Cashew Carbonara, The Backstory

On a family holiday when I was thirteen, I fell in love with Rome. The winding lanes with plants hanging from tiny apartment balconies.

Old women, bronzed from years under intense sun, taking time to watch on stone step doorways.

Crowds of giddy tourists gathered hopefully around the Trevi fountain, whispering their wildest wishes to coins before flinging their dreams and gold behind them to plunge down the watery depths.

The most creamy, decadent ice-cream waiting for your greedy mouth at every corner. It was my kind of place.

I was at that teenage stage where I wasn’t aware how awkward or young I was, and therefore was free to walk around the magical city with a bounce in my step. Especially because I had recently invented a new ‘style’ and had decided to try it out abroad before bringing it for a spin in front of people who actually knew me.

This crazy new style was that I cut the feet off all my tights and wore them as a sort of pedal pusher leggings under skirts and dresses. I was positive that I was a fashion genius! My step-mum told me I looked like Madonna, but I wasn’t really sure who that was. However, due to Roman weather I ended up, not with a reputation for being the most fashion-forward tourist in the city, but with incredibly tanned feet and white legs. It was years before I stopped hacking up my tights, and I only recently threw out the last of my legging ‘creations’.

I clearly have a hoarding problem.

One restaurant we went to during our week exploring was a little traditional corner gem, off the beaten track, with garlic oozing from the open windows, and fresh herbs tickling your nose from the dusty footpath outside. We immediately rushed in. The waiter that night displayed the usual Rome charm, complementing our meal choices and smiling at us so much I’m sure his cheeks ached when he got home after work.

As we were leaving, olive oil still glistening in the corners of our mouths, he smiled at me, and uttered the words powerful enough to put any English speaker under a spell:

“Ciao, bella.”

My pasta-full stomach did the high jump and I had a skip in my step the rest of the evening. He said ‘bye beautiful’ to me, ME. He thinks I am beautiful! I was sure I was the only person he had ever said it to, this twenty-something sallow skinned blue eyed Roman God had been waiting months, years, for the perfect tourist to say those precious words to, and now he had found her, and it was me. Rome was the best place on earth!

I insisted on going back to that restaurant three more times during our trip and each time I scooped basil spaghetti into my mouth, my brain in a frenzy as I waited for the moment we would get to leave and he would say it again. And every night he did.

So my carbonara is dedicated to that waiter, somewhere in Rome, who was clearly in love with me and is obviously still thinking about the girl in the unevenly-cut tights with the brown feet and huge appetite.

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