Literary Recipe: Calvino’s Floating Bucatini (98 years this month)



“The life of a person consists of a wholeness of events, the last of which can entirely change the meaning of the whole.”Palomar

600 grams of bucatini noodles

12 small, firm zucchini

24 ‘fiori di zucca’ (zucchini flowers)

3 cloves of garlic

150 grams of Colonnata pork lard

Tomato paste

12 ripe tomatoes


Salt and pepper

A mix of lemon, lime, and orange rind, freshly grated

Reflective black serving bowls*

Beef extract


A winter’s night

An invisible reader

*if you don’t have these, you can use pure white ones instead, or bowls with see-through bottoms.
Serves 6.

Reader, step inside the kitchen and look out the window. It’s cold out there, so turn inside where it’s warmer, and go put on your apron. Now relax, set the open recipe book down next to the sink, you’re about to make Calvino’s Floating Bucatini. It’s a good recipe, so turn off your cell phone, you don’t want to be disturbed by any business calls, and go grab a knife. You should begin the dish by cleaning and chopping the zucchini flowers and the pork fat…

* * *

Don’t fool around. Just get the job done. Otherwise G., the author, will cancel the recipe. You don’t want that to happen, do you? So you quickly move your knife into position. It’s dirty work, but somebody has to do itYou look at the flowers resting on the wood. You ask yourself if it’s fair, if maybe these flowers you’re about to slice don’t deserve it. They don’t look like nothing special, so why them? Why not some other flowers?

It’s crazy, but you start wondering if somewhere there is a place, like an invisible plane, containing the forms of all the different kinds of flowers in the world, tulips and roses, lilies and daisies, geraniums and violets. And if there is one plane of only flowers then perhaps there is another plane of another thing, of all the different kinds of tomatoes in the world, maybe, and below that another, of all the different kinds of pasta, and so on, an almost endless series of planes from which the ingredients we have fall to our cutting board. Or maybe it’s the other way around, that you, instead, are on a plane above and the recipe here is only an imagined, partial reflection of the real one far below. Then you stop your thinking. It’s time.

You slide the small knife into the unsuspecting blossoms, jabbing across in a circle on the bottom, and pull their now freed yellow flowers away from the heavy flesh of their green stems. The air becomes thick with the scent of the colored seeds as they stain the knife and cutting board. Quickly you wipe the blade clean, move the flowers aside and throw away the carcasses left behind. Now you turn your attention to the pork fat but just as you are about to slice again you hear a small voice from behind.

It’s Unaisa, your little niece, and she’s asking you what you’re doing. You fool, you think to yourself, you should have locked the door! So you turn around, careful to stay in front of the cutting board and tell Unaisa you’re making dinner, it’s a surprise, why doesn’t she go run along and play in the family room ‘till you’re done. She leaves.

You breathe a sigh of relief and turn around, ready to get back to finishing the job, but upon looking down you realize the fat is gone! Someone has taken it! How will you be able to finish Calvino’s recipe now!?

* * *

“This isn’t good, reader, not good at all. Do you know if G. has gotten his hands on the material or not?”

“No, sir.”

“No, I didn’t think so. Have you thoroughly looked over the cooking area?”

“Yes sir, I did as I was told. But I didn’t see any sign of it.” Of course you did what you were told. After all, you’re just the reader; it wasn’t up to you to actually create the words. But the sergeant knew that already. He was only trying to defend Calvino’s recipe, and was feeling frustrated. Deviously using Unaisa as a decoy, the author must have sneaked in and stole the missing pork fat when your back was turned. And there was nothing you could do about it.It was then that you had the idea. So what if you were only the reader? Did that absolutely mean you couldn’t create your own words? “Sergeant?”


“I think I know where I can find the missing ingredient.”


“Just leave it to me,” you said, saluted him, and then walked out the door of his office. You turned the corner and found the author, a little bewildered, where you created me to be.

“Hey, what am I doing here,” I looked at you and asked.

“I put you here.”

“You? But you cant do that! You’re just the reader!”

“Oh yeah!? Well why don’t you try reading this.” You punched me hard in the stomach and shouted, “Where did you put it?! Tell me or I’ll knock your teeth out!” I tried lunging at you but without enough conviction, so you knocked me once more and I went down with a thud. Then you searched me. And in my right pocket, wrapped in some aluminum foil, there was the missing ingredient.

* * *

Fast thinking, reader. Now that you have the pork fat back, you can quickly chop and then sauté the garlic and fresh zucchini in a pan with olive oil. Then you add the tomatoes, a large spoonful of tomato paste, and water, stir, finally taste for salt and pepper. Mmmm, you seem to have done everything correctly, but you’re thinking to yourself that something’s missing. As you’re trying to recall the recipe you hear the phone ringing. Go pick up the receiver.

“Hello,” you say.

“It’s me,” the voice on the other end replies, “Calvino. Did you remember to include a dash of honey and some beef extract?” Ah, so that’s what you forgot! You’d better add some to the sauce. Then, once the bucatini are close to being cooked, al dente of course, add the flowers and mixed citrus rind, turn off the heat, and add some good extra virgin olive oil and the basil. Then mix it all together when the noodles are ready and lay transparent-thin squares of the pork fat on top.

* * *

Reader, you’re still here? You’ve almost finished reading the recipe. I’m certain of it. I wrote 5 sections and you’re on the 5th. Count them! I congratulate you on thwarting my attempt to ruin Calvino’s recipe. It looks like you’re going to make a fine dish. So you might at as well stay for the plating.

The windows of the kitchen are foggy now with the steam that has condensed on them while you were cooking. It’s almost 8:30, time for dinner. You take the big serving dish out into the dining room where everyone is waiting. As you serve out the pasta, you notice that the sauce is slightly watery. It’s supposed to be, making the noodles appear to float just above the reddish pools of sauce beneath. And since the individual bowls are translucent black, the reddish pools themselves also appear to float in the bowls above the blackness as if hovering over a void. You sit down at the head of the table. Then you twirl some of the bucatini onto a fork to taste them. After swallowing you realize ‘Hey, I’ve just eaten some of Calvino’s floating bucatini!’

The recipe: (see the 4th section of this recipe)

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil. Chop the zucchini and sauté in a pan with olive oil that’s already been flavored with a clove or two of lightly crushed garlic. After a few minutes add the beef extract, then the peeled, seeded and diced tomatoes. Mix. Then add a spoonful of tomato paste, stir and add water as needed and finally add a dash of honey. When the bucatini are nearly done add the roughly chopped zucchini flowers to the pan, then the grated lemon and citrus rind, turn off the heat and add the basil. Drain and add the pasta and lay some transparent-thin square slices of the pork lard over top. Serve warm and accompany with a medium-structured red or white wine.

link – Calvino, food and senses.’s-“under-the-jaguar-sun”-cannibalism-and-all-consuming-love/.

…and, for more pasta paper- literary pasta recipes: The Pasta Papers, vol. 1

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