I did this because I tried it for the first time a couple weeks ago when my aunt and I had dinner with our middle-aged Italian neighbor. Francesco makes killer spaghetti, is the nicest guy, speaks sassy broken English, and bikes to and from his job in 100 degree weather. He also told me I'm too quiet and kept my wine glass pretty full.
I like Francesco because he challenges me without meaning to. In my years of homeschooling I took some sparse Italian, and being in close contact with somebody that is in fact Italian is something new. You have to learn to communicate with hand gestures, and be patient while he pulls out a translator once in awhile to look up a certain word in English. Also, I'm a little bit proud that this dinner mostly happened because of me.
I made mangoes and sticky rice for the first time recently, and glancing out the window I saw Francesco on his patio smoking a pipe and listening to Andrea Bocelli. I stared down at the heaping mass of sticky rice before me, more than ample for just two people. I chewed on my lip for awhile before loading up a paper plate and taking the dogs for a little walk to Francesco's patio. We exchanged broken English, in which I failed miserably at describing whatever it was I was handing him, and hurried away red-faced hoping he didn't think I was completely crazy.
The next evening, walking the dogs again, Francesco stopped my aunt and I and thanked me "for the very nice thing you did last night, and maybe I make spaghetti sometime?" We eagerly accepted and set a date, and I gave myself a little pat on the back for sharing that dang sticky rice.
So I sat and ate my fill of imported Grana Padano, corrected my aunt's pronunciation of "amaretto" so Francesco could understand it, loaded up on spaghetti with his mother's homemade sauce recipe, and sat back picking at fruit while he and my aunt hashed out politics. But, being me, dessert is always what sticks to my mind the most. It's the end of the meal, everyone's pretty decently full and a little wine happy, but still lingering at the table just enjoying each other's presence. After refusing ice cream 2-3 times, I finally let him scoop some for me in a little white coffee cup. You simply don't say 'no' at the dinner table of an Italian. I watched him sprinkle the coffee grounds on top, and I'll admit to being skeptical, especially since I don't like coffee. But one spoonful was enough to convince me, and I found myself being handed seconds.
It was the perfect accent to a lovely meal. What really did it for me was when he was rinsing dishes at the sink and my aunt had gone to the bathroom. After handing me my second cup of ice cream, he asked me, "So you have friends here?" I blushed a little, I found it difficult to find the basic English words to explain my situation in life. I had moved here without the intention of going back to college, wasn't too interested in culinary school, and didn't even have any kind of specific job opportunity I was pursuing. I'm just here, exploring, wandering, trying to get some work. I didn't know how to say that without sounding like a complete moron. But after I replied in the negative to his friend inquiry, he simply smiled and said, "Well, now you have one Italian." I smiled back, and ate my ice cream.
Ice Cream with Coffee Grounds (Gelato con Fondi di Caffè)
Note: This isn't so much a recipe as it is a suggestion. Use whatever ice cream and coffee grounds you prefer, this is simply what I used in my attempt to mimic whatever Francesco had on hand. You can, of course, be more ambitious and make your own ice cream. I do highly recommend that it has some kind of chocolate-covered almond action going on and is vanilla-based. Buon appetito!
- Vanilla Swiss Almond Häagen-Dazs, or whatever ice cream you prefer
- Fine coffee grounds, I used Mokk-a's Cafe Italia blend
Scoop your ice cream into desired serving dish and sprinkle with coffee grounds. Serve immediately.
Sources: Francesco's dinner table