Carbs et al.
Like most years, Alessandro and I spent the Easter bank holiday weekend staying with his parents in a small village not far from Rome. Spending most of the weekend eating (or talking about eating) reminded me again how good Italians are with carbs. Of course there is Pizza, thin and crispy Roman style, or thick and pillowy like they serve it in Naples. But then there are also the thick slabs of sourdough bread to start a meal, slightly charred and topped with a fresh tomato salsa or thin slices of rosemary flecked lardo or even just drizzled with olio nuovo (the beautifully grassy first olive oil of the season), thin strands of homemade tagliatelle like the ones you can see in the picture above (beautifully yellow as Alessandro’s dad made them with duck eggs) – cooked not too long so they retain some bite (al dente) before being thrown into a pan of funghi porcini, or the torn pieces of bread used to swipe your plate clean (fare la scarpetta). And we cannot forget about Italian sweets either, the almost chewy yet flaky dough of sfogliatelle, syrup-drenched baba, pan brioche buns split in half and served with a generous scoop of gelato for the fluffiest (and most decadent) ice cream sandwich you can imagine or the crunchy anise flecked ciambelline cookies rich with olive oil and wine that Alessandro’s sister and aunt prepare in industrial quantities.
Talking about carbs and all things Italian food, this is my go to recipe for Pizza. I sometimes play with the type of flour I use. I like using a mixture of half all purpose spelt flour and half wholemeal spelt flour (adding a 1-2 tablespoons more water if the dough seems dry) for a heartier pie. The recipe is fuss-free (aside from the 24h wait while the dough slowly proves in the fridge) and has never failed me – in fact, I prepared a batch of dough on Thursday night in time to have pizza for dinner last night, using the leftover dough for a small boule in time for lazy weekend breakfasts.
As much as I have a weakness for bread and all type of pasta, I also have a weakness for dumplings – whether steamed, fried or boiled, I have yet to meet a dumpling I did not like. And while somewhat fiddly to make at home, I love making my own potstickers or steamed dumplings like momos. Mine are never picture-perfect but that does not seem to impact their flavour in the least. And ever since I started improvising both with the dough and the fillings (yes, there may have been rye potstickers filled with both lardons fumes and Chinese chives the other week), I can basically have a plate of dumplings on the table in just over an hour no matter what the contents of my fridge. And that is a very good thing indeed. When I am looking for inspiration for my fillings (or if I just want to ogle at perfectly folded dumplings and feel I need to up my lunch box/plane snack game), I head to Heidi’s blog – she has quite a few dumpling recipes on her site, including these Green Curry Momos which look and sound divine.
Talking about dumplings, if you ever find yourself in Brussels craving steamed buns and dumplings AND a seemingly never-ending tea menu, you should seek out this place on Rue de Baillie, near the Chatelain market. I took a new colleague there for lunch this week and we both loved it. You can either order a la carte or opt for the lunch option (available vegetarian if that is your preference) – this gives you a set of 4 steamed savoury dumplings, a steamed bun and a couple of steamed sweet dumplings, all washed down with a tea of your choice (and the price you pay depends on just how expensive your taste for tea is).
As for what I have been reading lately, I loved this excerpt from a book about life in a Parisian Pâtisserie that my friend Mehrunnisa shared with me, not just for an insight into what life is like in a Pâtisserie but also for the observations on language – and how much and how little we need verbal language to communicate. I am also still working my way through Joanna Blythman’s Swallow This. Although I already try and avoid processed food as far as possible, it has been an absolute eye opener to learn more about what some of the terms on food labels these days mean (and what information does not even need to go on a label!). Stuck at Fiumicino airport for a few hours earlier this week on my way back to Brussels also made me realise how tricky it is to avoid processed and additive-laden food at airports – there was not a single piece of fresh fruit in sight and all the prepared food was suddenly looking even more unappealing than normally.
And while I don’t do a whole lot of German baking or cooking, I am super excited for Luisa‘s new book. I have a few German baking books already, but they mainly cover mainstream recipes. Yet, from what I can tell thanks to Luisa’s instagram, her book also include recipes for lesser known German cakes and biscuits, such as, for example Russisch Brot (which, albeit simple to prepare, I have never come across other than in a store-bought bag) or German Lebkuchen made with dough that has been aged several months rather than the short-cut recipes that most people use these days.