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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 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 her,e 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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I have this kitchen

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The first copies have been spotted in Toronto. In a bookshop of all places! An eagle-eyed friend send me a picture of what looks like a real huddle of books, two of which are brazenly facing out to show off a picture of my table, a little Duralex glass of coffee, my faithful Moka pot, a piece of a Roman Christmas cake called pangaillo (yellow bread), a bowl of oranges and lemons, and the words My Kitchen in Rome, Rachel Roddy. The picture came through with a beep and then it glowed through the screen breaking the absolute darkness in the bedroom at my parents house deep in the Dorset countryside. I have written another book I thought! I am prolific. Then I remembered it was the same book, just with another cover and title. A book that is now in a bookshop in Toronto and soon to be in more bookshops all over Canada, and on the 2nd of February in America. My American edition! I feel so international, and proud that my book has the chance to do what I have always longed for, that is travel all over a vast, thrilling land on the other side the Atlantic. I haven’t seen a real copy yet, so my next thought was to check they had airbrushed the dirty mark off the wall behind the table, which of course they have. Wide awake, I came downstairs to write this in the middle of the night. Now the wind is howling what sounds like congratulations outside the kitchen window, I have a celebratory coffee in my hand, and feel extremely happy.

The cover and name maybe be different, but inside is just the same, give or take the odd cup. Actually lots of cups, as the recipes have been patiently converted. The baking though is in both cups and metric, which is thanks to my brilliant testers and their conviction that offering both was right. I think we have also changed the words palaver and draining board. In short, little changes, but the book, whether Five Quarters with a sink, or My Kitchen in Rome with a table, remains the same.

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Many of you know the story. I didn’t intend to stay in Rome. I was set on returning to Sicily to finish the clockwise journey I’d interrupted. Then I visited a part of the city called Testaccio, which – for want of a better description – tripped me up with its cocky charm. I decided to stay for a while and rented a flat above a breadshop, across a courtyard from boisterous trattoria and seconds from the burly old market. My front door opened onto a narrow balcony overlooking an internal courtyard which was sort of vortex of cooking smells and vigorous Roman life.

There is a wonderful Elizabeth Bowen quote (that we were given permission to use on page 252) pointing out the injunction to do when in Rome as the romans do is superfluous: what else is there to do?  Of course I was going to eat pizza bianca just pulled from the mouth of a baker’s oven, flowers dipped in batter and fried until golden, carbonara, spaghetti alle vongole, gnocchi with tomato sauce, whole braised artichokes, bitter greens cooked with olive oil and garlic, wobbly cream puddings, wild cherry tart. Seasonal, uncomplicated, bold, and with flavours that are undisguised and definite: Roman food was a revelation. And I didn’t just want to eat these dishes, I wanted to try to understand them, to make them. I have always cooked and written, but the two met, collided really, in a small wind ventilated kitchen on Via Mastro Giorgio.

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I’d left everything behind in order to travel. I adopted a similar approach to cooking, allowing myself to watch, taste, experiment and learn things all over again, especially the blindingly obvious things. Such as how to make a soffritto, the simplest tomato sauce and bean soup, how to braise vegetables and meat in wine and their own juices, to boil pasta and soak chickpeas, all things I ostensibly knew how to do, but then again didn’t. Things that, once re-learned and better understood changed the way I cook. I cooked and kept notes, and cooked and kept notes. In 2008 my notes found a home here on this blog, and now seven years later a new home in this book.

My Kitchen in Rome: Recipes and Notes on Italian cooking is the full name of the US/Canadian edition. Nick Seaton, a photographer whose work I like and admire very much, came and more-or-less lived with us and our chaos for a days at a time in order to capture Testaccio. His pictures, which feel like acute sideways glances at this distinct part of Rome, are honest and beautiful and add another dimension to the book. The rest of the pictures are mine, taken over the course of the year in our small kitchen as I cooked my way though the seasons and the 120 recipes.

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Swelling the fact that a book is the hard, dedicated work of many, I now want to thank the  brilliant team at Grand Central, especially my Editor Brittany McInerney. I would also like to thank my first editor Sara Weiss, the first person to approach me about a book, years before anyone else. Sara, you planted the seed.

Above all though, Thank you to you, for reading, cooking, commenting and for the real sense of community that exists here. Without you, this book, in two editions, would quite simply never have happened. I know some of you have bought the UK edition, but for those of you who have waited long eight months, cheering me along all the way, you can now buy a copy if you wish, from a bookshop, or here on line. Please let me know if you do, one of the joys of the glowing, beeping, inter-batty-web is that so many of us can keep in touch, send me a message here, or on twitter, or instagram, I want to know. I am finishing my second book now, but just as soon as that is delivered I am planning to come the US, visit some bookshops if they will have me, and hopefully meet some of you. It all feels very exciting.

Now it is light, and although a grey Dorset day, feeling very bright, and I need more coffee. More soon. R

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a true tale

DSC_4997I’d intended to post this week’s Kitchen Sink Tales yesterday, meaning Thursday, the day gnocchi is traditionally eaten in Rome. Of course you can eat them whenever the heck, or day you want. Having been the woman Artusi writes about – the one who puts her spoon in the boiling gnocchi pan to stir, only to watch them disintegrate like a soluble aspirin in a glass of water – but now having got the knack, I hope I share that. I would love to know your stories, both good and bad, also the types of potato that work best for you, wherever you are, the egg or no egg.

I cannot sigh off without a deep, loving nod to Alan Rickman. Most actors (or in my case ex actor) have a tale set during their drama school years, when they queued for returns then sat thorough the same production half a dozen times, each performance more spine tingling than the previous. For me, it was Alan Rickman’s Anthony to Helen Mirren’s Cleopatra at the National Theatre in the late 90’s. I was hypnotized by his long, expressive face and body; both with a laid back seductiveness, and rich, resonant voice, somewhere between a purr, a snarl and a song, which came from almost disconcertingly closed lips. I can hear his voice now. Again in A Winter Guest at the Almeida, then films Truly Madly Deeply and Close My Eyes, he knocked me sideways. He was an actor who made me want to be an actor. Reading the tributes that are flooding in from those who knew him, all of which confirm his hypnotic brilliance, we learn too of his extraordinary loyalty, generosity, kindness, political integrity and boundless creativity. The world is a sadder place without him. It is going to sound naff maybe, but reading them, and thinking of AR has left me wanting to be kinder, more generous, more loyal and as creative as I can be.

Back soon with a recipe.

R

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4 tales and 5 things

 

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Bloody Kitchen Sink Tales, nothing for weeks, and then four of them come along at once, Cabbage, Chestnuts, Lemons, and Potatoes. Some of recipes will not be new for longtime readers here, especially Pasta e patate which I have written about several times, a reflection of how often I make it. Also in The Guardian this week was a piece from Bee Wilson’s New book, First Bite. I generally run a mile from the words diet and detox, even if they have the word No before them. My cautious self though, was glad to have read this wise, scholarly but human piece. Another piece I enjoyed very much was The smell of Loss by Julie Myerson.

I am sorry that I am not writing here more. I could (happily) try to blame The Guardian, but really it is because I am accomplished at procrastinating and then write very slowly. I am also working on my next book, the working title of which is Two Kitchens, one being here in Rome, the other the one we have partly inherited in Sicily. I will be back here soon though, I have things to tell you about.

Meanwhile, I am happy to announce that Luisa, Fabrizia and I are running the second edition of The Language of Food in June at The Anna Tasca Lanza Cooking school in Sicily. You can also look at the time-table here. You might like to read what I wrote last year, and the post Luisa wrote after our first edition, a most glorious week.  It is a big commitment I know, but I hope that some of you may be able to consider it. Please feel free to write me an email if you want to know more.

Lastly and most importantly, Happy New Year, I hope 2016 is as good as can be for you all. Thank you so much for your support this year, for reading and commenting here and over at The Guardian, for buying the book  – the US edition of which is out in less than a month – for reading it and then splattering it with tomato sauce, hot fat or pasta cooking water. I mean it when I say I feel very fortunate.

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And the fifth thing, may I suggest boiling a whole orange for Claudia Roden’s Orange and almond cake. Quite aside from the cake it plays a part in, the smell as it simmers is stupendous, the truest sort of aromatherapy, just the thing for these long January days, maybe.

More soon –  Rachel

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catching up

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That slightly rotten looking apple hiding in the picture, the one I nearly threw away, was such a good apple. It had that curious, sweet and musty ‘Granny’s attic’ smell, which transported me down to my parent’s cellar in winter when one wall is stacked with boxes of newspaper packed Bramleys. Two weeks in the bowl and the apple had wrinkled like fingers-in-a-bath into tight, sweetness and tasted of nuts and honey. I am not even sure what the variety was! I will have to ask the apple man at the farmers market on Sunday when I buy more. The oranges in the bowl were for Kitchen Sink Tales which you can read over at The Guardian if you would like.

I have also written about winter tomato sauce and spaghetti. Ostensibly easy things, that are – I find – difficult to make well. This provokes quite strong views, all of which I am trying to embrace as I learn how to write for a newspaper. As Vincenzo would say, Coraggio, ideally with a glass of wine. This week I also mention George Clooney. You can read the article here if you like.

More soon R

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more tales

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This week’s Kitchen Sink Tales in the Guardian are about a celery, and soup, a big soup. If you would like to read them, here is the link. – R

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supple ripple

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A very ripe kaki (persimmon) feels a bit like a little balloon filled with water. Cup one in your hands – they are often disconcertingly heavy – and then move it from side to side: you can almost feel the soft pulp sloshing inside the tawny skin, which has the sort of translucent glow that in many fruits would suggest the wrong side of ripe. The dry, crumpled calyx will tug away easily and then it takes almost nothing to break the skin. A knife would be excessive. A spoon is best. It isn’t quite the explosion of a water balloon, but almost: open the fruit over a plate so the flood of sweet, pulpy, almost jelly like flesh is contained.

Until I came to Italy, I had only ever eaten Sharon persimmons, called Sharon fruit in the UK, a variety developed in the Sharon valley in Israel to be less astringent when hard, meaning they can be eaten with pleasure and crunch like an apple. As a child I quite liked Sharon fruit, it was a fun fruit, as opposed to a boring fruit, both exotic, with its shiny, yellow-orange skin, and familiar to a 12-year-old who watched with dedication the soap opera Eastenders and England’s most famous landlord’s daughter, Sharon Watts. It was the equivalent, maybe, of a fruit today being developed in the Kim valley.

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Various less astringent varieties are cultivated in Italy, usually called kaki vaniglia, in Rome at least. Just to confuse things they are also called loti vanigliakaki mela and cachi fuya. Simply asking for kaki duri (hard) generally works. The hard vaniglia variety will eventually ripen too, the skin darkening from yellow to tawny red, the pulp softening into plummyness. However after extremely scientific research on my windowsill and in a paper bag, I can confirm they never quite reach the ripeness, nor the deep flavor, of varieties whose astringent tannins have been conquered by extraordinary sweetness. Hard varieties, I think, are best just so, out of hand, or sliced for a salad, where lemon and salt bring out best in them.

It is the kaki that begin life as a hard, mouth-furring ball, and then ripen into little balloons that really interest me at this time of year. The sort that make plenty of people shudder at the mere wobbly thought of them, The wild ancestors of Kaki grew in China and Japan, where full-fruiting trees have flourished, and had a deep symbolic significance, for over two thousand years. In her wonderful Fruit Book, Jane Grigson notes that in Japan the poet Issa uses Kaki to symbolize maternal self-sacrifice – Wild persimmons, the mother eating, the bitter part. I have seen pictures of trees in Japan, leafless, hung with deep red fruit that looks like glowing baubles on an avant garde Christmas tree. I have never been to Japan, but I have been to Abruzzo in November, a particularly damp and grey one to research a piece on olive oil. We had to stop the car several time to look at the strange Autumn beauty through the mist, trees with skeleton branches arching under the weight of the fruit, the ground below a ripe carnage. The owner of one tree almost begged us to take some off her hands, which we did, the fruits supple and extremely soft, spilling all over our greed in the car. Back home I thought about jam, and until I realized that ripe kaki are in fact already jam, the pulp so sticky and sweet that you need only nick a corner and a jam tumbles onto your toast. Or into your cake batter.

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As you may remember, I only really make one cake, of infinite variations. It is Ruth’s olive oil and yogurt pot cake – the one in which you use a pot of yogurt, and then the pot to measure the rest of the ingredients – which has now evolved into a ricotta and olive oil cake you can add anything to, the recipe of which is in my book. It will probably be in my next book too. I make a version of this cake most weeks, enjoying the fact I can fling it all together in about two minutes. This week, after dislodging the mixing bowl from the infernal pile rammed under the butcher block and thinking bollocks, I noticed a kaki and thought aha. So ripe was the fruit, pureeing it would have been superfluous, I simply squeezed and it slipped, like a jellyfish, into the bowl. I then fished out bits of skin, which wasn’t really necessary. The batter streaked with tawny ripples looked gorgeous. In the oven it went.

I have made the cake again since, weighing the kaki, which was just short of 300g. The weight and consistency of the ripe fruit means the cake doesn’t rise as it normally does, in fact when I first pulled the first one from the oven my heart sank like cake before me. It was heavy. The next morning I cut a slice, the crust deep golden brown, the crumb ruddy-yellow with tawny flecks. It was dense, damp and plainly delicious. This cake reminds me a little of Claudia Roden’s wonderfully moist whole orange cake in that it is better after a nights rest and keeps a good few days, that it happily moonlights as a pudding if given enough cold cream. I think this cake might be our Christmas dessert. That, or simply a ripe kaki, with cream poured in the top, and nothing else.

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Persimmon (kaki), olive oil, lemon and ricotta ring cake

There are a rather confusing number of varieties of kaki/persimmon grown all over the world. As you can imagine, the varieties that need to be matured until very soft are ripened in various ways, some more preferable than others, and transport can be difficult. It might be worth doing a bit of research. I have reduced the sugar slightly from my book recipe as the kaki provides plenty.

  • 250 g plain flour
  • a bag of Italian leivito or two teaspoons of baking powder
  • 150 g sugar
  • 250 g ricotta or whole milk yogurt
  • 200 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 eggs
  • the zest of a large unwaxed lemon
  • a very ripe, very soft (Hachiya) kaki/ persimmon, approx 300 g.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°

In a large bowl, mix together the dry ingredients – flour, baking power and sugar. Add the ricotta/yogurt, olive oil and eggs one by one and mix vigorously until you have a smooth batter.  Grate the lemon zest directly over the mixture and then scoop the persimmon flesh from the skin and mix again.

Pour the mixture into an oiled and floured ring tin and bake on a rack in the middle of the oven for 40 – 50 minutes or until the cake is golden brown and a skewer or piece of spaghetti comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the tin and then invert onto a plate.

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