Updated: Apr 13
Twenty-odd years ago, when my husband and I first started dating, we decided to book a spring ski trip to Meribel in the French Alps. At the time, I was living in London, and he was working in Hannover, Germany, so booking romantic getaways were the only way for us to spend time together. This all might sound wonderful until you realize that living in different countries is pretty hard on a relationship, in spite of daily hour-long phone calls (ruinously expensive in those days), so each trip was fraught with expectation, as well as the usual tensions of getting used to being around each other again after time apart.
Our vacation to Meribel turned out to be a disaster in most respects. To start with, the snow was melting in the unseasonably warm March weather to the point where it was mostly grass on the lower slopes. Then there was the fact my husband was a much better ski-er than I was, which meant I encouraged him to ski on the upper slopes with other people from the hotel, while I took lessons with a daredevil female ski instructor and two monosyllabic British teenage boys, who raised nary a peep of protest when she took us off-piste, prodding the snow with her poles to check for avalanche-vulnerability. After encouraging us to attempt a few low-level jumps - something I had no desire to do but was too chicken not to - I returned to the hotel a quivering wreck, on the verge of tears.
To add insult to injury, our hotel was freezing, and badly run by a bunch of twenty-something upper-class British toffs, who were only there to have fun, and couldn't care less if they were an hour late to pick us up in the hotel van after a day on the slopes. Worst of all, my husband and I were awkward and uncomfortable around each other most of the week, culminating in a disastrous day of ski-ing black diamond runs together on our last day, during the course of which I took a tumble and managed to give myself a black eye with my ski pole.
There were a couple of redeeming features about the week, however. The first was the hotel food. Dinner was prepared by the hotel's chef, whom we were surprised to discover was British, but in a surprising twist of fate, also utterly wonderful. One dish, in particular, stood out: an avocado pesto pasta course, served with fresh rosemary over fresh fettuccine - a combination of flavors that were as fresh, vibrant and creamy as they were unexpected. My husband and I were immediately and happily lulled into a dreamy state of wonderment over each delicious swirling bite.
I've since tried to re-create this dish several times myself, and think I came closest with the recipe below. (Note: the version I made is deconstructed, in the sense that I did not blend the ingredients, but sauteed sliced garlic, walnuts and diced avocado in olive oil, before adding the other ingredients; blending the raw ingredients before tossing over pasta will provide for a creamier texture).
The second, unexpected bonus of our all-inclusive resort was the fact that we got to listen in on the conversations of the people around us at dinner each night, including the loud but charismatic young English couple who sat next to us. The man was tall, dark and handsome; the woman buxom and blonde - but they didn't seem to know each other any better than my husband and I did. Still, they looked good together. There was one slight problem, however: the man talked more than any other man I've ever known before or since - to the point where I began to worry about their future together as a couple. On the last night of our trip, we nevertheless slipped into conversation with them, and had a fun evening bonding over our shared grumbles about the hotel and the lack of snow, and our mutual appreciation of the food.
Several months later, I found myself in the changing room of a women's clothing store in London, trying something on, when I heard a man sitting on the communal sofa outside talking to the woman inside the cubicle next door. It didn't take long listening to the nonstop chatter for me to peek my head round the door of my own cubicle. Sure enough, it turned out to be the same couple from Meribel. I was happy to see they were still together, and still hadn't run out of things to say. I hope that's still the case.
Avocado Pesto with Fresh Rosemary
1 whole, ripe avocado
1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup of walnuts or pinenuts, lightly toasted
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice
Parmigiano-Reggiano and Salt and Pepper, to taste
Instructions: Heat a pan of salted water for the pasta. While waiting for the water to come to a rolling boil, blend the nuts, garlic and rosemary in a processor a rough paste is formed, then add the avocado, oil, lemon juice and seasoning and pulse until just smooth. Cook pasta according to instructions, reserving a ladleful of pasta water before draining to add to the pesto sauce. Drain pasta and return to the pan, adding the pesto and reserved water and heating sauce through, stirring until the sauce is thickened and glossy. Serve immediately with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.