When our friends decide to take the country road to join us for dinner, my goal is to put together dishes, seasonality and personal preferences in a menu that makes everyone happy, that makes them feel welcomed and satisfied. I also try to leave room for something sweet, for a coffee and one of those spirits that I make at home specifically for these moments.
My everyday life, though, is cooking for two. I fantasised about this moment for years, daydreaming about recipes that I would cook, the preferences and tastes of my future lover, all the preserves that I would accumulate in the pantry and this aforementioned well-stocked pantry, which in my dreams could deal with several days of snow (incidentally, here we get snow once every two years and for just a few hours).
When Tommaso and I decided to move together after a few years of breathtaking commuting in between the Sienese countryside and Florence, surprisingly, at least for me, the biggest challenge was the new routine of shared daily meals ,made of breakfasts, lunches, snacks and dinners. Those meals tended to repeat every day, at set times, ideally, but more often at absurd hours, depending on when I would end my photo shootings.
It took me so long to figure out how to shop, how to avoid food waste – you don’t want to know how many celery stalks sadly wilted in the fridge… – how to alternate proteins, how to calculate the right amount of food to cook. After more than two years of living happily together, I still look at him furtively during a meal to see if I guessed his taste, if that ricotta and broccoli flan is something that I can make into a family classic or if maybe I’d better go back to already consolidated recipes.
In a perfectly balanced household, where everyone has his duties and chores, I cling to the privilege and fun of cooking and organizing the weekly menu. I cheerfully leave him with the attempts to remove my fanciful stains from clothes and aprons, with tending to fires – mum always tells me that I would be a pitiful Vestal -, with loading the dishwasher, where he applies cutting edge architectural theories, and with all the other chores that turn him into a handyman, with a dungaree and a toolkits.
I live cooking as an act of love and generosity towards someone else, which could be Tommaso, my family or a group of friends.
I pour over myself this very same attention when I am alone at home and I am the only one sitting at the table for a meal. I’ve always used these moments to pamper myself and to choose my favourite ingredients. My soffritti are enriched with garlic, thin slices of fresh onion add a note, let’s call it lively, to salads and tomatoes. The vegetables are at the core of my meals alone: roasted, grilled, stewed. I often add a fried egg, a wedge of cheese or a slice of my sourdough bread. Flaky sea salt, good extra virgin olive oil and freshly ground pepper are my seasonings. Every ingredient has its role. Even if extremely simple, every meal is regal.
In autumn I pick mushrooms whenever possible.
Tommaso values mushrooms as much as I appreciate fresh cilantro (hint: I think it stinks), so I tend to avoid them when I cook for both of us. When I am both the creator and the recipient of my little culinary masterpieces, mushrooms become one of my favourite ingredients, especially after a visit to the market: I place them gently into my shopping bag, next to a lettuce head, cuddled with a bunch of aromatics, over some apples and a slice of pumpkin.
Back when Tommaso was living in Florence, I used to visit often the market of Le Cure, a lively neighborhood with one of the most picturesque fruit and vegetable stalls, where I also learnt how to make an ace minestrone. If he was not coming back home for lunch, I would chose the fattest porcino, the smell of forest and resin still lingering in the air, and that would be the hero of my meal.
Orzotto ai finferli – chanterelle barley risotto
A few weeks ago, Tommaso was in Florence for the all day. I came home from the market with some porcini and a basket of chanterelles. Nobody beats a grilled porcino dressed with the best olive oil and a pinch of salt or a thinly sliced ovolo with slivers of Parmigiano, but the chanterelles are the nicest mushrooms, my favourite for a risotto. I turned on the tv, choosing one of those British crime series with those green and drizzling landscapes and I set everything to prepare an orzotto with chanterelles.
An orzotto is just a risotto made with orzo, barley. Have you ever tried it? You’ll be surprised and you might change your routine to introduce this cereal. Lately I am partial to barley, which I use often in soups, salads, and risotto: it’s a matter of texture, I love how it stays al dente, tiny pearls which magnificently absorb the flavour of any ingredient I marry it with.
As you will see, I also use stock, freshly made with dried porcini and herbs. If you don’t have the dried mushrooms, don’t panic. Just use your favorite aromatics: fresh rosemary, thyme, bay leaves or sage… you will get in no time a tasty broth that won’t cover the flavours of the risotto. It will actually boost the mushroom notes of forest and resin. You can use this shortcut for any other risotto, picking aromatics that match the taste of the other ingredients.
The mantecatura of the risotto, the act of whipping the risotto with butter to make it creamier, is simple, made with the classic Parmigiano and a bit of fresh goat cheese, which adds smoothness and a touch of acidity that refreshes the orzotto and makes you want to eat it, spoonful after spoonful.
With the tv series in the background, leading me to drizzling autumn landscapes, I prepared two servings of chanterelle barley risotto. One became my lunch, accompanied by some roasted pumpkin, the other was delivered in a Tupperware to my sister Claudia, as a quick meal for her lunch break in the office.
- 600 ml of water
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 1 sprig of thyme
- 10 g of dried mushrooms
- 300 g of chanterelles
- 1 shallot finely chopped
- A few sprigs of thyme
- 140 g of pearl barley
- ½ glass of dry wine
- 2 tablespoons of grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 50 g of fresh goat's cheese
Prepare the stock for the orzotto. Bring to a boil the water with the herbs, then add the dried mushrooms and a generous pinch of salt. Turn off the heat and allow to steep for about 30 minutes, filtering the stock and warming it when you need it for the risotto.
Now prepare the risotto. Clean the chanterelles, removing any traces of soil and dried leaves. Chop the chanterelles and set aside.
Pour two tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan, add the chopped shallots and the leaves of a few sprigs of thyme. Add a pinch of salt, too, so the shallots will stew without burning, as the salt will extract their moisture.
When the shallots are wilted and golden, add the barley and toast it over medium heat for a few minutes, then pour in the white wine.
When the wine has been absorbed, gradually add the hot stock, stirring often and cooking the barley over medium-low heat. The cooking time will vary depending on the type of barley you have chosen. For the pearl barley it is about 30 minutes.
Halfway through the cooking, add the chanterelles, then keep on cooking adding more stock.
When the barley is al dente, remove it from the heat and stir in the grated Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh goat's cheese.
Whisk the cheese into the barley, then arm yourself with a spoon and eat the orzotto still piping hot and creamy.
First of all, thank you for your heart-warming feedback on the food writing post. You left heart-felt and inspiring comments which made my day, countless times! And now, more recipes with chanterelles for you!
- An interesting reading about chanterelles. Chanterelles seem to be worth their weight in gold. They are golden looking, golden tasting, and golden priced.
- From Saveur, Sautéed chanterelle mushrooms with bacon
- Ricotta nodi with chanterelles, by Nancy Silverton for Food&Wine
- A pasta with chanterelle mushrooms by Ashley ay La Tavola Marche
- And finally, a deliciously creamy chanterelle risotto