A letter with 10 recipes to cook this month, and an insight on what I'm reading, watching, listening to, and cooking right now.
I’m sitting in a quiet room, in the half-light, nibbling on taralli, the addictive ring-shaped white wine and olive oil crackers from Puglia. From the closed shutters, I can see the scorching sun of the summer afternoons in Salento, at the southern end of Puglia.
Finally, after almost two years, we’re here, in the heel of the Italian booth. We’re visiting Tommaso’s family, giving Livia the chance to experience the same beach holidays her dad had since he was born. The years pass by, loved ones are gone, but this family beach life is still the same: food, smells, naps, and coffee included. We feel so cared for, so grateful to be here.
What I’m cooking.
Not much, actually, as in these days I’m mostly sitting at a set table, enjoying all the food the Fabio, Tommaso’s uncle, is constantly putting together in his quaint kitchen. Huge aluminium pans belonging to the years when the whole family would gather here for the summer holidays are hung on the wall along with braids of onions and garlic, bunches of rosemary, bay leaves, and chilli peppers. The sink is outside, next to the shower we use after the beach, facing a giant lemon tree that occasionally drops a lemon with a thud. I used the leaves of the lemon to grill some chicken breast, and my immediate thought was: I want a lemon tree for my upcoming 40th birthday!
We’re feasting on fish soup, frittura mista, raw red shrimps from Gallipoli (I might have had one too many of those), eggplant parmigiana wrapped in pizza dough - yes, you’re reading it correctly, and yes, it was just as good as you can imagine -, baked snapper on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes, pasticciotti (I’ll be sharing a recipe for these custard stuffed pastries in our subscription-based newsletter soon), and rustici. These are two discs of puff pastry stuffed with béchamel and mozzarella, seasoned with a generous pinch of black pepper and a few peeled tomato fillets. They are golden, heavy in your hand, slightly greasy—the best representation of Southern street food.
What I’m reading.
Reading during the summer holidays is a sheer pleasure that rivals the time spent sunk in an armchair lost in crime stories during the Christmas holidays. This is why I’m so particular when it comes to choosing the book to bring with me. This year I picked Fanny Singer’s memoir, Always Home, and it is a winner. The author is Alice Water’s daughter, and she shares moments of ordinary life with her mother, but you can perfectly imagine how these ordinary moments are completely extraordinary for us. There’s a warm sense of home that permeates the whole book, vivid with memories and characters you learn to appreciate immediately. I fell in love with Fanny’s synaesthetic use of language and with several recipes she shares. I’ll be talking more about this book soon.
There’s also a book I’m re-reading, too. It is Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food, now at its fourth edition: I have worn out this book, as every time I read it, I discover something new, something inspiring, or useful, a trick or a new author. If you want to learn more about this book, you read an old interview with Dianne that I shared on my blog in 2012. You find it here.
What I’m watching.
Just before leaving, we watched Luca, the new Disney Pixar movie. It celebrates youth, friendship, diversity, and inclusion. If the story was not moving enough, add Italian music from the ‘60s, a passion for the Vespa, the iconic Italian scooter, the breathtaking Ligurian scenery, and a celebration of the food of the Italian Riviera, from gelato to focaccia and trenette al pesto (aptly made with potatoes and green beans). You can read a food-related interview with Luca director Enrico Casarosa for La Cucina Italiana here.
When we did the trenette al pesto, I remembered the traditional way to make it in Genoa. You put the string beans and potato, which are not always in pesto, into the boiling pasta water. That is part of the traditional way to do it, and it’s a fun little detail. We wanted to make sure to capture those kinds of details that resonate with the Genovese.
What I’m listening to.
Radio Cherry Bombe. Radio Cherry Bombe features interviews with the most interesting people in the world of food. It is fun, inspiring, entertaining, and it makes you reflect. I get motivated listening to the episodes while I walk. Thanks to this podcast, I’ve discovered interesting book authors, I’ve learnt about writing, cooking, baking, recipe developing, and equality. Two of the most recent episodes I truly enjoyed are Alice Waters and Fanny Singer on Slow Food and Family ties, which made me choose Fanny Singer’s memoir as my holiday reading, and Ina Garden and Stanley Tucci on Julia Child and the making of “Julie & Julia”.
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Ten recipes to cook this month
I’m an advocate of the oven even during summer, especially because it gives you the chance to prepare lasagne, gratins and casseroles that, most of the times, gain flavour with time. Summer is also the season of colourful, fresh, sun-ripened vegetables: I love to cook with them, creating menus that revolve around seasonal vegetables.
Summer chickpea salad. I’ve been making this salad at least once a week, every time we had friends over for dinner, as you can prepare all the ingredients the day before and assemble the salad just a few hours before you’re planning to serve it. Leftovers are great, too.
Roasted peppers and a cheese toastie. I like to play it simple. I love to roast peppers just like Laurie Colwin described. I season them with a glug of olive oil, garlic, dried oregano, salt and pepper. Roasted peppers are a typical appetizer from Piedmont, even though I just love to keep them at hand, covered with olive oil in a bowl in the fridge. I add them to green salads, boiled potatoes, roasted chicken, steamed green beans, chickpea cake and pizza.
Pasta with fried eggplants. Try this pasta with fried eggplants, tomato sauce, and mozzarella, so hearty and full of flavour. It is the perfect way to celebrate summer.
Eggplant, potato, and tomato gratin. This vegetarian gratin requires less than one hour of baking and just 10 minutes to make it. While the vegetables cook in the oven, spend this precious time to rediscover the beauty of everyday life, then, when the dish is ready, go outside and enjoy your dinner!
Zucchini blossom and potato casserole. Layers of thinly sliced potatoes, zucchini blossoms, mozzarella, eggs and goat cheese, and fresh herbs such as basil and chives make this zucchini blossom and potato casserole a perfect main dish for a summer dinner. You can also make it in advance: reheat it just before serving.
Stuffed pork loin. The arista ripiena, a stuffed pork loin with sausage, Parmigiano Reggiano, breadcrumbs and wild fennel flowers, can be prepared in advance and served cold, thinly sliced and drizzled with its cooking juices.
Stuffed green peppers from the South of Italy. The poor version is made only with stale bread, capers and some anchovy fillets, nothing more. With time, the technique has been refined, and you end up putting into the stuffing tuna, some pickles and a generous handful of green and black olives.
Stewed French beans. Now please trust me and forget to look at your watch, cook these French beans (or green, string, snap beans) for about an hour, on the lowest flame, with a bunch of other vegetables and some chopped tomatoes. Control your urge to turn off the heat when the beans are barely crisp and grant them a long soothing cooking. Serve them as a side dish accompanied by a piece of crusty bread to mop the juices.
Blueberry jam and ricotta crostata. Prepare this cake the day before and let it sit in the fridge to slice it into firm wedges. Choose a good ricotta and, if it is too wet, let it drain in a colander for an hour. Serve this cake to end a Sunday lunch with friends, in the afternoon with a cup of tea, or thin slices after dinner, while you’re enjoying a movie or the last episode of your favourite tv series.
Apricot jam with cardamom and vanilla. This is still one of my favourite jam, sweet and tart, perfect to spread on a shortcrust tart, or a toasted and buttered slice of bread. Make it plain, or spice it up with cardamom and vanilla.
What are you planning to cook this month? Is there something you are excited to reintroduce to your cooking routine? Let me know in the comments, I’m always happy to add new recipes to my cooking repertoire.
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What you missed this month: beef tenderloin with cherry sauce, pasta alla norma, wild fennel pesto tagliolini with shrimps, two recipes for an Italian aperitivo, and torta salata with zucchini and ricotta.
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