Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Pasta with dried porcini and prosciutto ragout

This is a post about ends. A long-awaited end and prosciutto ends.

But before the end, the beginning.

Yesterday my day started at my local police station and ended about 8 hours later in the central immigration office. Well, to be exact it started several months ago with endless phone calls, trips to various municipal offices and the Consulate, but you know that already.

I am now the proud holder of a permanent resident visa after decades of renewals, endless lines and many moments of distress. I still cannot believe it, I still am scared to even put it down in writing lest the law change and someone in uniform come knock on my door and take that precious slip of paper from me.

I think immigration is a nightmare wherever you are, what makes the difference in this country is the uncertainty of the outcome. Usually you know where you are going, what you have to do, what you have to bring. If all the requisites are there, you get what you went for and if they are not, you just don’t.

Not here. Laws change quicker than a model at a fashion show. What was valid yesterday may not be today, what was a fact the last time you called that office is now dubious. I think I got about ten different versions of how to renew my permit and what papers to present over a few weeks. I filled out forms and sent kits and was handed computer-generated appointments only to find my self once again filling in the same paper form I used ten years ago after a day at immigration last week and a broken down computer system. I paid fees at the post office only to find out that the new fiscal budget, which became effective on the day I sent in my kit, required an additional €200,00 payment. Then I ended up not paying a thing. I did not question that.

Now, I understand and admire the people working in these offices. They find themselves having to explain a system they don’t understand themselves to hundreds of foreigners who do not speak a word of Italian. They are constantly interrupted in their work by impatient, angry and somewhat desperate people asking all kinds of questions. Also, let us not forget that until recently Italy was a country of emigrants and it has not yet quite learned to deal with the soaring levels of immigration of the past two decades. To make things worse, public funding is at a minimum and more than one officer complained that they did not even have paper to print on (one actually asked me if he could use a copy I didn’t need to print something out for me on the other side. I kid you not).

Then again there is the other kind of employee: comfortably seated behind a glass partitioning who is rude, arrogant and impatient. The kind who raises his voice and treats people differently according to the color of their skin, their passport, their clothes even. The kind who forgot that at least one person in his family probably emigrated to the US, South America, Australia or some country in Europe. I am aware these people exist everywhere, not just here, and whenever I watch these things happening I feel a tightening in my chest.

I can count myself lucky as I am usually treated civilly once they hear my fluent Italian and see my US passport. Being a woman can be helpful too, but then again it may work against you according to who you end up dealing with. After many years, I have learned my way around. I bring pretty much any document I own with me (my husband teased me the other day when I wondered if I should bring some totally unrelated papers with me, which I incidentally ended up using) and copies of them all.

Yesterday I was given at least three reasons why I couldn’t renew my visa:
I didn’t have my husband’s tax returns with me (hello, I work, this is the 21st century, I have my tax returns with me).
I didn’t bring a certificate of family status with me (hello again, the Municipality offices gave me this paper – pull out – saying that as of 1 January 2012 they can no longer issue this paper for residents using them in PA offices. The PA must contact them directly. And by the way my children and husband’s social security numbers are on my tax returns).
I was told I had to go to another office for my specific case and when I did, they asked me (after waiting for 80 numbers before my turn) why I had gone there for the renewal (uhm, because you sent an email to the officer I was talking to asking him to send me over). I was then warned that the new law no longer envisaged ten-year renewals, the maximum was five. Bummer. So, how did I end up with a permanent visa? Once again, I am not asking.

I gave my Oscar-worthy performance: I played the helpless blonde with the grateful smile, I played the sympathetic friend who fully grasps the difficulties of being a public official, I played the taxpayer filled with indignation, I played the hard working feminist who supports two Italian citizens and I played the graduate from law school pulling out laws and lists.

Whatever I did it worked and I am grateful for what I was given. I just wish everybody on every line in every office could feel how I feel today, the relief, the joy. But I unfortunately know that will not be the case.

Now to the prosciutto end. This pasta is packed with flavor thanks to the prosciutto and with umami from the dried mushrooms. In Italy you can buy the end part of a prosciutto leg, that little piece that you can no longer slice with the machine. Sort of like that last little part of the pencil you can no longer sharpen. This works fine of course with some lovely sliced prosciutto too, but if they are slicing it freshly for you, ask them to make thicker slices. Otherwise, try asking at the counter for that endpiece, you might get lucky. Amounts here vary depending on how many people you are making this for, so I will give you a general idea.

1 prosciutto end or about 200gr prosciutto
1 small bag (about 2 handfuls) of dried porcini or mixed mushrooms
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
olive oil
grated Parmesan cheese
500gr pasta

Bring a pot of water to a boil and salt it. In the meantime, soak the mushrooms for a few minutes in a small bowl with warm water. Chop up the prosciutto by hand, as finely as you can. Brown some sliced or chopped garlic in a pan with olive oil and then add in the prosciutto. While it fries in the pan, squeeze out the excess liquid from the mushrooms and chop up finely. Do not discard the liquid. Add mushrooms to the pan and after a few more minutes add in the water. Let it dry up a little, but not too much, you want it to be creamy. When the pasta is ready, drain it but not too much. Mix in the sauce and serve with a grating of Parmesan cheese, a little pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.

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  1. There is so much of what I both love and hate of my country here: the absence of ordinary. I recognized myself in a dozen situations when you described your acting interpretations..

    Well done for getting your visa, and what a nice pasta to celebrate with :)

    1. It is a lovely country despite (or because of?) its contradictions. Thank you

  2. Congratulations! I can only imagine what a nightmare it must be. We've been battling the UK home office for the last couple of weeks trying to get the husband a spousal visa. We were turned away last time because we only had a copy of our marriage certificate. My minor tantrum, of 'how do you think I got TWO passports put into his married name if it wasn't legal?' did not help. At all. But this pasta definitely would have.

    1. Yeah, the tantrums never help but sometimes they are just unavoidable... especially when something so obvious is being ignored. Goodness, how frustrating!

  3. Congrats! I'm kind of terrified of immigration too, then again I'm woman, European and working in a University and I tell myself it could be worse, like being my Bangladeshi colleague that was stuck at home without a visa for over a month despite a European wife, 2 American children and a job at the university....

    Your pasta looks delicious! I did something similar - the porcini a couple of weeks ago and I still dream about it!

    1. Totally. The kind of story you mentioned above (like the one about the character in the movie played by Tom Hanks who lives in the airport) is what gives me nightmares whenever I have to go near an immigration office...

  4. You are so right, you hope that you'll get someone sympathetic and sometimes you get someone that is nice. But other times you have to charm and cajole like you were auditioning for a role in a film!

  5. CONGRATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I am so happy for you!!! I did not even now Permanent Visas existed in Italy! You are right, they do keep changing laws. When my husband got his Italian citizenship was one of the happiest days of my life (believe me), as I knew we would not have to deal with THAT bureaucracy anymore. He had an Australian passport, but was born in India, so I let you imagine the rest... ;-)
    This pasta looks scrumptious! I love all the ingredients in it and even though I just had dinner, I could go ahead and have a plate of it right now!!! <3

    1. You not knowing they even exist is enough to create anxiety in me, that is how freaked out I am about this kind of thing. Also, the other day I got an SMS from the local police station asking me to go there to pick up and activate my permit... regardless I had just gotten it from the central office and I was 500km away. Eeeeck!

  6. Congratulations on your visa! What better way to celebrate it than with this lovely umami rich dish. It looks like the perfect pasta/sauce ratio to me - I could happily dig right in now even though I've just had my lunch!

  7. Oooh..I'm so hungry now..sounds divine..
    Tasty Appetite

  8. Congratulations! Navigating the Italian bureaucracy is never easy—I know from personal experience…. although not on the immigration front, fortunately, since working for an international organization I could go the diplomatic route.

    You're right about immigration being a nightmare most places. I know some foreigners here in the US and, to a great extent, your story there could be a their story here. Not that comforting, I know but as they say tutto il mondo è paese...

  9. very new dish..yum and delicious drop in my space when u fine sometime...........

  10. What a scrumptious dish! Really mouthwatering.




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