In the very infancy of this blog, back when we had no appreciation for plating, lighting or anything else remotely aesthetic, my wife wrote about the first course of a truly memorable dinner we shared in the famous Florentine trattoria, Coco Lezzone. What she didn’t mention was that even though we were getting towards the end of our nearly month long sojourn in Italy that encompassed our wedding and honeymoon, by the time we wound up in that jewel of the Renaissance, we were feeling rather sorry for ourselves.
Two days earlier, we had arrived in Genoa after a magnificent and occasionally hair-raising drive through the rugged terrain of the lower reaches of Piemonte and Liguria, to find that the guest-house we had booked was expecting us the day before. Twenty-four hours off schedule, and with a large shipping conference dominating Genoa’s hotels for the rest of the week to complicate matters, we were unceremoniously turfed out of said accommodation the following morning. While I, who have been invited to leave much less salubrious establishments than this, met the news with a certain equanimity, without a roof under which to shelter, and quite literally no room at the inn, the combined strain of having single-handedly planned a wedding and honeymoon from New York suddenly hit my poor wife like a tidal wave, and gushing tears of frustration and exhaustion ensued. Where comforting nuzzles from Tim the hotel dog weren’t enough, a liter carafe of white wine and two dozen fried anchovies seemed to have a medicinal effect, but, as calming as that lunch was, in a fit of pique we still decided to put Genoa in our rearview mirror and hit the E80 autostrada down the coast into Tuscany.
After a magnificent drive, framed on our right by the sparkling Mediterranean and on our left by the often white, marble-rich mountains of the Ligurian Apennines, we rolled in to Florence just as the westering sun was painting the city’s monuments the luminous color of dried apricots. Spirits partially restored, and safe in the knowledge that our reservation for the night was kosher, we immediately set out to find something delicious as a salve for our emotional wounds.
Among the several traditional Tuscan comestibles we over-indulged in that evening was a rabbit roll, or involtino di coniglio, stuffed with prosciutto, boiled egg and sage. Dressed very simply with Luccan olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar, it screamed the Spartan simplicity for which Tuscan fare is best-known. In some ways, it also exemplified the ethos of our trip. I suspect some of the wedding guests may quibble, but in our opinion, both wedding and honeymoon, had a pared-down, no frills sense about them. Only a hard core of essential people attended the wedding, and there was little time for luxuriating on a honeymoon in which we banjoed our way around 10 northern Italian cities in a tiny, canary yellow motor.
On our gentle post-prandial stroll, feeling all rosy and content from food, wine and warm night air, we encountered a pair of English honeymooners who asked us in charming pidgin Italian, “por favore, it’s nostra luni da miel…!” to photograph them in front of Santa Maria del Fiore. We were then playfully accosted by a group of tipsy Sicilian students from Catania who made us sing football songs with them and insisted we all shake hands in the traditional, forearm-grasping Roman-style before they would let us depart. This memorable meal and displays of unprovoked goodwill sent us to bed marveling at how such basic pleasures can make ones mind transcend apparent troubles. An important lesson.
In truth, we are fully aware that this was just another sybaritic moment in a month of indulgence, and not worthy of anyone’s sympathy, but I was reminded of this experience and its underlying moral recently when the trepidation induced by the impending arrival of our first-born began to get the better of me. I suspect we shall be leaning heavily on these twin crutches of simple dishes and human kindness very soon.
- 2 chicken breasts (or 1 rabbit deboned)
- 6-8 slices good quality mortadella
- 6-8 slices good quality prosciutto
- 2 large (or 4 small) eggs, hard boiled
- 4 large fresh sage leaves
- salt and black pepper
- best quality extra virgin olive oil
- aged balsamic vinegar (or regular balsamic vinegar reduced to a syrupy consistency)
- Preheat oven to 350F/175C
- Slice open chicken breasts and then pound to about 1/2 inch (1cm) thickness into paillards.
- Sprinkle paillards with black pepper before layering thinly with prosciutto and mortadella slices.
- Place two sage leaves and an egg in center of each paillard.
- Carefully roll chicken breasts up around filling and secure with tooth picks or butcher’s string/kitchen twine.
- Heat oven proof pan to medium-high.
- Now you have two involtini. Season them generously with salt and pepper.
- Pour a good tablespoon of olive oil into your pan and brown involtini well on all but one side.
- Place in oven and roast for 7-10 minutes.
- Remove and allow to rest for at least ten minutes.
- Slice and serve dressed with your best olive oil, the balsamic vinegar and some extra sage leaves, julienned.
Via del Parioncino 26r,