I recently returned from a blink-of-an-eye trip to Milan. Though my job brought me there in order to see the Salone del Mobile design exhibition, my first thought upon landing was not where to find the hottest new chair prototype by Nendo, but rather- surprise, surprise- where to eat lunch. I lucked out. I found a tiny corner locale selling fresh pasta and simple fare not at all far from our apartment rental. Usually, I do NOT luck out with such spontaneous finds, which is why if I want to eat well in an unknown city, I have learned to do at least a minimal bit of advance research. But with the Milan trip, there was simply no time.
I didn’t eat anything fancy at this place, but I must say that what ended up on my plate was a refreshing surprise. I ordered what I thought was a simple dish of roasted peppers, but as I began to indulge, I realized there was something else mixed inside… something sweet, that complimented the peppers perfectly. I grasped at all the vegetal possibilities, but finally it dawned on me: apples. Soft, roasted ones, how genius. Something I had never before seen in Italian cuisine. Not to say that it isn’t known, but just that I had to take my hat off to the Milanese for what I found to be an utterly radical breakthrough.
Maybe it means I’ve been in Germany too long, or maybe its just that I have been too intensely working in a way that glues me to a screen, but this short trip to Italy, more than any other I can remember, felt like a relief. From the moment I stepped off the airplane and into the mass of people pushing and shouting to get on the bus into the city, I could breathe easily, for the first time in a while. I could jaywalk. There was a pulse and an agenda belonging to the people in Milan that I have been missing in Berlin. The trees were blossoming and there were things to do. But not too fast, please. Don’t forget to take an hour, maybe two, for lunch. Order a glass of wine, why not. It is the simple luxuries that keep the pace of a large, bustling city manageable and even enjoyable. The opportunity to get off the iphone for a minute and just look at, wait – see – the analog sights that surround.
Last night I was reading an old issue of Harper’s, from 2009. Since I have limited, expensive access to weekly or monthly American publications, I take what I can get. And it’s not like articles from Harper’s or The New Yorker become any less relevant with two or three years’ passing. Anyway, it was an article written about the twilight and eventual demise of the American newspaper, by Richard Rodriguez. I was most struck by the following passage, towards the end of his piece:
“ Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths, on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a café table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the “New Establishment” issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London; they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want a five-star brick and mortar and DO NOT DISTURB signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they can figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (ADD TO SHOPPING CART), they will do it.”
The nice thing about Italy is that… this doesn’t quite take hold. The old way, the analogue way, the romantic way, still seems to work, to hang on by a thicker thread than it does elsewhere.
I am sad to confess that nothing else I ate on the trip quite lived up to the dish of roasted peppers and apples, but at least I can keep this tiny discovery in my arsenal of simple and healthy recipes. The recipe I ‘invented’ for what I encountered that afternoon is hardly a recipe at all. It is kind of like how a five year old would cook if he or she were given a couple of peppers, an apple and an Easy-Bake oven, but I will share it with you anyway.
Recipe – Pepper and Apple ‘Caponata’
Red and yellow bell peppers, as many as you like
Apples, probably green are best, as many as you like, but probably fewer than peppers
Sprinkling of olive oil
1. Wash and dry peppers and apples and place on a baking sheet or dish.
2. Cook at approx. 175°C, uncovered, for about a half hour, then rotate so that roasted side is facing down and cook for another 20 minutes or so, or until softened and skins of peppers are blackened.
3. Remove from oven and let cool.
4. Peel skin from peppers and apples. (This should be pretty easy.) Slice peppers into thin strips and apples into small wedges. It’s ok if the apples are a little mushy.
5. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Toss together gently.
6. Serve with bread as an appetizer or side dish.