Comfort food is often associated with something that makes you feel better when you eat it. In most cases, it is soft and creamy, you can eat it with a spoon, and it comes from a bowl.
Pappa al pomodoro is comforting from its very name. Pappa is a word that we use to refer to baby food, or to pet food: it reminds me of comfort in a bowl, uncomplicated food, something that nurtures you. But pappa al pomodoro is my ideal comfort food not because it is related to childhood memories. Actually, the first time I ate this classic Tuscan dish I was almost thirty, and I didn’t like it. It was mushy, to say the least, and not especially flavourful. But that was just my first attempt. I’ve been working on this recipe for years, mixing Florentine and Sienese influences, weaving them with my grandma’s stories and with my personal taste. A few years ago, I reached the texture, and the flavour, I was aiming for: a velvety, thick soup, mildly garlicky, with an intense basil flavour, rich thanks to the olive oil, poured generously on top of the soup, and with the summer taste of fresh tomatoes. That was my pappa al pomodoro. It gave me so much comfort, probably because the dish was built both on tradition and on my taste, that from that moment on, it became my comfort food, the first food I associate with the word comfort. And now, if I have to be honest, I’m salivating at the mere thought of it.
Rice pudding, riso al latte, is another comfort food that belongs to my adult life, or, I’d better say, to my life as a blogger, when I discovered I could make from scratch so many recipes that I used to buy from supermarkets. Rice pudding is one of these recipes. I used to buy it from the refrigerated shelf, it was creamy, of course, but cold, sickly sweet. Then I made my first riso al latte, mixing two of the most basic ingredients you always have at home, white rice and milk, with a pinch of sugar, the occasional cinnamon or vanilla, and I was transported to a childhood comfort food: it didn’t belong to my childhood, but to an archetypical idea of childhood. The fact that you eat it warm, from a bowl, with a spoon, just added to my personal idea of comfort.
Comfort food is plain boiled white rice, served slightly soupy with pieces of mozzarella that melt and string when you eat it with a spoon. I perfectly know why this is comfort food. Because every time I was not feeling well, every time I would come home with a cold, every time I was feeling blue, my mum would say stasera riso bianco, ti scalda lo stomachino. Tonight, white rice, to warm up your stomach. Well, it still works.
Vellutata di porri con la tarese - Leek Purée with Tarese Pancetta
This recipe is from our latest cookbook, From the Markets of Tuscany, a leek and potato soup I ate while researching in Montevarchi, exploring their market and their typical products. It was cold, I was tired, but that bowl of velvety soup was an instant pick-me-up. Wrapping your hands around a warm bowl is definitely part of the comfort.