An Excerpt from Now & Then: A Collection of Recipes for Always by Tessa Kiros
My first time in Italy – not counting that ridiculous trip with my sister Ludi from Greece by boat via Brindisi, a quick stop in Rome for a slice of marinara pizza (probably still my favourite pizza) and then on to Spain with our Eurail passes – my first proper time in Italy was with Calli in my early twenties.
We rode bicycles around the small town, admiring the buildings and their beautiful colours – the greens, mustards, ochres and golds – and the stylish, well-rounded and exquisite beauty. And I remember thinking how Italy showed me to love pink and yellow together. I never thought I did before. Like cherry blossoms on lemon pie.
The first meal I had at Calli’s Aunt Loretta’s is one I will never forget.
I watched the family going about their every-day lives and the normality with which the meal was served. How it came together so harmoniously. When I think about it now – it was not over-portioned, it was unimposing and it totally represented Italy for me. This balanced, pleasant way that Italians have of stringing a meal together. Of collecting nature, rounding things up and distributing them onto the plates of family and friends.
After that I have a clear memory of a night we had dinner in a courtyard. Lisa G had a dress rolled up in a pocket of her jean shorts. She unravelled it and changed for dinner. We feasted on small fried fish and thinly sliced zucchini dressed with vinegar and mint. We drank a wonderful wine, taking in the atmosphere, and I wondered if this was actually a lifestyle? I never would have imagined that, less than 10 years later, I would be living in the countryside of Tuscany and married to Giovanni.
I have asked several Italians about the things they love about Italy. Some said the profumo of meat and vegetables that have been cooking slowly for two or three hours for Sunday lunch that spreads appetisingly through the house and surroundings, filling you with a sense of wellbeing. Cracking eggs into flour and turning it into fresh tagliatelle. I love the base beautiful ingredients of olive oil, wine, garlic, sage, rosemary, basil. Ripe tomatoes, parmesan and the seasons. And that we are encouraged to have several courses.
A word I have always loved in Italian is ancora – still. If you change the tone and put stress on the first ‘a’ you get ancora – anchor.
I am forever grateful for Giovanni and our beautiful family that we have made in Italy, and the ancora it has been.
My first dinner out with Giovanni was quite memorable. I had recently been to Mexico and could speak a bit of Spanish, so I thought I could communicate (how wrong I was!).
I tried anyway, mixing in a bit of Spanish with the simple communication that I was enjoying in those days of adding vowels onto the end of English words and exaggerating some intonations here and there. We managed to establish, however, that we were both obsessed with artichokes. Ten for me. Dieci per Giovanni.
After that, he would sometimes turn up with an armful of artichokes, some ciabatta, a few slices of hand-cut prosciutto, a hunk of good cheese and a couple of leafy lemons. Just like all those Italian delis outside of Italy that had kept me nourished over the years. Their rows of yellowy–green olive oils, misshapen tomatoes, the comforting salamis and hams hanging with provolone and other cheeses, leaving you feeling safe, knowing that you were never far from a good panino.
Every year – once, sometimes even twice – we drive to the sea with the family. We swim at sunset, then order pizza marinara. Fried calamari after that with lots of lemon. Sometimes not even a contorno to distract from the simplicity. We hardly deviate. A small walk through the town for a gelato, then drive home.
Whenever I am away from Italy, I miss the markets. Collecting all the smells and inspiration of roasting chicken, coffee, wine, garlic, bay leaves. Cardoons, quinces, olives, fresh plums and bringing them home – and the smells of fresh air and forest where I live. The elegance of Italian grandmothers. The Italian men with their strong colour combinations and hands waving in the air in explanatory gestures. The certainty of the sounds in Italy. Spoons clinking loudly against the plates in bars, especially in the mornings. The gurgling of the milk frothing and the sound of the barista banging out the used coffee grounds. The echoes of greetings in the piazzas. Church bells and women whispering in church, and the sounds of the swallows in our courtyard.
My favourite time in Italy is April, May. The first flowers that start showing up on a bronze countryside. Washed sheets drying in our garden. The magnolia flowers that appear just before Easter. The white sprinkle of buds that decorate the hedges in the countryside, and the wild flowers. The hint of what will slowly unfold in front of us over the next couple of months, tumbling into abundance.
I also do love the time of slowing down – the restraint and stepping back of it all. Persimmon or cachi trees, and chestnuts roasting in autumn. And the wicker trees when they have lost their leaves in winter. These are the things that make me happy here. The loyalty in ingredients and their times to be eaten. The way they are rooted in tradition – in family, in ritual. And the commitment they have here – to carry the ingredients to the markets and homes in such a beautiful way – is forever inspiring.
About the Author
Tessa Kiros is international cookbook royalty. She helped define the modern illustrated genre and has sold more than 700,000 copies across multiple titles, languages, and decades. Her previous cookbooks include Apples for Jam, Falling Cloudberries, Provence to Pondicherry, Twelve, Food From Many Greek Kitchens, Limoncello and Linen Water, and Piri Piri Starfish.
Tessa’s upbringing and lifelong wanderlust has seen her collect culinary experiences from all over the world. Born in London to a Finnish mother and Greek-Cypriot father, she grew up in South Africa. After many years traveling and working, she settled with her husband Giovanni in Italy, where they raised daughters Yasmine and Cassia. She divides her time today between Italy and Greece. Now & Then is her eleventh cookbook and it’s her definitive new work: 150-plus recipes with gorgeous lifestyle photography reflecting on the food that has shaped her, but also encompassing her table today. Her new cookbook taps into our renewed appetite for nostalgia, in cooking and in life. It calls out to Tessa Kiros devotees, as well as speaking to younger readers through the mediums of color, energy, authority, and the healthful deliciousness of her evolving modern table. This is Tessa Kiros as we haven't known her; for 2023 and beyond.