Tuesday, August 1, 2017

How to Hand Your Heart over the Fence (or, Love in Arancini)

I'm working in my garden with Chef Reiton the other morning, pruning the insanity that is my tomato patch (in a good way), when I hear my name said in the most perfect Sicilian accent you could possibly imagine. I look up to find Paola, my next-door neighbor, standing on her upstairs balcony, waving.

"I have something for you," she says. "Wait five minutes. I come down."

If you've read my blog long enough (soon entering its 9th year!), you will remember when I moved to Boston two years ago and wrote about Paola and her proffered peaches in my post, Brandied Peaches and Cream at Midnight (which I just reread and realized that not only did I spell Paola's name incorrectly, I also haven't made that dessert again and I want to! A cool, creamy, low-sugar dessert that uses summer fruit and liquor! YUM).

Well, since that post, we have had Paola over many times. We have gotten to know her very well, and let me tell you: everything my gut told me about her back when we first met was true. I'll finish my story, and you will understand.

Back to me in my garden: I wait five minutes. Soon I hear the downstairs screen door open, and here comes Paola, carefully navigating the porch stairs with a foil-covered plate in hand. We both walk toward the low cedar fence that divides our yards. I don't know what's under that foil, but already I'm smiling.

"This is for you," she says as she hands the plate over the fence, she smiling, too.

I accept the plate with a "Thank you!" and hold it to my chest.

"Well, don't you want to see what it is?" she says. "Open it!"

I laugh because I don't know how to explain my love of suspense as being the reason why I hadn't unwrapped the plate—but then I cautiously lift the foil.

Set squarely in the center of the plate are three golden brown, piping hot, perfect arancini.

For readers like me, who—oh, about two years ago—had no idea what arancini was, I will educate you: in its basic form, arancini are rice balls that have been stuffed with some type of filling and then coated in breadcrumbs and fried.  Like practically every food, there are different interpretations of what its filling "should" be, but mine—the ones sitting on the plate in my hand—were made by a Sicilian home cook who uses her experience and what she has on hand to guide her. "Meat, egg, scamorza cheese. There are usually peas, but I didn't have any," she says, "so I used some basil instead." With her years of practice in a Sicilian kitchen, they were shaped into cones that would make any art teacher proud.

Paola goes on to tell me that she had made them and fresh "gravy" (a simple tomato sauce that Italians use with pasta and meats) for her grandson to take to work for lunch, and she decided that she wanted me to have them for lunch, too.

And so we do.

Homemade Sicilian arancino with gravy (tomato sauce)

As Chef Reiton and I sit and eat, moaning over the delicious simplicity of this food we were experiencing for the first time, I almost yell out, "Paola, I love you!"

Homemade Sicilian arancino filled with meat, egg, scamorza cheese and basil, served with gravy (tomato sauce)

And as I sit and sip my wine and savor the lethargic effects of all great Italian cooking, I realize why I wanted to yell such words.

It was because those words were what she was telling me when she handed the plate of arancini over the fence.

This aracino, this little creation I had just consumed, had been made with thoughts of me. And it wasn't just any old food that had been shared: it was a food that was a part of Paola. A part of her story. A part of her repertoire of ways she expresses her love for others.

When that plate came over the fence, it wasn't just arancini on the plate. It was also Paola's heart.

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