eat in my kitchen

To cook, to bake, to eat and to treat.

Category: MEET IN YOUR KITCHEN

meet in your kitchen | The Temples of Agrigento and Sicilian Caponata

villaathenasicily1_dd

We went to Sicily and it was heavenly – as always in Sicily. But what makes this place so special? Is it the magical light, the outstanding food, the heart warming people? Was it the endless Scala dei Turchi beach, or the breathtaking temples of Juno and Concordia that happened to be right in front of our hotel room? Why did it feel like being close to the Gods when we stayed at the stunning Hotel Villa Athena in the lush, green valley of Agrigento?

Our hotel was luxurious and in a more than fortunate position. The old villa once owned by a noble principessa in the 18th century, is situated in the fascinating Archeological Park and Unesco World Heritage Vale dei Templi. Thanks to the efforts of archaeologist Domenico Antonio Lo Faso Pietrasanta, the Duke of Serradifalco, we can admire the stunning remains of Akragas, one of the most important Greek colonies in Sicily. Founded in 581 BC, this ancient city was spread over 1300 hectares laying graciously on top of two soft hills. Today many traces of its history and rich culture are still present, most spectacularly in the form of a group of temples dating back to the 5th century BC. Best preserved are the Temple of Concordia, the Doric style building is in a surprisingly good state thanks to its transformation into a Christian Basilica in the 6th century AC, and Juno. And this temple literally took my breath away. The Temple of Juno is magical, the atmosphere, the light, the setting, it’s mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes off its sturdy columns, glowing golden in the afternoon sun. The light seemed unreal, dimmed and dramatic. You can see it in the first picture, it looks like a painting, but it’s a photograph.

Villa Athena Sicily

I came to Agrigento to cook together with Hotel Villa Athena‘s renowned chef Salvatore Gambuzzo. Thanks to his verve and dedication, the hotel’s restaurant, La Terrazza Degli Dei, is mentioned in the Michelin guide and the first star doesn’t seem too far away. Salvatore is deeply connected with Sicily and the region of Agrigento, he was born just a few hills away from his restaurant, in Porto Empedocle. He loves his island, he adores its original produce and culinary traditions. Salvatore is a true Sicilian at heart. Inspired by his nonno Giuseppe, a fisherman, and his mamma Giuseppina, he always felt passionate about his home island’s food. Becoming a chef was a wise choice made at the young age of 14. Working in Piemonte and Monte Carlo, and then later, becoming the executive chef of the prestigious Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea in Taormina, made him gather fruitful experiences. But it also made him realize how close he feels to the soil where he was born, so he moved back and joined the team at Villa Athena.

Salvatore loves experimenting with new recipes, using the freshest fish from the sea right in front of his door step and the meat from the butchers who he’s known for years. In the warmer months of the year he can pick the fruits and vegetables right from the villa’s garden, he has absolute control over the produce and products that he uses in his kitchen. Local or regional, mainly organic, and in accordance with the island’s inspiring culinary traditions. He feels the duty to protect his culture and pass it on to future generations. As the president of the Associazione Cuochi Agrigento he’s an ambassador for his country’s regional treasures. We need people like Salvatore to keep our traditions and food culture alive, all over the world.

The chef also has another, quite impressive passion: Savatore falls for food art and creates spectacular sculptures made of potatoes (and other food) preserved with salt and turned into rock-hard everlasting pieces of art. It’s unbelievable, he manages to make potatoes look like marble! With pride in his voice, he told me that he brought home eight gold medals from world wide competitions. The preparation takes weeks, but when you hear him talk about it – especially in Italian – it sounds like he’s talking about a woman.

It was relatively warm and the Sicilian sun was still strong during our stay just a few days before Christmas. The branches of the citrus trees in the beautiful gardens were lusciously filled with plump lemons, tangerines, oranges, and grapefruit. And as Salvatore showed me his own ‘little‘ garden, I couldn’t help but feel envious. Bushes of mint, rosemary, green and violet sage, marjoram, oregano, various kinds of thyme (including thymo alpino), borage, sorrel, basil – it’s an orchestra of flavours, always at hand to refine (almost) every creation that leaves his kitchen.

Villa Athena Sicily

We enjoyed three dinners and two lunches prepared by Salvatore and his team, all of which were rich in aromas and creative in style, never forced or pretentious, and most importantly always heavenly delicious. The chef shows great respect for nature’s creations in his recipes, he works with nature’s gifts, but never tries to distract from their original taste and quality. The first dish on my plate was Sicilian Caponata, one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to dig my fork into. It was fruity, sweet, and juicy, so thick and chunky that it stood on the plate like a dome. Caponata is a Mediterranean classic, zucchini, eggplant, and pepper, tomatoes and vinegar, it’s a simple dish, but this one was so good that I asked Salvatore to share the recipe with me so that I could share it with you. The addition of celery is great and the topping of sugary-sweet dehydrated date tomatoes makes it irresistible. My humble chef was so kind to also share the trick that turns the tomatoes into little addictive bites (see the recipes below).

To give you a little idea of our unashamed feasting, these are some of the dishes we had on our plates:

Insalata di Mare (so simple, divine, I had to eat it twice!), Herb Risotto with Prawns, Spaghetti in Salsa di Cozze e Vongole, Sicilian Cannoli (of course), Mackerel with Citrus and Clams, Taglierini Pasta with Lobster, Belgian Endive and Sheep Ricotta, Spinach Dumplings with Rosemary Squid Ragout, Sicilian Stuffed Red Mullet, Bean Soup with Gragnano Pasta, Lamp Chops in Honey with Sweet and Sour Pumpkin, Sweet Variations of Prickly Pear, Swordfish alla Messinese, Panelle (golden fried Sicilian chickpea fritters)…

And the wine! I must say I’m quite lucky – most of the time – when it comes to picking local treasures from the wine menu, even without guidance. But this time I knew we were in good hands, sommelier and maître d’ Salvatore Di Carlo took great care of us and introduced us to one of his favourites, the fantastic Planeta Chardonnay from the territory of Menfi close to Agrigento. We fell in love with this golden, lush wine, so much so that we had to order it again on our last night. And once in a while Salvatore Di Carlo would stop by at our table, just to smell the aroma, and he’d smile. Our red favourite was the dark Baglio del Cristo di Campobello Lusirà Syrah, also a precious local find.

I’m a huge fan of good bread, I call it my favourite food for a reason, so despite all the culinary highlights that caressed my taste buds, I’ll never forget the bread served at the villa at lunch and dinner time. Still warm and cut into thick slices, generously sprinkled with the villa’s own olive oil, accompanied by a glass of Prosecco and a good chat with our Salvatores – it couldn’t get any better. The bread is made of the indigenous Russello durum wheat semolina. This Sicilian grain is dark, golden, and almost red in colour, like the soil around Agrigento. The baked loaf has a beautiful crust, a light crumb, and its nutritious value is much higher than that of wheat. For a sweeter version, we spread it – thicker than necessary – with the hotel’s scrumptious pistachio paste, one bite and you’ll never ask for chocolate spread at the breakfast table again. I want to work on a recipe to share with you, one of my 2017 kitchen projects.

Villa Athena Sicily

We met so many lovely Salvatores at Villa Athena, which is not a surprise, as we learnt it’s one of Sicily’s favourite names. If you go there, it’s most likely that this will be the first name you either hear or see engraved in the rocks on a beach (it happened to us). All our beloved Salvatores, be it the chef, the sommelier, or the kind and caring waiters, they were all the reason that we left the villa in sadness – we didn’t want our paths to separate. We laughed so much together, they all did everything possible to make us feel fantastic. We can’t thank you enough for giving us an insight into your culture and cuisine, for making this wonderful stay at your hotel unforgettable, and for spoiling us so much. Thank you Salavatore (s), Roberto, and Claudia!

Hotel Villa Athena is a member of the group of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, it’s the right place to treat yourself under the Mediterranean sun for a couple nights. I find that the colder time of the year is best to enjoy the hotel’s extravagant comfort and amenities, it’s all quiet and peaceful in the low season. Even the Vale dei Templi was all for us, we were almost the only visitors, however, the hotel offers an exclusive entrance to the Archeological Park, which means you can skip the long line of tourists even in the summer months.

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

Salvatore Gambuzza’s Sicilian Caponata

Serves 10

eggplants 10
vegetable oil, for cooking the eggplants
celery 800g / 1 3/4 pounds
olive oil
onion, cut in half and sliced, 1.1 kg / 2 1/2 pounds
green olives, pitted and chopped, 300g / 2/3 pounds
capers, rinsed and drained, 200g / 7 ounces
fresh tomato sauce 1.2kg / 2 2/3 pounds
tomato paste 200g / 7 ounces
salt and pepper
vinegar 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
granulated sugar 180g/ 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons

Rinse the eggplants and remove the stems and the ends. Peel the eggplants (optional), cut off the skin as thinly as possible. Cut the eggplants into large cubes and cook them in a generous amount of hot vegetable oil until golden and soft. Transfer to kitchen paper to remove excess oil and set aside.

Trim the celery and remove all the leaves and discard them. Cut the celery into small pieces and blanch in salted water until tender.

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a large, heavy pan and cook the onions until golden and soft. Add the celery, olives, and capers, cook for a few minutes, then add the tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat. When it’s all soft and thick, add the eggplant to the sauce and simmer until soft and mushy.

In a medium saucepan, add the sugar and vinegar and let the sugar dissolve over medium heat, then pour the vinegar over the caponata. Let it simmer until the mixture is thick.

This dish is best eaten cold, topped with candied cherry tomatoes:

Candied Cherry Tomates

(for the topping)

cherry tomates 20
fresh marjoram 5g / 1/4 ounce
fresh thyme 5g / 1/4 ounce
fresh oregano 5g / 1/4 ounce
icing sugar 200g / 2 cups

Preheat the oven to 100°C / 200°F.

Fill a large bowl with cold water and a handful of ice cubes.

In a saucepan, bring water to the boil, add the tomatoes, and immediately transfer them to the bowl with the ice water. Using your fingers, remove the skin, then cut the tops off and discard.

Spread the tomatoes and the remaining ingredients in a large baking dish, mix well, and dehydrate in the oven for 2 hours until the tomatoes are soft and a little shriveled.

Once cool, keep the tomatoes in a jar filled to the top with olive oil.

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

 

Villa Athena Sicily

meet in your kitchen| Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin and Laurel’s Chocolate Rugelach

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

“They both slow you down. They’re both transportive. They both smell good. They can both be enjoyed at the same time” – Laurel’s words, when I asked her what she likes about the connection of food and books.

I’ve enjoyed sweet treats made by Laurel’s hands for many years, but it took a while for us to meet personally. Together with her business partner Roman, the young woman from Boston runs Berlin’s popular Shakespeare & Sons and Fine Bagels – a heavenly place for English books, bagels, cookies, rugelach, and cakes – all in one store! Originally, they started their Berlin business in a cozy space in Prenzlauer Berg that was, conveniently, quite close to where I live. But two years ago they had to move and I lost my dear store. A recent coffee date at their gorgeous new store in Friedrichshain brought back memories and awoke the idea to meet the stranger behind all these amazing sweet goods. It was actually a chocolate rugelach – possibly the best rugelach I ever ate – that made me get in touch with Laurel that same day. Her rugelach is gooey, chocolatey, sweet and juicy, it’s so good that you basically have to order one after the other. When we met later, Laurel told me that her dear friend Sanam used to say that every rugelach sticks to your hips for seven years. If something tastes so good, I don’t care about my hips, it’s worth every pound!

Laurel is a self-taught baker with a weak spot for anything baked and sweet, a trait of her food loving family. Especially the women are quite gifted and know how to impress the hungry crowds at their kitchen tables with homemade cookies, cakes, and breads. Luckily, for generations, this passion has been passed on to the young ones.

Although she calls herself a shy bird who prefers to stay behind the scenes, when I saw her roll out the puffy yeast dough, dishing out stories about Israeli and American rugelach, I didn’t believe it at all. Laurel sounds like a pro who must have a cooking show one day. I enjoyed watching her spread the dark chocolate filling lusciously over the orange flavoured dough so much, that I almost forgot how hungry I was. Luckily, it only took 15 minutes and she pulled out the most fragrant warm rolls in front of my camera – and then they went straight into my mouth.

Shakespeare and Sons also have the English Eat In My Kitchen book on their shelves!

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

Laurel’s Chocolate Rugelach

For the dough

7 cups / 910g bread flour
2/3 cup / 130g granulated sugar
4 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup / 225g butter
1 1/3 cups / 315ml milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 eggs
zest of 1 orange

For the filling

3 cups / 600g of sugar (this can be substituted for demerara or even muscavado for a stronger flavor)
2 1/4 cups / 270g unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
1 3/4 cups / 415g butter

For the egg wash

2 eggs, lightly beaten

In a bowl, whisk together flour, sugar and yeast. When that is mixed in, add salt and whisk again. In a saucepan, melt butter on low heat and then remove from heat. Add milk and whisk. Add vanilla and eggs and whisk. Pour liquid mixture into the flour mixture. If using a mixer, mix until incorporated with the paddle attachment, then switch to a dough hook. Knead with the dough hook for 5 minutes. If mixing by hand, mix well with a wooden spoon and then turn out onto a floured surface and kneed well for about 7 minutes. It’s a very stick dough however, so it’s best to use a machine. Put the kneaded dough into a well-greased bowl, cover with a wet cloth or plastic wrap, and let rise for about an hour or until your fingerprint in the dough doesn’t spring back.

Preheat the oven to 175°C / 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

While your dough is rising, make the filling. Mix sugar, cocoa, and cinnamon. Melt butter and pour on while hot. Mix well. Set aside to cool. You can cool it faster in a refrigerator, but be careful not to let it sit in the fridge for too long. It will turn into a solid block.

Turn out your dough onto a floured surface and cut it into 3-5 balls, depending on how large you want your rugelach. There’s no need to punch down the risen dough, as the rolling will do that for you. Roll out one of your dough balls into a perfect circle about 1/2cm / 1/4″ thick. Spread your filling evenly and thinly across the dough, being careful not to tear the gentle dough. Use a pizza cutter to trim the edges and to divide the dough circle into about 12 triangles, like pizza slices. Now starting from the outside of the circle, roll up your rugelach so they look like little croissants. Place on a baking sheet.

When you’ve done this for all of your dough, brush your rugelach with an egg wash and bake for about 15 minutes. When you take them out of the oven, drizzle with simple syrup. Oh damn, now you get to eat them.

This recipe also freezes beautifully. I usually bake up as many as I want and put the rest of the unbaked rugelach in the freezer to take out and bake as I need them. (Think about the possibilities here. Seriously. Lazy winter weekend mornings in bed and then…poof…15 minutes later you’ve got gooey hot rugelach in your kitchen? This is a maximum pleasure recipe so it’s a wise move to keep them on hand). Just give them a few minutes to thaw before you throw them in the oven.

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

How does an ex-physicist decide to start a bagel shop? When did you come up with the idea? Did this idea grow over years or was it a spontaneous decision?

Ha, I don’t know if I’d call myself an ex-physicist. I’d say I got the physics degree and ran. The bagel shop happened out of pure, selfish necessity. I found myself living in the first-class bagel desert of Berlin and, frankly, I was hungry. I tried to assimilate, I swear. Ate broetchens, croissants, muesli…you name it. What can I say? They weren’t doing it for me like a bagel and cream cheese does. I’ve always been a home baker, wasn’t particularly focused on anything else at that point in my life, and it just struck me as something to do. So pretty spontaneous.

At your peak, you baked 350 bagels every day on your own before you put your team together. You offer 25 different bagels at your shop, sweet and savoury. What fascinates you about this popular bun with a hole in the middle?

The bagel is a creature of the diaspora. At this point, it’s as much American as it is Polish-Jewish. It’s spent the last hundred years moving out of the basement-level New York bakeries, getting softer and bigger, and landing on breakfast plates the world over. At the same time, bagels are no longer created with the same reference point or even a nod to their history, and I think it’s important to maintain standards. What I like about a proper bagel is the deliberate chewiness and the impractical hole. The hole serves only to gush cream cheese and soil your clothes. And yet it’s got to be there. More surface area for the flavorful skin. So it’s not an easy food. But it’s such a good food.

Both of us share a passion for rugelach, can you tell us a bit about the difference between American style rugelach and the traditional recipes rooted in Israel?

Ok, so the kind of rugelach I’m familiar with from back home (Boston) are more of a gently flaky cookie made with a cream cheese or sour cream dough and a filling of jam, chopped nuts, raisins, and cinnamon sugar. The dough is a royal pain to work with, but worth it. Meanwhile the rugelach you’d find in Israel are generally from a yeasted dough and reach the level of chocolate-y gooeyness that solicits involuntarily obscene vocals from those eating them. Or maybe that’s just me. This is disloyal to my upbringing, but I’m just going to say it: there is nothing better than an Israeli rugelach. The clouds of bees in the shuk in Jerusalem agree with me.

What makes the Ashkenazi baking tradition so special to you?

A hundred years ago, my great-great grandmother and her sister made their living baking breads and challahs in a village on the outskirts of Warsaw. All the women in my family are wonderful bakers and this is a way of maintaining and honoring a longstanding food tradition. The mandelbread recipe I use in the store goes back at least four generations. I’m not sure how the ancestors would feel about the double-whammy of reverse migration and return to the kind of baking that for them was a tough necessity and for me a cutesy, artisinal hobby-turned profession, but that’s 21st century privilege for you.

What’s the hardest part of running your own bakery?

Not eating all the cookie dough.

Are there any Shakespeare and Sons plans for the future, apart from books and bagels?

Right now I’m working with several other people to organize a Jewish food week called Nosh Berlin. It’ll be from March 19-26 2017. There’s never been an event like it here and people are really coming together. To kick it off, we’re partnering with The Breakfast Market at Markthalle Neun to have a Jewish breakfast market with everything from bagels to blintzes to jachnun to Ethiopian dishes, and more. The idea is to get as much wonderful Jewish food together in one place as possible. We’re drawing from local chefs and home-cooks as well as folks from abroad. Then throughout the week there will be events all over the city, from popup dinners to cooking classes to film showings to readings. So everyone should set aside a lot of tummy real estate for that week.

You grew up in Boston, you’ve lived in Kathmandu and in Prague, and you’ve called Berlin your adopted home for more than 5 years. What do you like about the capital? What inspires you in this city?

What I like about this city is how easy it is to do your own thing here. It’s a place with very little open judgement about life choices and success seems to be measured differently than where I grew up. And that has provided me and a lot of other people with the room to make slightly unorthodox dreams reality.

What do you like about the connection of food and books?

They both slow you down. They’re both transportive. They both smell good. They can both be enjoyed at the same time.

Can you tell us a little about the history of the house and store where you opened the new Fine Bagels/Shakespeares and Sons shop?

So the building in Friedrichshain where we’re currently located was built in 1962 as a bookstore and apartment building. Since it was in East Germany, it was a state-run bookstore until the fall of the wall, at which point it was privatized. To this day, old Berliners are always popping in to wax nostalgic about their memories of the bookstore from back in the day. If you walk into the store, you’ll noticed a raised portion to your left. It sits on top of a Cold War bunker that was built-in. Meanwhile, all of the built-in bookcases are original. They were covered in terrible particle board from the early ‘90s and when we tore it down, there was the beautiful original wood shelving. It’s a big space so we’re able to accommodate the bakery kitchen, the cafe, and the bookstore. It was a stroke of luck to get it.

You say that many women in your family are passionate home bakers, what did you learn from them? And what about the men in your family?

We’ve got some sort of cruel genetic predisposition to a sweet tooth running down both the paternal and maternal branches of my family. So there was always someone baking sweets. Cookies, cakes, quick-breads. My mother in particular is a home-made obsessive and passed that on. Particularly chocolate chip cookies, kugel, and zucchini bread. One grandmother was always making the most divine Toll House Cookies you’ve ever tasted and the other one was all about blueberry pies and cheesecakes. Would you believe it if I told you my maternal grandmother was an early adopter of the Weight-Watchers program? Shocking.

As for the men, well, at least a lot of them are good dish washers. That’s all I’ll say.

If you had to name one dish from where you grew up, back home in Boston, that you miss the most, what would that be?

Honestly, just an onion bagel and cream cheese from Rosenfeld’s in Newton Center. I’m absolutely devoted. They’re the best. And good seafood, of course.

Which are your favourite baking cookbooks and why?

My absolute favorite is Inside the Jewish Bakery. There are no pretty pictures, but it’s the most accurate and comprehensive survey of Jewish-American bakery recipes I’ve ever seen. It’s full of history and storytelling and extraordinarily detailed instructions. And that’s what it should be. The authors, Norman Berg and Stanley Ginsberg, both made their careers in these very bakeries and know better than anyone what they’re talking about. It’s my ultimate reference point.

Where do you find inspiration for new recipes for the Fine Bagels’ menu?

Mainly I try to wheedle old family recipes out of the elderly. Other than that, I go home and visit the old-school bakeries and delis around where I grew up. I’m not really trying to do anything so innovative. I’m more interested in preservation.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?

Meike, this is entrapment! If I told you it was someone outside of my family, what would the family say? If I told you it was someone within my family, they’d think I was playing favorites. I’ll whisper it in your ear, but you can’t tell the internet. It’s my own neck I’ve gotta think about.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

Chocolate chip cookies with my mother. You hang around hoping to lick out the bowl long enough you inadvertently learn to bake.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Berlin?

The fairly new Bread Station on the Maybach Ufer does the best sourdough loaves I’ve ever had. They’ll schmear up a hot broetchen with salted butter and comte for you and it’s heaven. Merle’s Roti and Rum near Yorkstrasse is divine…piles of hot roti, spicy curries, and homemade ginger beer. Heno Heno in Charlottenberg is worth the trip across town. Homey don buri, sour plum onigiri, and herring nigiri appetizers. Lon Men’s Noodle House on Kantstrasse and Agni on Prenzlauer Allee are two other favorites.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Joan Nathan. She’s the queen.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

A proper Nepali dal bhat tarkari. It’s the most wonderful food in the world. I bothered a lot of people into teaching me to cook while I lived over there and it’s still my favorite thing to make. A shout out of gratitude here to Saraswati Pangeni, Sudeep Timalsina, and Nirajan Tuladhar.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

Childhood favorite? French toast. Grown up favorite? French toast.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I’m a kitchen misanthrope. Mainly because I’m clumsy. My ideal cooking scenario is having a friend hang out a safe 4 feet away from the cooking. They will gossip to me and drink wine while I make everything. Some days, like yesterday, this is not far off from the reality of my professional kitchen. Can’t say if that’s a good thing or not.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

Planned. I live in permanent fear of not making enough food for my guests. This has never happened, but I gotta stay vigilant.

Which meal would you never cook again?

Latkes for 100 people. I smelled like a fry trap that fell into an onion field and my skin broke out in zits like a pubescent boy. Brutal.

Thank you Laurel!

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

 

Laurel's Chocolate Rugelach

meet in your kitchen | Emiko Davies’ Grape Focaccia & her life in Tuscany

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata-2

Our long wooden dining table has seen many luscious lunches and dinners. It has its scars and scratches and I’m sure that a few of them came from an unexpected meal with friends a few months ago. It must have been spring, I was still busy proof reading my book and I was rather stressed. What was supposed to be a one hour snack with a friend from Malta turned into a little Friday feast, with three friends, salads, cheese, and salami, and with a few more bottles of white wine than one should open (and empty) on a Friday afternoon – but who cares, we had a wonderful time. We laughed so much that I managed to relax and forget my duties for a few hours – and it was the start of this meet in your kitchen feature.

One of the friends who sat at my table that day was my dear Heilala. Whenever we meet, we get lost in long conversations. Between nibbles of cheese and sips of wine, she told me about a friend from her school days who just published her first cookbook and had also gone through all the excitement that comes with the adventure of being a book author. Her friend lives in the heart of Tuscany, in Florence, once the breeding ground of breathtaking Renaissance art and architecture. If you’ve seen it once, you’ll never forget its magical beauty. So Heilala told me that her friend lives right there, in this Italian paradise with her Italian husband and their little daughter, she writes a food blog and as I found out later, she’s already at work on her second cookbook – she’s called Emiko Davies.

I knew Emiko, not personally, but I’ve been a huge fan of her work for quite a while. Her recipes, her writing, and her photography have depth, every single aspect of her work shows that she’s knows what she’s talking about. Every picture she shares speaks of the beauty that surrounds her. If you live in a place that’s so full of history, culture, and evolving traditions, where the fine arts have flourished for centuries, you can only grow. The former art and history student dug deep into Florence’s culinary traditions. Like a scientist, she observed, read, and learned about the original cooking and baking of this part of Tuscany, a region that’s so versatile and rich. Florentine, The True Cuisine of Florence is a declaration of love, of someone who has experienced the city from the outside and has now become a part of it.

The curiosity and persistency of this food loving woman fascinated me – even more so after I found out that we share a beloved friend. We only got in touch last week, but I immediately knew that I wanted to meet Emiko in her kitchen. For know it’s just a virtual meeting, but I’m planning to visit her next year, in real life – to be continued.

All pictures in this post are taken by Emiko Davies.

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

 

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

Schiacciata all’uva | Grape focaccia

from ‘Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence’ by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books

For one or two fleeting months of the year from September to October, the appearance of schiacciata all’uva in Florence’s bakery shop windows is a sign that summer is over and the days will begin to get noticeably shorter. This sticky, sweet focaccia-like bread, full of bright, bursting grapes, is a hint that winemakers are working hard at that moment harvesting their grapes and pressing them. 

These days, it is usually made with fragrant, berry-like concord grapes (uva fragola) or the more traditional sangiovese or canaiolo wine grapes. These grapes stain the bread purple and lend it its juicy texture and sweet but slightly tart flavour. They are also what give the bread a bit of crunch, as traditionally the seeds are left in and eaten along with the bread. Avoid using red or white seedless table grapes or white grapes for this – they just don’t do it justice in terms of flavour or appearance. If you can’t get concord grapes or it’s the wrong season, try replacing them with blueberries. It’s completely unorthodox, of course, but it’s a very good substitute, giving you a much closer result than using regular table grapes.

Makes 1 large schiacciata, serves 6–8

500 g (1 lb 2 oz) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus extra for dusting
20 g (3/4 oz) fresh yeast, or 7 g (1/4 oz/2 1/2 level teaspoons) active dry yeast
400 ml (131/2 fl oz) lukewarm water
75 ml (21/2 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) concord grapes (or other black grape)
80 g (23/4 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 teaspoon aniseed (optional)
icing (confectioners’) sugar (optional)

Preparing the dough

This can be done the night before you need to bake it, or a couple of hours ahead of time.

Sift the flour into a large bowl and create a well in the centre.

Dissolve the yeast in some (about 1/2 cup or 125 ml) of the lukewarm water.

Add the yeast mixture to the centre of the flour and mix with your hand or a wooden spoon. Add the rest of the water little by little, working the dough well after each addition to allow the flour to absorb all the water.

Add 1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil to the dough and combine.

This is quite a wet, sticky dough. Rather than knead, you may need to work it with a wooden spoon or with well-oiled hands for a few minutes until it is smooth. Cover the bowl of dough well with some plastic wrap and set it in a warm place away from draughts until it doubles in size, about 1 hour. If doing this the night before, leave the dough in the bowl to rise in the fridge overnight.

Assembling the schiacciata

Separate the grapes from the stem, then rinse and pat dry. There’s no need to deseed them if making this the traditional way.

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F).

Grease a 20 cm (8 in) x 30 cm (12 in) baking tin or a round pizza tray with olive oil. With well-oiled (or wet) hands, divide the dough into two halves, one slightly larger than the other. Place the larger half onto the greased pan and with your fingers, spread out the dough evenly to cover the pan or so that it is no more than 1.5 cm (1/2 in) thick.

Place about two-thirds of the grapes onto the first dough layer and sprinkle over half of the sugar, followed by about 30 ml (1 fl oz) of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of aniseed.

Stretch out the rest of the dough to roughly the size of the pan and cover the grapes with this second layer of dough, stretching to cover the surface. Roll up the edges of the bottom layer of dough from underneath to the top, to seal the edges of the schiacciata. Gently push down on the surface of the dough to create little dimples all over. Cover the top with the rest of the grapes and evenly sprinkle over the remaining aniseed, sugar and olive oil.

Bake for about 30 minutes or until the dough becomes golden and crunchy on top and the grapes are oozing and cooked.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Cut into squares and enjoy eaten with your hands. If you like, dust with icing (confectioners’) sugar just before serving – although this isn’t exactly traditional, it is rather nice.

This is best served and eaten the day of baking, or at the most the next day.

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

You’ve lived in many countries and experienced a variety of cultures in your life, your mother is Japanese, your father is Australian, your husband is Italian and you grew up in Beijing. How has your diverse cultural identity influenced your life and cooking?

Moving around a lot and identifying with different cultures, I grew up not feeling like I was particularly attached to just one place. I think this made it very easy (perhaps even necessary – at least that’s how I felt about it when I was 20!) for me to pick up a suitcase, buy a plane ticket and move to a new country to learn a new language and discover the new culture. I am also pretty sure this travel and experience partly contributed to me being an adventurous eater – always willing to try anything once. From the beginning, I understood that food is a way to connect with and understand a new culture – if, for Florentines, their number one beloved comfort dish is a warm panino made with the fourth stomach of the cow (it’s known as a panino al lampredotto), then you can be sure it’s one of the first things I tried – and fell in love with too!

What do you love the most about Florence? Do you find anything difficult to connect with?

There are many sides to Florence and the longer I live here, the more I discover another aspect! When I first moved here, it was so easy to fall head of heels for Florence – especially for someone who studied art and art history as I did! Everywhere you look, the place is touched with the Renaissance and the most important artists in history, it’s like one giant museum. That’s what drew me in. And it’s what drew a lot of expats to Florence, so there is a large expat community with many similar-minded people, who are all here for similar reasons (love, food or art, usually!). I made friends easily here and felt really at home, ironically (as I always feel more at home amongst expats). But having said that, I find it’s really difficult to make friends, really good friends, with Florentines. That’s been a struggle. I ended up meeting and marrying one, but I have to say, he’s quite different from the typical Florentine man!

Was it easy to become a part of the Florentine way of life?

I think yes and no. Living it the historical centre of Florence, visiting the local butcher or fruit vendor or bakery for your shopping, the same bar for coffee every morning, you begin to get to know your neighbourhood and they begin to know you, it becomes your little world. I’ve met some wonderful people this way, and this feeling of a neighbourhood or quarter is something I love about Florence – something that I hope everyone who still lives in the centre continues to cling on to, as tourism tends to take over in a city like Florence. On another aspect, since having a child, I can see the cultural differences coming out more than ever! My parenting ideals are much more anglo-saxon and more often than not they seem to clash with the ‘norm’ here!

Your husband is head sommelier at the Four Season’s Michelin-starred Il Palagio, do you find it inspiring that both of you work in the fields of the culinary pleasures of life?

Always. We work in two quite different worlds – I write about and cook homely, traditional food, while he has, for the past five years or more, worked solely in fine dining and wine. But at home we always cook together and we have a similar appreciation for good food and good ingredients, cooked properly. He inspires me and helps me in ways he probably doesn’t know.

You say that “Italian cuisine doesn’t exist, there are many cuisines”. Why do you think regional cuisine is so diverse in Italy?

There are many theories, but the simplest answer is history. Italy is actually a very young nation – it was unified in 1861, that’s little more than 150 years ago! But the traditions, dialects, dishes and ways of life of each region are ancient. In many cases, even the differences you’ll find from town to town are huge. This is what makes Italy such a fascinating place – it’s not really one country to discover but so many different places, which means it’s almost a new cuisine in every town you visit.

On your blog, you mention an author called Pellegrino Artusi and his cookbook, known in English as Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, published in Italy in 1891. Can you tell us a bit about this book and why it fascinates you?

Italy had only been unified for 30 years when this book – documenting 790 “Italian” recipes – was published. It became the sort of cookbook every household acquired and had sitting on the shelf. Artusi himself was from Emilia-Romagna but he spent much of his life in Florence, so many of the dishes are Tuscan, or familiar to Tuscans. But it wasn’t meant to be a regional cookbook, it was more like an encyclopaedia of recipes for the “modern” housewife. I love it because it’s not only a snapshot into what Italian food was when the country was newly unified, but also because many of the recipes are still made the same way, so it’s a fantastic reference for traditional recipes. It’s a good read, too, Artusi is witty and at times hilarious in his anecdotes that accompany recipes.

Why do you think that there are many Florentine dishes that didn’t change much since medieval times?

Traditions change very slowly in Florence! They have this saying here, la squadra che vince non si cambia, or the don’t change a winning team. It’s a bit like the phrase, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Partly there’s that at play, it’s the proud nature of Florentines to continue to prepare and eat their all-time favourite dishes more or less the way they’ve been prepared for centuries. There’s also the philosophy to cook the local ingredients that have always been available for Florentines, and to use the long-time staples of the cuisine – bread and olive oil being two of the most important! These have been around for a long time and are still what humble, earthy Florentine cuisine is based on.

Can you imagine living in Tuscany for the rest of your life?

For the same reason that I’ve always found it easy to pick up and move, I can’t really imagine being in one place forever! But I’ve lived in Florence longer than any other single place on the planet, so that’s already quite an achievement! Italy is not an easy place to live in, despite the romanticism and beauty. I think that we are lucky to have the option to be able to live in two wonderful countries – Australia and Italy – whenever we want. For now, it’s Italy’s time.

Florentine, your first cookbook, came out in March this year. At the moment you’re working on your next book, Acquacotta, which will be about the cuisine of the southern Maremma area of Tuscany. It will be published exactly a year after the first one. Why did you decide to start working on the new book immediately and what feels different now, after the experience of the first book?

It came about quite quickly because we were living in Porto Ercole, in southern Tuscany for six months last year, well before Florentine came out, and it was just such a beautiful place I knew it had to be shared in the form of a cookbook! So I contacted my publisher and we talked about the pitch for a couple of months and came up with Acquacotta. She was aware that starting to work on it while I was living there would be the best way to bring it to life, so essentially I started working on Acquacotta while I was still finishing Florentine. It’s been difficult to juggle between the two and ‘switch’ from one to the other when Florentine finally came out, but the experience of the first book has helped me feel much more confident about the second one – from the recipe testing to the writing to the photographs, even how the recipes were made and shot. It really helped that I have the exact same wonderful team from Florentine working on this book too, it felt really good and seemed to just make itself, almost!

Your photography is stunning, do you prefer taking the pictures of your dishes yourself?

Thank you! I still feel like I have a long way to go – my background is in analog film photography, and I still feel like I struggle with digital photography, especially the editing part. I’m self-taught for the most part. For my blog, I take all my own photographs, but for the cookbook I took the location photographs, leaving the recipe shots to a wonderful photographer Lauren Bamford. In Australia, a cookbook is really a team effort, with one professional looking after each and every aspect of the book. For the recipe shots, I wanted to make sure the dishes looked completely authentic and real – just like how you’d find them in Florence. So I cooked them myself (with some help from my husband Marco and a home economist) and while I was busy in the kitchen, Deb Kaloper, an absolute magician in food styling, styled the dishes and Lauren Bamford took the photographs. It was a dream to work with them.

How do you develop new recipes for your book and your blog? What inspires you?

What inspires me most is travel and seeing how a place – its landscape, its history – is so strongly connected to the food that is made there and vice versa. It’s why I am so interested in regional Italian food. In Florentine I wanted to share how the food in this city belongs entirely to Florence – not just Tuscany. It’s not Tuscan food. It’s Florentine food. And for Acquacotta, which is still about Tuscany, I wanted to show people how different Tuscan food is when you come to a place like the Maremma – more isolated, less touristy, hidden, and full of beautiful, rugged landscapes, mountains and the sea, which inspire the food. For the blog, I talk about not only dishes that I’ve found in old cookbooks or tasted in a new place, but also create some travel pieces for people who might be coming to Italy on holiday and want to avoid touristy food and know where to taste the real deal.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?

In every day cooking, it’s probably my husband. Everyone who likes to cook for other people knows that the best thing about cooking is making something that you know someone else will love! In developing recipes for the blog and my books, it’s usually some old cookbooks that inspire me to try new dishes – aside from Artusi, I also love Ada Boni’s 1921 cookbook, Il Talismano della Felicita’ (known as The Talisman in English) and Elizabeth David’s Italian Food. I’ve discovered some other older cookbooks recently that I have at my bedside table too, like Patience Gray’s Honey from a Weed and Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

I can remember a few mud pies when I was very little, but from memory the first real food I made was scrambled eggs. My grandmother in Sydney taught me how to make them, using real butter and showing me how to take them off the heat when they’re still soft and wobbly, just before they look ready so you don’t risk overcooking them. I still make it the exact same way.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Florence?

My favourite food market is Sant’Ambrogio. It’s a local market on the eastern edge of town. It’s not huge but it’s got everything you’d ever need and more. Plus there’s always a nice neighbourhood vibe there, and we have a little ritual of stopping off at the news stand, then going to a pastry shop for coffee and a mid-morning treat. It’s the little things. Many of my favourite restaurants are in the same square as the market – Caffe Cibreo is a really pretty spot for coffee or lunch, and the buffet lunch at Teatro del Sale is one of my favourite food experiences in Florence. Pasticceria Nencioni a little down the street is a wonderful, tiny pastry shop and right next to the market, Semel, a little hole in the wall panino shop, makes a fantastic quick lunch – a crunchy roll with maybe some anchovies, fennel and orange (my favourite one) and a small glass of wine.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

It’d probably be my mum, I’d ask her to make me my favourite Japanese dishes – cold somen noodle salad and chargrilled baby eggplants if it’s summer, miso soup with clams, her sushi and sashimi platters. Whenever I’m home I always request sukiyaki or shabu-shabu (a hot pot dish where each diner cooks their own food in the bubbling pot in the middle of the table) at least once.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

Food that is unfussy to make (i.e. easy for the cook) and easy to share (i.e. fun and informal for the guests) – a creamy chickpea soup or a steaming pan of freshly tossed vongole and spaghetti, a roast of some sort (a whole roast fish or chicken are my favourites), stuffed with lots of herbs on a bed of roast potatoes and cherry tomatoes so you have the main and side dish in one. Dessert, either an after-dinner stroll to the gelateria or some whipped, coffee-laced ricotta with homemade lady finger biscuits to dip.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

I loved everything as a child, but in particular I loved Japanese food and Japanese sweets – anything with sweet red bean paste is my weakness! They’re still my favourite, most comforting foods, but it’s very hard to get good Japanese food in Italy so I wait until I’m visiting my mother to indulge in it.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I like the social aspect of cooking together, when you’ve got something special planned and there’s a lot to do, it’s nice to have someone to chat to while you’re chopping, or kneading or stirring all day. But when I get the chance to have some time to myself (rare these days, with a three and a half year old around!), I like to be alone in the kitchen, cooking is very therapeutic and relaxing, almost meditative, for me. That’s one of the reasons I’m looking forward to the cooler weather, so I have a good excuse for long, slow cooking and baking, my favourite ways to cook.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

I do like both, but I think I might be rather good with improvising a meal! One of my best food moments was pulling together a totally improvised meal for my very new boyfriend (so new I probably couldn’t even call him that!) from a practically empty fridge. I made him pasta with broccoli and garlic. He took one bite and said “I’m going to marry you.” And he did.

Which meal would you never cook again?

I don’t know if there’s something I’d never do, but probably things I’d change the next time I tried it. For me, right now, being a mother and writing cookbooks, I have to be a bit picky with what I cook when I have the time to do it, so I tend to lean towards low maintenance, unfussy, simple dishes. Things that are fiddly and require every minute of my attention are things I avoid lately – caramel, for example, is something I may not try for a while!

Thank you Emiko!

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

 

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

 

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

 

emiko_schiacciata8-Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

 

Emiko Davies' Schiacciata

 

emiko_schiacciata11

 

emiko_schiacciata9

meet in your kitchen | Stephanie Le’s Japanese Inspired Avocado Toast

StephanieLe1

When I started my blog back in November 2013, I didn’t really have much of an idea of what was going on in the food blog scene. It was all new to me and I was curious to see what it would be like to write about my food and share a recipe every day – my chosen task for the first 12 months of blogging. So in the beginning, I focussed a lot on my own work, but then, in the cold early days of 2014, I began to discover more and more bloggers, their approach to food, their recipes, and their style of writing. It was a whole new world to me. And when I saw the food photography on some of these pages, I knew I had to improve considerably behind the camera!

One of those blogs caught my attention at first sight. I Am A Food Blog is written by Stephanie Le from Canada. Her dishes sound and look delicious and the photography is just stunning. It didn’t surprise me in the least bit that she published her first cookbook, Easy Gourmet, in the same year I ‘found’ her. There are three things that strike me in Stephanie’s work: Her easy way of cooking – it’s not fussy at all – her unique, clean style of presenting her creations, and the fact that the world meets in Stephanie’s kitchen. You can find Canadian classics next to Chinese, Japanese, British, French, or Mediterranean dishes. It’s all comfort food, it’s all yummy, and, most of the time, it’s relatively quick and easy to prepare. The young cosmopolitan woman likes to travel the world, literally, but also in her cooking.

Camping is one of Stephanie’s latest, re-discovered travel adventures and her Camp One Pot Beef Stroganoff leaves no doubt that she’s a pro in the wilderness. The recipe she shared with me would also be a great snack for this lonely life, out in a tent, unplugged and cut off from civilization: A Japanese inspired Avocado Toast. For those days when even a camper needs a special treat.

StephanieLe6.2

Japanese Inspired Avocado Toast 

This toast is perfect when I have a sushi craving but also want avocado toast. I love a crunchy toast base and the roast-y saltiness of laver pairs perfectly with creamy avocado. The salty ikura are tiny pops of brightness and the sesame seeds add a bit of nuttiness. Seriously good!

Makes 10-12 toasts

avocado 1
toast or baguette 10-12 thin slices
baby arugula 1 handful
laver (roasted seaweed) 6 pieces
ikura (salmon roe) 1-2 tablespoons (leave out the roe for a vegetarian version)
toasted white and black sesame seeds
salt
ground pepper

Place the avocado on a cutting board and cut lengthwise, in the middle carefully, rotating around the seed. Twist half of the avocado off and remove. Place the remaining half (with the pit) on a dish towel and carefully tap your knife into the pit so that it wedges itself in. Twist the knife and remove the pit. Place the avocado, cut side down on to your cutting board and peel off the skin. Cut into 10-12 thin slices.

Top slices of toast with arugula, half a piece of laver, 2 avocado slices, a bit of the ikura, sesame seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!

StephanieLe6

When did you start your food blog I Am A Food Blog? What got you hooked on writing about food and recipes?

My husband and I started I am a Food Blog in 2012 – it was after our other food blog, where I cooked through the entire Momofuku cookbook. Cooking through Momofuku is where I learned to love blogging – taking the photos, working through recipes, and sharing stories.

You just started a camping series on your blog. What do you love about camping? What are your favourite camping spots?

Camping is just fun – it’s always hard for me to unplug and stay away from the internet. I’m pretty much addicted. So camping is a fun (and enforced) way to take a break from the internet. My husband and I hike, sit around the fire, have heart-to-hearts and generally appreciate nature. We love camping along the West Coast – all of the National and State Parks in the US have really nice sites, but they book up fast.

Can you give us some catering tips for life in a tent?

Cooking while camping isn’t really a wing it sort of thing, so make sure you’re prepared. Make a list and check it twice! I like to measure out ingredients before hand and I also like to collect tiny condiments (like tiny ketchup packets) so I can bring them along. It’s best to also consider cooking fuel – recipes that don’t take a long time to cook are best.

Which city in the world inspires you the most when it comes to food culture and why?

I love Japan and Japanese food, so I’d have to say Tokyo. And the beauty of Tokyo is that they have myriad of other types of cuisines too, so it’s very inspiring. I love their attention to detail.

You live in Vancouver, Canada, what do you like about Canadian food?

I love that Canada is multicultural. We have so many different people from different cultures here that there is a very diverse food scene, especially in Vancouver. I think everyone thinks of poutine (crispy fries topped with squeaky cheese curds and gravy) when they think of Canadian food and I have to say, I do love it. When I don’t have poutine for a while I definitely crave it. It’s a guilty pleasure.

You call your husband your chief taste-tester, do you also cook together with him?

Yes! We actually work on the blog together – he designed the site and takes photos as well. He’s actually the one who taught me to take photos. He doesn’t cook for the blog, mostly just for us, family and friends. He’s really good at things that take a long time, like soups and stews.

Did cooking and food play an important role in your family when you grew up? When did your love for the kitchen and its creations start?

I actually didn’t like food much when I was a little kid. I was super picky. Although I remember having a play kitchen that I was obsessed with. My mom gave it away when I was at school one day and I was devastated. My mom cooks a lot, both now and when we were little, so I think I learned my love for cooking from her, through osmosis.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

To be honest, I don’t remember what the first thing I cooked on my own was. I do remember baking cupcakes at day care, being extremely proud and bringing one for my mom to try.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

It would definitely be a DIY type meal: maybe tacos, or Vietnamese vermicelli bowls, or build your own salad. Something like that. I like interactive meals where everyone can make things to their individual tastes.

What was your childhood culinary favourite and what is it now?

I loved cereal when I was a kid. I used to eat it exclusively. Now, it would be entirely too difficult to choose, I love so many things. I could never give up noodles, that’s for sure.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I would say I like cooking with others, but my husband wouldn’t agree (laughing). I do love collaborating, but maybe I’m not so good at it?

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

I like both! I like the casualness of improvised meals, but if I feel any sort of pressure at all, I will need to plan because I’m a planner. I think the best of both world would be having an extremely well stocked fridge and pantry so that I could improvise without constraints.

Thank you Stephanie!

StephanieLe3

 

StephanieLe | I Am A Food Blog

 

StephanieLe6.3

 

StephanieLe7

Marina’s Lemon Marmalade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

Marina's Lemon Marmelade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

A month has passed and I have to leave my beloved archipelago in the deep blue Mediterranean Sea behind. This is the last recipe from my Maltese summer, but I’ll be back soon, in October, to present my ‘baby’ at one of my book launch events, at the fabulous Villa Bologna in Attard.

It’s been a summer full of emotions, with lots of work during the day and family gatherings or evening swims afterwards – the fun began as soon I closed my laptop and put my phone aside. I’ve been busy organizing the book launches in Europe and the US, I survived my first interviews and photo shoots and I met so many wonderful people who’ll be helping me over the next few months. To my surprise, I’ve been enjoying everything that comes along with being a cookbook author. I love giving interviews (I love talking!) and I’ve been quite lucky, I’ve only met very interesting and entertaining people to talk to so far. Photo shoots are still a bit challenging for me, I prefer to stay behind the camera. Usually, I ask my man to accompany me, he manages to make me laugh in the weirdest situations – the result is that we have lots of photos with a big smile on my face. We had a fun shoot with my friend, the great photographer Luke Engerer in Malta. He put me on the roof terrace of his house, the sea in front of me, sparkling in the light of the sinking sun. It was so amazing that I didn’t even mind getting naked on the roof to change (I just hope that none of the neighbours had a camera at hand).

The problem with such a busy schedule is that time flies even quicker. It feels like we just arrived, on that hot night in July and now it’s already mid August and I’m sitting at our dining table, back home in Berlin. For some reason, my home city must have misunderstood the season, Berlin welcomed us with autumn weather, I had to pull out the wool pullovers from the far back of my wardrobe. To ease the pain, I keep looking at the hundreds of pictures I took during the past 4 weeks and I remember every single second that I see in the pictures. I can smell the salty air, I can feel the hot wind on my skin, and I can even taste the ice cream that Marina made for us when we met in the kitchen and gardens of Villa Bologna. It was very lemony and it tasted so good – it was also the first recipe Marina ever made for me, back in the summer of 2015. This recipe is genius, it’s only made with lemon marmalade, heavy cream, milk, and the juice and zest of a Maltese lemon. We were so impatient, that she took it out of the ice cream machine as soon as the motor stopped. It was an early afternoon and so hot, that the ice cream started to melt as soon as we scooped it into the glasses. Marina topped it with caramelized pistachios and lemon zest and I can’t think of a better ice cream for summer – it was divine!

Whenever I have to exchange my Malta life for my Berlin life again, I tend to get a little stressed during our last two days on the islands. There’s a lot of packing to do, but this time we had to sort out the transportation of 33 pounds (!) of sea salt from Mr Cini’s salt pans in Gozo – and we managed. I also had to put away numerous packages of ottijiet cookies from Busy Bee and there were many fragile shells collected from the bottom of the sea waiting to be brought to Berlin to find a place on our window sills. Although they are already covered in shells, I can’t stop collecting more and more of them. When the packing is done, we have a long goodbye ceremony with the family at our granny Edith’s house, accompanied by a few tears and food. And when we’ve waved the last goodbyes and I’ve finally gone through security at the airport, I usually feel exhausted. I just want to get on the plane and relax, which always works out perfectly, thanks to the country’s national airline, Air Malta. I love their cute looking planes, their friendly staff, and the fact that I don’t have to worry about the weight of my luggage. Everyone gets 20kg (44 pounds) for free, just like in the good old days of flying.

Thank you Malta for another amazing summer! xx

And my last tip for the islands: I found a new old bakery in Rabat, they work traditionally and their baked goods are to die for!

Marina's Lemon Marmelade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

 

Marina's Lemon Marmelade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

Lemon Marmalade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios 

Makes about 1.5l / 6 cups of ice cream.

heavy cream 500ml / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
milk 500ml / 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
lemon marmalade 200ml / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
juice and zest of 1 lemon

For the topping

granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
pistachios (or almonds), roughly chopped, 50g / 2 ounces
freshly grated lemon zest

For the ice cream, chill all the ingredients and churn in an ice cream machine until creamy. If it’s still too soft, keep it in the freezer until completely frozen.

For the topping, add the sugar and pistachios to a frying pan and stir over low heat with a wooden spoon until melted. Quickly transfer the caramelized pistachios to a baking sheet and break into pieces when cool.

Divide the ice cream between bowls and sprinkle with caramelized pistachios and freshly grated lemon zest.

Marina's Lemon Marmelade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

 

Marina's Lemon Marmelade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

 

lemonmarmeladeicecream9

 

Marina's Lemon Marmelade Ice Cream with Caramelized Pistachios

meet in your kitchen | Marina Fabic’s Maltese Summer Feast at Villa Bologna

Villa Bologna

When you meet someone who follows a passion with dedication and humility, who loves every single part of the process of creation, you should stop to witness art in its purest form. Marina is this kind of person. She’s very close to nature and loves to include all her senses in her work. Whatever she does, she uses her eyes, her nose, her taste, her sense of touch to get the whole picture. Her perception is holistic, she’s a true artist, and I adore her for this reason. Food is her profession, her feel for simple yet stunning combinations of flavours is outstanding. To watch her picking fruits and vegetables in the extensive gardens of Villa Bologna, foraging for wild fennel, chives, and allspice is calming, as you can see a woman who has found her peace.

The first time we met, this Swedish lady caught me with her smile. It was at a lavish lunch at a mutual friend’s palazzo, at last year’s meet in your kitchen feature with Alex and Benjamin. Marina and I clicked straight away and decided to meet so that she could show me the place where she had just started a restaurant – which soon became the restaurant that all of our friends in Malta started talking about: The Villa Kitchen at Villa Bologna. Be it for a romantic dinner or a birthday garden party, everybody who loves food wants to visit Marina’s kitchen in the heart of Attard where the stunning villa is located.

Villa Bologna

Villa Bologna was built in 1745 by Fabrizio Grech, as an extravagant wedding gift to his daughter Maria Teresa, married to Nicholas Perdicomati Bologna, the namesake of the opulent Baroque villa. One of the family’s most politically influential descendants, born in 1861, was Gerald Paul Joseph Cajetan Carmel Antony Martin Strickland, 6th Count della Catena, also known as the 1st Baron Strickland. The busy Lord’s roles included being Prime Minister of Malta, Governor of the Leeward Islands, Governor of Tasmania, Governor of Western Australia, and Governor of New South Wales, in addition to being a member of the House of Commons and House of Lords in the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Over hundreds of years, the members of this aristocratic Anglo-Maltese family left their marks in Malta, both politically and culturally. The Stricklands are part of the Mediterranean archipelago, their roots are British, but their influences combine English and Maltese traditions. Lord Strickland and his first wife, Lady Edeline Sackville-West, had eight children. One of their daughters, Hon. Mabel Edeline Strickland, was an exceptional and remarkably modern woman of her times. She was a pioneer of emancipation, co-founder of The Times of Malta and one of the principal political leaders of the 1950s. Her older sister, Hon. Cecilia Victoria Strickland, established a strong support for the arts. Cecilia founded an arts and crafts institute in the 1950s and archived numerous traditional Maltese blue prints for lace and fabric patterns. She understood the importance of protecting the arts and knowledge of former generations. The traditional pottery attached to the premises still uses the old patterns for its beautiful designs, to create plates and platters that turn every table into a Maltese feast. I love the minimal design and its strong colours, which seems so modern even in our days, all hand painted on robust white ceramic.

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Although times have changed, the villa is still a place to learn about the past and appreciate the crafts of former generations. Cecilia’s son, Gerald de Trafford, and his wife Charlotte opened the villa to the public eye for weddings and events in the 1980s. Their son Jasper has taken care of the villa since 2009 and initiated further projects. The current restoration of the representative rooms on the villa’s ground floor should be finished in autumn, when guided tours will be offered by appointment. The visitors will get an idea of the original life at Villa Bologna. To present the house in all its glory, Marina is strongly involved in the creative process of going through hundreds of years of furniture, artworks, and tableware, as is Jasper’s mother Charlotte who has called the villa her home since she was a young woman.

Marina left London, her former home, two years ago to come to Malta and live here with her boyfriend Dom Strutt who’s a close friend of the Strickland family. She brought many years of catering experience with her, which she gathered while working as a chef in England’s capital. As soon as she arrived on the island, she started building up The Villa Kitchen, aiming for an honest, simple, and creative style of Mediterranean cooking. Marina and I have a similar approach in the kitchen, we try to avoid too many ingredients and distractions, just the right combination, with maybe one element that breaks the usual pattern. Marina’s next step is to transform her vision from food to perfume. Her senses and sensitivity that guide her explorations of the culinary world work just as well in the world of aromas and led to three unisex perfumes united under the name Neroli & Spice. The beautiful perfumes enticed me with strong notes of spices and citrus, they will be launched this autumn, at the same time as my book, which I’ll celebrate at an event at Villa Bologna. Somehow, Marina and I have had a strong bond ever since we first met under the hot Mediterranean sun.

Last week, we met to cook together and Marina turned lunch into a summer feast with family and friends from London, Malta, and Sweden. She caressed our taste buds with Gazpacho made with tomatoes and peppers fresh from the garden, refined with anchovies – her little secret – to enhance the vegetables’ flavours. The fish is not dominant, but delicious. The meal moved on to swordfish marinated in lemon oil and linguine with an amazing pesto made with lots of pistachios, fennel, and parsley, accompanied by oven roasted aubergine with pomegranate and warm rosemary focaccia. The dessert was divine, but I’ll keep it a secret for now and share it next Sunday, it’s one of Marina’s famous signature dishes!

Marina is planning a ‘Food & Travel’ trip for late September, it will be a 1 week gourmet holiday / workshop in Spain to celebrate good food and wine, click here for more information.

Follow Marina, Neroli & Spice and Villa Bologna on Instagram.

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Marina’s recipes for a summer lunch

Gazpacho Soup

Marinated Swordfish with Pistachio Sauce and Linguine

Oven Roasted Eggplant with Pomegranate and Mint

Serves 4

For the Gazpacho soup

1kg / 2 1/4 pounds best ripe tomatoes
1 red pepper
3 anchovy fillets
2 garlic cloves
100ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons best extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
sea salt
dash of Tabasco
a handful of fresh basil leaves, plus a few chopped leaves for serving
4 ice cubes, for serving

Blend everything in a food processor till smooth, season to taste, and chill. Divide the Gazpacho soup between bowls, add an ice cube, and drizzle with a few drops of olive oil and some chopped basil.

For the swordfish

150-200g / 5-7 ounces swordfish steak per person
juice and zest of 1 lemon
fresh rosemary, chopped
extra virgin olive oil
sea salt
black pepper

Spread the swordfish on a large plate. Combine the lemon juice, lemon zest, rosemary, a generous splash of olive oil, salt, and pepper, add to the swordfish, and mix well, using your hands. Let it marinate while you prepare the pistachio sauce.

For the pistachio sauce

1 tablespoon fennel seeds
100g / 3 1/2 ounces unsalted pistachio kernels
2 cloves garlic
large bunch of parsley
juice and zest of 1 lemon
100ml / 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons best extra virgin olive oil
sea salt

In a dry frying pan, toast the fennel seeds first and then the pistachios till fragrant.

Grind the fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar. Grate or finely chop the garlic. Chop the pistachio nuts and parsley quite finely and mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Add the lemon juice and olive oil bit by bit to create a sludgy texture. Season with salt to taste.

For the oven roasted eggplant with pomegranate

2 medium size purple aubergine
olive oil
sea salt
1 pomegranate
fresh mint
pomegranate syrup (optional)

Preheat the oven to 220°C / 425°F.

Slice the eggplant lengthwise and spread on an oiled baking sheet. Drizzle a little olive oil on top, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes or till dark golden. Let the slices cool to room temperature and layer on a serving dish. Sprinkle the pomegranate seeds and chopped mint on top and drizzle some syrup over, if using.

For the pasta

500g / 17 1/2 ounces linguine pasta

Cook the linguine till al dente while cooking the swordfish: In batches, panfry the swordfish steaks in olive oil, about 5 minutes on each side over medium-high heat or till slightly golden. They should be just cooked through.

Divide the swordfish, pasta, pistachio sauce, and eggplant with pomegranate between plates and enjoy.

Villa Bologna

You grew up in Sweden and lived in London for 20 years, but you’ve lived in Malta for the past few years, what made you settle in the Mediterranean?

My friend Jasper de Trafford, the owner of Villa Bologna was looking for someone to set up a cafe / restaurant at the villa and I had been looking for the right opportunity to change my London lifestyle. It was the perfect chance for us both to start a new venture.

Was it hard to switch from a northern European to a southern European culture? What do you like about the Maltese way of life?

No, it wasn’t difficult at all. I’ve always had it in my blood since my father is Slovenian and I spent much of my childhood in Portoroz on the Adriatic. I love the Maltese way of taking each day as it comes and the enthusiasm for new projects and the friendliness of the people. It’s made me feel very welcome here and has made it easy to settle in.

Do you remember what you felt when you first visited Villa Bologna?

I first visited six years ago for Jasper and Fleur’s wedding party at the villa and I was totally smitten by its’ enchanting beauty and charm. 

Having run The Villa Kitchen restaurant at Villa Bologna for 2 years, what do you enjoy most about being a chef and about cooking in general?

The best thing for me is the creative process of putting together local and seasonal produce in an endless variety. The villa has its’ own organic fruit and vegetable gardens so there is always fresh and delicious ingredients to use. It’s a cook’s dream to be able to pick and choose straight from the field to the table, so to speak. It’s also amazingly satisfying to have happy customers enjoying our food!

What inspired you to start a career in food? 

Food has always been a passion for me and I suppose that I’m a natural cook. I had an opportunity to set up a catering business in London with Andrea Bauer-Khadim, formerly of Grosvenor House and Somerset House, called Wild Peacock Events. We catered for high end occasions from weddings to intimate dinners and cocktail parties. This gave me experience in working with food on a professional level and gave me confidence to start The Villa Kitchen here in Malta. My mother Britt-Marie also encouraged me and helped me set up the cafe from scratch. She has been an enormous help and a very hands-on collaborator particularly in developing fantastic products for our shop, such as marmalade, chutneys and cordials.

You’ll be launching your first perfumes this autumn. Are there similarities in working with food, which needs the attention of all of your senses, and with fragrances, which are purely developed with the help of your nose?

Yes, this may seem like a departure from food and cooking but for me it’s very much a continuous progress. When cooking, I focus on the layering of flavours and balancing spices, herbs and other ingredients in order to achieve a whole result. There are many similarities in creating perfumes using Mediterranean scents such as citrus, spices, herbs and botanicals. The process of layering and balancing to create a specific vision is similar whether olfactory or gourmet. This crossover inspired me to create Neroli & Spice, which is launching as a niche perfume house soon. My best friend Gunilla Freeman is my partner in this venture and she brings business savvy and a brilliant eye for detail.

Do you have the final composition in mind when you start working on a dish or a perfume or do you add ingredients until the result fits your vision?

I’m strongly influenced by my travels – in particular to Egypt and North Africa – and places which hold a special place in my heart, both when creating dishes and perfumes. So I start off with a sensory memory or picture, which I then aim to evoke through experimenting and mixing until I feel that the result is right.

Where do you find inspiration for your creative projects? How do you develop new recipes – for food and perfumes?

Inspiration comes from my impressions and experiences through travel, culture and my background as a Scandinavian with roots in the Mediterranean, having lived in Sweden, Slovenia, London, Los Angeles and now Malta.

What are your future projects for Villa Bologna?

My main focus will be on curating and putting together the main rooms in the villa for it to be opened to the public. I am collaborating with the de Trafford family to create a unique insight into the way of life at this grand historic house which has been in the same family since it was built in 1745. There will be guided tours and we are looking forward to welcoming visitors to one of the finest baroque houses in Malta with its beautiful gardens and ancient citrus groves. It was the home of Jasper de Trafford’s great grandfather Lord Strickland who was Malta’s prime minister in the 1920’s as well as his daughter Mabel Strickland who founded The Times of Malta. The Villa has been used as a film location on numerous occasions and I’m sure visitors will be interested in seeing where famous actors have starred! We will also host some very special events, such as a Christmas market and classical concerts. I’m also creating a perfume especially for Villa Bologna, called Sans Mal, which is the family motto!

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

I think it was a chicken curry with peanuts and banana for a party as a teenager but I remember helping my grandmother make jams and cakes as a child. Both my grandmothers were amazing cooks.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Malta?

Malta’s has a fantastic climate which produces an abundance of fruit and vegetables all year round. For me, the best places to buy are from the farmers market in Ta Qali and from local grocers specially in my home village of Siggiewi and the farming area of Mgarr. Some of my favourite restaurants are Michaels in Valletta, Il Corsaro by the Blue Grotto, Ta Majjistra in Mgarr and Carmen’s Bar in Ghar Lapsi, where we swim every day. The Corinthia Palace hotel is also a great place to eat. I prefer simple down to earth restaurants who use the best local produce, where one can relax and enjoy the atmosphere.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

I’d ask my mother to cook creamy chanterelles on toast with mint chocolate mousse for dessert. We would sit in the garden of our summer cottage by the sea in Sweden.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

Well, I would throw together a tagine or curry or some other one-pot dish with a fresh salad from the Villa Bologna gardens. There are usually a few different ice creams and sorbets in the freezer on standby to finish off with. During the orange season I can just go and pick some delicious fruit as well.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

I loved my paternal grandmother’s apfel strudel and my maternal grandmother’s roast veal with her delicious creamy sauce, with prune soufflé to follow. I still love these dishes but I suppose I have expanded my taste somewhat. I really love good Dim Sum and a visit to The Royal China in London is always a must.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I prefer to cook on my own with an assistant for other people to enjoy!

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

I’m definitely an improvised cook and love spontaneous meals.

Which meal would you never cook again?

Anything too fiddly and I would prefer never to cook for a wedding again, it’s far too stressful.

Thank you Marina!

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meet in your kitchen | Tasting Rome with Kristina’s Maritozzi con La Panna

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As soon as the air is filled with flickering heat and the sky over Berlin is painted in the deepest sparkly blue, my mind tends to travel to the South, I’m desperately lost in Mediterranean daydreaming. One of my favourite imaginary destinations – apart from Malta – is Italy. Take me to the soft hills of Tuscany, the Renaissance statues at Florence’s Piazza delle Signora, or to the ancient city of Rome and my heart is filled with joy. My schedule doesn’t allow me to travel in person, but thanks to two American girls and their gorgeous cookbook Tasting Rome I can travel without having to leave (although I wouldn’t mind moving south for a few days).

The first time I was in touch with Kristina Gill, she asked me to come up with a sandwich recipe for her In the Kitchen With column on DesignSponge.com. She was happy with my creation, a lusciously stuffed Mediterranean Baguette, and we stayed in touch. I always assumed that Kristina lives in the US, Design Sponge is an American site. But the girl from Nashville moved to Rome almost two decades ago and dug deep into la dolce vita – into the culture, food, and history of her newly adopted hometown.

Years of walking down Rome’s cobblestoned streets, soaking up the loud scenes on the piazzas, and passing by baroque fountains and silent palaces also made her aware of the city’s vivid contrasts. To see the past and present meet, old buildings taken over for unconventional use, kitchen traditions being respectfully transformed into contemporary dishes – this lively process fascinated Kristina. When she met her pal, Katie Parla, who’s a New Jersey native, the two girls realized that they explore and experience their city in a similar way. Katie, who has a master’s degree in Italian gastronomic culture, and Kristina, the photographer and food and drinks editor, both loved documenting Rome’s lost recipes and contemporary innovations. So they decided to use their vast insider knowledge to write a cookbook together.

Tasting Rome is a collection of traditional Roman recipes and their modern interpretations. You can find pasta, vegetable, and meat classics side by side with scrumptious pizza variations and sweet Italian treats. I was impressed – and also glad – that the authors didn’t skip the city’s peasant tradition of using the whole animal, including offal, like sweetbread, liver, or tongue, and the more simple cuts of meat. It’s a tradition that corresponds with the great movement of eating sustainably and with respect for our environment.

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The two women developed the recipes together and asked the city’s great chefs for advice when it came to pizza and cocktails. The colourful pictures in the book that make you want to pack your bags and go straight to the airport – or at least to a Roman restaurant for dinner – were all taken by Kristina. Together, Katie and Kristina manage to share a taste of Rome through their words and delicious dishes.

I chose to share their recipe for Maritozzi con La Panna with you, tender sweet yeast buns filled with whipped cream. Apart from enjoying 4 (!) of these little temptations in one go with great pleasure, I was quite impressed to learn about a very simple technique that they use to roll the buns to give them a tight surface. Usually, I roll yeast buns between my two hands, holding one like a dome and the other one flat, rolling the dough about 20 times. Tasting Rome taught me to use only one hand, rolling the piece of dough and pressing it against a lightly floured kitchen counter until it’s a firm ball. It works perfectly!

The beautiful Rome pictures are by Kristina Gill, the food pictures are taken by me.

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Maritozzi con La Panna – Sweet Buns with Whipped Cream

Makes 12 maritozzi

For the sponge

warm milk (between 40-45°C / 105-115ºF) 120ml / 1/2 cup
active dry yeast 1 1/4 tablespoons (I used fast-acting yeast)
bread flour 130g / 1 cup (I used white spelt flour)
granulated sugar 1 tablespoon

For the dough

unsalted butter, at room temperature, 100g / 7 tablespoons
granulated sugar 100g / 1/2 cup
fine sea salt 1/8 teaspoon
large eggs, at room temperature, 4
bread flour, plus more for dusting, 325 g / 2 1/2 cups (I used white spelt flour. I added 90g / 2/3 cup to the dough)

For the egg wash

large egg 1
whole milk 1 tablespoon

For the filling

heavy cream 480ml / 2 cups
granulated sugar 1 tablespoon
my addition: ripe strawberries

Make the sponge: In a medium bowl, whisk the yeast into the milk, then add the flour and sugar and stir to combine. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap and set aside until it becomes puffy, about 20 minutes.

Make the dough: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, salt, and eggs on low speed.

Replace the paddle with the dough hook. Pour in the sponge, mix for a few turns, then add half of the flour. Mix on low until the dough is smooth, about 5 minutes. Add the remaining flour and mix again on low until the dough is smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. When the dough was smooth, but still too sticky, I added 90g / 2/3 cup of flour and mixed it for another 2 minutes on ‘4’ on my KitchenAid.

Allow the dough to rest in the bowl for 10 minutes, then run the mixer on low for 10 minutes to stretch the gluten. Meanwhile, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into twelve equal-size pieces (each approximately 70g / 2 1/2 ounces). Using one hand, roll each piece into a tight ball, pressing it against the counter to ensure a smooth, tight surface. Next, using both hands, roll each ball into an elongated loaf shape, fatter in the middle and tapered on the ends, about 4 inches long, similar to a small football.

Place maritozzi on the prepared baking sheets, spacing them (at least) 4cm / 1 1/2″ apart. Cover with plastic wrap, then a kitchen towel, and allow to rise in a warm place (20-25°C / 70-80ºF) until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 175°C / 350ºF.

Make the egg wash: Whisk the egg with the milk in a small bowl. Immediately before baking, brush the tops of the maritozzi with the egg wash.

Bake until deep brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to a wire rack.

While the maritozzi cool, make the filling: Whip the cream and sugar to firm peaks.

Slice each maritozzo open without cutting all the way through. Fill with the whipped cream, dividing it evenly, and serve immediately. Optionally: serve with fresh strawberries.

From Tasting Rome: Fresh Flavors and Forgotten Recipes from an Ancient City. Copyright (c) 2016 by Katie Parla and Kristina Gill. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Maritozzi

When and why did you move to Rome?

I moved to Rome in October 1999 for work. I was in the US diplomatic corps.

What fascinates you about Roman culture? Was it easy to adapt, to become a part of it?

Roman culture was a bit different then than now –  internet was far less diffuse, and people were still pretty insular. It is hard to break into a ‘friendship’ culture in which bonds are created from childhood and don’t really change. Luckily, one summer several years before I moved here for work, I stayed in an apartment in Rome with other students, and they introduced me to their friends, so when I subsequently studied in Florence and Bologna, their parents made sure I was introduced to families in both cities with children my age. I guess you could say I adapted well because I was adopted! I spent a lot of time with these families – I was never alone on holidays. As time went on, the internet brought more curiosity about other places and people, and provided a way for Romans to cultivate their interests more – people wanted to connect more and that sped up forming relationships, especially around common interests, that their traditional network didn’t provide, so I’ve seen over time that Romans have become much more open to expanding their friendships beyond that childhood crew.

What do you miss about your life in the US?

Where to start? The cheeseburgers, the supermarkets, the variety of food available from different cultures, the variety of food available period, gourmet ice cream, parking, airconditioning, well-heated homes in winter… The ability to realize a dream with your own two hands. There’s a sense of freedom in the US that I don’t feel here – young people are leaving Italy in droves so that they can pursue their dreams. I’m lucky that I am able to be a part of both places.

What is your favourite spot in Rome and why?

My Savoir Bed is my favorite place…sleeps like a dream! But if you mean in the city, there are so many public squares to sit in and soak up thousands of years of history, which I find so mindblowing and relaxing. But lately, I think my favorite place is the MAXXI Museum, designed by Zaha Hadid, where I can check out contemporary art exhibitions. Just a small modern parenthesis in the middle of an otherwise gorgeous ancient landscape.

Can you see yourself living in Rome for the rest of your life?

I would like to move back to the United States to be with my family after so many years of being away and missing everyone. Seems like my cousins’ children were born last year, but are already studying at university!! I’ve missed out on a whole generation!

You wrote your book, Tasting Rome, together with Katie Parla. How long have you know each other and who came up with the idea to write this book together?

I can’t remember how long, however, we met over Twitter, a few years back. I already had the full proposal written when I met Katie, and a couple years after we knew each other, she mentioned that she had written a proposal, a memoir I think, that had been unsuccessful and was a bit down so I said – well, I have one that you might be interested in that we could do together! I sent it to her and asked her if she thought she saw herself in it. We added her name and bio to the proposal, and worked on some refinements with an agent I had already been in contact with. I approached Katie because I thought her knowledge of the history of Roman dishes and food culture would be a valuable addition to the book that would help ground it in fact and set it apart from the typical expat book that is written more from a personal perspective and is often an adaptation of cuisine. I wasn’t wrong!

How did you develop the recipes in your book?

From the proposal and through signing the deal, I was originally going to do all of the recipes and photography in the book, and Katie the features and headnotes, but once we started working on the book and came up with the list of recipes, there were clearly items that I had never eaten, like the offal chapter, and items for which I had no capacity to develop recipes, like the baking chapter and the cocktails chapter. Also, for the classics: Amatriciana, Gricia, Carbonara, and Cacio e Pepe, since Katie spends a lot of time eating out and had written numerous articles on which restaurants’ versions were the best in Rome, we agreed that she was in the best position to identify those recipes. That left roughly half of the book for me to develop, which I did over the course of four and a half months. Sometimes I did eat out to test recipes against my memories, but for the most part, I had clear ideas of how I liked the food I was working on, I knew the elements and knew more or less how to prepare. I had to check technical books for proper frying temperatures as starting points, or baking science (sweets). I did also consult with a friend who is a pastry chef for guidance on the maritozzi because I knew I wanted a rich soft brioche dough for that, and wanted to explore various options. I also talked with a couple of chefs to find out their views on the “proper” way to prepare certain dishes. Interestingly enough, they went over both the tradition and their variations. This gave some latitude and discretion in determining an approach for the book which remained authentic. For the other half, Katie procured recipes from local mixologists, local chefs and restaurant owners, and a good friend of hers who is an amazing baker for the baking chapter. When I look at the book, I think it represents the perfect mix of everything you would encounter in Rome today that defines Rome.

Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?

On a personal level, Lucia, the mother of the family I stayed with when I studied in Florence. She has since passed away. She grew up in a town called Ristonchi a little outside of Florence, with chickens and a garden and the usual rural life. She could make the best food out of any ingredients you gave her. I loved the food made from leftovers the most. Her ribollita was the best on the planet, and her mother’s chicken broth which was liquid gold (and pure fat) made an indelible mark on my palate! She introduced me to Alessandra from Padova, whose mother, Gianna, took the cooking crown (and still wears it). Lucia, Alessandra and I both agreed that Gianna is the best – and between the three of us, we have eaten a lot of Italian cooking. Eating at Gianna’s house was better than any restaurant – and she took ‘orders’ in the morning before each meal so that when lunch or dinner came around, you had anything and everything you wanted. My inspiration from Gianna and Lucia came from their knowledge of how to prepare food, and how to be resourceful, and really how to eat. Gianna’s father was a baker. Food was always a central part of both households and you could tell that each meal was to be savored.

Has food always played an important role in your life? Do you come from a family of foodies?

Not really in the way you would think. I grew up in a household which consumed its fair share of whatever junk food was popular at the time – but which also shopped at the farmer’s market for weekend meals. My grandmother kept her own garden and fruit trees, and three freezers to keep all the produce throughout the year. I used to think she was a magician because this amazing feast appeared on the dinner table from food I hadn’t seen in the refrigerator during the day. It wasn’t until I was older that I learned about the other freezers!!

You took all the pictures in your book, when and how did you discover your passion for photography? What do you love about it?

I started taking pictures to be able to produce the In the Kitchen With column on DesignSponge, in 2008 I think. I think I started to love photography when I started taking more than just food pictures and found that capturing my environment was a way to see all the things I overlooked when I just passed through on my daily routine. It was like discovering a new world.

Do you prefer to capture the atmosphere of a city with your camera or delicious food?

Both. I love to explore a culture through its food, why certain ingredients or cooking techniques play the role they do, how the cuisine of one city differs from another and why. I love to capture the mundane and everyday of a city with my camera.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory? 

I can’t remember! But in high school I think I used to make pizza from ready made pizza dough, and at university, I prepared a meal from an African cookbook, featuring mostly Ethiopian food and my friends and I all liked it a lot!

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Rome?

My Saturday routine is concentrated in one neighborhood. Before the market I have a pastry (made in house) from Fabrica, a cafe near the market. Then at the Trionfale market I buy fish, produce, and a lot of Asian food staples (lime, rice noodles, bok choy, tamarind paste, palm sugar, ginger, galangal etc). I get cheese and nduja from La Tradizione (which is near Trionfale market). I pick up wine and alcohol from an enoteca named Costantini. I pick up oatmeal (flakes) from the healthful store around the corner from my office. It is a chain called Il Canestro. When I don’t have time for breakfast at home, I stop by Bar Benaco on the way to work because they make all their pastries in house and I can get them while they are still warm. I don’t eat out a lot because I have a bazillion cookbooks and am always excited to try new recipes, but when I do, I eat most often at Cesare al Casaletto because they always find me a table, or takeaway pizza from a place near my house or at pizzeria Tonda.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

Bryant Terry, anything he’d like. I would love it all. Unless it had beets in it.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

I learned about Bo Ssam pork at a meal at Matt Armendariz and Adam C. Pearon’s house. I would prepare Bo Ssam, and a selection of Asian-inspired salads. For dessert, a maple hazelnut cookie by Nigel Slater, and a selection of chocolates and coffee.

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

This is tough because I have no memory of a favorite food… Meatloaf maybe! Now… I have too many favorites, but cheeseburgers are top of my list. And dumplings. Chinese, Korean, Japanese…

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two years working on the book alone – not just developing the recipes, but also preparing food for the photography. I styled about half of the recipes in the book, and Adam C. Pearson did the other half and the cover. When I was in the studio shooting, I did a lot of food prep as well, and enjoyed the atmosphere and working with Adam and his team of stylists. It’s definitely easier working with others! But sometimes, cooking is therapy and being alone is great.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

As long as it’s good, either is fantastic!

Which meal would you never cook again?

I made some dog biscuits for my dog once that were made of like chopped liver and garlic or something. When they started to bake, the smell was SO BAD, I thought I’d have to move out of my apartment. He loved the cookies, but that smell stayed around for a LONG time and it was AWFUL.

Thank you Kristina!

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Maritozzi

 

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Maritozzi

meet in your kitchen | Somer Sivrioglu’s ‘Anatolia’, Sydney, and Cheese and Egg Pizza

Cheese and Egg Pizza

Some books make you fall in love with its captivating pages from the moment you lay your hands on it. Anatolia, by Somer Sivrioglu and David Dale, is one of them. This outstandingly beautiful cookbook is rich in pictures, stories, and recipes. It takes you to another world of flavours, ingredients, and unknown combinations and it makes you want to go straight to your kitchen to bring this exciting new discovery right into your home – or at least a bite of it.

The first recipe I tried from this book, was pide, thin Turkish pizza. Somer makes it with an aromatic minced lamb topping, which is divine, however, when I gave it a second go, I sneaked in a dark Provençal olive tapenade, and shared it on eat in my kitchen. Somer liked my version so much that he shared it on Facebook, we started chatting, and here’s the result: Our cross-continental Berlin-Sydney meet in your kitchen feature!

Cheese and Egg Pizza

My guest grew up in Turkey, in Istanbul, where he lived with his family until he was 25. But one day, the young man decided to explore life on the other side of the world and moved to Sydney. His dream came true and he started an impressive career in food that led to two fantastic restaurants and an award-winning cookbook. Somer runs the popular Efendy that opened in 2007, featuring contemporary Turkish cuisine in the Balmain district. Anason his second ‘baby’ – was next, which only just opened its doors to the public world, but it’s already one of Sydney’s new culinary hot spots.

This man is busy and I don’t know how he managed to write a cookbook on top of his packed schedule as a chef, but he did, and the result takes the globe by storm: Anatolia: Adventures in Turkish Cooking won the prestigious international IACP award (former winners are luminaries such as Thomas Keller, Claudia Roden and Julia Child). I’m sure it will keep its place in the front row of my book shelf for quite a while. Somer is a passionate chef, he loves food, and this shines through in every project that he pulls onto his table. Congratulations!

My weak spot for Turkish pizza made me go for another pide recipe from Somer’s book, which I share with you today: slim pide filled with an aromatic cheese mixture of 4 different cheeses, green pepper, tomato, and a baked egg. This dish calls for a relaxed dinner on the balcony or in the garden, with a glass of chilled crisp white or rosé wine and a fresh salad on the side. May only the temperatures rise and summer begin!

Cheese and Egg Pizza

Pide with Four Cheeses

Serves 4

For the dough

dry yeast 1 tablespoon
water, lukewarm, 50 – 100ml / 3 1/2 tablespoons – 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon
granulated sugar 1 teaspoon
plain flour 300g / 2 1/3 cups
strong flour 150g / 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons
milk, lukewarm, 50ml / 3 1/2 tablespoons
salt 1 teaspoon

For the cheese filling

4 cheese-mixture, grated or crumbled, 100 – 140g / 3 1/2 – 5 ounces (depending on how rich you’d like your pide)
(such as feta, aged ricotta, blue cheese, and mozzarella or provolone)
egg 1
chopped fresh oregano 2 teaspoons
(or about 1/2 – 1 teaspoon dried oregano)

For the topping

large tomatoes, thinly sliced, 2
large green pepper, cut in half, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced, 2
eggs 4
vegetable oil 2 tablespoons (I used olive oil)

Dissolve the yeast in 50ml / 3 1/2 tablespoons of the water. Stir in the sugar and set aside for 5 minutes. It should start to form bubbles.

Sift the flours into a large bowl, make a well in the middle, and pour in the yeast mixture and the milk. Knead the dough for 10 minutes, or until it reaches earlobe softness. Add more of the water if necessary (I used all of the water). Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and let it rest and rise for 30 minutes.

Add the salt to the dough and knead for 3 minutes. Place the dough on a floured work surface and form it into a cylinder, then cut it into 4 equal pieces. Cover and let rest for another 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F. If you have a pizza stone or tile, place it in the oven. Or leave a baking sheet in the oven so it will preheat.

Combine the crumbled cheeses in a large bowl. Add the egg and fold and mix until combined; stir in the oregano.

On a floured working surface, stretch the pieces of dough into ovals, about 30 x 20cm / 12 x 8″ and 5mm / 1/4″ thick; or use a rolling pin.

Transfer the 4 pides to 2 pieces of parchment paper. Spoon a strip of the cheese mixture in the middle of each oval, leaving a 5cm / 2″ rim all around the edges. Fold over the 2 longer sides so they touch the filling but don’t cover it. Join the folded edges at the top and bottom to make a boat shape. Press each into a point and twist to close tightly. Arrange 6 slices of tomato and 4 slices of pepper on each pide and break an egg into the middle. If you don’t want the egg to be cooked through, bake the pides without the egg for 7 minutes, then add the egg, and bake for another 7 minutes or until golden brown.

Brush the tops of the dough with oil.

If you’re using a baking sheet preheated in the oven, take it out of the oven and pull 1 parchment paper with 2 pides over onto the hot baking sheet; or transfer 2 pides with the parchment paper onto the hot pizza stone or tile in the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Enjoy warm.

Cheese and Egg Pizza

Growing up in Istanbul, Turkey, in the 1970s and 1980s, during a time of severe political unrest, how would you describe your life as a child and teenager? What are your memories of those days?

I was born and raised in Kadikoy, Istanbul, one of the last multicultural suburbs of Istanbul, where the few of the last descendants of Greek, Armenian and other non-muslim population lived after the rise of nationalist policies drove them out of the city they lived in for many generations. Although the 1970s were chaotic, we felt safe on the streets as the community values were very strong back then, everyone knew and looked after each other.

Why did you leave Turkey in your twenties and move to Sydney?

I came to study for my MBA degree and to live in another country to find my own voice.

What does having your own restaurants – Efendy and Anason – mean to you, is it a dream come true? 

My restaurant, Efendy, and the amazing team gave me the chance to represent Turkish food in a country where it was only known as kebaps and Turkish bread before we opened.

Your mother worked as a restaurant consultant, do both of you share a similar philosophy when it comes to food, cooking, and running a restaurant? Does she give you advice and do you listen?

She ran a number of restaurants /meze bars and I learned a lot from working with her, as to sharing the same philosophy fundamentally, yes, but I challenge myself to progress and she is a bit more conservative. I think we are both challenging each other in that aspect. She gives me advice, typically I would ignore, or pretend to ignore, but do it later on anyway (laughing).

Who is your biggest inspiration in the kitchen?

My grandma, Akife, was my childhood influence, as she was one of the first modern females to complete a home economics degree and she took cooking classes as part of it. She was a great example of how to create excellence from scarcity.

How did the Turkish cuisine influence your perspective as a chef? How do you develop new recipes?

Turkish food is all about seasonality, abundance and variety. As a chef, it made me think about using the right produce at the right season and applying various drying, pickling, and preserving techniques to my cooking. I used to create the recipes and get my chefs to cook them at Efendy, but now I ask them to create recipes that means something to them, from their heritage, and I learn and coach them to fine tune them to put in our seasonal menus at Efendy and Anason.

How long did you work on your cookbook Anatolia? Can you describe the creative process of this wonderful book, which you wrote together with David Dale?

Three years from concept to print. As a first time book author, I was lucky enough to work with one of the best food journalists, David Dale, and he coached me thorough the whole process. We have been to Turkey twice together visiting cities all over the country, talking to masters of craft and adapting the recipes to Australian and European readers where they can cook with common ingredients that can be found at any farmers’ market.

What is your favourite Turkish and your favourite Australian dish?

Turkish: Kalkan – Black-Sea turbot.

Australian: Mud crabs cooked over the BBQ.

What do you miss about Istanbul?

I am lucky enough to go back every year. Eating seasonal fish and drinking raki on the Bosphorus with family and friends is one thing I yearn for and do every time I am back. In fact, I am in Istanbul at the moment.

What was the first dish you cooked on your own, what is your first cooking memory?

I remember helping my grandma buttering the layers of her lamb borek, she had the scariest looking electrical round oven where all the cables and elements were exposed.

What are your favourite places to buy and enjoy food in Sydney? 

My favourite shopping spot was at Growers Market at Pyrmont, unfortunately they closed, so currently it’s Eveleigh Markets every Saturday.

Favourite cafés: Le Cafeier in Balmain and Edition Coffee pop-up at Barangaroo, both located next to my restaurants and keep me going all day and night.

So many restaurants to mention but I love the next-gen Turkish restaurants in Sydney like Pazar Food Collective, Stanbuli and Sefa Kitchen.

If you could choose one person to cook a meal for you, who and what would it be?

I would love my babaanne (paternal grandmother) to cook something from her Albanian heritage, as we lost her when I was very young and never learned that part of my culinary culture.

You’re going to have ten friends over for a spontaneous dinner, what will be on the table?

It won’t be on the table but the spring lamb on a spit would be next to the table and complemented with some mezes and seasonal salad accompanied by raki or a few nice bottles of Öküzgözü (Turkish red wine variety).

What was your childhood’s culinary favourite and what is it now?

I loved my anneanne’s karniyarik and borek, nowadays, I love having a simple grilled fish or a nice steak on a charcoal BBQ.

Do you prefer to cook on your own or together with others?

Of course cooking with others, I don’t like cooking by myself or eating by myself.

Which meals do you prefer, improvised or planned?

Improvised, as it has an element of surprise and spontaneity.

Which meal would you never cook again?

Bombe Alaska (Baked Alaska). Many years ago, when I was working in banquets at a hotel, I made it for a wedding of 1000 people not knowing how it is made. Lesson learnt.

Thank you Somer!

Cheese and Egg Pizza

 

Cheese and Egg Pizza

 

Cheese and Egg Pizza

 

Cheese and Egg Pizza

 

Cheese and Egg Pizza

 

Cheese and Egg Pizza

 

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somercheeseeggpide9

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