“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?
We make and enjoy plenty of humble soups in our home. Soups like this one. With legumes and greens, sometimes with grains, sometimes tomato-based, others broth-based, almost never cream-based. The best part about it has to be the fact you can throw in whatever greens the market has to offer – or whatever legumes you have in your pantry – and it will turn out to be a very good soup. This one is just a pretty successful version.
The vegetable component is a leaf called minestra nera
, a green belonging to the brassica family, in the same way turnip tops do, and originally from Campania, but kale, cavolo nero, spinach or even chard would go well in its place. Dry chickpeas work better here than canned, as the latter would somehow compromise the texture of the soup, which is much more enjoyable when al dente
. Finally, some pasta or couscous or other grains make a welcome but optional addition while thickening the broth at the same time. Copious amounts of grated Pecorino cheese will make this out of this world, and a spiral of good olive oil to finish is like cherry on cake. Have lots of bread handy, for you’ll need it.
We have been settling into January at the slowest possible pace, trying to hold onto that feeling we brought back from Italy. Calm. Peace of mind. It didn’t last long – back to work and all that jazz – but we still managed to keep weekends on the resting side after all. There was a lot of sitting around, a lot of cookbook flipping, some reading and some walking. There was a lot of baking, too.
This cake is what we baked the most, by far. It’s nothing fancy, really, but it reminds me of the cake my mum used to make when I was little – that silly-easy cake (the only one she knew how to make, really) that takes a pot of yoghurt as a measuring unit. it’s a classic, but also, a cake that bears some uniqueness – in its aroma as much as in its backstory.