This is a guest post from Melissa Hamilton and Christopher Hirsheimer. Together they make up the dynamic duo that write, photograph, and design the Canal House Cooking series. Volume 7,La Dolce Vita, is available January 17th.
We rented a farmhouse in Tuscany—a remote, rustic old stucco and stone house at the end of a gravel road, deep in the folds of vine-covered hills. It had a stone terrace with a long table for dinners outside, a grape arbor, and apple and fig trees loaded with fruit in the garden. There was no phone, TV, or Internet service, just a record player and shelves and shelves of books. It had a spare, simple kitchen with a classic waist-high fireplace with a grill. It was all we had hoped for. It was our Casa Canale for a month.
The decision had been made back in our New Jersey studio six months earlier on a cold rainy day in early spring. Over a lunch of cannelloni, we’d gotten into a long conversation about why Italian food tastes so damn delicious. We sat there for a couple of hours discussing it. We have both traveled extensively in Italy, eating in every region, and in one sense we really do know Italian food: We know that seppie (cuttlefish) is served with white polenta in the Veneto; that bread crumbs replace grated cheese in Sicily; and that in Genoa, only tiny, sweet Genovese basil is used to make pesto—leaves grown in warmer climes are deemed too aggressive in flavor. But the more you learn, the less you know. And we realized that for all the times we’d been to Italy, there was still so much we wanted to understand about Italian home cooking. By the end of lunch we had a plan. We’d go to Italy, find a house with a kitchen, and cook. We looked at each other and laughed, surprised that we could imagine doing such a thing. But that’s just what we did.
We are home cooks writing about home cooking for other home cooks. We celebrate cooking every day and especially during the festive holiday season with delicious Italian dishes, some classic, some reinterpreted Canal House style. We make tramezzini and tender spinach gnocchi, bathing them in a simple sage butter. We roll out sheets of pasta and layer them into rich, delicate lasagne. We simmer classic ragù Bolognese and serve it with wide ribbons of pappardelle. We roast game birds, stir up creamy risottos, slice porcini, char peppers, poach capons, and turn the beloved chestnut into sweets just right for the holidays.