Friday, October 2, 2009

Ilness in the family

I have no pictures of Bella, Primo's sister-in-law. She had had cancer but had been in remission for years. Illness struck her again unexpectedly. This time she decided to a take a stand to refuse all chemotherapy, even though the family pleaded with her to fight once again.

I did not know Bella very well. The last time I saw her she did not appear to be ill. My Italian had improved enough that I could understand simple conversations. Marina and I went alone to visit her one afternoon and I received a nice tour of her home.

She would not let me take her picture. She looked so beautiful but I didn't press her. Marina told her I was desperate to obtain a certain recipe I had eaten at a mutual friend's dinner party. The wealthy hostess would not share the recipe. Not even Primo could convince this socialite to divulge it.

As we sat in Bella's living room, trying to understand the motive for this lack of sharing, she suddenly began laughing and exclaimed "Yes yes, I know now why she won't give up the secret recipe!! She didn't make that sauce! She probably bought it at a restaurant!... She doesn't KNOW the recipe."

Penne with Pepper Sauce (Primo's version)

For 4 people

350 grams penne pasta
1 large yellow bell pepper
100 grams of panna da cucina or half and half
Salt for the pasta water
Olive oil
½ cup of grated Parmigiano cheese

Burn off the skin of the pepper over a grill pan.
Skin the pepper and slice into thin strips.
In a large skillet, briefly sauté the pepper slices in a little olive oil. Blend in the half and half and Parmigiano cheese. Bring to a slow simmer.

Boil the pasta in salted water until al dente.
Drain pasta thoroughly and add to the sauce. Mix well and simmer the pasta in the sauce for a minute. Taste to season.

Serve immediately

That laughing moment we all shared was the last time I saw her. As her condition worsened, I was not able visit my family. Marta wrote it was a difficult time for everyone. Bella lingered and suffered until the end arrived. She had continued to refuse chemotherapy. I suspect her children and husband could not understand why she would leave them without a fight. Even today, many years later, Primo's brother still has not recovered from the shock of her loss.

During that long year, I became desperate to get back to Italy. I could not intrude on my family's grief and I had no money to be a tourist. Then I found a solution on the Internet. I would go to school and stay with a host family.

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