I think it's clear how much fun I've been having cooking pasta and beans this month. Along with the terrific dishes, which are all very easy to do once you understand the rhythm, I've been flooded with memories of Italy. The power of being a young person, coming into his own, in Europe, is a not to be dismissed lightly. Or forgotten easily! In my early 20s, I would work very hard, save up my money and then go for a good fling in Italy. I did this many times. Most of my friends were well-traveled and Europe wasn't a stranger to them but New York was a constant and I just couldn't care less about it. New York was like San Francisco, where I lived, just better (or maybe just bigger.) Italy and France were other worlds to me. I couldn't get enough. Fortunately, I made friends with Italians, and that meant meeting their mothers, and you can guess where this is going. Sitting at an Italian table with lovely people who are eager to share their hospitality was game changing. I wanted this. I think I've spent most of my adult life pursuing the American version of this. A lot of us do it well but plate after plate of Signora Saperdi's Ligurian food or the delicate gnocchi from Signora Prato's hands in Roma were tough acts to follow. It was a lifetime, and many pounds ago, but it made me who I am. All of the things we seem to be learning now, like the importance of good ingredients, the enjoyment of eating a good, slow meal with people that matter, laboring over good technique and possibly most important, giving of yourself and sharing your kitchen, for the benefit of others, the Italians have been on to for generations. It's part of being human. Eating alone on a TV tray is a compromise. You can do it and sometimes it's a nice break, but a table full of people enjoying themselves is about as good as it gets. To know you helped orchestrate it in some way, even if you just brought the ice, is true joy. It makes you a part of something bigger than yourself. Grazie, Italia.