Escape from the flies
By Letizia Mattiacci
e're back to that harsh time of the year when I question why we ever moved to the Umbrian countryside. The wind has been howling for a week. The snow has come and gone and no doubt will be back soon.
Google the Dog spends her days huddled up by the wood stove while I sew curtains for the new B&B apartment, do administrative work, cook, clean the kitchen far too many times, and peer out at the general grayness.
I am admittedly a bit bored.
It is at these moments that I think back to my (sort of) glamorous city life. Once upon a time I danced with an ambassador at the Hofburg Palace in Vienna. He had white gloves.
I was a researcher at the city's UN laboratories. Every February the staff association held a formal ball that inevitably brought out old ladies in colored gowns and ambassadors garnished in high uniforms.
I dined with a few diplomats who thought an entomologist was exotic. One well-groomed woman asked me if a fly was the same as a mosquito. Clearly the Italian embassy had hired her for her astuteness.
For these privileges I woke each morning at 6, braced myself against the chilly wind to get to a subway station where I'd catch a bus that would take my colleagues and me 40 kilometers over snow-covered countryside to reach the International Atomic Research Agency.
Once there, I descended to an underground laboratory where tsetse flies were reared on vertebrate blood sandwiched between silicon membranes. That, my friends, was not work for the faint of heart. The flies bite viciously if they escape. Besides, I have never encountered a more stolid insect.
After a long day's work we'd make our way back over the same tundra to Vienna. But the city would shut down at 6 p.m., exactly the time we came back needing to do some dinner shopping. I'd often collapse on the couch after a quick bowl of chicken soup. Who has the energy for high life in a big city?
These memories now remind me of why I escaped. No more running to do shopping after a long day's work. No more daily visits to a dreadful cafeteria. No more daily dealings with stupid, dull flies.
I can now cook proper comfort food on the wood stove. Maybe I'm bored, but one side of the boredom is pure luxury.
Polenta e salciccia (Serves 6)
¶ Using a pan that can fit the sausages in a single layer, soften the onion, celery, carrot and minced garlic in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over low heat.
¶ When the mixture is fragrant and begins softening, turn up the heat and add the sausages, stirring quickly until they start coloring.
¶ Deglaze with the wine. Once the alcohol has evaporated, add the tomatoes with their juices, the bay leaf, and the clove, lower the heat and cover.
¶ Simmer for 30-45 minutes until the sauce is thick and the sausages are cooked through. Season lightly with salt and black pepper.
¶ When ready to serve, cook the polenta in boiling water or stock according to packet instructions. Don't overcook it: you want it creamy, like a thick custard. Add more water or milk if it's too firm.
¶ Serve the polenta in soup bowls topped with 1 or 2 sausages per person, plenty sauce and a sprinkle of grated cheese. Don't forget lots of red wine.
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An escape from Umbria dishes up a wonderfully memorable culinary road-trip.
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