On Saturday I celebrated my first Thanksgiving ever! Thanksgiving is a bit of a mystery for Europeans – you don’t really think about it until you meet and become friends with some American, and then you realize that our cousins on the other side of the pond have an extra Christmas we just don’t know anything about, and it is not even religious. No stressful and compulsive shopping required, as well. Just the sheer pleasure of staying together with family and eating. I kind of like it!
I can’t cook much in these days, and to be fair, I cannot even eat much. But this is not stopping me from being obsessed with food. I am particularly in the mood for baking, or better, I’d be, if I could stand with free hands :). In the end, baking is where it all started, for me at least. New, delicious recipes pop up every day and I just realized how many things I have not tried so far – I want to make a Christmas Pudding and age it for a couple of months; I have never baked a pudding though I have a whole cookbook on them; I have not even tried a fruit cake, and here I find the most delicious dried fruits at the market; I have never made a Black Forest Gateaux and here they make it so good that I changed my mind on its old-fashioned charms. But if I could have my leg back for a couple of hours, I’d probably go for cookies. It’s been ages since I last baked some because of health considerations etc., and now it is just the right moment for them. They are in season.
Going through my archives I found a picture of these biscotti. I remember this batch was not the best one ever because I could not find the right flour type, so they ended up being a little dry. They are maybe the first recipe I learned, a family recipe which at least my grandmother made for sure. I have eaten them for as long as I can remember. Sometimes it is good to bake something so familiar, instead of experimenting.
This week is probably the most beautiful one here. The woods, which are dark and green and gloomy in summer, and dark and bare and gloomy in winter, turn into a festive array of yellow, red and green. They manage to bring a little joy to the overcast days.
I am no fan of autumn. I never understood its charms when living in Italy: to us it is just the rain season. It can rain for weeks, with no breaks (this is happening right now in Italy. Looks like someone up there wants to wipe out all the dirt, which sounds like a good idea, actually; but the ones who get wiped away are never the right ones). In a place like the UK, where it rains most of the summer, autumn can be much sunnier than summer itself. It is a beautiful period. I still remember one poem by Emily Dickinson, which I happen to remember by heart: ‘The morns are meeker than they were.. ‘. I have good reasons for remembering it. When our English teacher made us analyse it for a test, the whole class, 30 reasonably well learned students, concluded it was about spring. How can you say something positive at all about autumn? Take 30 random Italian guys: we won’t understand a thing about autumn charms. The poem is very clear, but we were all so sure no one could speak about it in such terms, that we happily ignored all evidences.
With time, I have learned to appreciate this season’s subtleties. Every autumn I also rediscover squash, one of my favourite ingredients ever. The farmers market is bursting with beautiful squashes, but the famous butternut is not the best one around. The winner here is the small Hokkaido, bright orange, together with a very dense and sweet one with a thick and dark green peel, not unlike Kabocha. Also pumpkins are quite flavourful.
I try new recipes when I am so inclined, but I like squash so much that every time I develop a series of simple go-to favourites, which are what I cook most times, on a daily basis. I had years where most of the pumpkins would go in pasta (I love gratin pasta with savoy cabbage and pumpkin) or just mashed with garlic or shallots and some herbs. This year I often go for soups and roasted squash.
I might claim I’m done with lemon dessert, and I might also be convinced to be honest. But in my heart I know that this is false: as soon as I have lemons at hand, it’s dessert time. This time I made a quite light and bright dessert, a bit old fashioned. I wanted to make a variation on my all time favourite strawberries and cream theme, and I thought: why not add some lemon? (of course. Addiction signal.).
Did I already say how much I love this place? And how much I love this cookbook? I love it so much that I could not contemplate closing it in a box, and it is the only cookbook that made the move with me.
Their cooking can be summarized – their words, not mine – in ‘garlic and lemon’. Love it or hate it. I had a chance to try the cookbook because it was in the library, after reading this recension. I fell in love with the recipes, and obviously, first time I went to London for a trip, I basically choose the hotel because it was just a few meters away from their Notting Hill shop :). It was no disappointment, also on subsequent visits.
Farmer market and posh shops are invaded by thousands of pumpkins and squashes. I’m not sure what German people do with squash foodwise, but for sure they love its rustic looks for decoration. One of my neighbours has displayed three carefully choses pumpkins on his doorsteps: they are lovely! And their colour is very similar to the beautiful trees that line the sky in this region.
I love squashes because they are so flavourful and sweet, and so poor in calories. I also love their colour. I usually roast them, cut into chunks (if you look into my oven, a good 70% of the times there is a squash roasting close to whatever else is there) before doing anything else. However, this being not possible, I am exploring other methods. A quite convenient one is to steam it, cut into largish chunks, using a basket in my pressure cooker. It takes about 10 minutes and the flavour and consistency are quite well-preserved if you don’t overcook it.
Today is a goodbye day. Friends are leaving, and they asked me to bake a pastiera for them. I am leaving Wales soon as well, and this dish will be mixed with joy and tears.
It is no tragedy, life does go on, but it is the end of a lifestyle I have loved, of seeing my friends every night, of living by the sea at least for a while.
In this group of people I have become more than ever ‘the one who cooks’, and it has been really rewarding for me to have the privilege of cooking for this bunch of lovely, life hungry, glutton people. I love preparing enormous amounts of food and watching it disappear. I love a table with 15 persons on it turning silent when they start eating each and every course. I loved my house, with the dining room in the kitchen, so they had to stay there and I could prepare last minute dishes without leaving the conversation, and they could peep at the rest of the dinner and start drooling over dessert from the starters. I love the fact that many of them are vegetarian, so I can use the ingredients I love the most.