Do you feel Autumn in the air? A chill in the morning when you open up the windows, while the house is still dark and silent. Flocks of birds dancing in the sky, getting ready to leave the Tuscan countryside for warmer lands. Pumpkins and butternut squashes lined up on my kitchen cabinet, taking the space once reserved to bowls of tomatoes and peaches. The first porcini mushrooms from Garfagnana hit the market stalls, and I could not resist them. My mum is slowly uprooting tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers from the vegetable garden, creating space for garlic, broccoli, fava beans, and peas.
Livia, an advocate for pasta al pomodoro, now opens up her mouth like a baby bird, waiting for warm soups, her favourite being my minestrone with fresh pasta quadrucci.
I feel Autumn, I love Autumn, and I’m embracing its colours, its sense of cosiness, my change of appetite, the shorter days – that are a nightmare for photography, but a blessing when it comes to spending time on the sofa with your daughter, reading for the 10th time her favourite book on farm animals.
And now, as always, a list of things I’m cooking, listening to, watching, and reading, as this is what is keeping me inspired and connected from our last newsletter. Read it to discover also 10 recipes to cook this month.
What I am cooking
Soups like pasta e fagioli, or pasta e ceci. I roast butternut squash at least twice a week and turn its sweet, dense pulp into seasonal risotto, soups, savoury pies, side dishes, and pasta sauces. My cuisine in October takes a deep orange hue that will last until Springtime when green will knock on the door.
I bake bread and schiacciata, I’m getting ready to bake pan co’ Santi, and my annual Christmas cake, which I’ve been baking since 2010 without interruption. I love traditions, rituals that mark the passing of time, and I’m always ready to welcome new habits, especially when they gain a more profound meaning for my family and me, and when they are related to Christmas.
What I am reading
In September I received two cookbooks and now I’m delving into their recipes and stories.
The Magic of Tinned Fish
The first one is Chris McDade’s The Magic of Tinned Fish, published by Artisan Books. As an advocate of pantry staples, I love Chris McDade’s approach to tinned fish: it is nutritious, affordable, sustainable, and involves minimal food waste.
“Like fruits and vegetables, seafood has a terroir and a time when each fish is at its best. This is where tinned fish come in.”
Then, should we talk about the punch of flavour a tiny, umami-packed anchovy can add to a dish? The book is divided into 5 chapters, focused on Anchovies, Sardines, Mackerel, Shellfish, Squid and Octopus, and Trout and Cod. There are clear explanations on how to treat each fish and vibrant recipes with a bright Mediterranean touch. I can’t wait to try his spaghetti with puttanesca sauce, and the fusilli with sardines, ‘nduja, and pecorino.
Liguria: The Cookbook; Recipes from the Italian Riviera
The second book is Laurel Evans’ Liguria: The Cookbook; Recipes from the Italian Riviera, published by Rizzoli. I’m incredibly fascinated by the Tuscany neighbouring region, Liguria, by its food, its local products, and its unique landscape. Laurel Evans shares with us her love for Liguria and the Italian Riviera, her second home, a land that stole her heart the first time she set foot in Moneglia to meet her boyfriend and now husband’s family. The food, the passed on recipes, the traditions, the family bonds and the three Ligurian nonne, everything feels fresh, real, heartfelt.
“This is a land of contradictions, defined both by the extravagance of wealthy, baroque, cosmopolitan Genoa, and by the thrift and ingenuity of the hard-pressed, arduous entroterra (inland). (…) This region offers a treasure trove of recipes that are inventive, seasonal, waste-conscious, and often plant-forward.”
I’m already dreaming about the focaccia, and the focaccia col formaggio di Recco, not to mention the many savoury pies full of vegetables that are so typical of Liguria.
What I am watching
You know I love a good crime series or mystery dramas, they help me to unwind, as all my mind is focused on finding who is the culprit. We are watching now Truth be Told, on Apple TV+, with Octavia Spencer and Kate Hudson. Apart from the mystery Poppy Parnell is trying to solve, I love that she is a journalist that uses her podcast to seek the truth.
As a podcaster myself, I find it inspiring, and I try to use her confidence and calm whenever I’m recording a new episode (speaking of this, we’re working on a new season). Luckily I’m just talking about food and recipes, and there are no murders involved!
What I am listening to
I’m slowly catching up with past episodes of my favourite podcasts. BBC Radio 4 The Food Programme is one of them, a podcast I started listening to years ago. I often browse through their ample archive, discovering gems, interesting food stories, and inspiring conversations. One of the latest episodes, Tastefully Worded: Exploring food in language, allowed me to spend an hour in good company, giving interesting insights into food writing, the use of adjectives, and the clichés we all too easily fall into.
I’ve already mentioned Keep calm and cook on with Julia Tursheen. Every time there’s a new episode, it reinforces my admiration for Julia Tursheen and for her work. In episode 64, Body Stuff with Grace Bonney, Julia and her wife, Grace Bonney, have an honest talk about body stuff. It is eye-opening. Recently, I’ve been mulling over diets, diet culture, society, and my own, personal journey in the relationship with my body. Julia Tursheen and her conversations and insights have been incredibly helpful. I wish I’ll be able to share my journey soon. What I can say is that this deep analysis of my fears, of imposed needs and expectations, feels liberating.
Where I have been
Every month I used to share places I was dreaming to visit. Now I want to be an optimist, hoping that we’ll keep on travelling, even though on a smaller scale. So from now, I’ll share places we have actually visited, new restaurants, cafés, bakeries… everything that has caught my attention, or my appetite, in the past month. And we’re beginning with a bang.
We spent three days at @granduniverselucca feeling at home, pampered by their kind, warm hospitality, busy exploring the town thanks to the activities they organised for us: an aperitivo on the rooftop bar, a guided tour of Lucca through the centuries, a bike ride on the walls with a picnic basket all for us, and a ride on a horse carriage with a bottle of prosecco and something to nibble on while listening anecdotes on the history of Lucca. And then there have been second and third breakfasts, a thorough exploration of cafes, osterias, bakeries, pastry shops, bars, delis and pottery shops… we collected all the addresses for an upcoming Lucca city guide, so stay tuned.
Fried green tomatoes with grapes
This dish belongs to peasant cooking, it is prepared only for a very short time, when the tomatoes on the vines do not have enough sun to ripen. The farmers would find themselves with baskets of green tomatoes and ripe bunches of grapes. I’d love to hug the first person who came up with this idea of pairing green tomatoes and grapes.
There are only five ingredients – green tomatoes, grapes, basil, garlic and chilli – yet each one is essential. The pan-fried green tomatoes are meaty and fresh, the grapes add a delicate sweet note, the garlic and the basil give an aromatic twist, the chilli warms it up.
Fried green tomatoes with grapes
- 4 green tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
- Chilli pepper flakes
- 1 small bunch of grapes
- A handful basil leaves
- Flaky sea salt
- Cut the tomatoes into thick slices, coat them with flour and fry them in extra virgin olive oil in a pan with the garlic cloves and some crushed chilli pepper.
- Fry the tomatoes in batches, placing them in one layer and turning them once golden. Move them on a plate as soon as they are ready.
- When all the tomatoes are ready, wipe the pan clean and pour some more fresh extra virgin olive oil. Move the tomatoes back into the pan, cut in half a dozen grapes, remove the seeds and add them into the pan, too.
- Season with salt, add the basil leaves, and cook on a medium flame for a few more minutes until the grapes are almost collapsing. Serve it immediately, or keep it warm until time to eat.