Summer

Nonna’s Tomato Sauce

tomato saucetomatoes

I have been travelling a lot in July, not so much in August. The two months had a noticeably different rhythm and a very opposite feel. July felt suspended, ethereal, with me constantly on the move and up in the air, struggling to feel settled or make sense of where I was, for I wasn’t anywhere for long enough.

August, in contrast, was a static month, and yet one full of restless anxiety, of changes, of big announcements and strict deadlines. I suppose all these factors, in different ways, are part of the reason why I have been absent from the pages.

However, I did want to share more about a short visit I paid to my homeland back in July, and to my nonna in particular. (You might remember her from this chicken story. Well, she just turned 95 and made her first appearance on a foreign national paper.) When I visited, I found her in her beloved ‘basement kitchen’ while she was jarring tomatoes and making fresh tomato sauce. Needless to say, she jumped on the chance to teach me a thing or two about canning while we chatted the morning away.

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Zucchine alla Scapece

Before you start reading – this long premise hasn’t much to do with today’s recipe. Somehow, though, fried courgettes seemed like an appropriate way to celebrate five years or so of blogging – more than cake, even. I don’t say this lightheartedly, but you see, these happen far more rarely than dessert in our home and felt way more special. 

I often ask myself what it is that keeps me here and keeps me going. What inspires me and draws me to this space, no matter the circumstances, five or so years (gosh!) after I typed the first words onto this blank canvas thinking I had something to say about food?

The answer never seems to be a masterfully photographed recipe planned meticulously, and cooked in a chunk of carefully chiseled yet never-so-spare time. It is not the giveaway I get sometimes asked to host, or more traffic, or a long list of comments (for much that I love having plenty of them). The more I see myself coming back to this space, despite the tiredness and the lack of time, the more I realise I am here for the stories. I am still here because some of the most meaningful moments in my life took place in the kitchen, and many of these stories are still left untold.

‘Is there someone interested in hearing them though?’ I ask myself as I type. For this is so crucial! I have never really liked talking to myself, and besides, it would be silly to think that I am here just to talk. No, what truly keeps me here is the mutual passions, the collision of ideas, the interchange of thoughts and personal experiences that are triggered by a common feeling or a shared memory. I am here to hear. I like nothing more than reading your posts, thoughts, comments, notes and emails. I am truly grateful to be part of this community that shares food stories so generously and genuinely. I want to earn my place in it the best I can.

So here I am today thanking you for being still here five years after it all started, holding a plateful of fried courgettes.

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Chicken with Peppers

‘So you don’t even eat…chicken?’

Grandma’s inquisitive, bewildered eyes were moving slowly between my brother – who appeared to be shielding himself behind a tall chair – and the pot warming up on the stove.

Our casual visit had turned into a lunch invite. It had been a while. Far from being the weekly recurrence it once was, lunch at grandma’s had become more of a special occasion reserved for New Years and Easter. We visited often, of course, spent some time and chatted for a good while, but we rarely stopped for a meal. We liked to tell ourselves the reason was that grandma was getting old, and that we didn’t want to give her any extra work in the kitchen. We knew in fact that her hearty food was something to be had in moderation. That day, though, she convinced our reluctant selves to stay.

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Runner Bean Salad with Tarragon

 For years June marked the end of the school year and the beginning of a time that seemed to stretch infinitely. Long, sleepy days were filled with lots of reading and plenty of boredom – I now struggle to remember what that felt like.
June also stated the beginning of the procession to Grandma’s house to pick vegetables from her garden. As soon as the humid heat of the Venitian countryside had settled in for the following three months, the garden started to go bonkers in all possible good ways. Tomatoes and courgettes were popping up by the minute, and required daily watering and harvesting. Green and runner beans could grow too big and stringy in a couple of hours, and the lettuce would turn tough and inedible if not cut promptly.
The cucumbers, as long as my arm and almost as large, were also pretty needy, and the aubergines and peppers would become all wrinkly under the burning midday sun in a matter of minutes. In a mad rush against time, I was there almost every day, right before sunset or as soon as the temperature of the soil had decreased to a simmer rather than a boil. Each time, I was getting enough produce to make a side dish or salad for our family’s evening meal, as well as for lunch the following day. Usually more. We certainly ate way beyond the five-a-day.

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Summer Roasted Tomato Fregola

And so, and now, another summer month has passed.

We took holidays at the end of August this year, believing it would have made our summer feel longer, stretching it further into early September. We are going to Sicily for two weeks (!), and I can hardly contain the excitement. In the meantime, though, as we roll out of one working week into another, I live with the uncomfortable feeling that summer is slipping through my fingers – too fast, too soon.

I have been resonating a lot with Molly’s thoughts on feeling busy. Being shut in a cubicle while summer is exploding outside makes me feel like I’m missing out on the best things in life – picking berries, baking pies, watching clouds, sleeping in the sun, swimming in the ocean and eating lots of grilled fish, to name a few. Days are so long and (mostly) beautiful here finally that I ache to be outdoors. I blame it on my lack of vitamin D.

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