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Welcome, September. An Italian rice salad + links
A letter with 10 recipes to cook this month, and an insight on what I'm reading, watching, listening to, and cooking right now.
Welcome, September. You are the sweetest month, you give us a new beginning, a second chance, the inspiration to dream big. You are just like January, but dressed in softer colours and warmer lights. Graced with mild temperatures, you bring us ripe figs, grapes, and the first, crisp apples. Let’s start again, we’re ready for a new season of recipes, stories, projects, and, hopefully, some precious family time.
What I am cooking
When summer will be over, I’ll be missing all these seasonal vegetables, and the morning stroll in the vegetable garden to pick something for lunch and dinner. As much as I love shopping for fruit and vegetables at the market, there is nothing like picking your own tomatoes or choosing the ripest fig dangling from the highest branch. As a consequence, my meals are overloaded with vegetables, as I can’t have enough roasted eggplants and peppers, tomato salads, or stewed green beans. I made some more jams and preserves, and jars of rice salad condiments to stir into a bowl of rice at the very last minute. You’ll find the recipe on the blog today for this.
What I am reading
Every morning, after Livia has had her bottle of milk, she reaches for a book and brings it to me. She is in the I-love-leafing-through-pages phase, and I’m enjoying these quiet moments together.
I’m slow at reading my books these days, even though I just started a classic, Food and Healing: How What You Eat Determines Your Health, Your Well-Being, and the Quality of Your Life, by Annemarie Colbin, and I have on the list also Healing with Whole Foods, Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, by Paul Pitchford.
Everything sparked from a question on fermented foods I shared on Instagram: my friend Nina Gigante, a food, travel, and wellness journalist, suggested I should read these two books (you can listen to our conversation about Salento in the last episode of Cooking with an Italian Accent). These are not the typical books I would read, nor it is an easy subject for me, but I am curious to delve into a totally new approach to food, at least for me.
What I am watching
We started watching the second season of Ted Lasso. I am not a soccer fan, so at the beginning I was hesitant, but after a few minutes, I was hooked. It is all about good feelings, optimism, and the clash between the American and the British culture. At the end of a long day, it really lifts up your spirits.
What I am listening to
The book deadline is approaching, so I am mainly listening to movie soundtracks – The Last of the Mohicans and The Lord of the Rings being my favourites – while I type away at my desk.
During August I suspended my daily walks for the heat, but now I have no excuses, I’ll be back walking in the morning – and to the swimming pool, too, fingers crossed - and I’ll catch up with my favourite podcasts.
Where I am dreaming to go
At the end of the month, we’ll celebrate our third wedding anniversary, so at the moment I’m dreaming about a romantic weekend somewhere in the mountains. It would also be the first time up there with Livia, hopefully, we’ll manage to run away for a couple of days, even if the cookbook deadline is approaching. I still feel very unsure about dreaming of a holiday somewhere abroad, even though at the moment I often find myself browsing through our honeymoon pictures in Scotland and Ireland.
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A new recipe on the blog
Italian rice salad, with quick-pickled vegetables
Recipe developed in collaboration with Tenuta San Carlo
When I was a child, there was a bowl of rice salad sitting in the fridge at home all summer long. When I got hungry, even if it wasn't lunch or dinner time, I would open the fridge, lift the plate that kept the rice salad covered, and steal a spoonful of it. I was very intentional in choosing a bite that was rich with pickled vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, sausages, or cooked ham. Then I would give the rice a good stir to even out the surface, hiding my robbery, and quietly close the fridge.
Years have passed since that rice salad made with store-bought condiments, but once in a while, I still find myself craving for that fresh dish, a symbol of the '80s and '90s Italian summers.
When Tenuta San Carlo asked me to develop a recipe with their rice, there I was back in the mood for rice salad. I wanted it to be fresh, savoury, acidic, and crunchy, celebrating the late summer flavours.
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Ten recipes to cook this month
Hold on to summer flavours and enjoy the best of September: figs, grapes, the first apples, and the last green tomatoes.
Brown rice salad. The backbone of this salad is a blend of brown basmati and wild rice, which keeps the chewy al dente texture even after a few hours in the fridge. I added roasted butternut squash and eggplant, then olives, capers and chives. It is an autumn brown rice salad for your lunches in the office and for those evenings where you already know that you will be late and want to prepare something in advance. It suits also the lazy mood of those Autumn nights made of couch and TV series, when you just have to choose what to watch, as the salad is already waiting for you.
Risotto with apples and smoked trout. For the risotto, I used a Golden Delicious apple, one of the most beautiful apples, a beautiful pale green skin with that delicate pinkish hue on one side, as if it blushed for a compliment. It is sweet, juicy, with a very delicate acidity. I added it into the risotto halfway through cooking, so that it keeps some of it crispness and does not melt in a puree. It adds a fruity and aromatic note, lightening the rich and smoky taste of trout.
Roasted tomato risotto. I’ve attempted a few times to reproduce that risotto. If a simple tomato passata and a hefty tablespoon of grated Parmigiano Reggiano work to make a decent risotto, quite close to that of my memories, using a roasted tomato sauce and a generous scoop of stracciatella cheese turns the risotto into a dish for special occasions, yet still genuine and simple.
Pasta with green tomato pesto. You make it while the pasta is cooking, using those green tomatoes from your garden that just don’t want to get ripe. If you don’t have a vegetable garden, go to the market: among the ripe ones, now you can spot the green tomatoes, and it is often the farmers themselves who will tell you the best recipes to use them. Listen to them, that’s how I add new recipes to my repertoire!
Pork tenderloin medallions with apples and onions. With the changing of the seasons, you can prepare the pork tenderloin medallions with red grapes, with apples and onions, with some bitter herbs, with artichokes… Since we’re celebrating the apple season, and I promised you a collection of recipes with this seasonal fruit, I cooked my pork tenderloin medallions with apples and red onions.
Grape focaccia. When September comes and the grape harvest begins, you would usually find the schiacciata con l’uva, a sticky sweet and doughy focaccia studded with wine grapes, in every bakery around Tuscany, it is a ritual and one of my favourite treats, something which screams welcome back Autumn, you dear one!
Blackberry focaccia. As our blackberry harvest, this year was not so satisfying, I decided to treat myself to a schiacciata con le more, a focaccia with blackberries instead of grapes. Same results, same sticky-sweet chewy texture.
A very simple carrot cake. If you have time to spare, try the original cake. It has a soft crumb enriched with chopped almonds, candied orange peel, nutmeg and orange zest. If, instead, you feel like you don’t even have time to brush your teeth, try this simpler version, that you can easily make in a bowl, with a whisk. Even though it has a shorter ingredient list and far less steps to make it, it certainly doesn’t lack flavour. With this an unpretentious look, this is the carrot cake you would gladly find on your breakfast table, along with a mug of dark coffee. A much-coveted coffee.
Fig and blackberry lattice pastries. I opted for late summer fig and blackberry lattice pastries, but the possible filling combinations are endless: apples and blueberries, with a dusting of cinnamon, pears, hazelnuts, and chunks of dark chocolate, or even an all-time favourite, mixed berries with vanilla and thyme… A few weeks ago, I made a few batches of homemade puff pastry, and froze it into logs. This definitely upped my game when it comes to quick desserts – or even savoury pies – made with puff pastry, but feel free to choose your favourite store-bought puff pastry.
September jam. You just need the fruit that ripens in September: the vine grapes – whether black or white, depending on what you have or is leftover from the harvest -, freshly picked figs, sticky and sweet, and tiny wild apples, which seem to come out straight from a fairytale. Combine everything and simmer until the fruit falls apart, giving the preserve the time it needs. Then at the end add some sugar to make everything as sweet as honey and to preserve the jam for the following months in your pantry.
BONUS. Listen to episode 01x20 of Cooking with an Italian Accent, September: Grape harvest and grape recipes. September is the grape harvest month, and the time to finally bake one of my favourite treat, schiacciata con l’uva, a grape schiacciata, to make my harvest jam with grapes, figs and apples, and to reintroduce in my cooking class repertoire a delicious side dish, fried green tomatoes with grapes.
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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