‘I made a veloutèe soup with chickpeas and cauliflower yesterday, but I think I did something stupid in the process,’ said Enrico.
‘Well, I forgot to take out the lemon peel from the soup and I just blended everything. It tastes like lemon much more than I would have liked it to.”
As we walked around the old villa of Rio Salso, our steps flowed discreetly, just like the stream of water which surrounded that abandoned house. Its spluttering waters seemed to want to communicate a joyfulness that was left there from times long forgotten. Fabio Tombari’s villa, which sat on a sweet hill next to the river, was immense and beautiful. We looked at it speechless, swept away by its majesty.
Such immense beauty. the kind of beauty you just stare at in silence, like a woman you cannot even compliment, slack jawed as you are before her gorgeousness.
‘You should add some raw extra virgin olive oil. The sweetness of the oil balances out the sourness of the lemon.’
The silence in between our sentences brings us back to the quiet present of that undisturbed hideaway.
‘You know why this place is called Rio Salso?’ he asked.
‘Why is that?’
‘Because this river used to be quite salty and, in times of war, people would fetch its water to collect the salt.’
One time, when there was no more than two or three houses here and the land was covered in endless green, this used to be the house of a writer.
Fabio Tombari was famous in the ’40s and ’50s, and his family home was a sort of True North for many: travellers, friends, and random people came from all over the country to visit that friendly man, who took inspiration from all kinds of humanity to write his novels. His most famous book told the stories of all the human beings that came to visit him, of whom he could read the soul and hear the heart.
I imagine their life, in that patch of land immersed in nature: Fabio would walk the uphill road that led to Belvedere Fogliense, a tiny village with the scraps of a castle sitting up on top of a hill, from which he could see the whole valley. As he walked up there alone for inspiration, his wife, Angela, tended the house with the servants (or friends) who lived there. Because Fabio was such an artist, he was often distracted, so the women of the house would take care of his business. But they also took care of cooking – what huge foodies they were! He even wrote a book about people who love food!
I imagined, as I looked at those abandoned tables and fireplaces, those same women all gathered together cooking simple yet nourishing dishes, like risotto and potatoes, and sit together at a huge table, drinking some nice red San Giovese wine. In the spring, Angela tended her rose bushes, so that the whole perimeter of the house would be covered in a glorious firework of pink-and-red blossoms. In the summer, when people from Milan came to visit with their kids, she would make large batches of fresh lemonade and call all the kids in town to play under the huge horse chestnut tree. When the time was right, many women would gather with her to make preserves and jams for everybody, picking cherries from the trees around the house.
Fabio saw this life flow, slow and beautiful. His writing turned that shining community life into something marvelous; his words were almost naive like a kid’s.
‘I sipped my lemonade, and I was 18 years old. I was lost in the sea of words of he who was the last firefly observer, and I imagined whose words come in and out of his books like dancing fireflies…
He never went to sleep without looking at the stars first. In the morning, the first thing he did was walk barefoot on the grass outside, to feel the early morning dew.’
That abandoned place was the home of a man who wrote about other men, feeling stupor before them. Such warmth was still in those walls! How difficult can a thing like that be, when we’re so busy focusing on egoism and complaint?
“As I approached from afar, I could always see some guest in the house in Rio Salso, especially on Sundays. Some of them were nice, some others positively less, and I asked my dad: ‘How can you stand everybody?’
And he answered, ingenuous and taken aback: “Well, Maria, there’s God within everybody!”
How much love can a man who sees a reflection of God in everything have – for life itself, and for everything that is part of it? And how sinful does it feel to abandon such a feeling, when the walls of this house still feel like they are exuding all of his love? How can you abandon such an ancient future etched on those walls?
Abandoning such love feels like an act of mindlessness, like averting the eyes from beautiful skies, or filling our time with pointless things – even with rotten things, and not with the presence of others. It is difficult to fill our time with silence, because silence is hard to stand. Only those with a strong bond can stand the silence, because they can understand each other without speaking. So, couldn’t love still exist even when not a word is said about it?
He watched the stars in silence, and he climbed the hill to Belvedere in silence. He lived in silence, because love needs space to echo.
The act of putting roses next to the window was one of Angela’s small acts of love. Though the short life of those flowers might have seemed useless, and their death was visible in the bushes of thorns that clung to our shoes, she could not give up such beauty, painful as it could be to see it go. She had – those who knew her said, random acts of kindness. Why did she, when sometimes it all seems so useless?
I think she did it to find something that could balance out the sourness in everybody’s souls. She used beauty to sweeten her life and other people’s. So all the beauty she scattered around like thousands of droplets of oil rained all around her, and dispelled the darkness of life, whole the salt of that rived deepened its taste.
I wonder if something like this could have been enough to fix that soup. I wonder if all it takes, at times, is nothing more than a drizzle of sweetness and a touch more flavor.
Sometimes, it’s not that complicated.
Go, and pick some fresh salad from the garden. I want to eat life!
I want to eat life.
The night closes onto Rio Salso’s Scenery. There is a large car dealer in front of the house, and a large factory stretches into the distance where the inhabitants of the village used to see endless fields.
Some birds still sing serenely into the growing darkness.
That night at 8 PM, I got a text:
‘I added raw extra virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of freshly chopped parsley. This cauliflower chickpea soup rocks.’
Enrico and I are also co-workers. The day after I made this soup, I packed a big jar of it to take to the office. Unfortunately, on Friday 6th, the coast of Romagna was hit by a severe weather condition, and our company, which is built right next to a river, had been completely flooded. Our office is right above the huge factory on the first floor and, even though our stuff was saved, we spent several hours sweeping muddy water off the first floor, and we found ourselves covered in mud head to toe in the effort to help as much as we could. Me and Enrico ate this soup together for lunch, sitting at the desk, and just talking and laughing about silly stuff of every sort. We were both dead tired by barely 4 PM, but, even though you couldn’t call it a good day, I can’t help but think of it very fondly.
This past weekend, me and Enrico hung out together and we walked that same path leading up to Belvedere. I am sure the view changed a lot in the meantime, but it sure felt like a very special trek.
- A small head - 1lb cauliflower, divided into florets
- 1 cup cooked chickpeas
- A medium onion, roughly chopped
- 2 medium shallots, chopped
- Enough vegetable stock to cover the ingredients
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- Salt & pepper
- 1 rosemary sprig plus some extra needles, chopped
- 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- Start by preparing the cauliflower: wash the florets and drain. If using a whole fresh cauliflower, keep in mind that you can use the most tender leaves, too!
- Add the olive oil to a pot, along with the garlic and rosemary sprig. Stir-fry on medium until aromatic (about 3 minutes), then add the shallots. Let them cook, stirring often, until traslucent, about 5 minutes. If they stick, add a splash of stock to help them cook. Add the onion, and stir-fry until traslucent, about 10 more minutes. We want to use the alliums as a base to build flavor.
- At this point, remove the garlic.
- Add the cauliflower, enough stock to cover, and salt and pepper to taste (thi slargely depends to what kind of stock you are using, but you can adjust the amount of salt at the end).
- Cook, half-covered, until everything is tender, 25 to 30 minutes.
– You can omit the rosemary, and garnish each dish with some chimichurri to taste, or just a pesto of parsley and olive oil.
– Again, you can omit the rosemary and add a tbsp of curry powder to the initial stir-fry, and garnish with finely chopped parsley and some extra virgin olive oil.
Post Post Scriptum
I dedicate this post to Enrico himself, who is the light in my eyes (…at times) and one of my biggest sources of inspiration, and who totally made this post happen. Some of the pictures here were taken by him, including the beautiful view of the house right before the recipe.
Thanks to these sources for quotes and stories: