a collection of sweet recipes as prepared at la Maison Ladurée, possibly where all the craze about macarons started. It is a book of beauty, with delicate pictures and alluring desserts, where the recurrent colours and flavours, somehow a signature of the maison, form a pattern through the whole book. Pale green and pistachio, vivid pink and raspberry, pale pink and rose. There are plenty of classic recipes, and for my first dessert out of this book I chose the most classic of classics, possibly: éclair à la vanille. The reason for that – if you ever need a reason for wanting to make éclair à la vanille! – is that the recipe started with making a vanilla pâte sablée. On top of each éclair, there is a thin layer of pâte sablée. When you cook them, the sablée melts into the choux and gets mostly incorporated. Mostly: a thin layer stays on top, so you get a perfect éclair, with a thin crunchy layer on top, and a more pronounced butter and vanilla flavour. Pure genius. This is something I would not have thought about, and even when tasting them, I probably would not have guessed, because the layer is so thin. When you bite into them, they are classic éclairs, with a boost.
This recipe is likely to push some of you out of their comfort zone. The meat I am presenting you today is rabbit, and you are welcome to go elsewhere if this disturbs you in any way. If it doesn’t, I hope you are inclined to consider this recipe. It is a quintessentially Italian recipe, not because it is very common, nor because the method is widespread, but because of its combination of simplicity, style and intense flavours: a combination at the heart of what makes Italian cooking stand out from the crowd.
There is always some vegetable that even the most hard-core vegetable lover dislikes. I count myself as a hard-core vegetable lover: I can rant for hours about the secret pleasures of artichokes or the juicy consistency of asparagus. I eat vegetables because they are good-for-you, sure, but mainly I eat them because I want to eat them. I want to cook with them. Whenever I go to the market, I have to stop myself from buying too much. I am a compulsive vegetable shopper, I admit it, and nothing excites me more than a good-looking (and better tasting!) fruit and veggies stall. My vegetable love has always been one of the distinctive tract of my personality: my sister is the one who eats only meat, I am the one who eats only vegs. We are a team, when it comes to eating.
There are barely any recipes of fish on this blog, however I love eating fish. I find it a stunning ingredient, much more interesting and subtle compared to meat, with few contestants in terms of complexity of flavour and texture even in the vegetable world (a few mushrooms, maybe?). I am not intimidated by fish as an ingredient: I have a handful of family recipes up my sleeve that are tasty and foolproof. I grew up eating fish. Both my parents cook it with skill, but it was usually my father who wore his apron on Saturdays to cook today’s catch from the market. When we visited our grandparents, it was a fish feast.
Nothing like fish brings me to pure, unadulterated gluttony. I might be able – under extreme circumstances – to be fed up of eating chocolate, or pasta, or cheese, or oranges, or heaven forbid! maybe even pizza, but nothing would ever stop me from being the one who polishes off that monumental fried baby squid dish.
My favourite snack is an apple. As a student I used to always bring an apple or two in my bag, and I never stopped to. I think it must have started when I was very young, probably right after primary school. My public primary school was indeed quite a progressive and unusual one. Children had the option to stay at school also in the afternoon (in Italy they spend only mornings at school). There was a canteen providing food for everyone, fresh, locally prepared, healthy food, with a pool of voluntary moms that were allowed to supervise after a careful training on health and safety procedures. My stay-at-home mum was one of them and she was impressed by the quality. I have to admit that as a youngster I was not very inclined to appreciate that, and while I do remember some food with pleasure, my main memory is that of hating the salad because it had so much vinegar in it. At mid mornings and mid afternoons snacks were provided during the long breaks. You were not allowed to bring any food from outside and as far as I remember the rule was enforced. So we all snacked on fruit and milk. Fruit was oranges or apples, usually. And it all started there, I think. If you think about it, this is a great trick to teach children to eat healthily. We were all hungry and so learned to snack on fruit without having to have it cut and cleaned for you by mummy first. We did not need to care that much about advertisement featuring sugary, unhealthy food and drink, since the ‘cool’ factor associated with it could not be boasted at school with your mates, and thus lost most of its appeal.
I’m back to Germany, and it is starting to kick in. These days the trees outside have been incredibly beautiful. The world is wrapped in a blanket of fog, which freezes and makes each little branch of the tree sparkle, covered in ice crystals. Blissfully, there is no snow, making it possible to lead an almost normal life.
However I am not in the mood for appreciating this place. I won’t blame it, I know it is me, mainly. I just feel out-of-place, and I feel as if my efforts to fit in have been useless so far. I find it more and more difficult to make plans, to find something fun to do. And when I feel this way, so purposeless, I know there is only one thing that can help me: cooking. I never feel out-of-place in the kitchen. I do feel more than a bit cheesy, like Nigella happily declaring: “whenever I am in the kitchen, I am happy”, but there is some truth in it.
I am posting these ‘nutella’ inspired cookies hoping that you will be inspired as well. Saturday is World Nutella day – fun, isn’t it? Last year I tried making my own Nutella version, because actually, of all things, I’m not really a Nutella person, though I definitely am a chocolate-and-hazelnut person. Tthat his year, you’ll see it on Saturday, but let me say that I am quite pleased with the results I am currently munching, together with these cookies.