Today it is International Women’s Day. I have always found it very depressing that we need to be remembered and protected and honored on a special occasion. But it is a fact that many women do not have the respect and recognition they deserve as human beings, and we need all the attention we can get, also from ourselves, to start with.
I have not seen my grandmother in a long while, and since then, she has been very ill. The two things are not strictly related, of course, but I cannot help thinking how much my life is different from my mother and grandmother’s life.
I am highly educated; I had the chance to choose by myself what I wanted to do. I am not burdened by an unfair amount of work at home. I expect respect and recognition for what I do, both from my family and my job environment. If I had all these opportunities, I have to thank my mother and grandmother. They fought for it, often against their own prejudices and the believes they were raised in. They put such a high amount of intelligence, devotion and care in raising me, in educating me, and they made me what I am today. Of course my grandmother will not be happy until I get married because that is the highest aim for any woman. But she is what she is, she had to live with the chances she had, and she made her best.
She never sat at a table to eat with us when her husband was alive- she was constantly in the kitchen. She is one of those women who does not cook for pleasure, though she loves eating. She is a bit glutton like a child is, she likes marzipan and gorgonzola – that must be genetic. Her kitchen is quite traditional – roasted or boiled meat, mainly poultry, potatoes, pasta, risotto. Cuttlefish. Polenta. Very thin soups with real stock. Pasta e fagioli. The traditional kitchen of someone who grew up in a farm in Venice countryside. Her family was a relatively wealthy one. Still she suffered hunger during the war, and spent the subsequent boom years overfeeding her family and embracing industrial food with enthusiasm. Her whole life was devoted in caring for others, not because she particularly wanted to, but because there was nobody else there to do the job. And she did it while being far from perfectly healthy. She now is a network hub for a large number of old ladies who call her for gossip at any time of the day: her phone is rarely free. She celebrated her 85th birthday by eating risotto with sausages, and cheese.
There are some things that my grandmother cooks really well, and I will never be able to compete. She can make a delicious roast with meat of average quality. Her main sweet temptations are ‘crema fritta’ and hot chocolate. I love crema fritta, a very thick custard cut into squares, battered in breadcrumbs and fried. And even more I love her hot chocolate. In theory, you mix a tablespoon flour, a tablespoon cocoa, a tablespoon sugar, and a glass of milk, heated with a lemon zest; you cook it until it is thick and you cannot taste the flour any more. However, when I try doing it myself, I always end up burning it.
Now I want to honour my grandmother today. And my mother, the person with the most impressive problem solving skills I have ever met, although her job is ‘just’ being a housewife. And all of the thousands of wonderful Italian women I have met and admire, with their talent, their strength, their brains: and above all, their hard work. We need to remember what we have achieved and never let anyone take it away from us. Of course this is more than a national problem, with a serious impact in any country. However, at least, in the rest of Europe we discuss on how to achieve real parity and break the glass ceiling once and for all, and governments are, at least on paper, convinced that any other solution is a waste of talent that a modern state can’t afford. In Italy the situation is clearly going backwards every single day.
So to them I dedicate this recipe. With rhubarb, a delicate pink fruit (actually, vegetable) barely used in Italy: we need to import this, together with other more crucial things, from Europe. A light recipe, because women still play a vital role in keeping a nation healthy. And ready in ten minutes, because I’m sure most of them have better things to do than cooking.
Note: the recipe uses a pressure cooker and is based on this recipe. I never thought of cooking custards with pressure cooker, and it was so easy I was surprised. I think the oven provides more flavour to a clafoutis, and it set a bit too much – maybe I overcooked it slightly, but still, it is ready by the time you blink your eyes. I kept the amount of sugar to a real minimum: you may want to increase it if you don’t like sweets that are barely so.
Makes 2-3 ramequins – a minimal quantity, for a quick treat.
200 gr rhubarb stalks
125 ml milk
40 gr flour
40 gr brown sugar
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
icing sugar, for dusting
Whisk flour and egg together, add sugar, salt, and a little milk at a time until you obtain a batter. Add the vanilla flavouring and set aside.
Cut the rhubarb into 1 cm long slices. Arrange in ramequins, filling them as much as possible with the fruit. Pour in the batter in the ramequins. Cover tightly in foil. Heat a cup of water in the pressure cooker. Arrange the ramequins in a vegetable steaming basket (or see original post for other option), put in pressure cooker and cook for about 5 minutes from when the pressure cooker whistles.
Check that the custard is set, but not too much. Dust with icing sugar and serve cold or warm.