I abandoned January resolutions a few years ago. Now I prefer to choose a word, a single, evocative word. In the recent years, this word has worked like a magic formula scribbled on a piece of parchment, like an omen, a powerful statement from the past, engraved with capital letters on the marble architrave of a temple.
This year I chose the word simplicity
I said goodbye with gratitude to craft and seasonality, the two words that I chose last year and that made me stronger and more focused. I will still follow the craft and seasonality approach, though, but I would like to do it with simplicity.
To give intention to this new word, I cut my hair very very short. This is not the first time it happened: I cut my hair just before Christmas 2011, when a long chapter had ended, that of my job as an employee in an office, and I was about to start a completely new life, pleasantly unknown. I kept my hair very short for a little over a year, then I met Tommaso and I decided to grow my curls again. Oh, my romantic soul! He recently told me he loved my short haircut, it made me look self-confident.
While the hairdresser was cutting away all those curls that had taken years to grow, my head was spinning. I looked in the mirror and I could not recognise myself. Then she appeared, that girl of seven years ago, that had been brave to embrace a completely unknown life. She is like an old time friend, someone you look at to measure your changes and your courage. Now I am her again.
I know that a haircut is not enough to simplify your life, but for me cutting my hair has always coincided with real changes, with important steps toward a better self awareness. I look at the woman in the mirror – short deep brown hair, pale winter skin, a light makeup, a touch of lipstick to smile more often – and I understand that finally this will be the year of simplicity.
Simplicity and daily life
I always complain that I do not have enough time for myself, but it is not true. Truth is, I waste time doing things that do not matter, that steal space to what is really important to me.
I love my job, but next to that I really would love to do more. I would like to read more, because books are passports to extraordinary worlds and fuel for my creativity. I’d love to write more, not just here on the blog and in the weekly newsletter, though. I feel it is time to write that book I’ve been pondering over for two years now. There are no more excuses, I’ll have to stop procrastinating. I would like to spend more time outdoors, walking and working in the vegetable garden. But most importantly, I want to spend more time with the people I love, free from distractions.
The hours I spend passively scrolling Social Media, the time I waste complaining about what I did not achieve, the moments I squander comparing myself to those who did better than me, achieved more than me, arrived before me, the time I dedicate to projects I was not able to decline… this is all time that I could use differently, simplifying my days and my thoughts.
Simplicity and feelings
Why you are a simple person became an offence? Being simple does not mean being stupid, just as being light does not mean being superficial.
“Live a life of lightness, which is not superficiality, but gliding on everything, without weights on your heart“. – Italo Calvino
Being simple means to love honestly and openly, to support friends with words of encouragement, to fight envy and a sense of inferiority and exclusion by cultivating sincere human relationships. Simplicity for me is linked to lightness, gratitude, honesty. When I’ll have children, these are the values I would like to teach them.
Simplicity and writing
I have talked about private life, but what a joy if simplicity could apply to work as well. Take writing, for example. A simple writing style is, paradoxically, the most difficult to obtain. You must work harder, removing the unnecessary, what is heavy and redundant. Hence the importance of a craftsman’s work on words and texts.
2019 will be a year of reading, of writing and re-writing, of writing to better understand who I am, of exercise and practice, aiming to a simple, warm, friendly tone of voice.
Simplicity and photography
Since I started this blog, writing and photography have been two sides of the same coin, two complementary tools to tell a story. I choose simplicity as a guiding force: natural light, a realistic setting in a home kitchen, fresh vibrant food as the hero of my photos.
My aim is to make you hungry, to make you want to cook that dish, to make you feel perfectly able to reproduce exactly what you see. I’m not looking for aspirational photos, but for photos that create a sense of reality and identity.
Simplicity and cooking
We share recipes that nourish and give pleasure, both when you make them in front of the stove, chopping and stirring, and later, when you sit down to eat them, or when you steal a forkful, while the food is still piping hot. As eating is a daily act, these recipes are designed to make you feel good, not to impress.
We will therefore keep on sharing what gives us joy, what we usually eat: simple recipes, recipes to build a cooking repertoire, recipes with seasonal ingredients.
Nothing is trivial in the kitchen, and I know it well, as mum raised us with simple potato frittatas and grilled cutlets, but she let us always feel the love in every gesture, the importance of feeding and taking care of your dear ones, even if for her cooking has always been a duty more than a pleasure.
Although my 2019 word is simplicity, it will be far from simple to realise everything that this word signifies for me. As always, it will be a path that, if you want, we can follow together, from recipe to recipe, from season to season.
What’s your word for this 2019? How do you want to feel this year?
Butternut squash strudel
Recipe developed with Arborea
I talked for so long about simple, seasonal recipes, those recipes that make you feel good, that I had to share this, a savoury cake, a strudel, that embodies all these characteristics.
Savoury cakes often have the ultimate goal of collecting all that is left at the bottom of your fridge, or of your pantry, and giving it a new life. I used potatoes and butternut squash, but you can really add whatever is in season. As we’re in the peak of winter, I would use also broccoli, Brussels sprouts, thinly shredded Savoy cabbage, caramelised onions, artichokes… Same for the cheese. I had some fresh pecorino, so I swiftly cubed it and added it into the strudel filling, but you can use all those wedges of cheese left after the Christmas parties, mixing them according to your taste, as long as they are not too old (in this case better to grate them than cube them), or too soft (in the case of a mozzarella, for example, better to drain it for a while).
What I like the most about this strudel, though, is the dough. This is not the traditional strudel dough, but the easiest and quickest pie dough I already used in this peach pie, which can be used indifferently for sweet and savoury pies, galettes and strudels. You make this in about ten minutes, it is extremely simple – just follow the procedure and yes, the butter is really left in pieces as big as hazelnuts – and it puffs while baking, becoming crisp and very light, almost laminated as the real puff pastry.
The only thing to remember is that it needs at least an hour in the fridge before you can roll it out, but apart from that, it can be made with what you usually have at home: flour, plain or whole, salt, ice cold water and good butter. I used Arborea butter, made from 100% Sardinian milk.
You can make this butternut squash strudel in advance: just reheat it in a hot oven or on a non-stick skillet for a few minutes. Serve it as a midweek dinner, bring it to your friends as an appetiser for a potluck dinner, or stash it into your lunchbox and bring it to the office.
How would you make it? Which ingredients would end up in your savoury strudel?
- 200 g (1 2/3 cup – ½ lb) of plain flour
- 50 g (1/2 cup - 1 ¾ oz) of whole wheat flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 160 g (1 1/3 stick – 5 2/3 oz) of Arborea butter, cold
- 100 ml (1/2 cup) of ice cold water
- 3 medium red potatoes
- 500 g (1 lb) of butternut squash
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- A few sage leaves
- 150 g (5 oz) of fresh pecorino cheese
- 2 tablespoons of pitted black olives
- 2 teaspoons of sesame seeds
- 1 teaspoon of poppy seeds
- 1 egg beaten
Add the flour with the salt to a large bowl, then add the butter. Coat the stick of butter with flour in the bowl, then using a bench scraper cut the butter lengthwise in half, then lengthwise in quarters, coating each newly cut side in flour. Dice the butter and cover each piece in flour, then with a pastry cutter press the mixture as you would mash potatoes.
Add the ice cold water little by little and mix quickly with your hands just enough to create a ball of dough. Work the dough as little as possible.
Wrap the ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour.
While the pastry dough is resting in the fridge, prepare the filling.
Rinse the red potatoes and cut them into cubes. Do the same with the butternut squash.
Pour the extra virgin olive oil into a large pan, then add the crushed garlic clove and the sage, cut into thin strips.
Heat the olive oil for a minute, then add the squash and the potatoes. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium heat, turning them often, until they are soft and golden.
Remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and allow to cool completely.
When the potatoes and the squash are cold, add the diced pecorino and the pitted black olives, cut into rounds. Stir and set aside.
Heat the oven to 220°C (425°F).
Take out the pastry dough from the refrigerator and, with the help of a rolling pin, roll it out on a floured surface in a 30x40 cm sheet (12x15 inches).
Transfer the dough onto a sheet of parchment paper, this will help you to roll the strudel and transfer it to the baking sheet.
Spoon the potato and squash filling into the centre of the rolled-out dough, leaving about 2 cm on each side, then wrap the dough onto itself, starting from the long side.
Keep the open side on the bottom and seal the ends.
With the help of the parchment paper, transfer the strudel onto a baking sheet.
Brush the surface with a beaten egg and sprinkle with the seeds.
Bake the strudel for about 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 375°C and bake for further 25 minutes. The strudel will be ready when golden and crisp.
Let the strudel cool down for about 5-10 minutes before serving, it will be much easier to slice it. It can be prepared in advance, even the day before, and warmed briefly in the oven before serving it.
Serve the butternut squash strudel with…
It is often difficult to create a menu around a savoury cake like this butternut squash strudel, as it seems to have a life on its own, but a salad, a soup and a jar of cookies would complement the strudel perfectly. In a winter evening I would gladly eat the strudel with a colourful salad of shredded red cabbage and carrots. I would also feel the need for a soup, a vellutata as we call it, as it is as soft as velvet, perhaps the one with cauliflower and cannellini beans: not too much, just a bowl to warm hands and heart. And to finish, why not to bake a tray of shortbread cookies with pears: I’d have one – or two – on the sofa while watching my favourite tv series and save the rest for breakfasts.
- Cauliflower and cannellini soup. This soup is thick, warming, consoling, a good way to use your leftover beans and, mostly, a meal on its own. A velvety hot soup, served in a bowl that seems to made exactly to be hugged, it is everything I need at the end of a cold working day.
- Winter red cabbage and carrot salad. This salad is a pleasure for your tastebuds and for your eyes, it’s made of seasonal vegetables with complementary colours which transform this vegetarian dish in a colourful palette. It is one of my favourite winter salads, I can never get tired of it: it might be for the warm and crisp seeds which are a nice contrast to the cold cabbage and carrots, or maybe for the yogurt and tahini dressing that – despite being light and healthy – gives me that thrill of exoticism and self-indulgence.
- Pear shortbread cookies. This biscuit similar to the classic shortbread, buttery and full-flavoured; the filling is fruity and delicate. The dusting of icing sugar evokes images of the first snow during the winter mornings.
- From The Seattle Times, Hearty, savory strudels never go out of fashion. Some of the best savory strudels come from northeastern Italy, whose penchant for the pastry is a legacy of their former Austro-Hungarian rulers. In this one, sweet butternut squash and caramelized leeks are offset by melting cubes of creamy taleggio cheese. Hot, it’s an irresistible vegetarian main course; at room temperature it makes ideal picnic and potluck fare. If you do serve it to an audience, be forewarned: You may well end up inspiring a food trend of your own.