On the meditative properties of pea podding I could write a pamphlet. Instead, I wrote this short post, which is much shorter than a pamphlet, and thank goodness for that, for no one would read it otherwise.
Perhaps you share in this sentiment: perhaps the sight of a bag of peas in their pod gets you every time, too. It’s a form of seduction that transcends the five senses, and that breaches into the emotional. It’s their promise of peacefulness I deeply cherish. As I picture the tender spheres rubbing shoulders inside their green zip coats, all I can think of is the silence that will follow – the ritual, and the patience it summons.
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.
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.
We entered the deli in via Marmorata, in the bustling Roman neighbourhood of Testaccio, short after noon. A well-nourished crowd of locals was populating the tiny space, raising their voices to make themselves heard by the people serving behind the counter. All were waiting, more or less impatiently, to be served their daily dose of pecorino, guanciale, ricotta, and pizza bianca. We joined the crowd, famished after an early rise and a long train journey.
Testaccio is a great place to be for food, as good traditional trattorias, street food branches, delis, markets and bars aren’t short in the neighbourhood. From our previous Roman trip, we vaguely remembered there was a good deli on the main road linking the river to the Pyramid. Our well-seasoned plan was to just walk until we stumbled upon it. We eventually did and recognised it immediately for the bountiful displays of preserves, hams and whole cheeses in the window. And so, we joined the not-so-orderly queue and started to think about what we wanted for lunch.
In her brilliant book, Italian Food, Elizabeth David has a recipe for Carciofi alla Veneziana that immediately captured my attention. I was flipping through the vegetable section one day – as I often do, looking for nothing in particular but, rather, for some kind of cooking inspiration – and suddenly stopped at the sight of the word Venetian, followed by the word artichokes. I was hooked.
As a home cook, artichokes have for long been my pet peeve. But, being such a central ingredient in Venetian cuisine, I couldn’t avoid them forever. To tell you the truth, artichokes intimidated me because I wasn’t too familiar with them. Mum never made them, and for long, I had no idea what to look for when purchasing them, how to clean and cook them properly. They were a mystery.
Then, all of a sudden, the whole world of artichokes opened up to me. I moved to London and began to work for a fruit and vegetable company. I started to have access to more knowledge, more information, more variety. I began by learning how to clean artichokes from a friend chef. Basics acquired, I slowly went into experimenting with different recipes. I started with a simple artichoke salad: just thinly sliced spiky Sardinian artichokes, good olive oil, lemon, and flaky salt. I then moved to cooked preparations: spring vignarola with peas and broad beans; frittata, risotto. And, finally, these braised artichokes.