The evening air is fragrant with early summer.
Anna and I arrived a few hours ago and almost immediately met up with Nicco, a friend of Lisa's. Our decision to come to Siena was so last minute that we didn't realize the Palio was only days away. We are only passing through, a short day before continuing on to Bologna.
Nicco meets us for a drink and invites us to join him at a dinner festival held for his contrada, dell'Onda. Ah, one of my favorite things about Italy is the food festivals. Evenings of long tables and endless food and wine that fades into a party for the whole community under one blanket of stars. This one is especially exciting, brimming with pre-Palio excitment and pride. The sun is just beginning to set as we drink wine in a courtyard, meeting lots of friendly, happy people and watching the moon rise. A full moon is rising. Splendid. Nicco buys us olive ascolane; hearty fried, green olives stuffed with meat, spilling out of a crisp paper cone.
After our aperitivo hour ends, the gate opens and we are led down to dinner. We walk down a twisting staircase that overlooks the tables. It's spectacular. All above and around us are beautiful buildings, blue and white flags for the contrada. People are filling the area quickly, carefree, giving bacetti and hugs, finding their seats.
Once sat, our wine glasses are once again refilled and soon enough we're served. The boys all share their dishes with each other (and us) so everybody can try everything. Dishes get passed around, wine is flowing. People eat, sing, laugh and dance.
The boys suggested we get the steak and tortellini with pesto, so we split the both of them. The tortellini and is smaller and and has a firmer, chewier bite than any I've seen before. And pesto...I can never turn down pesto. Especially in warm weather.
"Where will you go next?", asks one of the boys.
"You must eat tortellini in Bologna, where it was created. Even better than here!"
Everyone gives us advice on places to go in Italy and tries to persuade us to stay for the Palio. More food is passed around. Pasta, grilled pork chops. People are dancing, floating from table to table to visit with friends.
Hours later, we journey back to the piazza with our new friends. We go for a digestivo and drink Sambuca and then espresso to finish everything off. Eventually, we say goodnight, goodbye and thank you. The boys assure that we are always welcome back, and we of course welcome them to visit us wherever either of us end up. Then, we walk back to where we pitched our tent that afternoon. It's gotten chilly and late.
Tomorrow we will explore Siena and, in the evening, take a bus to Bologna to meet Dora. Big day.
"All night, those boys bought entire rounds of drinks or food for each other, us... just naturally. It's just what they do. They were all so generous," Anna says.
It's true. This night in Siena was fantastic, and what stood out most of all was the generosity. Before we arrived, and we called Lisa from the train, she immediately assured us we would be in good hands with Nicco and his friends. She was right. They naturally take care of their guests, and each other. I love Italy. I love the people. I feel like every day somebody reaches out to me in a random act of kindness, whether it is a boy who works at the local market to our farm, seeing us in Perugia, buying us lunch and showing us the city, a young mom calling her brother in Bari to help us organize a hostel...while giving us a lift there, or tonight, these gregarious boys who gave us such a special night.
I climb into the tent, curl up on my squeaky blow-up water raft and drift to sleep...
A good bunch of basil
A handful of walnuts, toasted
1 large clove of garlic
A handful of grated parmesan cheese, optional
Salt and pepper, if you'd like
Get out your blender....
First, blitz up your walnuts and garlic. Add all your basil and blend. Then, slowly pour in walnut oil. When it has reached it's desired consistency, you can scoop it out and stir in some cheese, if you'd like. Season to taste.
And then you of course have the choice of serving it over tortellini.
This may not be a complicated or fancy recipe but I love it and can not imagine summer without it.