Garnishes

Snip. Snip. I was trimming glossy green lemon leaves to evenly shape them so they could be used as a garnish for lunch service.  The grill station chef at the restaurant by the pool would place a thick slice of fresh mozzarella di buffalo on the grill and as it warmed and began to melt, he would transfer it to a lemon leaf and serve it as a garnish with the grilled fish of the day.  I finished filling the rectangular stainless steel container with freshly trimmed leaves, covered it with wet paper towels and put it into the reach in refrigerator.

Alessandro put a stack of baby eggplants on the table in front of me.  He picked up the vegetable peeler and showed me how to slice off thin slivers of eggplant skin. Then he wrapped the eggplant skin inside out in a multi-layered circle around his fingers and showed me how to slice it very, very thin.

“You try,” he instructed.

I wound the slivers around my fingers and made very fine, almost transparent slices.

           “Piano, piano,” he kept saying. Was he trying to discuss music?   I have absolutely no musical talent.  He didn’t say anything more, so I didn’t try to respond. But that evening I checked the word in my Italian/English dictionary and discovered that it meant “slowly, carefully.”

When I finished slicing the eggplant peels, Alessandro placed them on a cookie sheet and roasted them very slowly until they were crunchy.  A little pile of toasted eggplant peels resembling a nest would also be used to garnish a plate. Alessandro told me later that Chef was very impressed with the very, very fine cuts of melanzana (eggplant) peels that I did for the garnish.  He said they perfetto!

Another garnish they used at the restaurant was a cheese “cone.”  Alessandro showed me how to put a square of Swiss cheese on a piece of parchment paper and add a sprinkle of minced parsley and a very, very thin slice of red pepper.  Then he microwaved it for 1 minute and the instant it finished, he quickly wrapped it around a cone-shaped piece of metal (one of the cooks said he made it from a tin can covered with foil, but I have seen metal “horns” or cones available where baking supplies are sold.  It cools right away and makes a fancy cone that they fill with pasta on a plate.

These tasks took me all morning, and then it was time for a break and the employee lunch.  Most of the time, the employee lunch consisted of meat, a vegetable and pasta.  Occasionally the vegetable was oven baked potatoes which, combined with the pasta, seemed like an awful lot of starch for one meal.  Today the “meat” or protein portion of the meal was a batch of whole, deep fried fish about 4-6 inches in length.  I thought they might be anchovies, because I knew they were larger than we’re used to seeing them in a can and they were eaten more regularly in Mediterranean countries.  I got in the lunch buffet line with my plate and watched the people in front of me heap piles of fish on their plates.  I wasn’t sure how you ate them (whole?) as they were really small. I decided to just serve myself the pasta, rigatoni in tomato sauce, and the vegetable, which thankfully was steamed green beans. I carried my plate out onto the porch and found a seat near Roberto. As I ate my lunch I watched the other chefs use their fingers to tear off the fish head and then pull it downward taking the backbone and tail off in one piece.  Then, yes, they opened their mouths and ate them whole!

Various tasks filled the afternoon and I was tired by the end of the day. It was warm and clear outside when I emerged from the hotel, and I decided to take the ferry home rather than riding the bus. I walked down the hill from the hotel to Amalfi and bought my ticket at the tabacchi shop. I watched the kayakers play basketball as I waited for the ferry to arrive at the pier. Onboard the ferry, I selected a seat on one of the wooden benches on the top level which was open-aired. The gentle hum of the diesel engine combined with the rocking of the boat and the warm breeze almost lulled me to sleep.. I raised my hand to shield my eyes from the sun and scoured the rugged coast. Pastel-colored stucco houses and gardens cascaded down the hillsides connected by steep stone steps. I could see tiny inlets and coves where the colorful fishing boats were sheltered that hadn’t been visible from the winding roads above that I traveled on the bus. When we reached Positano, I disembarked and headed for the internet café to check email.

The view from the ferry

Then I headed back up the hill to the main piazza. (My legs were certainly getting a work out here!) Fresh tomatoes were displayed in crates outside the deli along with eggplant, zucchini, fennel, onions, garlic and a dazzling display of fresh flowers. I decided to stop and get something for a light dinner. The deli was narrow with shelves on one side stacked from floor to ceiling with paper products, pasta, olive oil, vinegar and canned goods. The refrigerated glass case on the other side held a vast array of meats and cheeses. I selected two ripe, red tomatoes, a fresh baguette, a bottle of olive oil and a wedge of soft provolone cheese. The old man behind the counter weighed and tabulated my purchases, placing them in a white plastic sack for me to carry back to the apartment.

At the apartment, I poured olive oil on a crusty slice of bread and layered it with slices of provolone and tomato. Then I topped it with fresh basil leaves. I watched television for a little while as I ate. The Italian news was followed by a soap opera that took place in a five-star hotel and restaurant in Italy. I think the bus boy had something going on with a laundry worker and “Mama” was running things in the kitchen. Only in Italy would a soap opera be centered on a kitchen!

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