Through the looking glass

I met the most incredible man today.

Gianmaria Ciferri was an amateur painter when he stepped onto the international art scene in 1969. Unlike so many promising new artists who are launched out of pre-pubescent obscurity, Ciferri was already 44 years old. And for the past 42 years he has enjoyed a brilliantly successful second career as a world-reknowned artist.

After having met him, the photo above looks to me like the Gianni Ciferri who held whatever position he had in whatever company he worked for, while the Signor Ciferri of today reflects my stereotypical vision of a classical artist: blue-striped ascot and blue walking coat with an intense set of piercing blue eyes that confer an otherworldly aura, not so unlike a cross between this self-portrait of Vincent Van Gogh and Vincent Price.

I hope he wouldn't find that offensive. I mean it in the best possible way.

It was an amazing experience to just sit with a coffee at his dining table. To see his wife, Luciana, in a highly-stylized portrait that captures her beautifully, albeit esoterically. To be led through his home down the galleria, past countless pieces of priceless art scattered amongst everyday snapshots of their cats. To enter his small studio where the afternoon sun overexposed the white walls and organized chaos.

He has the most dignified air about him. The kind that seems to immediately identify a true artisan. Sophisticated. Cultured. Decisive. Knowing. Humbled by cataracts and an elegant walking-stick that belie a veritable force of nature.

In an instant I saw my life flash-forward to 2056, the year I would be his age.
I felt like I'd just stepped through the looking glass.

I worry sometimes that time is flying by too quickly, that all the fun I've been having has distracted me, and that my newfound appreciation for the role of a casalinga has dulled my ambition as a result. I should have been living in Italy for the past year by now. Fluent Italian diction should be rolling mellifluously off my tongue. I should have my personal administration in order, my taxes finished, my websites up and running, and my businesses fully-functional. At the very least, I should have the entirety of my belongings in one country - yet all that's managed to make it over the pond is 200 pounds worth of cookbooks and kitchen utensils.

In a futile attempt to regain control of my destiny I've been furiously running around like the White Rabbit: "I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late! I'm late! I'm late!" Moving to Europe was supposed to force me to slow down, but I find myself scrambling more than ever.

My consciousness returned to the apocalyptic story Signor Ciferri was telling about his latest piece, an explosion of color featuring a pregnant woman, a child and a 7-headed dragon. Man, and I thought I was multi-tasking.

Then he showed us his other works: calm, serene, refined women who embody the same grace and elegance with which their creator carries himself. This, I decided, was a worthy aspiration.

There is something incredibly powerful, but also genuinely lovely, in moving slowly, deliberately, purposefully. Almost as lovely as the tortellini Luciana gave us to take home for dinner. Almost...

Luciana's Tortellini with Sage Butter Sauce
Serves 4

For the pasta:
3½ cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs, beaten

For the filling:
1-1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 ounces pork loin, diced
2 ounces turkey breast, diced
4 ounces prosciutto, diced
4 ounces mortadella, diced
2 eggs
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the sage butter sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
a handful of fresh sage leaves, chopped

If you've never made homemade pasta before, have no fear. It's really not that difficult, but it's a bitch to roll out the old-fashioned way. I recommend using a pasta machine but to be honest, you can also use store-bought pasta dough.

If you decide to go for it, Luci's "best guest" as to quantities are listed above.

Mound the flour and make a well in the center. Then add the 4 beaten eggs and a pinch of salt. Using a fork, work the eggs into the flour until a dough forms. Form the mixture into a ball, and knead it for 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary. Wrap it in plastic, and set aside for 30 minutes. If you need a visual aid you can find about a million online. Here's a pretty good one.

This recipe includes turkey breast in the filling, one of the few variations accepted by tortellini purists. The filling can also be made a day ahead, covered well and kept in the refrigerator.

In a large skillet over medium heat, warm the butter. Add the pork loin and turkey breast, and sauté until cooked through, about 10 minutes.

Place the pork, turkey, prosciutto and mortadella in a food processor, and process until well-mixed but still slightly grainy. Place it all in a bowl, and add the 2 eggs, Parmigiano and a pinch of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste, mix well by hand, and set aside.

Using a pasta machine, roll out the dough until you reach the second-thinnest setting. Cut the pasta sheets into 1½-inch squares. Drop ½ teaspoon of the filling in the center of each square, brush the edges of the square with water, then fold opposite corners over to form a triangle. Press to seal the edges, then bring the opposite corners together, and pinch them to form the tortellini.

As you make them, arrange them on a floured surface so they don't stick together.

In a large pot, bring the stock to a boil. Season the stock with salt and pepper, add the tortellini and cook until done, about 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat and add the sage. When it starts bubbling up, it's done.

Ladle the tortellini into soup bowls and sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Finish by pouring some of the sage-butter on each serving.

It's a delicate dish, well suited to be enjoyed slowly, deliberately and purposefully...

Buon appetito!

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