I crashed the wrong wedding. I was supposed to sneak into a much sought-after VIP social event wedding banquet in a Villa in the outskirts of Florence with three friends who had invitations. We inevitably got lost in the dirt roads creeping around a verdant hilltop and ended in what we ignored was another Villa, where a lavish wedding reception was being grandly celebrated. It was not the one we were aiming for, but when we found out it was too late. We were welcomed at the gate, escorted in the garden and immediately introduced to the bride and groom, who waved us in courteously and fainly aloof. Just like the characters in the 2005 film Wedding Crashers, my friends and I were somehow able to bluff our way through the wedding party when guests and relatives asked who we were. I pretended to be a wealthy American oilman's daughter, while Bruno, Emanuela and Cesare played the fashion industry card.
I was young and carefree, then. Just out of university and high on life. The excitement of sneaking into a forbidden realm, and acting out a part like in a film, had me all worked up. I started hovering over the champagne buffet quite soon. When I was informed that this was yes an Italian nobility wedding, but without any slim connections to any of the guests, and our foul play surely soon to be discovered, I downed a few bubbly flutes in a row. Needless to say, I got very drunk. Very quickly.
I made a total fool of myself, as I always do when Dancing Under the Influence.
I did the following things, before being chased off the premises by a well-upholstered bouncer, complete with earphone and Armani tux:
I walked away from the buffet and dropped my 'all-you-can-eat' heaped plate 2 feet from the bride and groom's table, spattering food everywhere. All I remember is the luncheon gazebo going very silent. It was an instant which to me lasted a geologic era.
I fell in the pool.
I lost a Ferragamo sandal.
I cried, and my eye make up bled even more, making me look like a 1930s silent movie diva.
I hit on the caterer chef.
And subsequently dated him for a while.
The dish that stole my heart on that roller coaster evening was a poor man's soup. I loved the idea of attending a blue blood event and watching the bejewelled guests ceremoniously sip on what Tuscan housewives fix to re-employ stale bread. I found this a touch of genius.
I asked to be introduced to the caterer to give him my regards and compliment him on the tongue in cheek menu choice. The rest is slurred kudos, clumsy flirtation and quite a number of great intimate meals.
Here's the recipe to that wonderful soup, I had way of obtaining it during our brief liaison.
Pappa al Pomodoro is cucina povera at its utmost. This summer Tuscan bread-and-tomato 'pappa' (Italian baby talk for food) sounds like a kid's dish, and in fact it is – but for kids of all ages. In the past it was also very much an unpretentious meal, a tasty and clever way to use leftover bread that no housewife would ever dream of serving to a guest. Now it's on the menus of Florence's trendier restaurants. And socialite wedding receptions.
To serve 4 (or less, expect guests to want multiple servings) assemble:
2-3 garlic cloves, whole
1/4 cup olive oil
250 g (1 cup) unseasoned tomato sauce
500 g (2 1/2 cups) day-old Italian or sourdough bread, crumbled
1 liter (1 quart) of vegetable stock, or more as necessary – heated
2-3 sprigs of fresh basil
2-3 sprigs of fresh sage
Prepare a bouquet garni by placing herbs and garlic in a knotted gauze.
Put all the ingredients – except the stock – in a large stewpot.
Simmer adding heated stock for about 15 minutes, or until the bread has fallen apart, then season to taste.
Remove the herbal pouch and whir the soup in the blender, adding more stock if necessary.
Serve sprinkled with more freshly torn basil and good olive oil dribbled in abundance.