Sitting in the passenger seat on the way to Langhirano we pass fields of tomatoes, trucks filled to the rim of these bright red juicy fruit/vegetables. "Oh there is another", you hear in the car, filled with 4 children under the age of 13. Just a few days left to pick the last of the season in the region of Emilia-Romana. If you lowered the window you could smell the light aroma of the tomatoes.
We arrive in the small town of Castrignano to the family country house on a hill overlooking the valley below. I was taken aback by the immaculate beauty before me. I felt I was in a postcard of Italy. It resembles the Tuscan country side which is rare in this region, but simply magnificent. The kids hurry out of the car, we carry bags of clothes and food into the house and hang 2 pancetta's to age in the cave below the house. Yes, they age their own pancetta!
View from the country house.
Walking in through the side door, into the narrow low ceiling hallway I run into a very large crate of bright red tomatoes filled to the rim. My eyes widen and I hear, "Oh yes we have a lot of tomatoes because our neighbors and friend gave them to us this weekend from their garden." My heart sank of the jealousy of wanting to have this as a gift from neighbors, as well as excitement to get to eat these natural jewels of the region. There must have been 85-100 tomatoes. I am not exaggerating! I walk up the few steps into the kitchen and immediately greeted by Nonna, adorned with her apron and a glorious aroma of food and herbs. We quickly say hello and make the introduction, but it's about the food. We get right to work, and the first dish on the menu for lunch well it must be tomatoes. I go and collect about 15-20 tomatoes, leaving a very small dent in the crate of tomatoes.
Cut, scooped, salted, and filled. That was the procedure for this recipe. The kitchen was filled with 3 generations of family members coming in and out, giving kisses to Nonna to great, seeing what was smelling so good, and asking what we would be having for lunch. As an outsider looking in, I felt like I was a part of a classic family weekend tradition. Not so different from when my family is all together. I felt happy and warm among people I just met, food was bringing us together. A simple ingredient like tomatoes allowed for me to bond with an 80 year old Italian Nonna who didn't speak English or I Italian, but our eyes met between slicing, mixing, and eating, that we both shared this connection and smiled.
We prepared tomatoes for the next 4 days and still had some left in the crate. Each recipe was different, simple, and packed with this aroma and flavor of Italy. The amount of varieties are many and also depending on the region and season you can encounter so many different kinds of tomatoes. This synonymous Italian ingredient brought me so close to people I just met and represents the love I have for this family allowing me to be a part of their traditions, life, and share meals together.