Posts tagged ‘Italian’

June 15, 2011

When I miss home – blede e patate

Blede - potatoes and swiss chard

It is easy to be carried away by memories, especially when they are connected to food. So bear with me. I know this recipe is simple, but this little side dish, blede con patate, chard and potatoes,  is a symbol of what I want to carry with me.

I probably tasted it the very first day I moved out. I was going to live on my own, finally, something I’ve always wanted so badly. And now that was happening, me armed with a big, heavy suitcase, on a train heading east. The phone beeped, a message. The guy I’d met at the hostel the other time, he came from Milan like me, the mathematician with funny glasses. Would I meet him for lunch? Well, why not. It sounded good. A great start for making new friends in my new town, actually.

We met on  a rainy night. It was not the first night for me in Trieste. I had already been there a few years before, and I remembered the landscape, the city gleaming over the water from the pier right below the hostel at Miramare. The pier, a great place where to sit and think, where I took all of the hardest decisions in my life. But that was yet to come: that night, it rained, and I was yet so much of a child. I came with a friend to take a test for a job. We were both nervous and depressed by the heavy rain. It was dinner time and we needed food, so we just crossed the piazza from the station and headed to the first bar. I have never returned to that bar for some reason, but it did surprise me. The food was good, fresh, something you don’t expect from the anonymous place right in front of the station. Spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and fresh sardine. Fresh and good as they can be, and this can happen only at sea. We caught the bus to the hostel, the last one. It had stopped raining, and we walked in the scented air, a scent of rain and sea. And then we sat on the main room at the hostel , and it was full of young people like us, and we started chatting. Somehow the topic turned to food and  I launched into one of my monologues that would eventually evolve into this blog – on gubana, a typical pastry filled with dried fruit and made with a brioche like dough (at least the version I was more familiar with from Friuli, but things change wildly here in a few kilometers) and how you should eat it with some slivovitz  (prune spirit) to keep it moist. I noticed the guy with the funny glasses looking at me, his eyes gleaming with interest. I did not know it, but I had already conquered an ally for my culinary obsessions.

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June 2, 2011

Fail proof roast recipe for emergencies

pork roast with milk

I know there is something going on in my life when my ‘draft’ count for new posts reaches unmanageable heights. I often just jot down  any recipe I like and then delete it if I find out I don’t like it that much, or keep and add a story to it if I really like it. The process usually works quite well. I can be a very organised person, as much as I can be a total mess when I don’t care about something. I always care about cooking and blogging, so I am organised in it. But my life has been such an emotional rollercoaster lately that I can’t think of a reasonable, consequential  way of cooking, or presenting ideas, or styling and taking pictures, or clearing my mind in whatever way.

I am in a frenzy of energy, but I’m less busy than usual, which means I end up shuffling things around and not getting anything done. Horrible feeling: I deeply dislike finding myself in this state. I think I should really be doing things and seeing people and making phone calls and then spend hours doing totally useless things. This reflects into the kitchen: I bookmark items and shop for random ingredients and then at dinnertime find not a single one of the ingredients I need.

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May 15, 2011

Need a spring clean? Risi e bisi

Risi e bisi

Sometimes I need comfort, but not too many calories.  I need to pair a boost of spring energy with a warm hug. I need to have something exciting enough to fulfill my taste buds, without challenging them with exotic flavours. There is  one food to match the bill. Risotto. Namely, risotto ai piselli.

In Italy piselli are heralds of spring – early spring. Here up North they are more of a herald of Summer, but never mind: the important thing is that I know that every year I can count on my fix of fresh peas. Shelling the plump pods, getting my nails green, already feels like healing from whatever is aching. I love the way the pods crack open and fill the air with their sweet smell. I love running my hand in the fresh bounty of peas. I like them so much that when they are really tiny I’d eat them raw, until I feel a bit queasy.

Today I bought fresh peas for the first time this year. My partner had already made me promise – weeks ago! – that I’d hold my usual culinary experiments and cook the very first peas in form of a ‘humble’ risotto. One of his favourite dishes, and I have to admit, now that I think about it, also one of mine. I never feel like cooking risotto: I used to eat so much of it growing up, that I have developed a thick crust of indifference to it. I will not accept any risotto less than outstanding, and it would rarely excite me. But when I actually cook it, well, it feels like meeting a friend after a long time, and finding out that the years did not change you in the end, and you still are really fond of each other. A very good feeling.

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April 22, 2011

La pasta e fagioli

Pasta e fagioli

Mare o montagna?

“Seaside or mountains?”

A common conversation topic, from an era where cheap air travel was not available and exotic destinations were out of reach.

In Italy we are spoiled: we have a huge choice of breathtaking landscapes and touristic destinations, to suit any taste. Seaside or mountains was a serious question, more of a lifestyle choice than a mere preference. Both had renewed health advantages and sought-after entertainment options, both had shortfalls and limitations. I’m pretty sure that the famed Italian TG1 (the leading news on TV) still airs a couple of times every summer an innovative service over the advantages of spending your holidays in one place as opposed to the other. Year after year the same footage, the same phrases: I can see them neatly folded, ready to be taken out of the archives at the appropriate time, together with ‘the festivity diet’, ‘heat wave alarm’, ‘Arctic frost alarm’, ‘la Maturita’ this year’ (high school diploma), and ‘Internet will make your child sick’.   Reassuring, in a way.

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March 28, 2011

I am Italian, I make pasta

Spelt pasta rolls

And after taking a stroll around the world, foodwise (I saw this lovely old movie a few nights ago), here I am, back home: back to Italy, with pasta.

Like most Italian people who cook, I often make my own. Fresh pasta is a completely different product from ‘regular’ dried durum wheat pasta, the one sold in every supermarket; and it is infinitely better  than store-bought fresh pasta, unless of course you have a good pastificio artigianale down the road. For these reasons, if you have never eaten it, you really should give this (or any other recipe) a try. Once you learn the basics, it is easy to make: I have tested this on a few friends, who asked me to teach them how to make pasta: they could not believe the sumptuous dish of pappardelle al ragù we produced after a mere couple of hours work.

(It can take less than that, with some experience; it will take more than that, if you make ragù without a pressure cooker).

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February 24, 2011

Tonno di coniglio

Rabbit 'tonno'

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.

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January 20, 2011

For future reference

Lasagne with artichokes

One of the most distinctive features of Italian cooking is that you don’t really need recipes. You never measure, apart from the occasional pasta weight. The ingredient list is always flexible, depending on what is available and looking good. This is  usually an advantage, that makes Italian food  so versatile and light, in a way, but it can be sometimes a limitation. Perfection is elusive and hard to repeat, and you often just get it plain wrong. Almost all italian ‘cuochi’ will tell you that the first time they make a dish, it is typically stellar, and when they make it again, it turns out poorly – always when you have guests coming for dinner.

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January 13, 2011

Pasta tricolore

Pasta with ricotta, rocket and tomatoes

I am definitely cooking more Italian food here in Italy. Weird enough, because if you asked me, I would have told you that of course I always cook Italian food. Well, I guess I must be inspired by the ingredients, or to be fair, by the lack of non Italian ingredients.

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January 11, 2011

Winter here

Orange fennel salad

To me, winter was fog. When I was a child fog was thicker, especially in town. Fog has a distinctive smell; it dampens sound; it reveals architectural details that otherwise would go unnoticed, hiding the ugliness of the whole; it is beautiful on flat rice fields, where you could be in a lost, far away world, and the farmer’s house could be a witch’s den. I find fog very charming and I miss it sometimes.

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January 6, 2011

Paella calabrese

Paella CalabreseI love the food here in Calabria. And on the other hand, it is quite different from the daily food I want in my life, the kind of food I really love.

On traditional items, it is the best food in the world. On anything just outside of the traditional boxes, it is totally rubbish or, most likely, it simply does not exist. Traditional food is simple, based on local ingredients, more of a mountain cooking than a sea one: long cooking times, no spices apart from chilli and occasionally fennel, no sweet-sour tastes, no mixing of sweet and savoury flavours. Sicily might be visible, actually in these clear winter days it  looks almost as if you could touch it, but the Arabic influences are a world apart.

The traditional food is simple, but this does not mean that the taste itself is not extremely refined. Everything tastes just ‘right’ and the variations in a recipe are almost negligible. Why would you want to mess up with something that is just perfect as is? Among the traditional items, the best ones,  according to my humble, but internationally trained, taste, are coffee and salami. They are just out of scale from anywhere else. You can find similar quality coffee in just two places in Europe: Napoli, where it was ever better, and Trieste, where it was more northern (lighter and thinner) but seriously good. Both in Italy, though somehow apart, like all proper Italian places they don’t feel as if they were Italian. In Reggio Calabria coffee is short and dense and full of aroma. The locals really love it, and the best bars are always crowded. I am endlessly fascinated by the barman’s ability to keep up with the orders and never miss a single client, always keeping cool and moving with grace, whispering among screaming people, and yet somehow always heard by the intended person. I could stare at them for hours – but the wait is never more than a few seconds even in the most crowded bar.

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