Feasting in Ticino

Once in the early 90’s I had occasion to stay in an odd little house on the side of a ravine in Ticino, the Italian part of Switzerland. One could not see the place from the small untravelled road, and had to go down a steep dirt drive to get to it. Our hosts were a homely June-November couple, she a teacher from Zurich, he a quiet elder man with dark hair and a gentle manner. He had built the house himself, every stick and stone of it, and it was quirky and fey, made of wood and much-painted with strong colors. The rooms were improbably small, as if he did not have the energy to make them normal-sized, and of course he really didn’t have the space. The whole back of the house was dark, set into the side of the cliff. The floor was stone and there was a stone terrace just outside the front, with an overhanging roof, and even some gardens, narrow but lush, before the ravine continued its downward decline.

As a good guest – and if one is a guest as much as I have been one finds ways to show one’s empathy and gratefulness – I cooked some dinners while we were there. We shopped in a town some distance away and found wonderful mountain cheeses, and chestnuts in syrup, and fresh figs – for it was summer – and all sorts of things. Here are two dishes I invented there and which we ate on the terrace with the smell of a night-blooming white flower wrapped around us… ghost-showing in the night as the light went slowly; and the smell of herbs – rosemary particularly – intense and sun-released too. I still make these dishes, or as nearly as I can with what ingedients I can get… my recipes are never exact, I haven’t the patience, so just put them together and hope for the best.

Tofu Mediterranean

Take a block of firm organic tofu, put in a bowl, and prick all over with a fork. Put about 1/3-1/2 cup of tamari on it and then squeeze the juice of a lemon on that. Cover, put in fridge, and let sit overnight. Turn tofu over in the morning.

When you’re ready to cook pick about 4 or 5 branches of fresh rosemary and put them in an oiled baking dish. On top of this bed lay the tofu with its marinade. Dot some tomato paste around it. Put a good layer of grated parmesan on top of the tofu and bake at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes, until the cheese is browned and crusty. The tofu will swell slightly and the rosemary will infuse it with a delicious subtle taste. Even tofu haters like this! You can put hot cooked brown rice around it after baking and this will absorb the juices deliciously.

Beany Sage Two-Cheese Casserole

Oil a 9×13 baking pan. Brown some cubed tempeh in oil and put in the pan with one can of borlotti beans (similar to pinto) and one can of white beans, drained and rinsed. Add chopped fresh sage, some red wine, and salt and pepper to taste. On top grate organic mountain cheese or any really tasty smelly cheese – two kinds; one on one side, one on the other. The quality of the cheese makes the dish so choose well. Bake at 350 degrees until the cheese is brown and bubbly.