Last week, this blog turned 11 years old. On the same day, February the 1st, we celebrated 1 year of our podcast, Cooking with an Italian Accent, and 3 years of Romula, the company that Tommaso and I created to officially work together, a commitment that anticipated our wedding, too! The name of our company, Romula, was inspired by Caterina Maria Romula di Lorenzo de’ Medici. We chose an ambitious name for our company. Our mission is to work together to share our love for the Tuscan and Italian food, for authentic and genuine recipes. Caterina de’ Medici looked like a good example for this. You can read more about her here.
The result of these celebrations is a reflection on what is food for me. But what would be a party without a cake? So, at the bottom of this post, you will find also a recipe, which is ancient and modern at the same time, Artusi’s lemon pudding. After all, we are still in the peak of the citrus season.
What is food for me.
In Italy, we tend to use many English words in our everyday language, as they sound smart, and often manage to communicate a comprehensive meaning which would be otherwise impossible to explain in such a concise way. Take food writing, for example, that defines a profession which is still new here in Italy, and therefore it lacks a proper definition. I wrote about this here.
When it comes to food, though, I cannot call it food, with an English word, as the industry often does. I call it cibo, with the proper Italian word. I feel like I am commercializing a term that is part of our social, cultural, historical and human fabric, transforming it into a trend. But food, food is not a passing fad.
Food is an instrument of personal growth.
After 11 years of blogging, a love born by stirring a ciambellone on a kitchen stool with mum, 5 cookbooks, a podcast, countless projects never launched or lost along the way, and numerous dreams kept among the pages of a notebook, I keep asking myself what is food for me.
I haven’t grown tired of writing recipes. For a while, I wondered if it was enough, if I wasn’t dumbing down a topic bigger than me. Then I realised that food is enough for itself and, at the same time, it crosses borders.
When you talk about food, you touch on history, culture, personal and shared memories, nutrition and creativity, sustainability and ecology. Through food, you implicitly talk about your choices, your values, your life.
Food has been an instrument of personal growth and self-affirmation, a lens through which I could discover the external world and explore my inner universe, sometimes all the more complex and multifaceted.
Food gave me strength when I thought my legs weren’t steady enough to enter a room full of people without tripping. I would send forward a crostata, clutching it in my hands, the scent of butter and jam my weapon against shyness. Speaking about chocolate and Julia Roberts, I struck up a conversation with Laura, that then became my best friend since the University years.
The food blogs, the recipe books, the spice cabinet that I was slowly filling up with new ingredients, stirring a risotto once home from the office to clear my mind and rolling out fresh pasta on mum’s tablecloth, the blue checkered plastic one: all this showed me a way when I felt lost. It gave a new meaning to my degree in communication and to the words of a professor that told us: if you choose this faculty, you will have the tools to invent your new job.
Food revealed me I could be stubborn, it transformed the setbacks into moments of reflection and occasions to discover what was really important to me. Thanks to food, I found my place in the world, an identity and an extra bit of courage.
Food is tradition.
I cook according to the seasons: Christmas means panforte and ricciarelli, at Carnival time I fry rice fritters and cenci, in the summer I can our tomato preserve. There is no one who forces me to do it, it is not a family or a customer request, I do not make it for the sake of Instagram. It is an inner urge, an almost physical need, a way to mark the passage of time and seasons.
I better understood who I am through traditional recipes, those from Tuscany and those from Basilicata, where the southern branch of my family is from: on one side the pappa al pomodoro and my grandmother’s lasagna, on the other hand, the meatball pasta bake and the calzoncelli. Now I am also weaving together Tommaso’s traditions with mine, to create our own way of celebrating and marking the passage of time. Every Easter I wait for the almond paste lamb that his uncle brings us from Lecce, in the summer I eat the ripe tomatoes from the garden with barley friselle.
As I grew up, traditions grew with me, giving a new meaning to who I am, in this precise moment of time.
Food is discovery.
There are moments when, sitting with a new book, I feel a thrill, the thrill of discovering something new, whether it is a new technique, a new recipe to make short crust pastry, a new author or a theory on nutrition. Books like Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, by Samin Nosrat, or The way we eat now, by Bee Wilson, or The Third Plate, by Dan Barber, are worlds where I gladly get lost to find myself again. They help me to add elements to my cooking philosophy, to change my mind, and I am happy to do it, or to confirm something that I felt only in my guts.
In these 11 years, I have attended food writing and food photography workshops, cooking and baking classes, courses dedicated to better understand the chemistry of cooking, or photo editing. I studied how to better write about oneself, the use of Instagram and Mailchimp. Each of these classes has enriched me, pushing me to research, to improve myself.
The work of food is a craftsman’s job, in which you progress with small steps, with perseverance, with a clear attention to beauty and detail. You move forward getting your hands dirty, but also your apron, and your clothes, as far as I am concerned.
What is food for you? Does it have a special meaning, or a value? Or is it more related to planning, or enjoying? Is it a way to release your stress, or to affirm yourself? Or both, as in my case?
Artusi’s lemon pudding
This is the food I like. Something you get wrong, so you bake it again, ancient and modern, a recipe that makes you ask questions, that ignites curiosity. Something you eat with joy, collecting all the crumbs left in the saucer with your finger. Artusi is considered the father of the Italian cuisine, you can read it more about this here.
I like Artusi’s recipes because they are always surprisingly modern, as in the case of this lemon pudding, made with almond flour – for him the same amount of very fine pounded almonds -, sugar, eggs and a whole lemon. A recipe that was already gluten-free and dairy-free, rich in protein, perfect for a hearty breakfast.
Artusi calls it lemon pudding, budino di limone, but it is more like a moist cake with an intense lemon scent.
This lemon pudding reminds me of the Sephardic orange and almond cake, made famous by Claudia Roden in the 1960s in her A Book of Middle Eastern Food. With Claudia Roden’s cake, you would use two oranges instead of one lemon, but the procedure is identical, as is the ingredient ratio. These cross references between books, great authors and gastronomic cultures fascinate me, and made these lemon puddings even more special.
In the recipe, Artusi obviously does not indicate the size of the pan or the oven degrees. When I told my grandmother she commented. So I made some attempts, one rather unsuccessful, to get to define the temperature and size of the mould: eventually the solution was to cook the lemon pudding at a lower temperature, into 8 ramekins, which must be filled almost to the edge.
Artusi’s lemon pudding
- 1 organic lemon
- 170 g (3/4 cups) sugar
- 170 g (6 oz) almond flour
- 6 eggs
- 1 tablespoon rhum
- Preheat the oven to 160°C (320°F).
- Start by cooking the lemon in a saucepan. Cover the lemon completely with water, bring to a boil, then simmer the lemon over low heat, covered, for about two hours. Be careful so that the lemon does not consume all the water.
- Once cooked, drain the lemon, open it to remove the seeds, then blend it until you get a thick pulp.
- Mix the lemon pulp well with sugar, almond flour, the six egg yolks and a tablespoon of rum. Separately, whip the egg whites until soft peak form, then gently fold them into the batter.
- Grease and flour 8 moulds and fill them with the lemon batter. Do not fill them to the brim.
- Bake the lemon puddings for about 35 minutes, or until they are golden brown.
- Serve them warm or cold. If you prefer, you can also leave them inside the mould, then eat them with a spoon.
- Founding Editor-In-Chief Dorothy Kalins on How the Food World (And Whole Wide World) Has Changed Since Saveur’s First Issue. Un articolo interessante su come era il mondo del cibo 25 anni fa, alla nascita di Saveur.
- Feeling Down? Scientists Say Cooking and Baking Could Help You Feel Better. Speaking of the importance of food, there are studies that claim that doing something creative every day, just like cooking or baking, can do a lot for happiness and personal satisfaction in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
- Claudia Roden’s orange and almond cake. After Artusi’s lemon pudding, now you can try also Claudia Roden’s cake.