Nonna’s Gnocchi: A Real Fucking Treat (A recipe)

Today I’m going to pass on a secret that’s been in my family for at least a generation or two, and show you how to whip up a batch of Nonna’s homemade gnocchi which, aside from being the cheapest gourmet-sounding meal this side of the poverty line, is the only thing I ever learned how to cook with conviction and mild success; apart from scrambled eggs on toast, which I still fuck up on occasions.

But before we get started I want to give you a bit of background info. First of all, I swear. A lot. A gift from my father before he went the way of all alcoholic diabetics with a monumental appetite for refined sugar. I also have a birthmark on the back of my left thigh shaped like the Eiffel Tower, or an ice-cream cone; it depends on how far I bend over.

As for the recipe, it all came from my Nonna—a stringy old bird from the north of Italy who, like many folk after the war, found herself on a boatful of other white-looking immigrants bound for Australia to work their arses off and get called a bunch of ‘good-for-nothing wogs’. She was the only one in those days who’d bothered to learn any English, which made her pretty popular around the markets and hospitals and court houses and anywhere else where monolingual Italians used to turn up with any frequency.

Nonna was of the old school of cooks: she could march into any kitchen, sift through the shit on the shelves and with nothing but a handful of flour and a stern look, cook a decent family meal, or a snack for passing Nazis, and by three-thirty in the afternoon she’d have the whole house licking their lips and loosening their pants asking where the nearest couch was. Depending on which day you caught her, her skills in the kitchen were either a talent, a gift, or a wicked burden. But whatever her mood, she’d never tell you to do up your fly and get off the bloody couch until at least the coffee had been served. And no one, except my mother and sister, had to help her do the washing up. Thank Christ for that. And no matter who you were—friend, neighbour, dentist, rude man in line at Medicare—she’d touch you on the cheek or on the shoulder when you spoke to her, because she knew that everyone needed something extra, something tactile, to show that other people were listening to them, and she’d leave you with some nugget of wisdom or down-to-earth advice, even if it involved the best way to take up a pair of men’s trousers.

Okay, so I’m painting a pretty rosy picture here—she might had whacked her kids around a bit too, and shot a few of the neighbours’ dogs because they pissed on her azaleas—but she was generally alright, and I have never understood how, from such a sweet lady as my Nonna, came the rancorous crab monster that is my mother.   Continue reading Nonna’s Gnocchi: A Real Fucking Treat (A recipe)

The Man Maketh the Journey

Mr Masao Takeshi, vice president of the Ryou Corporation, squinted through the curtains of the Rialto Hotel’s breakfast room.

Outside, the brilliant May sun glittered off the water onto the buildings, filling the canal with a thousand colours. Tourists scampered over the bridge, pointing at boats, taking photos, and avoiding the Albanian scam artists at the foot of the stairs next to the stained glass boutiques. A bell rang from some distant square. Takeshi looked at his watch.

“Everyone away from the windows,” Takeshi said and straightened his Italian silk tie. “Mr Ryou’s gondola is arriving. I want everything tripled-checked, quadruple-checked… and whatever comes after that. Cutlery, the guestbook, newspapers, salami… you all know what happens now. Yukio, is the kitchen staff on standby?”

A small man with a goatee beard put a finger in his ear, then nodded.

“And the guests, Miss Minako?”

Miss Minako cocked her head. She also nodded.

“Good. Now I want you all out of sight when Mr Ryou arrives. Invisible. In this world you are from this minute on ghosts. We’ve worked too hard to fail now. I don’t need to remind you of what happened in Toledo.” Continue reading The Man Maketh the Journey

One night in the squares of Padova

Follow the winding, paved streets for long enough and you might just become sufficiently lost to discover that Padova is a city with a heart. On the outside, the people are young and beautiful; on the inside they’re tortured, and afraid of escaping the chains of expectations that shackle them to each other and to their daily rhythm. It’s a place where the denim jacket is still in fashion (either that or it has come back into fashion, with the same results); the youth pander about, most often with a cigarette drooping from their upturned lips, sporting whatever style of shoe is in mode (this year it’s the low-cut sports booties) denim jeans, denim jacket and, if they’re students, an invicta backpack. And there are flocks of them: on the buses, in every café, in the squares. The boys move around in groups, looking at the girls fluttering and chattering about the boys who are making jokes about how big the girls’ breasts are.

The town and gown theatre plays out every evening. The students congregate in the Piazza dell’Erbe to drink their spritz and beer, smoke joints and chat about their boyfriends and girlfriends who are invariably studying English somewhere in a richer country than their own. One minute’s bike ride away is the Piazza dei Signori where the town go to drink more expensive spritzes and beers, sit in comfortable chairs, and smoke American cigarettes. Maybe they’ll go home later for joints. The two crowds rub together like two sheets of satin, but the static electricity they generate – that silent but active energy – does not dissipate. All this goes on until 10 or 11 o’clock when the cobbled-stoned bed must be remade and everyone washes lazily from the squares and cafes in search of a restaurant.

The bustop at the train station attracts the usual crowd of drunks, immigrants and those who prefer to loiter and watch the people come and go. There is the man with one leg who hobbles around on crutches – he has a permanent scowl, dark eyes and a long, dirt-brown beard, which always seems to bear the crumbs of his last meal. Occasionally he might ask you for a Euro to contribute to his next drink or sandwich; he has learned better than to ask those people waiting for buses. They rarely wish to be disturbed, as they mutter curses upon the public transport system.