June 17, 2013
It all started from an idea: talk about Italian food with a different voice. More authentic? Less conventional? Based on some real research? Perhaps we just felt like we had something to share, each of us in our own unique and complementary way, about Italian food and the whole lot of culture and traditions surrounding an Italian table. Italian Table Talk wanted to be a conversation, a chat, and exchange between four friends, Emiko, Jasmine, Giulia and I, and you, our readers; a virtual table where we could sit and learn something new each month.
After one year, we felt we had said a lot, and personally, I feel extremely enriched. Where we'll go from here, it is yet to find; all we know, is that we have deeply enjoyed the process, the exchange, the learning curve; and we feel we have still a lot to learnt, discuss, discover. Now, though, we would love to hear from you: your comments and feedback on what has been said and done; what you'd liked the most, what you didn't like; what you'd like to read and see next. As in any exchange, feedback is extremely important to keep going in the right direction. As for me, my favorite episode of this first twelve has been street food: spontaneous, with "street" photography and some travel tips, all mixed together, with a hint of irony and some mouth-watering pictures of Venetian nibbles. What is yours?
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June 11, 2013
I made them on a rainy, damp day. The egg whites didn't get as fluffy as I hoped, and in their raw form they looked more like melted marshmallow. I was already discouraged, but I thought to bake them anyway. I spooned the liquid, pearl-white, thick mixture into my muffin tins so that it would stay in place. I turned on the oven at the suggested temperature. I waited. And to my big surprise, I saw them growing rapidly inside their beds. They grew and formed mushroom tops that became increasingly golden and firm. I removed them from the oven with a mixture of fear and hope. I thought they were too pretty to be true, and that given how it all began, they would collapse as soon as they were out.
But they didn't. They stayed up and crispy. I waited for them to cool. I tried to pick one from its mould, but the bottom remained attached to the edges of the tin. I turned the meringue upside down in my hand and looked underneath the crispy top, which had a strange, jellyfish-like look. Its centre was soft and chewy, almost like cotton candy. Half a meringue, one-fourth a macaroon, the rest a marshmallow. Something without much of a definition, an identity, something that didn't really fit into any category, and yet, something good enough to be used, to be eaten and enjoyed. I could sympathize, almost. Excuse the subtle metaphor.
The whole point of making meringues was not about the meringues at all, actually. I wanted to make Eton Mess, the oh-so-very-British Summer dessert featuring strawberries, meringues and cream, using some rhubarb I put my earthy hands on some days before in place of strawberries, and my favorite coconut whipped cream recipe instead of normal whipped cream. The rest came along: the coconut-y flavor called for some coconut chips for some crunch; a handful of rose petals fit perfectly into the feminine, pink nuance of this pudding.
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June 3, 2013
Energy, hope, renovation.
Spring might be almost at the end, but for us it has barely started. The forecasts fill us with hope as they announce a week of sun and warmth. We can finally dare putting the winter coats under the protective plastic case, back in the closet, down in the darkest corner where the eye cannot see and can't be reminded of how fast this good season goes, and how incumbent the menace of that dark tunnel of months is upon us, back again, way too soon.
But for now, hope and lightness of the heart. Del doman non v'è certezza.
To stress the accent on this seasonal change; to make it even more evident before our eyes, we have been filling our house with a variety of spring produce: peas, runner beans, asparagus, fava, spring onions, fresh spinach and herbs. I have deeply enjoyed combining their different shades and textures to create flavorsome green salads, enriched with some crumbled feta at times, others stirred into a pot of cooked grains. I never seem to get tired of them, and I let myself indulge in this little luxury until the season, and this profound need for fresh colors last.
May 24, 2013
Every Sunday, East London blooms.
The Flower Market in Columbia Road, near Shoreditch, is a paradise of plants and bunches, where enjoy a bit of crowd-watching while sipping an indipendent roaster's coffee and nibbling on a bagel.
On the sidewalks, small shops and stalls hidden in internal yards display vintage trasures alongside modern homeware.
One of my favorite places to go in London, in the earlier hours, when it is still a bit quiet.
Only some photos today, an inspiration for the weekend. In the hope that Spring will come sometime.
Londra sboccia ogni domenica.
Il mercato dei fiori di Columbia Road, nella parte est della città, vicino a Shoreditch, è un paradiso di piante e mazzi di fiori di ogni tipo, un luogo dove godersi il bagno di folla mentre si sorseggia un caffé "indipendente" e si assaggia un bagel al salmone.
Nelle retrovie, negozietti e banchi nascosti nei molti cortili interni mettono in mostra tesori di ogni tipo, piatti, vasi e suppellettili vintage.
Uno dei luoghi che più amo di Londra, soprattutto il mattino, quando tutto è più quieto.
Oggi solo foto, un po' d'ispirazione per il fine settimana. Speriamo la primavera sbocci presto.
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May 20, 2013
Looking at my food habits, breakfast is the meal that can best describe my path, my growth, my life from childhood to adulthood. It is the only meal that remained stable and consistent for a given period of time that corresponded somehow to a phase in my life, and that adaped to my changes and evolution as a person through adolescence and maturity.
I never skipped breakfast. Ever. Even when ill, I would be more inclined to have a small breakfast and nothing else for the rest of the day rather than chicken soup. The reason is, I tend to wake up in the morning extremely hungry --rather, I usually wake up because of hunger. Few things make me suffer as much as going to get a blood test on an empty stomach in a crowded hospital. I haven't had my blood checked in years, I just can't stand the torture.
Many consequences derive from this state of things. First, I have never been a huge fan of the oh-so-Italian ritual of the bar breakfast with cornetto and cappuccino. Second, that I have never been very inclined to eat a classic Italian home-breakfast made of caffelatte and cookies. No, my breakfast has always needed time and quantity. Time as not necessarily time to make it, but definitely time to eat it.
Growing up in the nineties, I started with cereal since when I was a little girl. Kellog's had just begun to enter the Italian households and kids were going crazy for Choco Pops and Frosties, including me. What I immediately noticed, though, was that my hunger never allowed me to follow serving suggestions: I always needed a top up. When mum noticed that the boxes were finishing only halfway through the week, she thought to set some rules on cereal consumption. She started to buy those with less sugar, which I hated, to alternate the sugary, chocolaty ones.
Then something happen. I just can't recall the exact moment, but I started to go to ballet and count calories. I knew exactly the nutrition of all the Mulino Bianco little breakfast cakes and cookies we had in the house, which were a breakfast staple for the rest of my family as for many families in the country, but not for me. Cereal boxes were banned from my table. I started to eat sad, dry toast (fette biscottate, yet another big classic) and fruit yogurt, and I kept having these same things for years, until I got so tired of it I would had rather eaten shredded paper.
Bran cereal (those terrible All Bran sticks) entered my life at that point, together with all the insecurities of adolescence. They tasted like cardboard, and splashing them with skimmed UHT milk didn't help their cause. However, in my mind they were the best option I could get to keep me full and "healthy" (read "thin") at the same time. I know, sad. I still had a long way to go. We've all been there.
In all those years, there was a big gap that now seems inconceivable: I wasn't drinking any coffee. I started to drink coffee when I was 21 or something, deep into University life. Before then, I was drinking juice, or just plain water or milk. Coffee consumption started as a necessity to stay awake during those long nights studying for exams, and never stopped since, becoming a fundamental part of my breakfast ritual on the way. One could say I became mature in my food habits only at the threshold of mature age. I am not proud to say that the amount of coffee I drink has increased exponentially, especially in the morning, but it is still something I am not ready to stop, prevent, or give up. The bubbling moka pot (serving 9, according to Mr Bialetti, but actually making the two of us barely satisfied) is a pleasure nurturing my body and soul.
When did I stop eating bread, ricotta and honey, like I was at college, and start eating muesli and oatmeal? Probably during the graduate year in Bra. The international atmosphere and the moltitude of food habits made me crave for divertity, for foreign flavors, for novelty. I began with muesli and yogurt, being perhaps the easiest step; then, I embraced the warming creaminess of oatmeal during those cold snowy days in Vermont, encouraged by J's presence. What I found was a revelation about myself, too: those two breakfasts were the ones I felt most mine, the ones which suited me the best --they nourished me, satisfied my slight sweet tooth and my cravings for health and balance.
Realising and accepting that my ideal breakfast will never be "Italian" meant becoming aware that origin doesn't necessarely describe tastes or inclinations. That I was allowed to prefer something else; that liking oatmeal more than cornetto was completely fine and acceptable; that there are no set rules, but only preferences, moods and exceptions. Like these buns, for example. They are an evidence of these exceptions.
Raisin buns are part of the frame in any memory of any bakery window I can recall from childhood. Little ones, almost bite-size, or large spongy ones, or even long, aubergine-shaped ones, I loved them all equally. Mum would buy one ore two from time to time at the local bakery, together with the rest of the bread shopping, and I was alowed to have one for breakfast the morning after, slathered with strawberry jam. Grandma was also used to get a large pagnottella con l'uva every Wednesday, the kind that had polenta in it, soft and doughy as a pillow, and she would save half for me every time. I liked raisin buns more than any packaged cake. It was my special breakfast treat, alongside a sporadic slice of leftover crostata my mum would bake twice a year. They were nothing fancy, these little buns: simple, slightly buttery and not too sweet white bread dough, enriched with raisins and glazed with some egg wash. But they were exactly what I liked --sweet but not sugary, soft but not cake-y.
Throughout the years, raisin buns have always been the ones which got my attention when in the mood for something different and a bit special --now, together with pancakes. They are another small link to my roots and memories, which I like reviving from time to time in my kitchen, wherever I am.
So here are a recipe and some thoughts I wanted to share for this month's Italian Table Talk, dedicated to the rituals of breakfast, where together with these buns you'll find Emiko's delightful cherry crostatine (and some tips on the perfect breakfast in Florence), Jasmine's home-y and comforting torta margherita, and Giulia's classic Italian cornetti.
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