I learned most of what I know about cooking in Italy, from a family I lived with for two summers in high school and then for a year before college. Mirella, the mother, and her daughter, Dodi, my best friend back then and still today, never measured anything, never really used a measuring cup or spoons. Occasionally they’d pull out a scale, weighing in grams, eti, kili, but not much. Their food was simple and elegant and the best Italian food I have ever had — lasagne and pasta al pesto and roast pheasant and spumoni and chocolate salami and involtini and pesce in burro. I could carry on and describe it all and tell you, even, how to make it, but this is not a post about food. It’s a post about measuring — about looking around at the world, at friends, at siblings, at ourselves comparing what they’ve got and are doing and giving against ourselves: what we’re getting and giving, trying to add it all up and make it equal and fair. Just think off #franzenfreude. “It’s not fair,” my children are constantly saying, it seems. “You love him more.”
I am most impatient with myself most when I find myself measuring. Growing up in a family with ten kids, there was a lot to measure: love, intelligence, beauty, work, money even. And family, of course, can be a microcosm for the world. The other day, I found myself thinking about Dodi — she has a fantastic restaurant, Nonna Tata, in Fort Worth, Texas. I was remembering visiting her there, watching her effortlessly prepare so much delicious food. Beautiful dish after sumptuous dish emerging from her oven and stove. A little of this. A lot of that. A master. A star. (As it happens, she just won a local Top Chef competition for Fort Worth, using no recipes.) It occurred to me, quite simple really: if you know what you’re doing, you do not need to measure.
Martha and Dodi, Bay Head, July 1980