What's Fabulous: Busatti Kitchen Towels
If we're lucky, travel surprises us, with adventures and lesson-learning experiences and tender souvenirs. While I've had some of those, one of my favorite travel memories has to do with dishtowels.
Years ago on a trip to Rome that would become the first of many journeys to Italy, I discovered the almost drunken-like fun I could have in that country's amazing cookware stores. A few were stylish and curated, but sometimes the best were the hardware stores that cared more about stovetop toasters than hammers. At the time of this early trip, my kitchen was still needy and the dollar was robust (back in the day of the Italian lira) and so walking into a shop filled with things that might let me cook like a Roman -- well, it was certainly better than any Saturday sale at Macy's.
On this day I wandered into a Roman neighborhood that mixes brutish World War II architecture with proximity to the exquisite 9 BC Ara Pacis. Despite its streets seeming ghostly empty, I suddenly came upon a strip of restaurants, bars, and outdoor cafés. I was looking for the Ara Pacis, but as I walked along the crowded café tables, I spotted a shop called Gusto.
Gusto is a small multi-leveled store filled with pots, pans, cheese graters, barware, cookbooks, glasses and espresso cups, spoons, strainers, and dozens of other types of tools, novelties, and serving pieces -- anything and everything you need to run an Italian kitchen. What you'll also notice is that everything is very beautiful: some items have wit, like the designs by Alessi; others resonate with Italian Baroque, and still others with the bold modernity that only Italy seems to articulate without cliché.
I was so tempted by all that Gusto sold that I regretted not being able to either immediately replace the contents of my New York kitchen or else just move to Lazio. Since neither was an option, I instead bought an easy-to-pack souvenir: a small stack of kitchen towels. But these were towels unlike any others I had ever seen.
Made of a substantial mix of cotton and linen, each towel was large with a small cotton loop sewn into one corner for easy hanging. The body was white and in the center there were stripes of vivid color woven into the towels -- colors such as acid green or espresso brown. The colors' bold saturation added swagger to their utility. The smooth, absorbent surfaces made each towel perfect for drying crystal to transparency, plus they were big enough to take on a 12-inch skillet. I bought the towels for their beauty but as I discovered once home, something as simple as a perfectly woven towel could make the task of drying a coffee mug a daily tactile pleasure.
My towels became a kitchen favorite; they were absorbent, yet even when damp they kept their form. I've always ironed my dishtowels and love the simple satisfaction of reaching for a fresh one, unfolding it to tackle a wet plate or wipe the edge of a just rinsed knife. Because these towels were made of linen and cotton, they ironed beautifully, taking a perfect crease with every fold.
These Roman treasures were used hard for about a decade until they finally fell apart. Return trips to Rome always included a hopeful visit to Gusto but the store had stopped carrying them and I never again found anything like them. That is until last year's New York Gift Show, now called "NY Now," a trade show for lifestyle, gift, kitchen, and decorative items. As I wandered the aisles wearing a press pass and looking for ideas for The City Cook, suddenly I saw them. My towels.
Busatti Kitchen Linens
I learned that my towels were made by Busatti, Italian weavers who have been making exquisite linens for the home -- the dining table, kitchen, bedroom, babies, and bath -- since 1842. This family business is located where it was founded, in Anghiari, a small Tuscan town near Arezzo.
Busatti's items are made of cotton, linen, or a combination of both, and designed in traditional Italian patterns. Scan any Busatti collection and you'll see stripes, florals, deep hems, embroideries, and laces. Some are luxury products but these days, which locally produced and crafted items are not luxuries? And some Busatti items are luxury priced, although they are made to last a lifetime. But the Busatti kitchen towels are affordable and because of the quality of the weaving, they improve with age and are sturdy enough for years of frequent use.
Last Christmas I was in Florence and I bought a fresh supply of the kitchen towels at Domi, a lovely shop on the Oltrarno, on via Borgo San Jacopo, not far from the Ponte Vecchio. The simple striped Busatti kitchen towels cost about 16 Euros each (about $22); ones with an added floral border cost about two Euros more. Made of 60% linen and 40% cotton, they are large -- about 22 by 26 inches after their first washing when they'll have shrunk from their pre-washed size. Simply launder using a regular wash cycle and warm water (avoid hot water which can take its toll on any fabrics). If the towels are stained, a little OxyClean usually works. Avoid using bleach because this weakens the threads and the towel will age faster.
At the Busatti website you can see photos of their kitchen products, including their dishtowels, plus you can search for a list of locations where the towels can be purchased. If traveling to Italy, it is definitely worth a detour to one of their many Italian shops to find a large selection.
You don't need to go to Italy to buy them. According to Busatti you can find their products in New York City at Gracious Home which carries both the striped and floral versions for $24 to $28 each (they're featured on the store's website), as well as Aerostudios and ABC Home. Other U.S. stores include Tuscan Hills in Kingston, New Jersey; Busatti Chicago Ad Hoc Home in Evanston, Illinois; and Jackson's Home & Pottery in Dallas, Texas. In Canada they can be found at Inspirati in Calgary and Cosafina in Edmonton. Or you can email the company and ask if there is a retailer in your area.
Kitchen towels may seem like a small thing but for any home cook they are something that we touch and use every day. Why not have them be something you love?