Tag Archives: Almond

Almond Semolina Cookies

Almond Semolina Cookies- Life Love FoodAlmond Semolina Cookies- Life Love FoodAlmond Semolina Cookies- Life Love Food

“Why do you write about food?” People ask.
“Well,” I’d like to tell them, “sometimes I wonder the same thing. Let’s just say it’s complicated.”

Instead, I try to be confident, to give them a straight answer. I spit out a few words like ‘culture’ and ‘family’ amidst a vortex of phrases, but the actual train of thoughts, already blurred in my mind, often lacks any coherence. Were I prepared, or warned, or simply good at giving answers that feel lucid and well-pondered, I would reply in M.F. K. Fisher’s words. No one better than her has expressed the reasons why. In the foreword to The Gastronomical Me, she writes:

The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the other.

Love and hunger are, evidently, what keeps me writing too. And yet, I often interrogate myself on how I can keep this passion of mine burning brightly like a cherry wood fire, year after year. How do you keep yourself close to the craft while also away from burnout? The question resurged last week, as I was making a batch of these almond semolina cookies for the third time in a row. The recipe belongs to Dorie Greenspan’s new book, which, being her twelfth, decrees her as one of the most prolific cookery authors of our time. How does she do it, I thought. How does she stay interested after so many years, and so many books?

The answer, unsurprisingly, came from Dorie herself. During an interview she gave not long ago, she mentioned how she started in the kitchen in the first place, and how she kept going. She began out of necessity, she said. And carried on because of the pleasure she felt in feeding others. Dorie has always been a baker, and despite winning a number of James Beard Awards for her craft, she still calls herself “a home baker”. A home baker who, with her cookies and cakes and pies and tarts, enjoys making others happy.

These two worlds – M.F.K Fisher’s  and Dorie Greenspan’s – so far apart in so many ways, collide in my mind as I stir eggs with flour and dollop dough on a baking sheet. Cooking, baking, writing, are connected by a feeling that, at the base, is humble and deeply human. Pleasurable, too, if we think of these as choices rather than chores. So, while I slip the first batch of cookies inside the hot oven, I remind myself: this is a choice. This is your choice. And it’s one that, if sustained by empathy and kindness and security, will keep acquiring new meanings as you go, learn, stumble and age.

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Honey Olive Oil Almond Cake

Honey Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love Food

I have just recently come to terms with the fact that, for the biggest part of my life, I missed out on one of the most delicious things nature has to offer: honey. Unlike, say,  beetroot, which I continue to dislike no matter how much I try to masquerade it under thick layers of horseradish-injected dressings or to blend it into chocolate cake (I just can’t get past the very earthy flavour), my feelings towards honey have changed with me. They grew as I grew, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, increasing and amplifying at every stage, spreading like a spoonful of oil on a smooth surface, slowly, unavoidably. And so, I gradually went from being the kid who couldn’t stomach a drop of it to the grown-up addict who eats her weight in liquid sugar, jar after jar after jar.

After years of refusal, I’m now making up for lost time by keeping my pantry well-stocked and varied at all times. And although I like to keep things interesting by trying new flavours and brands, I always tend to go back to the same, old trusted ones.

Orange blossom and acacia honey are my all-time favourites. I use them for drizzling, normally on toast, and often over a layer of fresh ricotta, but also over yoghurt, and porridge and other creamy things that can benefit from some sweetness. Saline honey from seaside locations (like miele di barena from the Venetian lagoon, still produced on the island of Sant’Erasmo) is my flavour of choice for dressings and marinades, either for mellowing down the bitter bite of radicchio or for glazing a roasted chicken. And then, citrus, chestnut and prairie honey I find wonderful to bake with – the former to fortify the freshness of a lemon cake; the second to give depth to sweet breads and fruit loaves; and the latter for everything in between.

Honey Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love FoodHoney Almond Olive Oil Cake - Life Love Food

Baking with honey is something I came to late in life, but that I’m keen to explore with dedication from now on. What I learnt so far is that it doesn’t work with everything – that it can’t replace sugar every time. But whatever it goes with it turns into a wonderfully floral affair, powerful and yet discreet, sweet but subtle. A cake made with honey will be a little bit denser than your usual cake, but by no means will it be heavy. Its crumb will be close, but the texture will be tender. The batter will take an unfamiliar amount of liquid – less than you’d normally use – but never will this lead to a dry result. In fact, quite the opposite: it’ll be moist (that dreaded word we are told to avoid); and it will be moreish, and marvellous.

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A Venetian Crema with Almonds

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.

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Breakfast Bulgur with Lemon & Coconut

Early morning is the time of the day I like the most.

Those few minutes of silence and solitude are something I cherish deeply. My mind is clear, my thoughts fast and uncompromising, unadulterated by the bombardment of information coming from all directions as I step out of the door. I try to listen to myself in that short span of quietness and detect what my needs are. Is it warmth that I am craving? Perhaps a steaming bowl of oatmeal with cinnamon and sliced apple? Or is it the freshness of muesli and yoghurt? Or maybe the lazy comfort of a thick, fat slice of banana bread dipped in a big mug of piping hot caffelatte?

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