Category Archives: Fabrizia Lanza

the language of food 2016

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The best laid plans, get turned on their head. Or maybe shuffled is a better word. The timetable Luisa and I had drawn up for The first Language of Food was full but measured, and neatly punctuated with rest and free time. It was then shuffled like a pack of cards, and every gap filled when it became clear that everyone wanted to write more, see more, cook more, talk more, taste more. Not that this presented a problem. Quite the opposite in fact, having a group that was so greedy for it all was completely brilliant: enthusiasm it seems, makes time. We fitted in more hours with Fabrizia in the kitchen, more time in the olive groves and garden with Ben the gardener eating herbs and greens like rabbits, and more time writing, discussing (nattering) and reading at the library table, the white embroidered cloth covered with open books of inspiring food writing, Sicilian sun filtering through the thin curtains.

Keep expectations flexible, is one of my dad’s favorite expressions. It was how Luisa and I approached our first writing workshop together, after all we really had no idea what to expect. Of course we’d planned discussion, exercises and talks – especially Luisa who has much more experience than me – and everyone had read the chosen pieces. But we still had no idea what it would be like. Keep expectations flexible. Then in much the same way they had approached time, Anna, Gry, Susanne, Elizabeth, Gayle and Francesca approached writing, bowling us over with their enthusiasm. Of course there was inhibition and caution, but isn’t there always? Beyond that were honest, moving, funny words, and a willingness to write, and write.

Before we started, someone asked me how much you can learn from a five day food writing workshop. My answer a year later, is plenty: about your own writing habits and those of others; better understand what it is about particular pieces of writing that draws you in (and what doesn’t); how to take advice; how your writing affects others; the importance of reading the good stuff; the need to start writing regardless of a hundred doubts; the importance of editing and editing (yes I wish I had an editor for this); How to write a good, clear recipe; when to show (stories and details) and when to tell. These were some of the things we learned, most of them blindingly obvious maybe, but no less useful beacuse of it. Things we put into practice while we were together, but more importantly took away with us, hoping they would worm their way into our writing, which they did (we have all kept in touch).

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Predictably the location, an extraordinary cooking school on the crest of a hill overlooking a valley in Sicily, was inspiring. Not only because it is so magnificent and atmospheric, but because you are so close to the source of so much, golden fields of wheat, orchards of citrus, vines dotted with the first signs of budding grapes, ancient olive trees with their twisted trunks and mad windswept branches that look like Einstein’s hair, six foot wild fennel plants with gangly stems and tops that look like inverted lacy umbrellas, the disconcerting tangle that is a lentil and chickpea plants (actual lentils and chickpeas on actual plants – I was stunned). I could go on. Close to the source, and also stories: thousands of years of history and tradition seem on a sort of parallel plane in Sicily, as if you can touch it all, eat it all, which of course you can. I can’t help but think of a Jane Grigson quote here, that food, its quality, its orgins, its preparation is something to be studied and thought about in the same way as any other aspect of the human existence, and then think that Sicily is a fine place to do this.

Then there was the preparation of food as a group, one of life’s great pleasures, the scents and our words fighting for airspace. The food we cooked and ate was inextricably tied with the place. It also transported us – as only food and talking about food can – from a valley in Sicily, to England in the 1970’s, Berlin in the 80’s, a supermarket in Chicago, New York restaurants, Canadian winters, Strawberry eating in Germany, a childhood in Sweden. We thought and wrote about family, traditions, etymology, fast food, slow food and everything in between, politics, life and loss. Food writing it turns out, is about everything.

All this to introduce the fact that Luisa, Fabrizia and I are thrilled to be holding the second edition of the Language of Food this June at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school. The Itinerary is below, set but flexible. Rest assured we will be writing, reading, cooking, exploring, making merry each night. I have written about the school before, so you may like to read that. Luisa has also written about last year’s LOF. Also go follow the progress of Cook the Farm, a 10 week course that is happening at the school now, it will give you a great sense of the place. Now I know it is a big commitment, but it is going to be wonderful, it would be lovely if you could come.

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The Language of Food second edition, June 20 – 25 2o16.

Before the course participants will receive six pieces of writing, each one highlighting a aspect of food writing we will then discuss. This years selection include peices By Mary Taylor Simetti, Jane Grigson, Fushia Dunlop, Simon Hopkinson, Deborah Madison and M.F.K.Fisher.

The Itinerary

Day 1: Monday, June 20
Arrive in late afternoon or early evening, introductory discussion over Sicilian aperitifs and then welcome dinner at Case Vecchie.

Day 2: Tuesday, June 21
Morning introductory writing workshop in three parts, followed by lunch at Case Vecchie

Afternoon visit to local shepherd and cheesemaker Filippo Privitera, where we will watch traditional ricotta production and sample both freshly produced cheeses and the family’s aged cheeses. Post visit writing session.

Salad collecting and garden talk with Rachel, Luisa and the gardeners,.

Dinner at Case Vecchie. • Post-dinner gathering and reading.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 22
A morning trip to natural hot springs. Late morning writing session, followed by lunch.

Kitchen round table writing session about descrptive food writing, and clear recipe writing.

Cooking lesson on Sicilian classics and dinner. Film in library.

Day 4: Thursday, June 23
Morning writing workshop, bread making tutorial and lunch at Case Vecchie.

Afternoon individual writing tutorials and then group session

Evening visit to the Case Grandi winery for a tasting workshop, where we will sample a variety of Tasca d’Almerita wines and learn a little about the language of wine. Dinner at Case Grandi.

Day 5: Friday June 24
Morning cooking lesson focusing on cous cous with Fabrizia, followed by lunch

Afternoon writing workshop followed by writing tutorials and then a group discussion.

Salad collecting and garden walk with Rachel, Luisa, and the gardeners, final dinner and after dinner readings in the garden.

Day 6: sat June 25
Final group round table and discussion, sharing of work for book.

Lunch and then departure

 

We hope the conversation from our writing community will continue through online discussion and continued feedback.

The cost

All-inclusive: 2,500 euros per person for single-occupancy, 2,300 euros per person for double occupancy. There are a maximum of 9 places. For more imformation and booking please get in touch with elke@annatascalanza.com or through the school website.

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Filed under Fabrizia Lanza, the language of food, The Wednesday Chef, Uncategorized, Workshops

cook the farm

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I have written about the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school and Fabrizia Lanza before. The school holds a place in my heart and I feel fortunate to call Fabrizia a friend and teacher, to have collaborated with her and Luisa for the first Language of Food Workshop, which we will be repeating next year. It was during the Language of Food this June over merry, boozy dinners and during long conversations at the table in the library that Luisa and I were to witness the bubbling away of a new project. This project has now come to fruition and feels like the culmination and natural progression of Fabrizia’s work as a teacher and educator. It is called Cook the Farm and will allow Fabrizia and others to work intensively with young chefs and food professionals who are keen to bridge the gap between farming and cooking. The project is beautiful and important, which is why I am writing about it here.

As a food writer who –  like many before me – has come to love the food of Italy and become obsessed with trying to find out more about it, I have always felt pulled south to Sicily. This of course is also to do with the fact I live with a Sicilian, for whom the pull home is as fierce as that for a freshly fried arancina filled with ragu , peas and mozzarella. For me Sicily is where the fundamental elements; olive oil, grapes, vegetables, wheat, honey, citrus, nuts , cheese, seem to make most sense, in a complicated way, which is why I go back again and again, which isn’t always straightforward.  Cook the Farm is a residential ten week course in the beating heart of Sicily. Each week will concentrate on one of the elements which flourish in Sicily – wheat, cheese, olive oil, wine, honey and citrus and nuts as well as garden horticulture, culinary anthropology, and a comparative Mediterranean case study on Turkish cuisine. There will be hands-on kitchen and garden workshops, lectures, local field trips, and a one-week culinary journey around the island. Guest experts include professors, culinary and horticultural specialists, local artisans, and if all goes well one of the most inspiring young winemakers on the planet, Arianna Occhipinti. I am biased I know and possibly starting to sound like a bad brochure. If you are interested – truly interested, this is serious commitment in every sense – the best thing is to go over to the site, or talk to Elke or Fabrizia. You could even drop me a note if you want to know more about the school, or simply talk about warm ricotta, tomatoes from Pachino, durum wheat bread dusted with sesame seeds, Sicilian olive oil and a glass of Frappato, nothing technical you understand, just how delicious it all is.

Cook the Farm.

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Meanwhile on another note, does anyone remember egg in a cup, or is it choppy egg? Either way I have written about this delicious thing for the Guardian Cook’s special egg supplement, also Mozzarella in Carozza, you can read both here along with lots of other good ideas for eggs. More soon. R

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Filed under cook the farm, Fabrizia Lanza, Sicily, the language of food

all the orange

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I get by, is probably the best way to describe my Italian. Occasionally I might think I get by very well, but then I trip over a word or tense and see the confusion in the other persons eyes, or someone flips the conversation into English, which always feels like defeat. ‘Da quanto tempo stai qua?‘ How long have you been here? came up in the middle of an awkward conversation the other day. It crossed my mind to lie, but I didn’t, and said nearly 10 years, to which the persons eyebrows seemed to reply oh dear. I responded to the eyebrows with a long, complicated sentence that gave me a headache, but meant I redeemed myself. ‘Dai, parli abbastanza bene italiano!’ I was told. Which means something like, go on you speak pretty good Italian.

Luca is not so convinced. When I asked for ‘Due kili di arance‘ at the market last week my three-year old half English, half Italian son, who I am watching juggle two languages with admiration and envy, looked up at me and pinched his fingers like an Italian. ‘No mum, arance’. ‘Arance‘ I repeated. ‘No, arance’ he said slowly opening his mouth so wide I could see he needs a filling. Shit I thought, but said arance, agitated about the dental neglect and having my pronunciation challenged by a three-year old. We bounced the word back and forth like a ball, half playful, half deadly serious until Luca held his little palm taut’. Mum, just say orange’.

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Oranges had been good this year, especially the tarocco from Sicily, heavy things for their size with shiny leaves and dusty-orange skins some of which are flushed slightly with ruddy pink. Not that this flush is a guarantee of the flesh inside. Even though they are blood oranges, they might not be bloody. Each orange is a surprise, anything from yellowy-orange to bleeding scarlet. I like the surprise. I also like the way the natural oil in the zest sprays as you tear the peel –  if you bring a flame close it crackles like a sparkler –  and the flesh, firm and sweet.

A good year and the steady steam of illness Luca has been bringing back from school along with drawings and other children’s toys, means we have been eating a lot of oranges. There is juice every morning, so a permanently sticky counter and floor. We’ve been eating orange and fennel salad, sliced oranges with mint and dates and the lentil and orange salad I wrote about the other week. On a roll, I opened Jane Grigson’s Fruit book in search of new ideas and recipes. Damn, her writing make me happy, the way she weaves together history, etymology, geography, poetry and humour is simply extraordinary. I particularly enjoyed reading her description of the migration of oranges from China through India to Persia before they were brought to europe along with spices, silk and sugar by Arab traders at the end of the Roman empire. The evolution of the name it just as engaging, from the Dravidian indian, narayam, which means perfume within, to the Persian narandj, Spanish naranja, Portuguese laranja, which the Italians softened to arancia and the French and English, orange. Luca slips effortlessly between orange and arancia depending on who he is talking too. To me he says orange.

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Jane Grigson not only makes me want to read-on and on (the chapters on pears, plums and quince are superb) she makes me want to cook. From the orange chapter I’ve made her Maltese mayonnaise, which is simply mayonnaise sharpened with orange instead of lemon, and her carrot and orange soup, both surprising and excellent. Although not her recipe, it was her description of cheerful marmalade eaten in France that sent me on my marmalade-making way last week and her description of orange in cakes that made me pull Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern food from the shelf.

Do you know the recipe? The one where you take two oranges, boil them whole, pulp them, mix the pulp with eggs, ground almonds, sugar and baking powder and then bake the batter until it sets into a cake. CR describes it as somewhere between a cake and a pudding, which is the perfect description. The use of the whole orange, meaning all of it: skin, zest,  pith, flesh, feels nothing short of brilliant. Once boiled (for a long time which makes the kitchen smell gorgeous) and pulped, you have an extraordinary mixture: sharp, sweet, bitter and deeply flavored. It is then tempered by the sugar, almonds and eggs but the opinionated flavor remains distinct – as do the flecks of bright orange – giving the cake a musky, almost spicy flavour. It is such a good cake/pud, especially when eaten with a dollop of thick cream. I also like it with espresso.

Claudia Roden, another favorite writer, explains how this cake has Sephardic Jewish origins, as it was one of the dishes brought to the middle east by the Spanish Jews who fled the inquisition in the 14th and 15th century. This and Jane Grigson’s enchanting orange introduction had me wishing I’d been told about the migration of citrus and cakes at school, it would have been much more helpful that the dreary things we were taught in geography and history lessons. The cake also had me wishing for another land of blazing oranges and almonds, Sicily, and the house of Vincenzo’s grandparents that is sitting empty, waiting to be visited, lived in for a while even. But we can’t think about that yet. For now we will make do with cake made with sicilian oranges or arance (depending on who you are talking too).

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Claudia Roden’s Orange and Almond cake

From Claudia Roden’s Book of Middle Eastern food.

A loose-bottomed cake tin make things a whole lot easier. I use one of those John Lewis Anodised satin tins I pinched from my mum, it is 18 cm across, deep and works really well.

  • 1 large orange weighing approximately 350 g (or 2 smaller ones)
  • 6 free range eggs
  • 250 g ground almonds
  • 250 g granulated sugar
  • 1 heaped tsp baking powder
  • butter and flour/breadcrumbs or matzo meal for the tin

Wash the orange(s), put it in a pan, cover with cold water, bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer for an hour and a half or until it is extremely soft when picked with a fork. Remove the orange from the pan, let it cool, then cut it open and remove any pips. Turn the orange into a pulp by pressing it through a sieve, mouli or by using a blender – I use my faithful stick immersion blender.

Prepare a cake tin – ideally with a loose base – by rubbing it with butter and then dusting it with flour. Set the oven to 190° / 370F.

Beat the eggs in a large bowl, add the pulped orange, beat again, then add the almonds, sugar and baking powder and beat again until you have a thick, even batter. Pour the battle into the tin and bake for between 40 – 60 minutes. Have  a look at the cake after 40 minutes it should be golden and set firm, I find testing with a strand of spaghetti helps, it should come out almost clean (almost, this is a moist cake), as opposed to very sticky. If the cake does need another 10 mins I tend to drape some tin foil over to prevent it from getting too brown. Let it cool in the tin before turning it onto a plate.

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We might not be thinking of going to the family house in Sicily quite yet, but I will be in Sicily from the 15 – 20th June with Fabrizia Lanza and Luisa Weiss for a week of food writing and cooking at the Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking school and we would love you to come too. Now of course it is in my interests to convince you to come, and I know it is a big commitment (that said rates of exchange are in our favour and flights too) but it is going to be extraordinary, beautiful, delicious and perspective changing week, I promise. The details are on The Anna Tanza Lanza web site, you can read my post about Sicily, also Melissa’s and Bea’s with her stunning pictures. If you would like to e-mail to ask me anything about the week, pls do. – R

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Filed under almonds, bitter oranges, cakes and baking, Fabrizia Lanza, oranges, rachel eats Italy, Sicily

the zest of it

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It’s good to be home. At least it is now. The first couple of days were pretty grim, when the fall-out from a hasty pre-Christmas departure, now coated in three weeks of dust, met three suitcases full of dirty washing and a flock of christmas presents. For the first half hour I sat staring at the sink, wishing I had at least done the washing-up (impressive slovenliness, even by my standards) while Luca shook the dry-needles from the christmas tree into the rug.

I am still picking needles out of the rug and the underneath of my socks, but apart from that we have more less got back into a rhythm. I am back in a kitchen rhythm too, and order of sorts, which I find reassuring – my grandpa Roddy called it having your stall laid out. No resolutions or anything like that, just a comfortable rhythm, one that feels like good tights: supportive but not restrictive (and never too loose). I am back at the market most days too, my ordinarily beautiful market, which smells faintly of fish on one side, meat fat on the other and in the middle is January coloured: green, orange and the extraordinary greeny-violet of artichokes which are coming into season. On the first day back my and veg guys shouted Ahò and made the pinched fingers where the hell have you been gesture over the crowd. It was the sort of singling out I know they do for many, but it never fails to make me feel happy. A kilo of oranges, 8 artichokes, a massive bunch of kale that needed to be wrestled into a bag, some parsley and mint shoved in the top of the bag at no cost except loyalty: it is good to be home.

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As I said, no resolutions, but after a bloody delicious Christmas and New Year in England, where food came in thick, rich waves, we are craving green, bitter and sharp: kale, raddichio, broccoli, artichokes, lemons, oranges, pasta and lots of olive oil. ‘Mum, I like it when you stink of oranges‘ Luca told me the other day. I like stinking of oranges too, having the zest under my nails, my lip burning hot because I touched it with a zesting finger, the oily scent strong enough to help me forget the sink is still slightly blocked.

I have been cooking from Fabrizia Lanza’s book Coming Home to Sicily, which Vincenzo, my Sicilian, is extremely happy about. It is a beautiful book, but not intimidatingly so: the recipes are too lovely and down to earth for that. The first thing I made was lentils with orange zest and mint, a recipe which transported me back to the case vecchie kitchen last summer where Fabrizia, Giovanna, lauren, Lou, David and I stood chopping onion and mint, and zesting oranges, the combined scent almost seeming an exaggeration of itself. While I chopped in my small Roman kitchen Vincenzo came and sat at the table, noting it felt like a Sicilian bong. As I mixed the pile of mint, orange zest and parley with warm lentils another wave of good smells filled the kitchen.

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I also made zucca in Agrodolce or sweet and sour squash. I have been searching for a recipe like this ever since eating a dish of zucca alla scapace at a good local trattoria called Flavio al Velavevodetto just before christmas. Where Flavio’s Roman version used chunks of pumpkin cooked in olive oil, vinegar and sugar, Fabrizia suggests slices of butternut squash. The slices are griddled until tender and seared with dark lines, then dressed with red onions sautéed until soft and slightly caramelized in extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and sugar.

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The combination of tender, velvety squash and the sweet, sharp onion is excellent. It can be eaten straight away, but is even better after a few hours when the flavors have really taken hold. The lentils, warm with citrus and mint, made a good partner for the squash, as did some ricotta di pecora. In between mouthfuls of lunch and sips of local red wine that reminded me of wild cherries, we agreed that we should visit Sicily in March – after all there is a family house there that is long neglected.

The next day the leftover Zucca in agrodolce was better still. We ate it with boiled potatoes and kale dressed with salt and olive oil. The remaining three half moons were chopped and became orange flecks amongst the leftover potato and kale I used as a filling for the bread crust torta rustica I am going to write about next week. So until next week.

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Grilled sweet and sour squash –  Zucca in agrodolce

adapted from Coming Home to Sicily by Fabrizia Lanza

  • 1 kg winter squash, such a butternut
  • fine sea salt
  • 125 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • a large red onion
  • black pepper
  • 60 ml red wine vinegar
  • 2 heaped teaspoons sugar

Cut the squash in half, pare away the skin and scoop out the seeds. Slice each half crosswise into 5 mm thick slices.  Heat up the grill-pan over a medium flame. Cook the squash slices in batches, over a medium heat, flipping them when deep grill marks appear. Once cooked, remove the slices onto a deep plate or shallow dish, season with salt and cover loosely to keep warm.

Meanwhile, peel and slice the red onion. In a small frying pan, over a medium/low heat, fry the onion on the olive oil until  it is soft, which will take about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir and then add the vinegar and sugar and continue cooking until slightly reduced and caramelized, which will take (roughly) another 5 minutes.

Pour the onion and its sticky juices over the grilled squash. leave to stand for about 15 minutes, carefully turning the pieces after about 6 minutes. Serve warm.

Leftovers keep beautifully and it could be argued, improve. Cover with cling film and keep in the fridge. Remember to pull the dish out of the fridge at least half an hour before eating.

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Lentil salad with mint and orange zest – Insalata di lenticchie con menta e scorzetta di arancia

adapted from Coming Home to Sicily by Fabrizia Lanza

  • 500 g small brown or green lentils (not Puy)
  • 5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • the juice of half a lemon
  • a big handful of mint leaves and another of parsley
  • fine sea salt
  • finely grated zest of an unwaxed orange

In a medium pan, cover the lentils with a liter of cold water. Bring the lentils to the boil. then reduce to a simmer for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Drain the lentils and put them into a serving bowl.

Chop herbs and add to the bowl, add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and finally grate over the zest. Stir, leave to sit 5 minutes before serving, stir again and serve (pouring over a little more olive oil for shine if you fancy).

Again, leftovers keep beautifully. Cover with cling film and keep in the fridge. Remember to pull the dish out of the fridge at least half and hour before eating.

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This June 15 – 20, Luisa Weiss and I are going to be leading a 5 day food writing workshop we have called the Language of food at The Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school in Sicily. The idea is that before we arrive we will share and collectively read six pieces of food writing including Gabriele Hamilton, Mary Taylor-Simetti, Laurie Colwin and Molly Wizenburg. These pieces will form the basis and starting point for our discussions before we begin to look at how we can develop our own writing voices. We will of course also be cooking with Fabrizia, walking, exploring the estate and Fabrizia’s garden, taking excursions and drinking campari and eating panelle in the camomile scented courtyard together. I think it is going to be a creative, thought provoking, inspiring, beautiful and delicious five days and I really hope some of you are able to come. – R

If you would like to know more, you might like to read the post I wrote last year having just come back from Sicily. Melissa also wrote beautifully about the school. The calendar and details are here.

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Filed under antipasti, butternut squash, Fabrizia Lanza, In praise of, lentils, Sicily, The Wednesday Chef, winter recipes, Workshops