I come back here after more than a month, after a hot and different summer, after a wedding, our wedding, and after a honeymoon that took us for two weeks through Scotland and Ireland, an old fashioned and intimate trip.
I left a still lively summer, which seemed to have no intention of leaving, despite an equinox that called for a change of guard. I come back here, and I find a timid autumn and a carpet of rustling leaves.
I come back and I am changed. It was not just the marriage in itself, or perhaps, it was part due to that. Those weeks before the wedding, though, sparked a change in my habits, as, for once, everything and everyone agreed to put me at the centre of my every attention, to put us and our well-being, our time together, as a priority.
Our days up in the north were partially responsible for this change, too.
In the Highlands, in the silence broken only by the waterfalls, that would improvise a show after only a few hours of rain, immersed in an unreal lunar landscape, the words disappeared, and with them all the thoughts.
Between us there was a silence brimming with gratitude, an empty space around to be filled. Then the cities, Glasgow and Belfast, that after the calm and the vast spaces filled my head with words and thoughts, perhaps too many, some unwanted and uninvited.
Then again the Connemara, the sea, the wind and the moor. The wind challenged my balance, passed through my mind, cleaned my thoughts, shook my memories, left only the words I wanted to stay.
During our traveling time expanded. Has it really passed just over a month since we said yes to our forever in the church of Mensanello?
On the road I read two books, one so different from the other, but they brought me to the same resolution, I enjoyed food with abandonment and I thought about everything I would have cooked once home, I made promises and we made promises to each other to bring this calm, this look, in the days to come.
I have a list of flowers that I would love to plant, of small changes for our house and for the studio, of vegetables to touch and smell to give my welcome to autumn in my own way. I have so much to tell you: our wedding day, a new awareness of who I am and what I need to feel good, our honeymoon – all that salmon, and oysters! – our projects for autumn and winter, the books I read, the breakfasts I dreamed of. Above all, though, I want to open the door again on our kitchen, where you can already smell the pumpkin roasting in the oven and hear the hiss of the kettle on the stove.
I’ll even open the door of our house, the view from the balcony in autumn is unmissable, and I’ll take you out into the fields and the woods, with a wagging Noa to open the way.
I’m back, we’re back, and with us there are words, recipes, and the desire to share them with you, to feel like family around a table.
I’m back in the kitchen. A warm roasted pumpkin salad
As soon as we got home from our honeymoon, I went straight to the market to align myself to the new season and find some inspiration for the next recipes. I had been thinking about this salad for a while, my body was demanding vegetables, and colours, and good olive oil.
For the first Sunday lunch at home, along to the most classic roasted chicken, I prepared this salad, a warm roasted pumpkin salad with peppery rocket, black olives, shaved parmigiano Reggiano and toasted pine nuts.
Everyone had a second helping of this salad, which grabbed the spotlight from my carefully roasted chicken, with the most exquisite crisp golden skin. The salad was immediately promoted to become the recipe for the first blog post after almost two months of absence on the blog.
Roasted pumpkin salad
For the baked pumpkin
- 800 g (1.7 lb) of Mantua pumpkin, or butternut squash
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- Black pepper
For the salad
- 100 g (3.5 oz) of rocket
- ⅓ cup of shaved Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 tablespoons of black olives, pitted
- 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, toasted
For the vinaigrette
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of aceto balsamico
- 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar
- Zest of ½ an organic lemon, grated
- Black pepper
- Heat the oven to 220°C (430°F)
- Wash the pumpkin as we’re not going to peel it as both the Mantuan pumpkin and the butternut squash have very thin peel which we can eat. If your pumpkin has a thicker skin or you are not comfortable with the idea of eating it, just peel it.
- Slice the pumpkin into 1 inch thick slices and place them onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- In a bowl mix the extra virgin oil with salt, a few rounds of freshly ground black pepper and a generous pinch of grated nutmeg, then brush the pumpkin slices with the olive oil.
- Bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, checking them halfway through cooking. Remove the pumpkin from the oven when it is soft enough to be easily cut with a fork and golden on the surface, almost caramelized on the edges.
- Meanwhile prepare the salad dressing, mixing the extra virgin olive oil with the aceto balsamico and the apple cider vinegar. Add the grated lemon zest, then salt and black pepper to taste.
- Place the warm pumpkin in a tray, alternating it with the rocket, then add the black olives, the shaved Parmigiano and the toasted pine nuts.
- Dress with the vinaigrette and serve immediately.
- All ingredients can be prepared in advance and assembled just before serving them. The pumpkin can be warmish or cold. It is better to avoid a very hot pumpkin just removed from the oven, as it will tend to cook the tender rocket leaves.
- Instead of pine nuts you can also use two tablespoons of toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped.
- To learn more about the Mantua pumpkin, read here.
Serve this roasted pumpkin salad with…
Since we are in full swing with pumpkin and butternut squash now, you can create a pumpkin themed menu with:
- clam and butternut squash risotto. I am pretty sure this will quickly become your Autumn seafood risotto: you can make it when you miss a sunny day at the beach with your toes firmly tucked into the sand, or when you need an orange note to warm up a greyish foggy November day.
- lamb and butternut squash meatballs. The butternut squash and lamb meatballs have a distinctive flavour, they are moist and sweet, with a warm orange hue. Brighten them up with a spoonful of pesto and a few wedges of orange and serve them as a main or into a soft bun if you have leftovers.
- butternut squash cake. Just like a carrot cake, it conceals a good deal of vegetables and stays fresh for a few days, making it the perfect breakfast cake. The butternut squash is warmed by a teaspoon of grated nutmeg, a spice that goes perfectly with a cup of milk or black tea.
My to-do list
I write lists in the notebook that I always keep in my bag, on my iPhone – from my shopping list to my to-dos for the next day, with alarms set for the most important entries. I write lists on small post-it not to forget to prepare what I need for a cooking class, or to remember to put my beauty case and my phone charger in the suitcase for a trip.
I also write on large and white sheets, pouring on paper everything that occupies my head: recipes, thoughts, deadlines, fears. I write lists to fall asleep, because when a thought is on paper, it lives outside of your head and it does not absorb all your attention anymore. I write lists of recipes, posts, I write the chapters of the next book that sooner or later I will be able to write.
Coming back home from our honeymoon, on the plane, I jotted down a list of things I wanted to do.
It was a way to pin down everything that was spinning in my head, not to leave it suspended in the clouds. It’s a broken list, varied and full of resolutions, to bring home all that energy, to channel that flow of inspiration that I did not want to lose on the way back. I share it now with you, hoping that it might be a source of inspiration.
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I want it to remind me the feeling I had sitting up there on the plane, as if a new chapter was about to begin, brimming with possibilities.
- I want to buy some more succulents, as the ones we gave as wedding favours. They immediately make the house nicer and warmer, and after all we need to fill the new shelf into Tommy’s studio, bought and assembled a few days before the wedding and still looking for an identity.
- I have to find the little birdhouses, those that are filled with seeds and nuts for the winter. In Scotland and in Ireland I noticed this attention, this protective attitude towards nature and wildlife: books, stories, drawings… I reminded me of when, as a child, I would leaf in awe through my forest book with drawings of animals, of their footprints, of wild shrubs and berries. If I hang those little birdhouses on the tree in front of my kitchen window, I might be able to recognize robins and goldfinches in the morning while I am drinking my tea.
- I’m going to wear lipstick when I go out, and maybe some makeup, too. It makes me smile more often. After the first tea or coffee it begins to fade, but the flirtatious act of using my little mirror, the one that has been sitting in my handbag for ages, opened only to check if a little fly had flown into my eye, makes me feel better, it’s a way to take care of myself. After years of wearing almost no makeup at all, these little gestures made me feel beautiful.
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- I have to find a morning routine that makes me wake up with a sense of anticipation. Can a good tea and a new teapot help?
- I feel the need to walk in the woods, for the pleasure of doing it, to pick up some branches to decorate the house, or to fill a bag with pine cones for the wood stove in the living room and in the studio: their scent of resin and incense immediately creates a cosy feeling of well-being and home.
- I want to thank and be grateful every day for the good things that happen to us.
- I want to take more photos with my Polaroid, because looking at those slightly faded, imperfect and vintage images is the best way to recall memories and emotions and make them real again, not to forget the taste of the wind or the sweetness of a sweater on your shoulders.
- I want to find time to cook at least once a week from one of the cookbooks that are sitting in my bookshelf. How many times have I said I would do it? Every year, in January and September, without success. Will it be the right time? I have already begun with a flourless lemon almond cake, and surely one of the next books to cook from will be The Christmas Chronicles by Nigel Slater, to usher in one of the most magical times of the year. I bought this book last year, but it is already a classic for me.
- I must make friends again with my sourdough starter, neglected in the last months. I need to improve my basic recipe for wholemeal bread for breakfasts, so at least we will use part of my collection of homemade jams and marmalades that I prepare with maniacal dedication throughout the year. Next to bread, I have decided that I want to make pizza or focaccia once a week, possibly on Friday, and I know that Tommaso will be very happy with this entry on my list.
- I must use hand cream more often. If you wash the dishes, peel, slice, scrub and wash again just as me, this point does not need further explanation. I’m lucky though, as Claudia makes the best olive oil and lemon hand cream from scratch.
- I want to devote myself to writing, and to do so I signed up for an e-course with Scuola Holden, Writing life: writing about yourself beyond autobiography. I read about the course just before we got married, I thought about it in the highlands and as soon as I arrived in Belfast I confirmed my registration. Now I can not wait for it to begin.
The last entry on the list is perhaps the most important and the most difficult. I want to be able to get bored, not to fill every free moment with something to do. I want to create these moments of pause, to look around, observe, listen and breathe.