One of the first exchanges between Jesse and I on the night I landed in Sydney went something like this:
‘Did you bring the big moka pot?’
‘I had to leave it. My bag was overweight’
‘Well, we have the little one that you brought…’
He wasn’t happy. For the first time in five years, we had to part with our 12-cups Italian stove top cafetière. It was one of the first things we bought together when we first moved into our little flat in Bra. It had travelled with us through Italy and then moved with us to London. It had come along on most of our trips – to France and the Basque Countries, to Croatia, to Mexico. Now, it was sitting in a box in my parents’ garage, wrapped in newspaper, mingled with other possessions of ours, catching the dust. We had to leave it behind in favour of a smaller and lighter 3-cups moka – a later addition to the family, suitable mostly to Sundays’ after lunch pick-me-ups, or sporadic after-dinner coffee cravings.
A few things have happened since I last wrote here. The biggest news is that we’ve left London for the time being. I’ll be staying at my family home in the Venetian countryside for a little while. Leaving my day job, moving from London back to my village seemed a tad daunting at first, but I’ve been making the most of this newly found spare time by doing all the things that I love doing: cooking and reading, mostly. But also, exploring my home region of Veneto further and deeper, writing, and taking precious notes for projects that are materialising on the horizon.
The garden at our family home is exploding with the best autumnal colours, and with a few edible delights – pomegranates and jujubes. You might have caught sight of a jujube shrub or tree before; for one, they are very widespread in Veneto. Traditionally used as ornamental plants, locals slowly began to appreciate them for their fruits, which they would use to make confectionery and liqueurs.
This new year started slow and relaxed as it ended. After the final mad rush that built up to Christmas Eve, everything assumed a more natural pace as soon as we landed in Venice to spend the holidays with my family.
I write this as the Christmas tree sparkles in front of me, a clear morning sky and a bright sun in the background. The air is cold and pungent, perfect to wake you up after a long sleep. One more day off before we get back, a few more hours of festive celebrations. We haven’t quite given up sweets and rich foods for the January detox regime just yet…there is still some panettone left for breakfast, good for dipping into a steamy cup of coffee. There is still Epiphany today, the last day of the holiday season when stockings are filled with sweets and citrus and nuts.
If I had to pick a sweet I am particularly fond of – and I am not fond of any sweets in particular – I would go for something creamy. Pannacotta, gelato, zabaione. Something where the airy texture can make up for the sweet punch.
It must be in my genes. The women in my family have never been great pastry chefs, yet they could always crack a good pudding. My mum’s mum, for example, was known for making the best zuppa inglese
in town, with layers of chocolate and marsala cream between cookies drunk with alchermès
. My mum for her part, although she has never been the most keen baker
, managed to pick up her mum’s crema
-making skills. So, whenever there is an occasion requiring un dolce
– something sweet – she would usually skip the baking altogether, and go for what she was well-known for in our family: tiramisù
. Such occasions were usually birthdays and the random ferragosto
dinner, which, being on 15th August, automatically called for a chilled dessert.
I’ve never been the best at presents, but I have, in time, become pretty skilled at edible presents, among which, this sesame brittle is one of the most popular.
Called croccante in Italian, it is a traditional Sicilian sweet, made especially during Christmas time. The name changes depending on the part of Sicily you stumble upon it: cubbaita in the East and giuggiulena in the West. I even found it to be called cubbaita di giuggiulena, combining the two words. Both are of Arabic origin (as Sicilian cuisine and culture have been deeply influenced by the Arabs): the former means ‘brittle’, the latter ‘sesame’. It is not uncommon to find this brittle on the stall of candy vendors in local fairs throughout the whole country, together with candied almonds, and marzipan/pistachio cookies. In fact, it was in such occasion (a local fair) that I came across it for the first time. It was love at first (sticky, crunchy) bite.