In Florence, I had an apartment with 3 other American gals right in the heart of the historic city center. The view from my bedroom window looked out at the Palazzo Vecchio, and directly down onto the Ponte Vecchio. It was a pretty great scene.
Before happily waving goodbye to my parents at the airport, my mom gave me a really great present: my first cookbook. I was already a vegetarian, and she very thoughtfully got me a book called "Italian Vegetarian Cooking." Best of all, the book had measurements for each recipe in both metric and American measurements, so I knew to ask for a 1/2 kilo of tomatoes at the market. I used this cookbook as pretty much my sole reference in the kitchen during my many months in Italy. Mostly, I made simple pasta recipes, and bit-by-bit I started to develop a few kitchen skills.
In Florence, back then, there weren't supermarkets with produce. Instead, a hungry shopper either went to a small neighborhood vendor, or to the large central market - which was very near my school. I fell in love with the process of going to the market to buy my fruits and veggies. It was a fun way to practice speaking Italian, learn new words, and (over time) I learned which vendors would be patient with me as I spoke in Italian to ask for the right veggies. As you may know, being in a foreign land can be quite lonely. The comfort of a small conversation and a shared smile at the produce stand meant a lot to me. Over time, my Italian language skills became quite good, but I've never lost my affection for the role that these small interactions have in keeping life bearable and meaningful.
These days, I have so many cookbooks that it's a bit crazy, and from time to time I clear out the ones I never use. And yet, I've hung on to this book - mostly for its sentimental place in my heart. I just recently remembered it, and decided to break it out and make something for dinner. I decided to make the Minestrone Genoese - a lovely minestrone soup laced with a good dollop of pesto. It was great! I know it's not really pesto season, but back in the summer I made a big batch of pesto and froze it in ice cube trays... so all I had to do was just defrost a couple "pesto ice cubes." I hadn't ever thought of putting pesto into my minestrone soup before, but that was a very good idea!
The soup was very hearty and delicious, and it felt very sweet to be cooking from this book and remembering such a special and formative time in my life. Thanks again, Mom!