Multigrain Cookies (Grancereale Recipe)

Whenever I say I grew up in a tiny village in the Venetian countryside, people start to make assumptions, and I don’t blame them. It must sound like the best place to land on this planet. Although it has its charming traits and its good sides, there are quite a few myths to debunk about my childhood.

For starters, there were no kids – only four of us in my class in primary school. Four. Which means a) any team game was automatically a bummer and lasted very shortly, and b) I had to do the maths and the grammar at the blackboard every single day. And what is worse, I had no one to exchange or share my food with. On the break between classes (intervallo), when kids were allowed to eat a snack and run around, I would eat whatever my mum had put in the little zipper pocket of my Cartoon-branded backpack without a chance to trade it with someone else. Statistically speaking, four people were simply not enough. Not that anybody would have wanted to trade their food with mine anyway, and the reason for this takes me to the second myth.

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Ottolenghi’s Chocolate Babka (Krantz)

We have been lucky this year, they say. Two full months and more of really good weather. It has been indeed a marvellous season. Perhaps exactly for this reason, or maybe because I
spent most of it working or having a good time, it literally slipped from my hands.

These empty hands I have, I am trying to fill with something which feels like a project. I try to line up thoughts, ideas, and bits of inspiration that only idle time outdoor could give me, and finally sit down to build something new. More than January and the actual start of the year, it is autumn the perfect time to give me purpose; September the month which marks a new beginning.

As the days become considerably shorter, and the mist and the wind and the rain awake me from my midsummer dream, I retire back in the cosy warmth of a home heated by an oven. Weekends are no longer occasions for spending time outside – being it playing tourists at home, or lounging in the park, going to a festival or crossing town to enjoy some street food at one of the many amazing markets. Rather, free days are consumed inside, giving time to long-neglected activities which required more attention than the summer version of myself could possibly give. One of these is baking – the other, writing.

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Coconut Rhubarb Mess

I made meringues for the first time.

I made them on a rainy, damp day. The egg whites didn’t get as fluffy as I hoped, and in their raw form, they looked more like melted marshmallow. I was already discouraged, but I thought to bake them anyway. I spooned the liquid, pearl-white, thick mixture into my muffin tins so that it would stay in place. I turned on the oven at the suggested temperature. I waited. And to my big surprise, I saw them growing rapidly inside their beds. They grew and formed mushroom tops that became increasingly golden and firm. I removed them from the oven with a mixture of fear and hope. I thought  they were too pretty to be true, and that given how it all began, they would collapse as soon as they were out.

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Pastiera Napoletana

The most fascinating side of an enlarged family is usually the one which lives far from the rest. My family is no exception. As a kid, among the whole lot of aunts and uncles all born and raised in Veneto, I have always been intrigued by that aunt who chose the alternative path, married a man from the South during her graduate years and left the native soil to follow him in his social and professional climbing.

They lived in Palermo, Reggio Clalabria, Naples, Udine, Varese, Florence and who knows where else in Italy. My aunt would follow her professional, upscale engineer husband wherever his career would take him without objection, even after the birth of their (only) daughter. They would show up sometimes at my grandma’s house for a weekend over Christmas or Easter or some other public holiday, have lunch with the rest of us, and then leave right after in their shiny new company car.

What was most striking was how much she had changed and moved on from her Venetian country origins. Far from using any dialect, her way of speaking had a strange inflection, a mixture of accents and local usages that made her even more singular before my eyes. She would discuss literature, philosophy, religion, art and music with her very puzzled mother and sister –all subjects that she probably had time to dig in her long days at home alone, with her husband away for work, pressured by the idea of pleasing him and be presentable at one of the many social events they had to attend.

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