Do you think it is possible to have a sort of an aftershock after moving? I think I have. It’s been a few months now, but I still feel shattered. I find it difficult to commit, to attach, to plan. Maybe I’m just getting older: when I was younger, it was all about feeling a citizen of the world, and let us not be bothered by outdated concepts like ‘nationality’. I still think that we are first and foremost human beings. But well, there are differences in our daily lives depending on where we live, especially when we grow older and so much of life is dealing with the little details of the society around us.
I had half forgotten about this soup. I do this kind of things all the time. I have a leaky memory, to say the least – this is why this blog is a life saver for me, at least for recipes. I’ve always wanted to keep a diary of the books I read, the movies I watch, sometimes even the people I meet. I forget who the killer is five minutes after the end of a thriller. I forget reading books altogether: I’ve often found myself reading half of a book, and at chapter twelve realizing that yes, I have indeed already read the whole thing. I just keep little drops of memory with me from books and movies – the colour of a dress, the face of a beautiful actress, a particularly funny character. I forget people I meet, I forget technical details of vital importance. I am always embarrassed when people ask me what my favourite book or film is – if I’m lucky I remember the title, but don’t expect anything more than the knowledge that yes, I enjoyed that book immensely. This is why I have to be extra organised. I keep logs. I have lists.
I have a good memory for other random things. I remember number sequences really easily. I used to remember loads of poetry when I was in school, and I still do know some by heart. I remember where I’ve parked my car and where shops are and German grammar. Weird.
I should have told you about this first. I wanted you to have plenty of time before the Seville orange season is over to enjoy this sauce. But life goes on, and the days are short and the time to take pictures is even more compressed with these gloomy winter days, and my harissa was mouldy and I could not find it new nor had I time to make some. Whiny me.
Whining apart, I hope you have some time left, or you let me know how it turns out with oranges and limes, or other souring agents. I will stick to my favourite ingredient for this period of winter. Bitter or Seville oranges are a rare find in Italy. When we did find some, we’d always make Vin d’Orange, the most elegant and sophisticated drink ever. Very boozy too: all too easy to drink too much of it in the first warm days of spring, maybe on the first barbecue of the season.
Here Sevilles are plenty and cheap: all greengrocers stock them and they’d invariably warn me that I have picked up marmalade, not normal oranges. I buy loads of them, although I have never made marmalade with them. I make sorbet, curd, and a variety of orange flavoured cakes. I soon found out that Sevilles are brilliant in savoury food as well: wherever you’d use lemon or vinegar, roughly. Which is more or less everywhere for me.
World Nutella day found me unprepared this year. I’m in a period when my relationship with food is changing. I feel a need to become lighter and less cluttered in general, and part of it is reflecting in the way I eat. I have started again some physical activity, and although I am quite limited by my ongoing knee problems, I have recovered all of my addiction to moving. I finally feel my body becoming more compact, more flexible, the way I am used to feeling it. In this picture I just don’t crave unhealthy food that much. But everything in moderation, including moderation. It is World Nutella Day after all, and such occasion should not go unnoticed.
An alternative and popular technique for cooking pasta is to cook it as if it were a risotto, adding water a little at a time. It does require slightly more attention than the normal method, and certainly cannot be applied to all sauces, but it is more convenient for an easy weekday dinner, since it really is a one pot meal. It is all the more surprising that I never used it while I was living at home with my parents, and only started when my partner told me of his favourite way of making pasta with chickpeas.
The technique works particularly well for two categories of sauces: seafood sauces, where the starch in pasta actually binds an otherwise too thin sauce, and legume-based pasta, and I make all of them like this now . It is a bit like making a pasta e fagioli, but with less water so you can eat the end result with a fork. It is particularly forgiving, since you don’t have to stir that much, provided the food does not stick to the bottom of the pan and burn.
I always feel a bit disappointed when January comes and spring is not already here. The days are still grey, the nights are still deep and long, vegetables are still cabbage and roots, and I’ve already had my fair share, thank you: I’m ready for spring. Not that it is cold, not here, and not that I expect spring or summer to be any less rainy – if anything, I know from experience they will be more.
Christmas day this year was just like that. A grey, overcast day, warm, short. We woke up suitably late, opened our presents, had pancakes for breakfast, and then we got to work. Our family was in Italy, we were here all by ourselves. It felt unusually quiet and intimate. We spent the morning making roasted squash tortelli. We ate them for lunch, and they were like little pockets of sunshine.
.. It’s been quite quiet around here lately, hasn’t it? I have barely opened my computer – any computer – in the last two weeks. I needed time, I’ve been needing it for quite a long time: time off, simple as that.
It’s been two long weeks of taking time. I stayed here in my new home or quite close by, alone or with my partner, or with some friends. I’ve been missing my family, an inevitable feeling at Christmas. But all in all, it was a great time. I had time to talk it over and to think about what I want to do: although I have not taken any decision yet, I feel more confident and in control. I had time to explore the surroundings with the leisurely lazy pace of the local, not the frantic-holidaymaker-who-ticks-all-the-boxes pace I usually have. I had time to sleep, to start taking care of my garden, to read books.
Do you ever get periods when you are obsessed with some ingredient or flavour? Whenever I imagine to cook something right now, I think it would taste better if it contained some buckwheat. I am not sure what triggered it. It is a grain I’ve always found rich and complex and I’ve always been fond of. In the mountains around Milan, where I grew up, it is a common fare. It is a hardy, resistant crop able to grow in poor soils, and it actually likes the cool and rainy summers in the mountains. It does not need as much sun as ordinary wheat, a grain with which buckwheat bears no connection whatsoever, other than the name.
I feel much better, although I’m not sure how long it is going to last. Add to this that the season is just perfect for baking: it is not yet cold outside, not really, and I don’t keep the heating on that much, but a warm oven is definitely welcome for the little heat it produces. So here I am, in the middle of a baking frenzy.
I am becoming friends with the new oven. I still need to dig out the instructions for it, because it is of a type I never had before. It is made of two smaller ovens stacked one on top of the other, both gas fuelled. The top one seems to have a broiler and some sort of ventilation going on, but I don’t really get it. The bottom one seems more conventional. In Italy I always had gas ovens but they were larger – the monster being my mum’s 90 cm large oven, spectacular in its early days, when you could bake a roast, potatoes, bread and a cake, if you could make the temperatures somehow work together, or you could bake half a kilo of biscotti for our Christmas production in one go. This oven collapsed a few months ago, and was recently replaced with an equally sized beast, after a long agony where making it work involved a complicated process with a protective metal plate and some mountaineering ropes. I hope the new one will do as well as the old one, although I feel it is a bit oversized.
Do you like oranges? And if you do, are you a moderate fan, or could you eat oranges until you change colour?
Here we definitely belong to the second category. I am surrounded by orange lovers. My sister once had some serious talks with her doctor about orange addiction – allegedly vitamin A toxic effects are to be considered if you eat a kilo of oranges per day, six months a year. Since when I am here in Calabria, I have been eating comparable amounts as well: the father of my partner grows oranges, mandarins and lemons, and with great trepidation we have watched the oranges get better and better as the season progresses. They will keep improving until March apparently, but trust me when I say they are already the best oranges I’ve ever eaten. They are so good I even forgot to cook with them, apart from the occasional salad. And I do love orange desserts.