Category: What to Eat

Moving, cooking, and homesick blues

Moving, cooking, and homesick blues

Moving is difficult in a way that many don’t talk about. It’s a psychological upheaval, a dismantling of home. I was prepared for the culture shock, but I don’t think I was prepared for this feeling of the kitchen I’ve lost. There are all kinds of excitement and we’re settling in, finding a more permanent place to live and Marituccio found a job, but I’m also mourning my sense of home and place.

While I was preparing for the move to Italy, every time I was struck with terror, the what-ifs and the whys of moving, I would calm myself down by thinking about all the things I would be able to cook and eat once I was in Italy. I’d imagine the kitchen, my cookbooks and all the food I’d find in the markets.

And now that I’m here I keep wrinkling my nose or feeling weirdly blasé at the bounty. Fresh fish from the fishing boats that arrive in front of my window every morning? Ho-hum. My eyes glaze over the tangerines that are falling from the heavy trees. Inside the bakery I pass by the fresh warm loaves of bread that are almost steaming and grab a box of crackers.  I’m someone who can eat cheese 24 hours a day and I will stand in front of the cheese counter and take it all in and then walk away with nothing. Only sometimes a lemon tree will catch my eye and its sharp yellow vision jolts its way through the ennui into my heart and I’ll notice it and think, ‘o wow, isn’t that something.’ Continue reading “Moving, cooking, and homesick blues”

Moving
Fisherman at Ischia Ponte

Moving

It’s so beautiful here and this part of the world is where I’ve lived my most important and special and favourite childhood moments. I should be ecstatic, shouldn’t I? And there are wonderful things happening, I’ve been meeting people, making friends, getting to know other writers, drinking coffee at the bar, talking long walks along the sea front, hiking in the hills, watching the sun rise on one part of the island and then watching it set on the other side, listening to and absorbing the Neapolitan dialect and smiling and laughing at this familiar language that makes me feel at home. And yet?

I don’t like the food. I go shopping with Marituccio and let him cook and I eat and I don’t feel anything. Fuck the fresh fish and escarole. I want to eat burgers, ramen noodles and Chinese take away and make a Moroccan tagine stew with preserved lemons and za’tar. I want to eat shredded wheat for breakfast and beans on toast and a fried egg. I want a roast chicken with gravy and cranberry sauce. I want to eat an omelette with a slice of chevre cheese and a salad of wilted greens while listening to the BBC.

Moving

I miss the cooking that makes me feel at home, cozy, taking care of myself and Marituccio. At the moment, cooking is awkward, full of doubts, testing and wondering. I’ve tried making my mom’s recipes that come from the island, but I keep messing them up. And then I eat and there’s numbness, a pastiche of memories that don’t fit into my life right now.

Moving
Roccoco, Neapolitan Christmas cookies

Years ago, when I first moved to Rome, the first meal I cooked for myself was hot dogs and I would often get intense cravings for McDonald’s during those first months. Hot dogs and McDonald’s are things I hardly ever eat, but I did eat them when I was a kid, so I suppose I was looking for something comforting during those lonely, unfamiliar and difficult months. Right now I’m still shell-shocked and bamboozled. It’s like a bomb went off and I’m just emerging from the bunker waiting for the air to clear. Once it does, I’ll probably go to the garden and make myself something really good to eat and feel relieved.

Moving
I made bracciola for our first Sunday lunch in Ischia

 

Recipe: How to Make (or not make) La Pizza Rustica Napoletana

Recipe: How to Make (or not make) La Pizza Rustica Napoletana

This past Saturday morning I was home and watching the Archway Farmer’s Market happening just outside the flat. I could see the cheese and salame stands from the window and I got a craving for something my mom used to make called ‘La Pizza Rustica’ – a cheese bomb of paradise that she made for Easter, made of ricotta mixed with eggs, grated parmigiano, and cubes of any other hard cheese and salame. She only made it once a year, thank god she did, because with one bite I could feel it making a bee-line for my thighs.

The word pizza may seem like a misnomer since what we think of as traditional pizza from Napoli is nothing this covered pie of decadence; although this is a Neapolitan recipe.

I had never made it before, but I like trying to make things my mother made and it makes me feel a little bit closer to her. So I went shopping downstairs at the market and with a little bit of help from Davide and the internet, I set out to make it. In the end it came out good, just the way I remembered it, but there was a little snaffu while cooking it that kind of made it look disgusting. But still, it’s too delicious to not share with you, so I’ll tell you how to make and how not to make this Pizza Rustica Italiana.

Continue reading “Recipe: How to Make (or not make) La Pizza Rustica Napoletana”

(Other recipes call for a rich dough using suet, sugar, eggs, flour and butter and require you to bake the whole thing in the oven. Mamma used a simple pizza dough of flour and water and she then cooked it on the stove.)

La Pizza Rustica Napoletana

Equipment:

1 deep dish pan that you can cook on the stove (alternatively you can use a round dish that you can put in the oven because flipping it during cooking gets a bit tricky.)

1 rolling pin

Mixer (optional)

Dough

400 g all-purpose flour

200 g water

10 g yeast

salt

Filling

600 g ricotta

200 g milk

100 g grated parmigiano, pecorino or other hard cheese (I used a Trentingrana that comes from Trentino in the upper North East corner of Italy)

100 g of cubes of hard cheese (I used piave stravecchia)

100g of assorted dried salame cut into cubes (you could use ham too, especially if you don’t want it to be too salty)

1 egg yolk

sunflower oil

Instructions

1. For the dough, mix the yeast with the water and then mix it with the dough. You can use a mixer for this to really mix and activate the yeast and get the dough nice and soft. Otherwise you can use your hands to mix it all together until you get a somewhat sticky ball of dough and then knead it with your hands on the counter. Once nice and soft, put it back in the bowl and cover it with a plate or towel and leave it to rest and rise while you make the filling.

Watch Davide show you how to do knead dough:

 

2. For the filling, put the ricotta, milk, grated cheese and egg yolk in a bowl and mix well. Add the cubes of cheese and salame.

3. When the dough is ready, cut it in half and roll out two circular pieces. Roll out a bigger piece which you’ll use to line the bottom and the sides of the pan. Be careful to not roll it too thin.

4. Line the pan and sides with sunflower oil. Then place the piece of dough at the bottom of the pan, pressing into the side and letting the excess dough fall over the rim.

IMG_5362

5. Spoon the filling into the pan.

6. Place the other disc of dough on top and fold in the sides. Dust a good amount of flour on top.

7. Cook the pizza on low heat for 10 minutes. If it starts to burn a little you can sneak in some more oil from the sides.

8. Flip the pizza over and cook for another 5-10 minutes.

*This is the tricky bit. Take a plate and put it upside down on top of the pan. Make sure the top of the pizza, the uncooked part, has some flour on it, otherwise the dough is going to stick to the plate. With one hand on top of the plate, lift the pan and turn it over so the pizza rests on top of the plate with the cooked top facing up. Slide the pizza back into the pan.  (My problem was that I rolled the dough to thin so the filling exploded into an oozy doughy mess when I tried to flip it.

 

An oozy, cheesy, broken mess.
An oozy, cheesy, broken mess.

9. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place on a plate and refrigerate it for a few hours. Some people wait 24 hours, but I couldn’t wait that long.

Broken but still delicious the way I remembered it.
Broken but still delicious the way I remembered it.

 

Recipe: Cannellini Summer Soup

Recipe: Cannellini Summer Soup

After a week of eating like pigs in Venice, I came back craving a simple soup my mom used to make during the summer. She used to make this whether we were in Napoli or back in the Hudson Valley with beans and tomatoes from the garden.

This soup is perfect for one of those hot lazy summer evenings where all you want to do is just sit at the table and listen to the insects outside. (Difficult to do in London, but that’s what imagination is for.) All you do is dump the ingredients into a pot of water and fire up the stove. Once it starts to boil, the sweet shallots open up their pores and the kitchen fills up with the smell of a savoury garden. With just a tiny bit of oil and salt at the end, it feels so good It’s so good and makes you feel like you’re cleaning your insides with a hose of beans.

Continue reading “Recipe: Cannellini Summer Soup”

Cannellini Summer Soup

 

Cannellini Summer Soup

500 grams of fresh or dried (soaked) cannellini beans (or 2 cans)

a big healthy handful of cherry tomatoes

2 bay leaves

2-3 shallots

a clove of garlic (crushed with the palm of your hand)

salt

 

Garnishes:

olive oil

parsely or basil

grated parmigiano or other hard cheese (I used Piave Stravecchio from the Veneto region. When we come to visit, my mother-in-law ships us back home with half a suitcase of cheese.)

 

1. Chop the shallots in small chunks, not too fine.

2. Wash and chop the tomatoes in half.

3. Put in a pot the shallots, garlic, bay leaves, tomatoes, and beans with about a liter of water.

4. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer. If using fresh or dried beans, simmer for 40 minutes. If using canned or already cooked beans, cook for 20 mins.)

5. Add salt to taste just at the end.

6. Serve with a spiral of olive oil, some chopped parsley or basil leaves, and some grated cheese on top. It’s nice hot, lukewarm, or even cold.

Eating is Fun! Just Ask These Italians.

Eating is Fun! Just Ask These Italians.

I think eating is the funnest thing to do! I love hanging out and eating with my friends. Especially if it’s at one of our houses. But in London it gets difficult because people would rather meet up for a drink than go to someone’s house for dinner. Maybe because there are more people in a pub or bar and on an empty stomach, you have the fast chance to get drunk and make out with someone. But shit, eating is social, and you can have better conversations when you’re high on protein.

Check out this San Pelligrino ad. It features the actor Pierfrancesco Favino (who I never realised was so hot until I saw him tossing salt over his shoulder.) Anyway, it’s the middle of the night in a hotel in Shanghai and he’s jetlagged, rolling around in his sheets wearing his tailored suit. (Always the bella figura). So what does he do? He calls up his travel buddies and they break into the kitchen and cook some pasta. In suits.

It’s like it’s the Fourth of July and they just saw an epic firework display. They’re HAPPY. Instead of just eating some snack by themselves and suffering alone, they get to cook and eat together and then go to bed with a full stomach and a nice buzz.

 

My Kitty Ishtar and Red Wine Velvet Cake

My Kitty Ishtar and Red Wine Velvet Cake

As I get older, the ties to home fade and today I learned that my kitty Ishtar has passed away. I’m so, so, so sad. She was a skittish cat, but she loved me and felt safe with me. I was the only one who could pick her up. When I arrived home she would show up outside my window and meow to be let in. From that moment until I left to go back, she would stay in my room, purring on my bed, sleeping right in the crook of my arm. My mom would say, ‘As soon as she hears your voice, she comes running to the door.’

It’s hard for me to do much today and it’s hard to write or read, so I made a cake for Ishtar. The most beautiful and spectacular cake I could make to celebrate her life.

And red wine and baking in a warm kitchen on a cold winter day is such a perfect combination that I decided to make a:

Continue reading “My Kitty Ishtar and Red Wine Velvet Cake”

The recipe comes from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perlman. The cookbook calls for a three-layer filled cake and since I don’t have the pans or 20 friends, I divided the measurements by three to make a small cake. But YOU don’t have to do it because the online version on the blog does it for you here. I love Deb Perlman’s recipes and this is such a good blog, full of recipes and stories.

The Smitten Kitchen's Red Wine Chocolate Cake
The Smitten Kitchen’s Red Wine Chocolate Cake

 

I had most of the ingredients, but I needed the wine and had run out of baking soda. (Baking soda is great for cleaning the caulk in the bathroom.) So I went to the Persian bodega around the corner from my place and I found this on the shelf next to a large selection of table salt:

Whaaa?

 

I asked the guy if it was sodium bicarbonate and he looked at the box for a long time and finally said, “It’s food soda.”

“I’ll take it,” I said.

The cake was easy to make and I listened to a dramatic reading of the Illiad on Radio 4 and while it was cooling, I got busy making the decorations for the cake.

I only started making cakes a couple of years ago when I met Davide and I’ve never decorated a cake. The great thing about beautiful cakes is that they can’t be precious. It’s funny how you can spend so much time making a cake beautiful when the whole point of the cake is that you eat it. A cake only lasts for a specific amount of time and making one feels like the perfect and most appropriate way to celebrate my loved one, Ishtar.

So this is what I did:

I printed out some pictures of Ishtar and drew some letters on coloured card stock, cut them all out and taped them to toothpicks.

I also got some gorgeous edible gold pearls from the Persians.

 

And finally, voila!

 

So when Davide comes home tonight, he’ll have Red Wine Ishtar Cake waiting for him and we’ll eat it and celebrate Ishtar and remember her.

ishtar