, thick and decadently creamy. The other man chose not to have dessert and I thought, I’m glad I’m not dating him! As I wrote the poem, it seemed natural to dramatize it, Italian opera style.
* * *
Diane had me at the second line with “gnocchi lifts itself off the fork.” *kisses fingertips*
I pretty much floated through the rest of the poem, hooked by the theatrical narrative, loving the sensory detail, appreciating that delicious layer of sly humor, naturally wondering why I had never tried any “silky, quivering cream adorned with fresh berries.”
We would certainly have to change that. I was happy when Diane agreed to share her favorite recipe for Panna Cotta. Only after further investigation did I discover that she’s married to an award-winning chef, herself an art connoisseur who incorporates her passion for literature, music, and the culinary arts in her poetry and fiction. I would say she definitely married the right man.
Did her Panna Cotta actually quiver? Oh yes! It gently jiggled when released from its mold, so polite and unassuming. Rich, velvety, tantalizing the tongue, there’s nothing like Italian cooked cream to smooth the course of true love. It made me feel like an indulgent cat, ecstatic with her bowl of milk, purring and licking herself all over.
This decadent dessert is deceptively easy to prepare — just combine cream, sugar, vanilla, and gelatin and chill. I drizzled mine with a little fresh raspberry coulis. Share it soon with your loved ones for a truly operatic experience.
* * *
(adapted from Judy Witts Francini, Divina Cucina)
4 cups (1l) heavy cream (or half-and-half)
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 packets powdered gelatin (about 4-1/2 teaspoons)
6 tablespoons (90ml) cold water
1. Heat the heavy cream and sugar in a saucepan or microwave. Once the sugar is dissolved, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
(If using a vanilla bean, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and add the bean pod. Cover, and let infuse for 30 minutes. Remove the bean, then rewarm the mixture before continuing.)
2. Lightly oil eight custard cups with a neutral-tasting oil.
3. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a medium-sized bowl and let stand 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Pour the very warm Panna Cotta mixture over the gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
5. Divide the Panna Cotta mixture into the prepared cups, then chill them until firm, which will take at least two hours, but I let them stand at least 4 hours.
6. Run a sharp knife around the edge of each Panna Cotta and unmold each onto a serving plate, and garnish with berries.
* * *
Diane Shipley DeCillis’s poetry and stories have appeared in CALYX, The North Atlantic Review, Nimrod International Journal, Connecticut Review, Gastronomica, Slipstream, The Southern Indiana Review, and numerous other journals. She’s been awarded the Crucible Poetry Prize and the Ocean Prize, and won the MacGuffin National Poet Hunt. Her poems have been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and for Best American Poetry. She is co-editor of Mona Poetica, an anthology dedicated to the Mona Lisa. A new poetry collection, Strings Attached, is forthcoming in Spring 2014.
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The warm and lovely Linda Baie is hosting today’s Roundup at TeacherDance. Please take her a dish of Panna Cotta and check out the full menu of yummy poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.
BTW, Does your spouse or significant other usually order dessert?
Funny addendum: There is a nice restaurant called La Dolce Vita just 10 minutes from home. We’ve dined there many times and enjoyed the food, but have never ordered dessert. Oh Leonardo, Oh Leonardo, what were we thinking?
* * *
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food related posts. Put on your best bib and come join the fun!
Copyright © 2013 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.