They call him "Mano d'Oro" -- "Golden Hands".
Golden Hands grasps each and every plump, little cherry tomato with a gentle mercy before slicing them into the stockpot for garden-fresh marinara sauces; his gilded fingers massage "tipo 00" flour and egg, producing golden sheets of pasta; ol' Golden Hands who shows that fantastic five-star cooking doesn't have to be complicated, but made with devotion to tradition and quality ingredients.
He is Chef Francesco at Villa Treville, whose hair bears no resemblance whatsoever to Mr. Bean although everything else about his face does. "They", in this case, is our good friend G, king of casa Treville who is blessed to have such amazing staff running his castle. I begged Francesco teach me how to make fresh lasagna (and let me film it, for our Chinese viewers back home).
I remember last year, July 2014, when we decided to throw an impromptu Fourth of July party for guests, the Positano old guards who own the city's finest restaurants and hotels, and they of the yachts lingering in the same picture-frame view of Villa Treville's seafront. Never mind that the host and hostess are Canadian and Spanish, or that the staff are Italian; Francesco summoned an impressive feast that sultry night, with all manner of fried, cured, skewered, grilled, raw, and dressed antipasti (with a particularly memorable prosciutto tower); I brought the kitsch with a red-and-white striped, blueberry-topped Independence Day trifle. That night everyone was family; no matter whom the VIPs are, whomever the others are not, our unified mirth was fortified by this simple and unpretentious food of the gods. If you die and go to Heaven, I am most certain that basic knowledge of the Italian language is key.
So, the lasagna. Being such a traditional, and such a professional, I'm not surprised a recipe wasn't given.
I remember watching Francesco in that gorgeous, tiled kitchen. The air is warm, the open windows letting in a thick breeze. I don't ask for or jot down any measurements. That's the essence of traditional cooking; it's creating something out of few and basic ingredients. The process of lasagna-building is origami-like; the flick, pinch, pull and flip of two hands turn flat layers into something full and whole.
Francesco cloaks on layers and layers of sauce, sheet and cheese the way you'd dress a baby in cozy layers. The way he tucks and folds the perfectly imperfect, bumpety lumpety sheets of pasta over the sauce is the motherly process of tucking a baby in for sleep. We knew this was gonna taste like kisses.
In lieu of his recipe right now -- in fact, I will e-mail the Villa Treville tonight to roadmap my quest for the Golden Lasagna -- here are some links to recipes by substitute teacher Jamie O., which I have a hunch will best replicate Francesco's methods and earnestly uncomplicated flavours.
It's important to note that kneading the dough very well and adding a minimum of egg will make the pasta as bouncy and firm as Francesco's is -- it was a startling revelation and the best possible case for fresh pasta vs. store-bought lasagne sheets.