I am coming to you today as an old friend you don’t see for a while would: I’m full of things to tell you. The excitement is such that I might speak quickly and jump from one thing to the next without much of a connection. But I’d rather be overflowing than forgetful. So please stick with me, and we’ll get to the recipe before you know it.
First and foremost, I meant to tell you about Veneto, my cookbook, which will be released this Thursday. I feel like I’ve talked about it for so long now, that I’m struggling to fathom how fast time has passed. One week and those of you who preordered it in Europe will have a copy at their doorstep. I’m excited and terrified. Most of all, though, I just can’t wait for you to see it. It’s time.
Then, the book trailers.
There were a couple of nights a few weeks ago, before the heat decided to come and make itself comfortable, in which the air sweeping from the harbour carried an unusual chill. One night, on our usual evening walk along the water – the ritual that separates the working part of the day from that of leisure, contemplation and unrushed time in the kitchen – we had to put an extra layer over our t-shirts. We walked hugging ourselves the whole way, wondering where such breeze was coming from, dark clouds gathering swiftly over our heads.
We rushed home just in time before the first downpour started. Another followed shortly, and then another, at seemingly regular intervals, as if the sky was emptying itself by the bucketload, taking a break between each. We thought it a good night for a robust bottle of red and for lingering in the kitchen and around the table while waiting for a warming dinner.
Eggs in tomato sauce aren’t a novelty in my family kitchen, but for some reason, they fell to the very bottom of our repertoire. Until now. I especially love the fact that this dish assumes different names depending on where it comes from: shakshuka is very in vogue right now, but in Italy we’d rather call it uova in purgatorio (eggs in purgatory) or uova al pomodoro.
My take, however, looks at shakshuka for add-in ingredients: from the peppers in the sauce to the feta and the the sprinkle of parsley on top. All that said, whatever the name, this is a dish to make whenever you ache for comfort and simplicity, and that is at ease as a weekend breakfast as much as an impromptu dinner.
I have been travelling a lot in July, not so much in August. The two months had a noticeably different rhythm and a very opposite feel. July felt suspended, ethereal, with me constantly on the move and up in the air, struggling to feel settled or make sense of where I was, for I wasn’t anywhere for long enough.
August, in contrast, was a static month, and yet one full of restless anxiety, of changes, of big announcements and strict deadlines. I suppose all these factors, in different ways, are part of the reason why I have been absent from the pages.
However, I did want to share more about a short visit I paid to my homeland back in July, and to my nonna in particular. When I visited, I found her in her beloved ‘basement kitchen’ while she was jarring tomatoes and making fresh tomato sauce. Needless to say, she jumped on the chance to teach me a thing or two about canning while we chatted the morning away.
Fregola is a favourite summer thing to have – at home, at the park, at the beach, you name it.
Similar in shape and texture to pearl couscous, fregola consists of small balls of durum wheat flour, dried and toasted, and comes in a mix of colours, from pale golden to sienna. The flavour is pleasantly sweet and nutty, the texture firm, holding its shape perfectly in soups and stews. It is traditionally eaten in a saffron broth with clams, but it is equally good in salads.
Here, I tossed it with roasted aubergines and cherry tomatoes, garlic, lots of basil, pine nuts and Parmesan, but I encourage you to experiment and find your favourite combination.