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The True Tagliatelle

© Gelladilemma | Dreamstime.com

Lilly appraised me the first morning over coffee. I was holding a book. “I’m relieved to see that you read,” she said. I had already struck down one of her stereotypes: Americans are dumb, and don’t read.

Meeting your partner’s Italian mother is intimidating enough—and Lilly wasn’t particularly fond of Americans. “I will never set foot in your country,” she declared. When she was young, she loved America. But the Bush administration’s blundering in the Middle East left her feeling spurned. I love Italians, but am easily undone by their sometimes-blunt declarations.

Fitting into Andy’s Italian family wasn’t going to be easy. Even if I learned to speak the language, certain subtleties would always elude me: the micro-mannerisms and nuanced intonations, the place-marinated references and provincial worldviews. Mixing disparate families is like grafting a cabernet rootstock onto a merlot; all you can do is plant it in the soil, and hope it’ll take.

Despite our differences, by late afternoon Lilly and I had found common ground: We both loved to cook. Soon we were making dinner.

“I can teach you how to make tagliatelle.” Lilly said in her rich Italian accent. “BUT,” she qualified sternly, “you’ll need 20 to 30 years to get it right,” She rapped an egg on the edge of the bowl and let the yoke drool onto the flour. I watched carefully and wondered:

How could a recipe with only two ingredients take 30 years to learn?

She forked the egg into the flour w...