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As much as I love the fall, I inevitably find myself shaking my head at this time of year as I find it harder and harder to believe that it actually is the fall.

True, the leaves are slowly changing colour and the nights are noticeably cooler, but the days are still warm and for the most part sunny. Where it’s hardest to believe that fall is here is the garden.

There are still tomatoes ripening on the vine and we still have peppers waiting to be picked. The herbs are going strong and our celery plants are a sight to behold!

Are you sure it’s still not summer???

I think part of the reason why it’s still so hard to believe that it’s fall is that I seem to have fallen in love with a little cookbook that just happened to be the Flavour of the Month for August and September 2007: Viana La Place’s My Italian Garden.

There are a few authors whose cookbooks I will buy simply because their names appear on the cover. Tish Boyle and Dorie Greenspan are probably foremeost among this group. But I would have to say that Viana La Place is now also a member of that club. Her cookbooks are lovely and I’m happy to say that I own many others: La Bella Cucina, Unplugged Kitchen, and Desserts and Sweet Snacks.

Her latest cookbook continues in the tradition of her previous books in that the emphasis is on simple ingredients of the highest quality prepared in ways that highlight the beauty of the ingredients. If you don’t have a food processor or any of the other electronic gadgets that seem to accompany the modern kitchen, that’s not a problem.

This book is the story of La Place’s garden from a barren piece of earth in her yard to a well-organized piece of cultivated land that is a constant source of inspiration. What I especially love is that La Place built the garden herself. She learned from her mistakes and wasn’t afraid to document some of them in her book.

And while there are no photographs, the book is filled with pretty sketches that give it an almost romantic feel. La Place very clearly evokes how much peace the garden gives her and how much she loves it.

Of course, the recipes are the centrepiece. The book is divided into four chapters based on the four seasons beginning with summer and ending with spring. The organization of the book is a reminder that gardens can produce in many different ways regardless of the season. It helps,
mind you, that La Place lives in San Francisco where the climate is milder. We certainly don’t get very much from our garden in the middle of winter. However, many of the ingredients used in the recipes for the fall or winter are readily available in colder climates so that shouldn’t be a deterrent to trying those recipes.

In the end, I just loved how this book felt. It was like reading a novel about a very personal mission to build something beautiful. And it had the added bonus of recipes and lots of them.

I tried several recipes from the book but the one I want to highlight is this very simple, yet satisfying pasta. The original recipe from the book calls for the zest of Meyer lemons but I substituted regular lemon zest and the dish was wonderful.

Whether you have a garden already or are dreaming of having one day, I cannot recommend Viana La Place’s My Italian Garden more highly. It’s what garden dreams are made of!

Ciao!

Pasta with Basil and Lemon
Adapted from My Italian Garden by Viana La Place.

Note: This recipe will serve 2 to 3 people quite generously.

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6 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (you may need some extra olive oil if the pasta appears too dry)
2 cloves garlic, minced
a handful of basil leaves, cleaned and torn into pieces
freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp. lemon zest, finely grated
1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
salt to taste
spaghettini pasta for 2 to 3 people (or whatever pasta you like)

Cook the pasta according to package directions.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil and garlic over a very low flame.

After 2 to 3 minutes, you should begin to smell the garlic but be very careful not to burn it. Add the basil leaves and lemon zest and stir for a few minutes.

Add freshly ground pepper to taste.

As soon as the pasta is cooked, drain it and add it to the pan with the basil and lemon.

Sprinkle on the Parmigiano and toss to coat. Taste the pasta for seasoning and adjust accordingly. If the pasta is too dry for your liking, add some olive oil.

Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

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