From this Sunday morning kitchen, obliquely off to my right, the pungent smell of just picked basil reminds me that summer is almost over. Earlier I stood by my vegetable garden, my head sore from too much wine last night, watching as my husband did the bending over to pull up three last bunches of basil almost gone to seed. I’m making basil pesto on penne for lunch with our sons. The salad will also come from the garden: oak leaf lettuce, baby spinach, young red chard and rocket before those also go to seed. On Friday I planted new seedlings: red cabbage, mizzuna, beetroot, a variety of lettuces, and bright lights chard, and sowed radishes and more spinach: the smooth, paler green variety.
I have not made a lot of basil pesto this season: maybe once only towards the end of last year. And now there are only two small basil plants left in the garden. In a while I will be pounding these last leaves in my biggest mortar, that is if my headache subsides! Else I will blitz it in the food processor, a less satisfying way of making pesto. We had friends over: a long evening around our long dining room table, champagne and candles and more wine and music and laughter. I nearly cried though when I broke a very expensive crystal chardonnay glass, the spoon with which I was tasting wasabi mashed potato just grazing the fragile lip of the glass at my elbow where I stood before the stove. It shattered. Sigh.
This afternoon we will sit around the table again, for a more sedate lunch of pasta and salad. I almost changed my mind about the menu when I woke up to this cool, overcast day, and lay reading (for the third time) in “Under the Tuscan Sun” Frances Mayes’ winter recipes of her Italian life, evoking as before a strong longing to have an Italian odyssey of my own. When I first read it, in the year that it was published, I bought an Italian language course, convinced that I would travel there. I have not yet, but in bed this morning we lazily speculated about making that trip in a year or two, maybe even incorporating a cooking tour. Or just renting a car from Venice and driving ourselves down through Bologna and across to that Tuscan landscape which Ms Mayes writes so lyrically about. I googled her: she is 73 this year, and her and her husband still has Bramasole.
Our house is not large or in an exotic location: but I have a little bit of La Dolce Vita here: a vegetable patch, bursting with green leafed vegetables, tomato plants straggly by the time the fruit ripens, artichokes spikily thrusting upwards between sage and Italian parsley and a row of roses at the edge against the boundary wall, dandelion-like pale purple flower heads of chives on the outer edge by my ankles as I walk by. And on my kitchen counter this morning a large colander with dark green basil leaves waits to be pulped. And next to that, three kinds of tomatoes: Italian heritage, cherry and one fleshy oxheart, all a little green still, which I will ripen on the kitchen window sill. I still have the fragrance of them on my typing fingers: the scent of happiness.