You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

mercoledì 3 novembre 2010


Hard to believe that this is November. Today a glorious, sunny day in Tuscany – warm enough to sit outside in the middle of the afternoon and watch three rotten dogs cavort. But now it’s dark, and I’m making pappa al pomodoro and thinking about whelping. Thoughts re: whelping have caused me to nearly burn the pappa.

Pappa al pomodoro is a Tuscan classic, a marvelous way to use up those stale ends of salt-less bread lingering long past their due date.[1] (Because there’s no salt, there’s no mold, which makes this bread reusable in this, as well as in ribollita (a wintry dish), and in panzanella (a summ'ry dish rife with tomatoes grown from your garden which have not been eaten by insects as ours were this year).

Pappa is simple, basic, cheap, and tasty: four adjectives that often describe Tuscan food as long as you’re not talking about bistecca fiorentina, which is simple, basic, and tasty, but decidedly not cheap. “Pappa” sort of translates into English as “mush.” It’s what you call nursery food, oft times, in Italian. So in this case, it’s Mush with Tomatoes. (Sounds scrumptious, no?)

Rosie will be whelping soon.

Last night, I turned to The Complete Dog Book, The Official Publication of the American Kennel Club, 1970 ed. (one of my Bibles), to see what they had to say about whelping:

“Constant restraint and vigilance will be necessary for at least three weeks to prevent a mating undesired by her owner. If it should occur in spite of all precautions, the veterinarian may be able to prevent conception by prompt use of a hormone injection.”

[Hm. Screwed on all counts.]

“If puppies are wanted, a sire should be selected and arrangements made well in advance. For her first mating especially, an experienced stud should be chosen.”

[Here’s hoping he was.]

Whelping is a funny word. Went to to find more about this weirdo word. They say: “Birth (calving in livestock and some other animals, whelping in carnivorous mammals) is the act or process of bearing or bringing forth offspring.[1] The offspring is brought forth from the mother. Different forms of birth are oviparity, vivipary and ovovivipary.” relates: “Origin bef. 900; (n.) ME; OE hwelp (c.G. Welf)" ... might I suggest a possible link between whelping and the Guelfs? Linguistically, they’re pretty much on the same page.[2]

(Especially fun that offspring is brought forth from the mother. Could we say that Adam whelped Eve? Zeus whelped Minerva? ... Just wondering.)

I wrote this yesterday, and since then, Rosie has successfully whelped. A temperature check this morning suggested that today would be the day, and so it was. At 10:30 the festivities began, and by around 2:30 she had successfully pushed out three surprisingly-large-(except-for-the-third) pups, who greedily feed as I write. Mother-in-law was around, a soothing and calming presence.

What, ideally, would be the best music to play while whelping? A little Mozart? Or how about a little Laurie Anderson? I read this awhile ago, and thought it entered Theater of the Absurd. Or maybe not: “Soon she [Laurie Anderson] would be off to Iceland for a solo recital, and then to Australia, where she was a curator of the Vivid Live arts festival in Sydney with her husband Lou Reed. In addition to retrospective and work-in-progress performances she would introduce and give a high-frequency outdoor concert composed primarily for an audience of dogs. It was apparently a hit.”[3]

All’s well in the whelping pool.

What follows is not your usual pappa al pomodoro recipe, but a recreation of a marvelous dish enjoyed repeatedly at the wonderful restaurant La Giostra in Florence. Don’t think it’s on the menu anymore. Florentine Sister aka Bobo groused the other day at lunch that, lately, Tillie’s Tuscan Table’s recipes have been decidedly unTuscan. (The addition of raw onions is not part of the classic pappa recipe, although, for what it’s worth, they do put chopped raw onions on their ribollita in the greater Montalcino area.) Trying to find my way back home (Stevie Winwood) ...

Could there be anything more Tuscan than what follows?

Pappa al pomodoro con cavolo nero/Tomato mush soup with Tuscan kale

3 generous Ts of extravirgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
A just-short-of-one pound Tuscan loaf, as stale as can be
Hot vegetable broth, about 4 c.
Generous pinches of sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch of cavolo nero (Tuscan kale in some parts)
3 T. tomato paste (use triple concentrate if you’re blessed)
1 generous T. fresh thyme
2 peperoncini, minced*
Basil, if it’s still growing in your garden in November
Red onion, peeled and finely diced
Extravirgin olive oil for garnishing repeatedly

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep saucepan over a low to medium flame. Toss in the bread, and immediately add vegetable broth. Using a wooden spoon, break up the bread. Continue to add vegetable broth as needed, and much of it will be.

When all the bread is broken up, add the tomato sauce, stir to combine, and check for seasoning – salt, pepper. Let cook for a couple of minutes.

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Take the cavolo nero/Tuscan kale, remove the leaf from the ribs (the ribs can go in the compost pile). Chop. When the water boils, toss in the kale (if you want to add some kosher salt to the cooking water, do so). Let it cook for about 3 minutes, and drain in a colander. Reserve.

Add the tomato paste to the pappa, the thyme, and the hot peppers. Just before serving, throw in the cavolo nero/Tuscan kale. Check for seasoning, and eat immediately. Liberally garnish with swirls of extravirgin olive oil, and the chopped red onions, if you don’t want to be authentic.

*Tuscans from Livorno, as well as those south of said, refer to hot peppers as “zenzero,” which is actually ginger in Italian.

Variations: Terracotta Sculptress takes her bread, roasts it in the oven, and when it comes out, rubs a peeled garlic clove over all surfaces, and then commences with the recipe. She remarked in a recent telephone conversation that cavolo nero depresses her because, according to experts, it’s only good after the first frost, which means that winter is truly here.

Bobo’s Fine Wine Idea: Pappa al pomodoro is often paired with Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a white wine, but I’d recommend Rosso di Montalcino doc Castello di Romitorio 2008 (NOT to be confused with their Brunello Di Montalcino Riserva 2004, that has recently won the International Wine Challenge award for the best red wine in the world).

La Giostra, Borgo Pinti 12/r, 055/241 341.

[1] Hm. I do have whelping on my mind.
[2] This would make it possible to recast the colorful conflicts between the Guelfs and the Ghibellines: the Guelfs were a dog-loving group, the Ghibellines preferred cats.
[3] Will Hermes, International Herald Tribune, June 25, 2010. “Electronic expressions of loss.” Given that this apparently was about loss (though only the audience could tell us, and they don’t speak our language), and Rosie’s birthing experience about gain, perhaps it wouldn’t have been altogether appropriate.

[Please hum John Lennon while singing "Help!" only do substitute the word WHELP! for HELP!]
Huge thanks to Betsy Bennett Purvis (aka Aunt Bets) who kindly found the image (above) for me when I was too pupped-out to do so: it's the beyond magnificent Piero della Francesca, Madonna del Parto, 1450-44, Monterchi (Arezzo). The Virgin has not yet delivered. Rosie has.

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