I’m sitting in a quiet room, nibbling on taralli, the addictive ring-shaped white wine and olive oil crackers from Puglia. From the closed shutters, I can see the scorching sun of the summer afternoons in Salento, at the southern end of Puglia.
Finally, after almost two years, we’re here, in the heel of the Italian booth. We’re visiting Tommaso’s family, giving Livia the chance to experience the same beach holidays her dad had since he was born. The years pass by, loved ones are gone, but this family beach life is still the same: food, smells, naps, and coffee included. We feel so cared for, so grateful to be here.
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’m cooking.
Not much, actually, as in these days I’m mostly sitting at a set table, enjoying all the food the Fabio, Tommaso’s uncle, is constantly putting together in his quaint kitchen. Huge aluminium pans belonging to the years when the whole family would gather here for the summer holidays are hung on the wall along with braids of onions and garlic, bunches of rosemary, bay leaves, and chilli peppers. The sink is outside, next to the shower we use after the beach, facing a giant lemon tree that occasionally drops a lemon with a thud. I used the leaves of the lemon to grill some chicken breast, and my immediate thought was: I want a lemon tree for my upcoming 40th birthday!
We’re feasting on fish soup, frittura mista, raw red shrimps from Gallipoli (I might have had one too many of those), eggplant parmigiana wrapped in pizza dough – yes, you’re reading it correctly, and yes, it was just as good as you can imagine -, baked snapper on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes, pasticciotti (I’ll be sharing a recipe for these custard stuffed pastries in our subscription-based newsletter soon), and rustici. These are two discs of puff pastry stuffed with béchamel and mozzarella, seasoned with a generous pinch of black pepper and a few peeled tomato fillets. They are golden, heavy in your hand, slightly greasy—the best representation of Southern street food.
I approach the stove just to prepare Livia’s meals and a couple of summer favourites, like pappa al pomodoro or the green bean and potato salad I’m sharing below.
What I’m reading.
Reading during the summer holidays is a sheer pleasure that rivals the time spent sunk in an armchair lost in crime stories during the Christmas holidays. This is why I’m so particular when it comes to choosing the book to bring with me. This year I picked Fanny Singer’s memoir, Always Home, and it is a winner. The author is Alice Water’s daughter, and she shares moments of ordinary life with her mother, but you can perfectly imagine how these ordinary moments are completely extraordinary for us. There’s a warm sense of home that permeates the whole book, vivid with memories and characters you learn to appreciate immediately. I fell in love with Fanny’s synaesthetic use of language and with several recipes she shares. I’ll be talking more about this book soon.
There’s also a book I’m re-reading, too. It is Dianne Jacob’s Will Write for Food, now at its fourth edition: I have worn out this book, as every time I read it, I discover something new, something inspiring, or useful, a trick or a new author. If you want to learn more about this book, you read an old interview with Dianne that I shared on my blog in 2012. You find it here.
What I’m watching.
Just before leaving, we watched Luca, the new Disney Pixar movie. It celebrates youth, friendship, diversity, and inclusion. If the story was not moving enough, add Italian music from the ‘60s, a passion for the Vespa, the iconic Italian scooter, the breathtaking Ligurian scenery, and a celebration of the food of the Italian Riviera, from gelato to focaccia and trenette al pesto (aptly made with potatoes and green beans). You can read a food-related interview with Luca director Enrico Casarosa for La Cucina Italiana here.
When we did the trenette al pesto, I remembered the traditional way to make it in Genoa. You put the string beans and potato, which are not always in pesto, into the boiling pasta water. That is part of the traditional way to do it, and it’s a fun little detail. We wanted to make sure to capture those kinds of details that resonate with the Genovese.
What I’m listening to.
Radio Cherry Bombe. Radio Cherry Bombe features interviews with the most interesting people in the world of food. It is fun, inspiring, entertaining, and it makes you reflect. I get motivated listening to the episodes while I walk. Thanks to this podcast, I’ve discovered interesting book authors, I’ve learnt about writing, cooking, baking, recipe developing, and equality.
Two of the most recent episodes I truly enjoyed are Alice Waters and Fanny Singer on Slow Food and Family ties, which made me choose Fanny Singer’s memoir as my holiday reading, and Ina Garden and Stanley Tucci on Julia Child and the making of “Julie & Julia”.
Green bean and potato salad
A cross between a green bean salad and a potato salad, this is my go-to dish for the summer, perfumed with fresh basil and dressed peppery olive oil. Cook this in large quantities because it has everything you want in a summer side dish.
My secrets when it comes to making an outstanding green bean and potato salad are just two.
First of all, choose the best ingredients: fresh green beans and local red potatoes, both bought at the market. Add also a handful of meaty olives and a peppery extra virgin olive oil.
Then, dress the salad when the potatoes and the green beans are still hot, and toss vigorously so that the olive oil, salt and pepper can soak the vegetables. Add some fresh basil and let sit at room temperature for about half an hour before serving. Done. Simple and delicious!
Green bean and potato salad
- 500 grams (1.1 lb) green beans
- 500 grams (1.1 lb) potatoes
- 2 tablespoons Taggiasche olives, or kalamata olives
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- A handful fresh basil leaves
- Fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Top and tail the beans, rinse them and cook them for about 15 minutes in a pot of boiling salted water. Drain them when they are cooked through and cool them under cold water: this will stop the cooking and will keep a bright green colour.
- In the meantime, rinse the potatoes to remove any remaining soil. Put them in a saucepan and cover them with water. Cook the potatoes over medium heat until done so that you can easily pierce them with the tip of a knife.
- When the potatoes are cooked through, drain them, pass them quickly under cold water and peel them immediately. Cut them into large pieces.
- Collect the potatoes in a bowl along with the beans and dress them immediately, until they are hot, with the capers, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. Taste and season with salt and pepper.
- Stir well, and don't worry if the potatoes get a little bruised. This will only help the seasoning.
- Set the potatoes and beans aside on the counter for at least half an hour, allowing enough time to all the dressing ingredients to bind, then serve it warm or cold, as a side dish.