I left a bone-chilling, rain-drenched verdant Northern Ireland, heavily laden with a suitcase overstuffed with clothes befitting an Audrey Hepburn fan embarking on her Florentine, if not Roman, holiday. I arrived expecting golden sunlight and cobbled, narrow streets. My bag did not seem as keen for this adventure, because it got a bit delayed and I found myself in the Florence airport alone trying to explain that my luggage was lost, when all the Italian I possessed was enough to order a cup of coffee.
Desperation forms friendships, though, and another American woman traveling solo became my new best friend. We filled out forms, hoping our bags would eventually find us, and shared a taxi to our respective lodging places. As it was eleven-thirty at night, I did not see any golden Tuscan light, but I can say I experienced every single cobblestone in those streets while being zipped this way and that by a cab driver who seemed to think he was auditioning for the Indy 500.
I collapsed into the tiny bed in my diminutive room in the pensione (little hotel), wearing the size large plain white T-shirt I found in my courtesy sorry-we-lost-your-luggage zippered pouch. I was exhausted, a bit worried that I had an heirloom from my grandmother in that bag, but beneath it all there was an electric joy. I was in Tuscany! I drifted off to sleep to the serenade of accordion music wafting across a courtyard and into my open window.
The next morning, I opened my eyes and there it was: that golden Tuscan sunlight I’d longed for. I dressed in my traveling clothes from the day before, enjoyed a quick breakfast of toast with nutella and gloriously rich, strong coffee and went to meet my new best friend at the Duomo. We toured through the beautiful frescoed buildings, walked among the sentinel-like trees of the Boboli Gardens and ate gelato while trying to figure out the correct way to pronounce Ponte Veccio bridge. We parted ways, both headed off on other Tuscan adventures, but before returning to my pensione, I needed one thing desperately: pasta.
I stumbled upon a trattoria with an open courtyard to eat in and sat at a table. I was immediately offered ice-cold white wine, and a menu which I couldn’t hope to decipher. I saw salmone and figured I knew that word and ordered it. What arrived was a strange and sublime combination: tendrils of al dente spaghetti swirled into a white wine sauce with smoked salmon, fresh tomato and avocado. I was in heaven.
While I did not get the recipe, I’ve tried to re-create it several times, and this is as close as I can get. It’s not quite the same, but if you let the delectable combination of delicate flavors dance in your mouth and close your eyes for a moment, you just might begin to feel the warm golden light of Tuscany on your face.
Spaghetti with Smoked Salmon and Avocado
1/2 lb thin spaghetti
4 slices smoked salmon
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
see tuscany/page c2
3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 avocado, chopped
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons butter
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta just until al dente, about 6 minutes. You’ll be cooking it a minute or two in the sauce later. Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic, season with a little salt and pepper, and cook until shallots are translucent and garlic is fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and white wine. Simmer until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add smoked salmon, using a wooden spoon to break it up as it heats. Add butter to finish the sauce. Toss cooked pasta in with the sauce and fold in avocado. Finish with lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste and parsley as a garnish, if desired.
Whitney Wilkinson is pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church.