I have been away for a while but I have a good excuse. I turned (eek!) 40 a couple of days ago and the viking organized a week long – indian wedding style – celebration to mark the milestone.
A surprise party on Wednesday was followed by a great dinner at one of the cosiest Japanese restaurants in Geneva, where he announced that we are going to Japan next year (heart, please, be still). The week-end we travelled to Annecy where we ate at the restaurant of Laurent Petit, a French chef awarded two stars by the frightening Michelin Star Guide, who only cooks with local vegetables, herbs and fish; no meat.
It was 8 courses of pure bliss and I literally fell in love with a braised fennel. It must have been the (too) fancy atmosphere or the fact that the cheese trolley was longer than our car but I realized two things: 1. I will never be awarded a Michelin star, and 2. I am fine with it as long as I can cook what I love.
You see, I work in communications but my dream is to open Amelia – a small food store of Italian produces that also serves little known Italian regional dishes, with a simple food and wine menu that follows the seasons.
Amelia was a lady who lived in our street in the village where I grew up. She owned a tiny store where I used to go every morning to buy the Italian classic panino con prosciutto e provola (ciabatta bread with Italian style ham and smoked provola cheese) before running to school. Her question was always the same: How expensive do you want it? My answer was always: “1000 lire”, which corresponds to 50 euro cents.
Amelia was not just a shop owner, she and her son Guglielmo were also the protagonists of one of the stories my grandfather used to tell me when I was little. The story was always the same but the details changed every day. What I loved the most was him describing all the produces that Amelia kept in the shop: mortadella and San Daniele hams hanging from the ceiling, canned tomatoes piled on the shelves, a Parmesan cheese bigger than a car tire, barrels full of olives, chili peppers filled with tuna, mozzarella cheeses braided like horse tails, fresh pasta… Every single time my grandfather told me the story my question was always the same: ” Ma nonno, cosa c’era nel negozio?‘ (But grandad, what could you find in the store?).
Opening Amelia it’s just a dream, but every night before falling asleep I imagine the store I would build: the marble countertops, the red charcuterie slicer, the old tables. And, like I used to do when I was a child, today I fall asleep with the smell of food in my nostrils.
400 gr of almonds, unpeeled
200 gr icing sugar
few drops of bitter almond essence
few drops of vanilla essence
1 liter of cold water
1. Put the almonds in boiling water. Boil 5 minutes. Drain and start peeling (excellent mindfulness exercise). Turn on the oven at 200 C. When you have peeled all the almonds put them in the oven for 5-7 min until they dry and brown slightly.
2. In a food processor add the icing sugar, the bitter almond and vanilla essence and the almonds. Blitz until it becomes a paste. To help the process add 2-3 spoons of cold water.
3. You should now have a sticky dough that holds together. Wrap it in clean film and put in the fridge for 30 min. When the time has passed put half of the almond dough and half a liter of cold water in a blender. Blend for a few minutes. Put the liquid in a container. Repeat with the other half water and dough. Put in the container and let it rest in the fridge covered with clean film for 2 hours.
4. Using a cheese cloth squeeze out the almond and sugar milk in a container. If you own a gelato machine pour the liquid in it and wait until the granita has formed (30 min). If you don’t own a gelato machine, put the liquid in a pot or a glass ware and put it in the freezer. You need to go back after 30 min to stir it, and then after two hours. Keep stirring until the granita has formed.
5. You can serve the granita with whipped cream or with some espresso coffee. You can also use the granita to make Iced Coffe like they do in Puglia: make an espresso and add a generous amount of granita. Voilà the perfect summery iced coffee.
Crunchy Zucchini Flowers
10 zucchini flowers
5 anchovy fillets
150 gr dry bread
100 gr of bread crumbs
50 gr parmesan
100 gr of fontina cheese cut into small cubes
salt and pepper
olive oil EVO
some parsley and one clove of garlic
200 gr flour
10 gr dry yeast
150 gr water
salt & sugar
1. mix slightly warm water with the yeast. Add the flour. Mix well. Add one pinch of salt and one pinch of sugar. Mix again. It should look like a thick pancake mixture. Cover and let it raise for 30 min.
2. Put the dry bread in some water and let it soak for 30 min. Squeeze the water out, make the bread into crumbles. Add the parmesan, bread crumbs, 3 tbsp of olive oil, the anchovy fillets cut in small pieces, a pinch of salt, the garlic, two zucchini flowers finely sliced, some parsley and one egg. Mix well. Let it rest for 30 min.
3. Warm some frying oil in a wide pan.
3. Fill the zucchini flowers with the bread mixture and add one or two cubes of cheese. Don’t worry if the flowers break, they’ll be covered by the dough. Close the flowers and plunge them into the dough mixture. Fry them for 3 minutes each side or until they are nice and brown.
4. Serve warm.
5. If the filling is too much for the flowers. Make the leftovers into small balls and fry them. You won’t regret it.