Posted by: lisetta | March 28, 2009

Aromatherapy Two

Several weeks in to my stint as restaurant hostess and the rhythms of the evening reveal themselves. As the only woman on a team of 9, I find it amusing to observe the male mini-dramas as they play out, thankful I neither have to participate actively nor think too deeply about their implications/solutions. Indulging in other  senses is far more appealing. 

To me, the mad pace of the dinner service is tempered by the aromas wafting from the open kitchen. I especially like the momentary scent of rosemary sprinkled next to a nearly-cooked pork chop before it’s doused with the vinegar whose steam burns my nose. I wonder why Luca never sprinkles it on the seared pork directly, but don’t dare to interrupt his flow with apprentice questions. 

Tonight the earthy aromas of the mushroom trofie and the seaside scent of garganelli with calamari brought forth travel memories of happy times with friends. Most powerful by far, however, was the smell of the crema zafferano. Saffron cream is one of the best pasta sauces ever, especially when served with sautéed zucchini. Luca served it tonight over his homemade spinach ravioli. Grateful it was such a popular choice, I hovered as a vulture at the counter just to wait for its plating, catching a whiff as it passed to the hands of the waiters. 

Pat Willard calls saffron the world’s most seductive spice. I’d agree. Totally enjoyed her book Secrets of Saffron: The Vagabond Life of the World’s Most Seductive Spice. (Google Book search beta will let you read it for free if you click the link above.) Here’s an excerpt from the intro text there:

There are few words as evocative as saffron. Over thousands of years it has perfumed the halls of Crete’s palaces, made Cleopatra more alluring, and driven crusaders and German peasants to their deaths. While spices that drove adventurers to the ends of the earth, such as cinnamon, mace, and ginger, have become commonplace, saffron remains tantalizingly exotic. Nothing more than the dried stamens of the autumn-flowering purple crocus, it might as well be fairy dust. Resistant to modern horticultural technology, the fragile blossoms must still be gathered by hand from the ancient fields of Iran, Greece, Italy, southern France, and Spain. 

Secrets of Saffron is the story of this extravagant rover. Guided with wit and assurance by acclaimed food writer Pat Willard, we roam the rich landscapes of history and personal memory. 


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