Food blogger heaven

One day I will tell you about the gnocchi that float like clouds on a  pool of herbed butter. But today, I want to look back on the Sicilian days and think about the company, not just the food.

You see, all my life has been a food talk desert of sorts. Chez nous, one doesn't talk about food at table, thank-you-very-much. Yes, you may say "this is very good", but actually, it's always very good, so why would you? Signify your approval by asking for seconds, take your plate to the kitchen, and now let's have some coffee and Cifras y Letras.
In my family we even have a running joke about people who ask about empanada fillings, the gist of which is to signify how utterly lame it is to talk about such things as empanada fillings.

Which is to say, I could not have been happier during that week, sharing a table with a set of people who, apart from being very talented cooks, photographers, writers and what have you, are above all a magnificent bunch of  food geeks. It was heaven. Imagine coming back from a beautiful twilight walk in the countryside, being given a chilled glass of wine, an apron, and sitting around while dinner is made. Fabrizia presides over the assembly, cooking, explaining, chatting, and handing out small jobs (chop this, sift that, go look for some mint in the garden, please). There is a relaxing background noise of cameras snapping, and a constant stream of talk. About the food here, there, everywhere. About utensils, ingredients, restaurants, methods, history, whatever. I do a drawing, nibble on some fritters (Sicily is big on fritters, bless it), have some more wine, and think, well, well, I can´t think of anywhere I´d rather be.


Sicilian orange and fennel salad

I'm having a slight case of blogger's block. I want to write about my trip to Sicily, but it's hard to know where to start. I´m still taking it all in, and somehow homesick. It sounds silly, since it´s not my home, but we were make  so welcome by Fabrizia that it felt like it.

I thought I would mention a few dishes, and maybe round it off with one of the recipes, but I couldn´t choose. We went through such a whole lot of stuff, from deceptively simple fried vinegary sardines to the baroque multilayered fantasy of cassata to potatoes in saffron that were just like the papas en amarillo I know from home. Every kind of food, in every note accross the scale. What would I write?

Then it occurred to me that a common theme in all those meals was the salad. There was always a salad of some sort, served on a moon shaped plate. We never had the same salad twice, I'm pretty sure,  but the point of them was always the same: to provide a  crunchy, fresh, almost discreet relief from the fireworks in the main, round, plates. Like the clowns in the circus,  coming between the high wire acts.

Of course these salads were all made from whatever there was in the kitchen garden. Right now, in early spring, that means fennel, frisée, wild radish greens, perhaps, and citrus: oranges, or some special salad lemons, or both.

Now, I live in Aberdeen, which puts me very, very far from that horticultural idyll. When I say "whatever I can find"  I don't mean whatever there is in the garden, but whatever they have in the supermarket. And let me tell you, that can often mean, "not much".

So when I made myself a salad of just oranges and fennel, with some some parsley leaves added for colour, I though, this is never going to cut it . But you know what? It was beautiful. Fresh, and sweet, and crunchy and yes, it took me straight away to Sicily. So if you'll forgive me resorting to the clichéd quote, it was a case of changing things so they would stay the same, and it worked.

I will be blogging more about our trip to the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, but also be sure to check out what Béa, Nicky and Oliver, Melissa, Keiko and Chika post. Prepare to swoon at the pictures, and to develop strong cravings for ricotta in all its forms.

Nostalgic Sicilian salad, for one

Half a fennel bulb
One orange
A few parsley leaves
Olive oil, salt, pepper

Shave or slice the fennel as thin as you can. Cut the orange over it, so not a drop of juice is lost. The shape doesn't really matter (to me, anyway , since I have the advantageof drawing my food). Leave the parsley leaves whole.
Now sprinkle with salt, drizzle with oil, crack a bit of black pepper and that's it.



I´m still adjusting to real life after my week at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school. It was so good.
For now, I´ll leave you with this drawing of Case Vecchie from the garden.
More soon, I promise.


Pitti Taste, Florence.

I've just come back from the Pitti ImmagineTaste fair in Florence. The kind of weekend that spoils you for real life, almost.

There I was, ambling around the fair, sampling a slice of cotecchino or a morsel of guanciale, nibbling on some fantasticaly shaped provolone, drawing a bit and thinking, my o my, I could get used to this.

Italians are just so cool in everything they do, aren´t they? They´re just better, let´s face it. It´s not that we don´t have ham in Spain. We have the best ham in the world (hey, of course!), and oil, and wine, and cheese. It´s just that theirs is not only great, it looks fabulous. I guess they invented the whole Caesar´s wife thing, so they sure know how to apply it.
Also, what´s with everyone´s looks? Spanish jamón merchants tend to be apple-cheeked fellows who look like they could lift one of their prize ibéricos with one hand, but there at Pitti Taste it was all sleek young things with Gucci shades. Or maybe the truffle fumes were going to my head.

Anyway. I took the opportunity to try out balsamic vinegars at the Giuseppe Giusti stand. The misuse of balsamic glaze is a pet peeve of mine, so I was curious to see if the aged stuff was as good as they say. It is, of course. It is out of this world, and so I thought by the time I had tried the six-year-old and the ten-year-old. By the time we got to the twenty-year-old I was seriously considering sipping the stuff recreationally, drop by drop, all day.

Thanks to the size of my suitcase and the lovely security rules that make traveling such a joy these days, I was not able to bring back a bottle of the elixir. 
And when I saw the sad travesty I keep in my cupboard to liven up strawberries, I almost wept. But then I remembered Sally Schneider, who usually comes to the rescue. Her recipe for Balsamic caramel seems to be a good solution to silly, cheap balsamic, so I will try it and promise to write about it. In the meantime, check this one out.

I also met the wonderful Elizabeth Minchilli, whose blog about eating in Rome is a new favourite. It will be up on the links list when I next spring clean the blog, but for now, click here.

And now, it´s off to pack. Tomorrow I leave for Sicily, to meet a bunch of celebrity food bloggers at the Anna Tasca Lanza school in Sicily. The best couple of weeks in the year, for sure.

More drawings of Florence in my other blog.


Grilled bacon open sandwich

Bacon is pretty much guaranteed to lift any meal out of the hundrum shallows. You knew that already.
However, did you know about this nifty little trick, buried in a page on vegetables in An everlasting meal? It´s very simple: you broil/grill very thin sliced bacon directly on top of a slice of bread or toast. Witness the genius. All that lovely lovely bacon fat seeps directly into the bread, and it doesn't matter much that only the upside is crisp because the underside is cooked and mingling with that bread already. 
It is perfect. In the book you´re supposed to cook some garlic to spread on the bread, but that´s just gilding. However, if you happen to have a jar of the magic onion jam in the fridge, it will be very very good, and much easier.
It is very very quick, easy, there´s little cleanup and you´re guaranteed a wow, even if the only thing else is a bowl of leek and potato soup, or a mound of slaw. And If you serve that bacony bread on the side of a mountain of garlicky greens, expect a ticker tape parade at least.


Solo dining

Solo cooking is a favourite writing topic. It is a subgenre in the subgenre that is food writing, and to conform to the norm, it must be confessional and a little bit gross. Chocolate chip omelettes are expected, or at the very least some form of cold cereal nestling in a sandwich, atop canned seafood.

Me, I am not like that. Weird it may be, but I don´t mind cooking when it´s just for me, and it doesn´t drive me to extremes. Here´s a list of stuff I´ve made for just myself over a week J has been away. Leftover turned up more than once, as did soups frozen beforehand. Dough from the pizza fest on Sunday became a bäco (Google it) and some flatbread to go with broccoli. There were nights of just fruit and shortbread.
Et cetera.
I don´t count the fishcakes snaffled from the kids´ plates, or breakfast, or the mid-morning apple. These are meals I have sat down to, and enjoyed very much, thank you.