A sneak-peek of my book "As The Romans Do"

© David Loftus

© David Loftus

Dear reader, my valiant Unknown Soldier, Thank you for stopping by. If you’re reading this then chances are that you’re longing for luscious dolce vita style meals, echoing with imperial ruins and Vespa rides through the side streets of the eternal city par excellence, a panino in your bag.

Rome – a place that’s like an open air museum, disseminated with monumental masterpieces from the Colosseum through Piazza Navona to the 80 years old lady cleaning artichokes – the Holy Grail of the Roman food scene - at the food market. A slice of the historic and a wink at the contemporary gastronomic culture, that’s exactly what the book “As The Romans Do” is about. But that is not all.

This is a cookbook to butter and splatter, that will tickle and invigorate your taste buds. I hope it becomes an integral part of your kitchen and that you’ll fill it with personal notes and tomato sauce stains.

It’s been made with love and its pages spark up with food ideas that you can enjoy simply as they are or freely contaminate with your own touch.

This patchwork of recipes and anecdotes is developed much in the fashion of a day in the life of a Roman, each chapter punctuating a different time of the day. You’ll find crispy pastries to get you started, bringing you the magic of the Italian coffee-at-the-counter routine, vibrant packed snacks (merende) and lunch on the run options – a perfect fit for those busy weekdays. Then come family lunches to feed a crowd and recipes for two if you’re up for romance. I’ll explain to you all about #foodhappiness and the power of organized improvisation, and we’ll indulge in ‘midnight munchies’ with delicious dishes that take just a few minutes to make and even fewer to wipe out.

The images will catapult you right to the very heart of the Italian capital. They’ve been taken by the talented David Loftus and are evocative of an off-the-beaten-track lifestyle. The book contains tons of short stories and tips on how to live Rome like a local. You can share them with friends and family, or simply enjoy reading them while curling up on the couch. I’ll tell you how a Carbonara pasta is reminiscent of those orange splashed Roman sunsets and how Rome is the only town in the world where people of all kinds mix together in an almost contradictory way: you see the vagabond with the prince, the lawyer with the butcher, the florist with that mysterious lady always dressed in black. Just look at the way most people walk, literally trascinati, almost as if dragged by an invisible force, a form of vigorous sloth, just like my dragged savoy cabbage.

I hope to convey to you what Romanity is all about so that, from now on, when in Rome, you can’t help but do…. As The Romans Do.

Want to order your copy now? Amazon has put it at a special price and it's only a click away, if you click here.

Baci & abbracci,

Eleonora

Puff, flaxseeds and apples

The silence of an early morning provides for an unparalleled broad sense of possibilities. It's one of those delectable moments that seem limitlessly stretched - if only for a flash of time - and freely filled with impromptu ideas, some of which you know from the start you're not likely to turn to reality because too difficult or too extravagant. But ehy, it's that daydream stream of consciousness that matters. It's a habit of calling upon opportunities. And that's the impulse of creativity, to me.

In daily life, one gets so hung up with what people think or say that I often feel the need to compensate. In that sense cooking feels like an intimate discovery. Engaging in the making allows you to grasp the moment like nothing else can.

When cooking is meditative, every step of the way is revelatory. #foodhappiness is never too far.

Here is a rhapsodic preparation made of puff pastry: I love to watch how the layers amplify when cooked, leaving generous air pockets inside. The pastry itself has such reassuring versatility, used for both sweet and savoury dishes. Yesterday I found the most delicious golden apples in an open air market; they looked, crisp, heavenly and irresistible.

Having about 1 hour before heading out to my meetings this morning, shop-bought puff pastry worked just fine.

A flaxseeds apple pie

  • 10 gr. butter to grease
  • 2 whole butter puff pastry blocks
  • 1 lemon, the juice
  • 4 golden delicious apples
  • 6 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
  • 100 ml. eau de vie/grappa/any liqueur will do

Preheat the oven at 180°. Grease a 20 cm cake tin with butter and gently line it with one of the pastry blocks, before blind-baking it for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Place the lemon juice in a medium bowl. Peel, halve, and core the apples. Cut each half into rough chunks. Toss the apples with the lemon juice. Add the sugar, cinnamon, thyme and mix with a wooden spoon to combine evenly.

Heat the liqueur in a pan for a few seconds, then add the apples mix and let simmer gently for about 15 minutes, covered.

Sprinkle the flaxseeds over the lightly blind-baked base of the pie, then smoothly envelop it with the apple mix, making sure to keep the cooking liquid aside.

Cover the apples with the second pastry block, and seal the edges manually as to not let any of the apple chunks ungracefully coming out of the pie. Finally bronze the pie with a brush of the apple's cooking liquid and bake in the oven for 35/40 minutes until crunchily brown. Enjoy at every moment of the day.

My book "As The Romans Do" is a wrap

I missed you, too. After much food-writing, food-styling, food-testing back and forth between the stove, my computer, my publisher's HQ in London, David Loftus photography studio, and my beloved Rome, it's  finally a wrap. Some amongst you could follow the much hectic process through my Instagram. My debut cookbook, "As The Romans Do" has gone into production now and will be released on June, 2nd 2016. How could I know just a year ago that so many pieces needed to fall into place in order to make this happen? Well, I simply had no idea.

There has been the book proposal, followed by the content brainstorming - a plethora of things to say and just so much space (blame the author's irrepressible ego).

Recipe testing: three to four times in order to perfect each recipe to satisfaction, thanks to a wide range of very hungry and incredibly patient friends and my clients, both corporate and private through La Belle Assiette (more to come in the book's Acknowledgements).

Then the very reserved moment of actually filling up those blank pages, often with elaborate anecdotes to transmit the very cinematic context in which my recipes were created - I mean, we're talking seriously Dolce Vita Rome, guys. And the recurring questions: "Did I express everything I needed to say, was it clear enough for the audience to grasp?"

A little later, the most exciting time arrived: the photography for the book. We've been in Rome for the outdoors and in London for the studio photography, shooting up to 10 recipes a day with the help of an incredibly brilliant team. There was a food stylist making sure the cherry was always on the cake, Emily Ezekiel, a prop-stylist delivering the atmosphere of a Roman home into the studio, Linda Berlin along with an amazing in-house art director, Juliette Norsworthy. And numerous helpers that have proved valuable in cooperating especially during those quite inevitable yet crucial: "We're missing a piece of Parmigiano" moments.

Copy-editing was next, followed by the layout decisions. This entire experience has shaped my artistic voice into exactly who I want to be, right at this stage in my career, and I couldn't be more honoured for being able to send my message across so vividly to such a wide audience.

And that I owe to my brilliant online community, YOU.

It's good to be back to blogging, a dimension that leads my creativity to explore unknown places hence providing me with an always wider sense of what's possible.

My book is now available for pre-order on Amazon, just click on the link here to have it at your door right upon launching date.

I hope you'll forgive my temporary absence, but it was for the good cause and I'm now back in track with loads of new adventures to share in the near future.

And I cannot wait to experience it with you.

Baci & abbracci,

Eleonora

Capri & The Amalfi Coast

You would immediately sense a fragrance of lemons as the ferry boat drops anchor in the island of Capri. But that is just a hint, a prologue to all feelings of reflection and deep restoration to be experienced once you step on top of Marina Piccola and into one of the few bars displaying all kind of tartines, a sort of eternal aperitivo time only to be distracted by a dive into the sea or a stroll through those glorious shops selling coral jewellery and handmade sandals. villagiusso2

I stayed at a small and gloriously charming house - the casetta, as everyone calls it there -  that was once inhabited by Marguerite Yourcenar. Rumour has it that she conceived the first manuscript for "Memoirs of Hadrian" during her time in the casetta. And no wonder: this captivating island has been for centuries a favourite shelter for an intellectual and cosmopolitan, extremely over the top community. I found a telephone bill to her name, which makes me wonder about her, possibly long conversations linking a mature Marguerite to the real world from her buen retiro in the Neapolitan island. In this house, I also conceived part of my debut cookbook, As The Romans Do - going from high prose to food writing I do hope Marguerite will forgive me. But, oh, If I enjoyed this place's voluptuous embrace.

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Giovanna Rispoli is the charming lady behind the good keeping of this typical house - with colorful ceramic tiles (pictured alongside octopus and clams in the photo above) and a blue theme finding its echo in the wild sea approached from the balcony - where al fresco dining is the epytome of a perfect day spent walking and cooking.

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She is also the owner of a masseria, a typical fortified farmhouse (I've already talked about one here) which is located in the Amalfi Coast - on the hill of the delightful Vico Equense town.

At Astapiana Villa Giusso , a former monastery, guests can enjoy a medieval privacy surrounded by 13 hectars of land overlooking the bay of Naples and the Sorrento peninsula.

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There's nothing more energysing than an excellent night sleep at Annunciata Flat, followed by some initiation to harvesting in the park. You can smart up your breakfast cappuccino with the introduction of some fresh milk , just squeezed. Elevenses couldn't get any better while tasting handpicked fruits and vegetables.

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Then, I loved to immerse myself in the historical background of this unique place which changed so much throughout the centuries: first a monastery, then a crown place, then a factory, finally a manor house. And it's all detailed within the in-house museum where antique furniture and paintings from 17th and 18th century, a glorious majolica kitchen, the family’s chapel, a 17th century wine and olive oil cellar with original barrels and jars, a luxuriously decorated early 18th entertainment room styled in fine gold Damascus silk fabric are all displayed.

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A feast for the eyes and the stomach alike, since I could also enjoy a refined homemade extra virgin olive oil tasting. In the evening, we all made pizza together, and as the dough was rising, I curled up in the living room while reading The Story of San Michele by Axel Munthe. Not only #foodhappiness then. To get to what you're good at in the best way, there's a universe of creative inspirations out there, which the Amalfi Coast people are masters at providing. Switch off and get surprised.

Love,

Eleonora

Relais Astapiana Villa Giusso, Via Camaldoli, 51, Vico Equense NA, Italy

Website: www.astapiana.com

For reservations: info@astapiana.com

Mamushka by Olia Hercules

I hadn't come across Ukrainian cooking until I set my eyes on the beautiful pages of Mamushka, the debut cookbook written with love by fellow food writer Olia Hercules. As it's often the case in the webscene, and in my exquisite experience so far, I first got in touch with her on a digital basis. Only the fact that we are in the same tentacles, meaning that we share the same, beloved publisher, Octopus (curious about my love at first sight book deal story? It's thoroughly explained here), somehow makes me instantly look at her like family already (sharing being the most essential element of our foodie community). To start with, I had a glimpse of Olia's style and tone as she was explaining for Periscope - a live video straming app - the use of her authenticly rustic kitchen paraphernalia while cuddling up on the pasteled cushions softly placed around her London dining table. In those brief moments, I observed how delicately she caressed a crystallized candied edible flower, and as I contemplated her care and dedication in that glimpse of a second, that was it: ever since I fell under her food spell.

From then on, I literally counted the days until her book publication date, sharing her excitement and trepidation for a moment so incredibly electrifying, a moment that I will also have the honour of going through as of next May :)!

And then it came, wrapped in a shipping cardboard case, one of those I like to tear apart with the tips of my fingers, so much I'm keen to put them on the cover and flip through the freshly scented pages with childish amazement. I hid with a chuffed hand the grin on my face as  I happily discovered Olia's lovely handwritten inscription.

The book's flash blue cover is reminiscent of those kitchen tiles that immediately bring you to your senses, giving you the desire to get your hands buttered and splattered as you test the recipes away with a timeless sense of gratification.

The first taste felt like a homecoming - Olia's fuss-free apple sponge cake- , as much as the first touch did.

Yet, I've never been to Ukraine (still!) nor have I had until now any specific cultural contact with that side of the map. Nonetheless, Olia vigorously takes you into the immaculate blond wheatfields typical of her native country.  She explains the foraging, the markets, the ever so willing faces, the revived old recipes distributed within her family that she personally went and got hold of on a sweaty hot Ukrainian summer, with the most beautiful and crunchy tomatoes ever.

Her green borsch is an explosion of beetrooty flavours, her stuffed cabbage leaves a declaration of lust for life.  Even though I'm in the very intense and calories consuming process of writing my own book, I couldn't resist but testing some of Olia's recipes.

Her work is a propagation of pristine intentions, unchained flavours, atypically delightful combinations...and hope. Knowing that there's always another side to the coin and the best is yet to come.

Come and meet us in London: With Olia, I'll be holding an event about Food and Social Media in London at Cookbook Confidential Festival later this summer at Southbank Centre. Come around and join us on Saturday September 5th. Places are limited, so you can book yours online now by clicking on the link here.

With love and borscht,

Eleonora

Photo credits @ Olia Hercules

Puglia style fava beans purée

I always say that. My #foodhappiness is all about experimenting with senses and flavours, developing new, familiar habits, bringing gastronomical culture further. To participate, to share, to bring my enthusiasm on yet another level. I had been digitally acquainted with the talented Emiko Davies for a few months now. What I love about being part of this incredible global food community is its lively interaction, its exuberant mutual support and a sense of sharing that I've never seen in any other category. And that is such a blessing.

This fifty-fifty Japanese/Australian charming woman comes fully equipped with an adorable 2 years old toddler, Mariu, a camera which she masters to perfection and a strenuous dedication to the background history of Tuscan food. Just like me, Emiko will publish her debut cookbook too next year, and I cannot wait to do some promotional events together: here is her story. As I already did in the past with Rachel Roddy and Elizabeth Minnett, we decided to meet for a shared foodie experience. Here is her version of our exchange, along with a delightful recipe for Octopus and Potato Salad that we also made on our morning together.

We hugged like old friends as we met for a cappuccino and a morning pastry at Porto Ercole's local breakfast bar. This small town is located in the Argentario area, a place a little more than 100 km. north of Rome. It's a must visit if you want to get spoilt for either seaside, countryside, or thermal pleasures, you name it: the Silver Coast has it all. And that's where Emiko is currently living with her young family.

I let my dried fava beans rest in abundant water overnight. This is the classic fava bean purée of Puglia, enjoyed alongside olive oil-smothered greens.

In popular culture there are many widespread beliefs  related to the fava bean. In the lands of Gargano, in Apulia, on the night of St. John the Baptist, all girls of marriageable age put three fava beans under the pillow , one with the peel, another one without and the third slightly bitten at the top. During the night, each girl would take a random one: the first (the one with the peel), would hold the prophecy for a rich life; the second (without the skin), would destine the girl to a poor existence and finally the third (the bitten bean), would lead her to a mediocre life.

Because the fava bean has the tendency to swell during cooking, it has always evoked, in rural culture, the idea of a pompous man with an inflated self . There's a saying, still popular today, "to kill two birds with one stone", the literally translation of the stone being the fava bean, that is to say that you can get two benefits with one effort.

Try and find dried fava beans imported from either Italy or northern Africa, for the most legitimate gusto and texture. This has been sustenance food in Puglia for ages, and remains today one of the region's typical dishes.

Fava beans purée and friggitelli peppers (serves 4 people as a main course)

For the fava beans:

  • 250 gr. dried split fava beans
  • cool water to cover by 2 inches
  • 1 small Charlotte potato
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 50 ml. excellent extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt flakes

For the greens:

  • 1 kg. Green Friggitelli Peppers
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 unwaxed organic lemon
  • 1 bunch of fresh mint

Soak the beans in copious cool water and cover with a cloth overnight at room temperature. Drain and rinse them well.

On a wooden board, peel the potato and dice it in small pieces.

In a large, heavy pot, place the beans, the potatoes, fresh water to cover by 2 inches and finally the bay leaf. Set over low heat and bring to a boil.

Simmer, covered, until very tender, for about 1 hour and 45 minutes, making sure never to stir it. Using a perforated spoon, skim off any foam that rises to the surface of the water.

You'll realize your fava beans are done once the whole water has been absorbed and the texture is very much like polenta: creamy and heavy, not runny. Using the handle of a wooden spoon, control that the base of the pot is slightly burnt, then shake the casserole manually up and down. This way, the puree will detach itself from the pot. If needed, add a bit of water to thin it out. Sprinkle with salt and oil.

In the meanwhile make the friggitelli: let the oil warm up in a large frying pan, then splash in the mini green peppers, the juice of a lemon and its zest. Cover with a lid and let cook for about 20 minutes, stirring continously. At half cooking, add some chopped mint.

Drizzle the fava bean puree and the peppers with some more olive oil.

Thoroughly enjoy until sated.

With love and fava beans,

Eleonora

Photo Credits © by the brilliant Emiko Davies

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My book deal

I've always been instinctively compelled to write about what, to me, is the lesser known side of my culinary immediate horizon: Rome. I'm still pinching myself at the idea that I'm currently working on something that is soon to become an entity of its own: with a cover, hundreds of idyllic scented pages (I love nothing better than smelling through the inside of a new book) and most of all, my name on it. "I mean, really really? " (that's what my supercute 6 years old stepdaughter answered me when I told her that I'm conceiving a work that might inspire moms, amongst all kind of people - potentially all over the world -  to cook & travel for/with their daughters).

However, my story doesn't sound as fairytale like as many of my colleagues', who often talk about being picked up at food events or, even better, being directly sollicited by publishers in order to write a book. Nothing of the such happened to me, at least not on an international level. In the past, I had been sollicited by an Italian publisher who pictured me the less than tempting idea of autopromoting my own book - and If you're not Dante Alighieri, that's just standard procedure here in the Bel Paese.

Since by then, I already did my own publicity & marketing and am used to barter html programming for a pan of lasagne, I figured that was not where I intended my message to be delivered. After years of cooking workshops, food festivals and collaborations with brands, I felt like I deserved a softer, editorially competent pillow to provide me with a peaceful night's sleep.

I'm Italian, and certainly the fact that the English language is not my mother tongue didn't exactly help endorsing my candidature.

I knew I had an authentic message to deliver and I also knew that, in order to do so, I needed to pass through the UK market, one of the most globally sensitive to all things foodies. So I scratched my book idea, being at the same time extremely reserved for fear of being withdrawn and terribly open in order to transmit my very own philosophy on #romanity.

So there I was, over a year ago, sitting down in my working space - the kitchen - and loading my phone with phonecalls to the most eligible literary agencies in London. After 10 failed attempts I thought that my Mary Poppins side (constantly thinking "Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down") was officially out the window. Over the weeks that followed my first shots at finding an agent, and after the 35th failed attempt, I changed bed positioning as I thought that there might have been some serious feng shui turmoil going on with me. At the end I got, wretchedly, to agency pursuit n.45 and went directly in front of the mirror, my hands miming a gun ready to shoot, my intuition yet determined to keep that smile on.

Much to my surprise, I got 2 agents offering to represent my work, and from the most respected literary agencies too since, for fear of approaching too high and fall down with an unpleasantly burning bump, I left the biggest numbers at the end of my: "I want to become a food author" marathon.

This sorcerer's apprentice, by now my very lovely and charmingly tyrant agent, stood by me step by step before entering my book deal. She helped me compiling a book proposal and waited (oh, those months and my restlessness) for the right moment to introduce it to the most appropriate contending.

Then, it was a matter of a few, incredibly hectic days, where I jumped on a train to London and met with a few publishers. With all due respect to all, only one was truly extraordinaire, though. And I' a firm believer in instincts. Oddly enough, the love at first sight happened to be mutual and, after receiving a wild-eyed courtship, I decided I met my match.

While I may not be writing here as often in the next couple of months, just imagine my busy self all dedicated to test and write for my book, to be published in May 2016 by Octopus Publishing Books (part of Hachette) with the envisioned title "As The Romans Do".

So when in Rome... keep tuned.

With love and an incandescent keyboard,

Eleonora

Join #Martini4Milano

The solemnity of the Duomo di Milano and la Madunnina, placed on its spire, while, on one side, a religious procession takes place with the faithful, oldest generations singing to sacred melodies whereas, on top of the restaurant Duomo 21 , lounge music plays harmoniously to get people in the mood for the night. That's my most vivid (and obviously contradictory, like most things in Italy) memory of Milano da bere.

#martini4milano4Literally meaning the drinkable Milan, this concept is linked to the image of the rampant fashion and trendsetter world of the Lombard capital. In Italy in the '80s we all knew by heart the characters of movies such as "Yuppies, I Giovani di Successo" , where the success of the young, smart and ambitious was celebrated, with an accent on turbo cars, easy money, fashionable designs, expensive women and well conceived cocktails.  About 100 metres from the imposing grandiloquence of the gothic monument, stands the Palazzo Martini, and it's world renown Terrazza, which now simbolically characterizes the most convivial time of the day: the aperitivo. I made my preliminary remarks on the theme in this video here.

#martini4milano1So, here is #martini4milano in a nutshell: 4 people, 3 experiences (aperitivo, cena and the Expo), 2 nights, 1 city: Milan.

I'm proud to announce that you can now participate to this animated and colorful experience. How? First of all, join the party by signing in with Martini at both their Facebook and Instagram page. You will be required to explain what is an aperitivo to you (for an insightful how to read my previous post here). A few of you guys will thus gain the chance to jump on a flight to Milan in order to live my same experience.

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You'll get out of it all dazzled and aperitivoverwhelmed. And there's no better way to properly start the summer, don't you think?

With love, stuzzichini and an extra dry royale,

Eleonora

#Martini4Milano adventure

My  bag is ready, my passport slightly scratched from my many travel adventures, the imagination flowing free. On the agenda, a couple of days of full indulgement in my most beloved Italian delights, aka the magical three: food, drinks and culture. My kind of summary #foodhappiness. Only two dresses and my best spirit. I’m travelling light because I know that I will bring back loads of goods from the city hosting the Expo.

For those of you who still didn’t get it, I’m heading to Milan, where I’ll join 3 fellow bloggers to spend a weekend filled with aperitivo and off-the-beaten track itineraries.

It’s #Martini4Milano, a great opportunity to discover Milan differently.

You know by now of my collaboration with the most eligible and cocktails trendsetter brand. MARTINI, official partner of the Italian Pavilion at the World Expo Milano 2015,  launched the operation # Martini4Milano.

On the program: secret walks in the streets of Milan, visiting the World Expo, introduction to proper aperitivo, Italian dinner and, if all of that was not enough, discovering the new  Terrazza Martini designed by the famous Italian designer Pininfarina in the Italian Pavilion: not to worry, the pleasure of a traditional Martini Tonic is on the menu, too.

May you want to enter the contest and have your try to win an all-inclusive weekend for 4 people at the World Expo in Milan 2015 visit these Facebook and Instagram pages during the months of June and July:

So, to recap.

get on the Facebook page:

answer the questions on the brand;

mention the 3 friends who you would love to go with you.

Subscribe to MartiniFrance Instagram account:

regram pictures of # Martini4Milano, and add in the comment the name of the 3 friends who you'd like to share this trip with.

And now. Let the adventure begin. I will keep you posted.

With love and aperitivo,

Eleonora

Île de Ré Magic

ile4Leaving the hustle and bustle of the city for a peaceful retreat is one of my 1001 dreams. For those of you who know me, I'm in the constant pursuit of #foodhappiness, my personal kind of  Beaudelairish luxury calm and voluptuousness which I lately found in the magnificent frame of an island. ile6

Île de Ré is a French treasure nestled beyond La Rochelle. Its delicious oysters are bathed by the Atlantic Ocean, and so are the dogs, the blond haired kids and the surfers. Once you set foot on Île de Ré, there's a sort of predestination in the air. Yes, I was meant to be getting here.

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The ideal day at Ile de Ré starts with some open air food shopping at the renown market of Ars-en-Ré. I love to go there with my bycicle, to then make a detour in order to find out about the latest aromatic combinations in a pot conceived by Francoise Héraudeau: nearby a beautifully kept church, Les Confitures du Clocher mixes authenticity and audacity in the form of scrumptious marmalades.

The natural landscape is remarkably breathtaking while bycicling among the 10 villages that, between sand dunes, forests and grey salt harvesting make this amazing island. What a pleasure it was to feast with salty oysters and fruity wine in the middle of the fields at Les Huitres de Trousse Chemise.

I stayed in a typical house at Saint Clèment des Baleines. This village is less crowded, but all the more charming: white-washed low houses, green, blue or grey shutters, red-tiled roofs, hollyhocks springing out between the stones of the pavement, narrow, winding streets. My stay at The Sweet Home in The Village was filled with joy as I discovered that the house had it all: the white linen, the summer hats, a fireplace to warm up by, and the sweetest scent of iodine. When it came to dining out, I was in awe for the view and the friendly rudeness (set your ideas clear or your foot out) at  Frères de la Cote restaurant. The most delightfully unctous crab eaten holifully with your hands in front of the most spectacular Western sunset.

With love and oysters,

Eleonora

Hellishly good puff pastries

There you have it. Here is the face of #foodhappiness. When Martini asked me to create a few recipes in order to transmit the concept of the aperitivo, I embarked on a journey throughout the entire Italian boot in order to convey the sense of warmth, precise casualness and festive improvisation that lies beneath this solemn ritual. As you may know, the Italians have a few things that they take very seriously: food and siestas are capital. I previously introduced you to the joys of both mozzarella and polenta panini making. Now I'm onto springy softness by using puff pastry as my base ingredient. Different versions of puff pastry are reknown in Italy as a form of aperitivo animation. No one in the world could dislike such a combination. The puffiness of the pastry meets the melting tastiness of the pear topped by liquefied stracchino cheese (to be found in any good Italian deli). The tinkling acidity of the lemon zest does the rest. Wanna bet? Just try this out by inviting your friends over to enjoy the cherry trees scented evenings of the upcoming weekend (28° are expected throughout Europe!)

Puff pastries with stracchino cheese and pear (serves 4 hungry for aperitivo)

  • 250 gr. puff pastry
  • 50 gr. fresh unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 ripe Conference pear
  • 100 gr. Stracchino cheese/ fresh goat cheese
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • 1 organic unwaxed lemon

Pre-heat the oven at 180°. Then, peel off the pear, cut it in half and make sure to get rid of the seed. Next, cut it in tiny dices.

Let the butter melt at low temperature in a small pan, then add the pear dices with the sugar and the rosemary. Let the whole mixture simmer for about 10 minutes.

In the meanwhile, form the individual puff pastries with a coffee cup. Distribute them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper.  With a teaspoon, garnish each nibble with the caramelized pear mix.

Let it cook in the oven for 15 minutes. After that time, take the tray out of the oven and gently decorate all the pieces with the cheese. Finally freshly sprinkle with a grater the lemon zest on top of each one of them. Cook for another 5 minutes . Wait a few minutes before serving these cosmicly good savoury pastries with your favourite cocktail .

With love and puff pastry,

Eleonora

Mozzarella panini

You don't really want to cook but you still feel like treating yourself to something utterly delicious? Then mozzarella panini is definitely the answer. At home, when the clock strikes 6 p.m., I can feel an almost tangible excitement inhebriating the air. It's aperitivo time! So here is what we do: we pour ourselves a drink, whatever it's available in the house, usually the wine from last night which hasn't been used to cook the lunch's risotto, and make some soul-satisfying food: little nibbles, most of the time, made of leftovers - that's when those little ingredients looking all gloomy and disoriented in the fridge come back to life and handy at last!

As part of a collaboration I have with Martini, which I've already mentioned here and here, I've developed a series of recipes to go with a well deserved drink before dinner. The mozzarella panini, a crunchy assault on your gluttony, is ready in under 10 minutes and will divert you directly into happy helplessness.

Mozzarella panini (serves 4)

Ingredients for 4 people:

• 4 bocconcini buffalo mozzarella • 1 large organic tomato • 1 bunch of fresh basil • 1/2 courgette • 1 clove of garlic • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil • salt and pepper to taste

Cut the courgette into thin slices. In a pan, heat a tablespoon of oil with the garlic, and sauté the zucchini for 10 minutes over medium heat.

Add a sprinkle of salt and place the cooked courgettes in a small bowl.  Cut each small mozzarella in half as you would with bread to make a sandwich.

Inside, place a slice of tomato, a basil leaf, 4 courgette slices and sprinkle each mozzarella with a tablespoon of oil. Close the sandwich and add salt and pepper to taste.

With love and mozzarella,

Eleonora

Polenta panini

Cornmeal has been for generations the alternative flour option as opposed to the more refined wheat. Boil it into a porridge and you will get polenta, which has been for centuries the staple food of entire populations in north of Italy areas. A large dish of polenta accompanied by mushrooms and, in the holidays, by wonderfully sticky sausages, was very common in peasant tables. When white flour was hard to spot, for children's snacks, polenta was offered with the addition of milk and sugar. I love the idea of turning a huge traditional dish into a miniaturized heavenly version with an assured yummy effect. In this aperitivo snack that I created exclusively as part of my collaboration with Martini, which I previously talked about here, I combine the tastiness of cotechino Modena (a fresh sausage made from pork, fatback, and pork rind to be found in specialty stores) with Taleggio cheese's mountain piquancy. The mouthwatering result will be an instant success for your spring parties in #foodhappiness mode on. Want to give it a try?

Polenta Panini for Aperitivo time

Ingredients for 4 people:

• 1 Italian cotechino (500 gr.) • 350 gr. Polenta Valsugana type • 4 lt. plain water • 250 gr. taleggio cheese • 1 pinch of pink peppercorn •1 pinch of fine salt and a handful of rocky salt

In a large pot, boil 1.5 lt. of water at medium fire. When the water gets to a boiling, add  a handful of rocky salt, lower the heat and pour the polenta in. Stir carefully for about 8 minutes and always in the same direction, with a wooden spoon. Spread the polenta cooked on a large dish and let cool for about an hour.

In another saucepan, boil 2.5 lt. water. When the water gets to a boiling it's time to add the cotechino in. Let it cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

Cut the cold polenta, cotechino and cheese into rounds using a small pastry round cutter. Divide the polenta slices, 2 by 2, and fill each sandwich with a slice of cotechino and one of taleggio cheese. Heat the polenta sandwich in the oven at 180 degrees for 3 minutes (enough to melt the cheese). To serve, place a stick on each sandwich and sprinkle with pink peppercorn.

With love and polenta,

Eleonora

polenta2

History at the table

There's something reassuring about institutions. Their strong identity, their inevitable attachment to traditions. When it comes to restaurants that have been around for longer than a couple of generations, what strikes me is, that beneath a sense of immaculate transparency as of the roots of each dish, there's a strong, familiar attachment to gastronomic history. It is particularly the case when entering Benoit. I already mentioned here the peculiarity of this Alain Ducasse owned parisian brasserie, once a meeting point for butchers and farmers who would mind their business in the early morning on the right side of the Seine, in the famous Halles market, part of a then infamous neighborhood now under hip rise. From après le marché to après le théâtre the distance was little, but the food, just as honest. I was invited to taste the uplifting gorgeousness of the most renowned historical dishes of France at a table elegantly settled in '30s fashion. First came the gougères. These puffy, over-gratifying cheesy pastries are divinely fluff and seat pompously at the side of my course, for the whole meal. Yes I did eat all four of them in a matter of seconds, and yes the watchful maitre de salle noticed it and promptly gave me more. And more. Oops, and more.

gougeres3I indulged in the celebrated Léopold de Rothschild's favourite crayfish soufflé. Light as air, the soufflé is obtained from the blending of yolks and egg whites beaten stiff. The legendary Auguste Escoffier, one of the codifiers of French cuisine, adds a crayfish cream and parmesan, alternating layers of shaved truffles and crayfish tails and some freshly cooked asparagus between each layer. In his memoirs, Escoffier related a story about "Old Baron de Rothschild", who, when having supper at the Grand Hotel de Monte-Carlo, didn't want any asparagus but the 'green ones' ", launching a fashion that spread all the way to London, and prompting producers to put forward the green rather than the white asparagus.

gougeres2Henri IV's wish is as famous as his white plume "If God still gives me life, I will make sure that no ploughman in my Kingdom does not have means to have a chicken in his pot”. Exhausted by decades of religion wars, robbed by armies and looters plying the country, peasants had only the strict minimum, certainly not a chicken in their pot every Sunday. To restore the image of the monarchy, Louis XVIII made Henri IV an icon, and the inventor of the Poule au Pot. This dish became a national emblem and, much to my delight, was sumptuously carved in front of my very eyes.

gougeres4Does the Charlotte take its name from the wife of the King Georges III Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, who bore him fifteen children? Historians are puzzled. It was originally a bread crumb and applesauce dessert, when Antonin Carême, the ante-litteram celebrity chef was inspired to create the Charlotte with biscuits, that he called Charlotte à la Parisienne, which later became the Russian Charlotte. He chose to hide the bottom and sides of the mould with finger biscuits and garnish the inside with a Bavarian device composed of gelatine and whipped cream custard. I enjoyed it with pear and chocolate sauce. An impeccable combination for the ending to a splendid meal.

With love and gougères,

Eleonora

Wild saithe fillet stuffed with mortadella

It's away from the church bells ringing, in the secure retreat of a kitchen in Rome that this dish was born. I got to the market late in the morning, so I could get the best bargain before the fishmonger stall would shut down. What's gratifying about this fishy creation is the nutty pistachios contrasting with the crispy mortadella filling.  They say fish is good for you, but for me, it's the indulgent accompaniment with cream and mortadella that makes it excellent. The origins of Mortadella Bologna are to be found in the territories of the ancient Etruscan area (nearby Rome), rich with oak trees that provided piquant acorns to the many local wild pigs. The Bologna Archaeological Museum houses the first evidence of what is claimed to be a producer of mortadella : on a Roman pillar are depicted on the one hand seven grazing piglets and on the other a mortar with a pestle . The mortar was used by the Romans to pound and knead the pork with salt and spices. This suggests that the name of the sausage comes from mortarium. This dish is sweet succulence perfectly combined with salty freshness.

The video below was made in collaboration with a French production. Even though the instructions are in French, it wouldn't hurt to follow the video when making this recipe, especially for the step where the mortadella filling is involved.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1QGRFIribY

Wild saithe fillet stuffed with mortadella Ingredients: (serves 2 people)

  • 100 gr. creamy soft spreadable cheese
  • 30 gr. fresh whipping cream
  • 50 gr. dairy unsalted butter
  • a sprinkle of ground pepper
  • a sprinkle of fine salt
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 50 gr. mortadella Bologna
  • 50 gr. pistachio nut kernels
  • 200 gr. saithe or coley fillet
  • 50 gr. crispy babyleaf salad

In a bowl, place the creamy cheese, add the whipping cream, a hint of salt and the olive oil. Whisk until obtaining a smooth preparation.

Make an incision down the centre of the fish from the head to the tail, then make a cut in order to create a pocket for the filling. It is important that you don't break the fish, so take your time and do this process delicately.

Cut the mortadella into thin slices. Fill the fish with mortadella and cover it. Plant a pic to maintain it still. Dust with the pistachios and add the salt. In a pan, melt the butter and cook the stuffed fish 2 minutes per side. Serve it with bubbles of cream cheese and the salad.

With love and pistachios,

Eleonora

Martini, it's time for aperitivo

For me, transmitting gastronomical heritage is key to a functioning passing of the baton. To exist, tradition must evolve and trespass its own boundaries. I'm proud to annouce my partnership with Martini ® as their brand ambassador in France. For them, I'm introducing the concept of aperitivo. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbbp3aOdLL4

In fact behind every dish there's a story I decode with anecdotes, the characters animating them, the art, the land. Whether in Paris, London or New York, with my friends and family we often find ourselves at dawn for a drink. In Italy we do too, but our way. We call this pre-dinner time the aperitivo time. We share a cocktail and we accompany it with very generous buffets of antipasti. Food is central.

So it's a journey to the heart of Italy that I propose to discover through four major cities: Milan, Turin, Rome and Naples. Come on I'll take you, andiamo!

With love and a cocktail,

Eleonora

Savoury cake and a cracked cup

It was mainly from the thirteenth century that bread in Italy began to be filled with all sorts of ingredients, ranging from meat, fish, vegetables, fresh herbs, eggs, cheeses. The decision on whether going for a spinach filled or a cheese flavoured savoury cake would vary according to the season, the market supply and the local traditions. For this recipe, you can use the pretty cups of teas we all have in our kitchens. I inherited mine from my nonna. As much as I try to treat them rather immaculately, these little beauties still have to withstand the stress of my multiple-cities constant moving. That's how one fine day, after having finally received a lost luggage, as I unwrapped the cups carefully, I heard the sound of a break. One of them detached itself from the rest of the group by means of a vertical crack. Change of perspective, then. So I put it to good use, at the centre of my cupboard, near the scale.  And it's now standing there with a whole new life's purpose. The reason why I sometimes like to use cups whilst cooking is that the whole idea is to enjoy the #foodhappiness process without getting stuck on analyzing measurements. This is a recipe I created for a French video production project. My other videos from this same adventure can be viewed in my videos section. I love the idea of capturing the moist of the egg with the delicious pitted olives. If you find watching the video tempting enough, then you’ll be even more thrilled at the idea of reproducing it with the instructions below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mvyY7ckJ9zo

Cheesy savoury cake with salami and olives (serves 6)

Ingredients:

  • 3 free-range fresh large eggs
  • 2 all purpose flour cups
  • 160 gr. of Emmental cheese
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 80 gr. pitted black olives
  • 30 gr. rosemary
  • 100 gr. Italian Napoli salami
  • 1 cup of vegetable oil
  • 1 pinch of fine salt
  • 1 cup of fresh whole milk
  • 1 cup of fresh natural yogurt
  • 1 tsp. dried bake yeast
  • 1 cup of potato starch

First of all, preheat the oven at 180°.

Remove the salami from its skin, then cut it into thin slices and then into cubes. Cut the Swiss cheese in dices too, then set aside. Mix the Parmesan cheese with the yogurt in a big bowl. In two small bowls, separate the whites from the egg yolks, and add the yolks to the parmesan and yogurt mixture. Set the whites on the side. Add salt and oil to the main bowl and stir thoroughly. Sift the flour and the baking yeast, to then add them to the batter. Finally add the milk and mix.

Once all the liquids have been dealt with, you can now proceed onto mixing in the Swiss cheese, the salami and the final touch: the olives. Stir well. Whip the egg whites up.  Once they are nice and firm, blend them gently in the dough, putting particolar attention as to not breaking the whites. Ideally you should incorporate them working with a spatula from the bottom upwards.

Pour the batter into the mold. Finally add the rosemary on top. Bake for approximately 35 min. at 180 °.

With love and savoury cake,

Eleonora

Amaretti biscuits with candied oranges

The amaretti biscuits make for a delicious accompaniment for my morning tea or coffee (lately, I've been trying to alternate the two in order to get the best out of their opposite celebrative worlds). Whether I feel stunned by the lack of sleep given by too much overnight cookbooks reading or with so many deadlines in sight that I can hardly hold my breath, let alone my cup, this biscuit has such a personality, perfectly flavoured with crunchy almonds and, adding my own twist, some candied bloody oranges. These lovely biscuits' rounded shape remind me of a small reversed cup, but it's their cracked surface that calls for an instantaneous, indulging bite. Their crisp and rather crumbly taste can be perfectly mixed with other recipes, too. In fact this biscuit is largely used, in the Italian kitchen, for many recipes ranging from the tortelli di zucca, a special kind of pumpkin ravioli from Mantua through to the polpettone (meatloaf), a comfy food for excellence to the most delightful fruit pies and tarts. Sealed in a glass jar, they are the perfect addition to the cupboard as they can come in handy in the least expected combinations.

Amaretti with candied oranges (serves 8 people)

  • 200 gr. blanched whole almonds
  • 150 gr. caster sugar + 125 gr. for the candied orange
  • 2 large free-range egg whites
  • 1 unwaxed organic orange
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • a pinch of fine salt
  • 40 gr. icing sugar

First of all, follow the procedure to achieve the firmest whipped egg whites: break them, separate the yolks from the whites in two different tea-cups, and place the egg whites inside the fridge. Leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Next, toast the almonds for 5 minutes in a preheated oven at 200°. In a blender, mix the toasted almonds with the sugar, then sift the whole mixture and put it aside in a large bowl.

To make the candied oranges, follow the method explained in my previous post here. Cut into small cubes the obtained candied oranges.

Then, to avoid splashing of eggs on the kitchen walls, place a bowl deep  in the sink. At this stage, make sure you add a tiny pinch of fine salt before whipping the egg whites until stiff. Next, incorporate little by little with a spatula the egg whites and the candied oranges into the almonds mixture in order to obtain a soft and smooth dough. Cover the mixture with a clean cloth and store it in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Once past the waiting time, preheat the oven at 170°. It's now time to resume the dough, that will be solidified by now and, with a sharp knife, cut about 50 balls. Get some icing sugar on your hands and prepare the small, rounded balls. Make sure you crush them lightly in the center with your fingers. Lay them on a baking sheet dusted with icing sugar and covered with parchment paper (you can cook in 2 batches).

Bake the biscuits in the preheated oven for about 20 minutes; once you take them out of the oven, let them cool on a wire rack before enjoying them.

With love and amaretti,

Eleonora

The End of the World in the Loire Valley

As an Italian person, one of my most developed senses is Smell. Oh yes, we like our aromatherapy in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, what I absolutely love about food shopping in any open market in Italy, is the herbal goodie bag that comes with it: gorgeous thyme, rosemary, curly persil or the inevitable basil, you name it. They'll all be part of the deal. The positive health effects of culinary herbs have been renowned ever since the dawn of civilization. It's common knowledge that Venice, for example, has for centuries been an authentic door of spices interchange between East and West. Lately, I've been wondering around the Loire Valley, and I came across the most exclusive botanical garden & restaurant. Located in Berthenay, near the wonderful Chateau of Villandry (one of the seven wonders of the world), this river estate is surrounded by a garden of aromatic and edible plants. While Benoist introduced me to the wide variety of culinary herbs from all over the world, Emmanuelle would be cooking up a storm inside the adjacent cute little cottage.

I discovered that each region has its own plants that bloom like a symphony depending on the climate. To activate digestion, best served in form of infusion or soup are : fennel, mint, lemon balm, sage (also used as an antiseptic). We went for a walk in the domain, and came upon the wild plants along the Loire: oregano, die, bay leaves, tansy, Moorish. The taste of these herbs is enhanced by sun or humidity. I've been lucky enough to get a full on description of a whole area dedicated to mints. The best flavouring herb? Marjolaine shell. In the workshops run by Benoist, one can learn how to grow these delicate plants in their own gardens or, for the more citizen-types, like me, on the balcony.

Just adding up one herb to an otherwise ordinary meal will bring a whole new meaning and character to it. So have fun, mix up, create, and try for yourself the art of combining herbs with the kitchen. Back in the cottage, Emmanuelle prepared an unforgettable nettle soup. No, it didn't itch.

On the contrary, it was the end of the world.

Consume without moderation.

With love and nettle,

Eleonora

Rice pudding with chocolate

In my beginnings, there was the rice pudding. I must have been no more than 3 or 4 years old. The home cooks who showed it to me were absolutely portentous. Women of great size, wearing dresses with floral motifs, their hair pulled back and a predisposition to raw judgment and an excessive use of olive oil. I guess that certain characters should be preserved and protected as monuments of our collective memory. I wonder whether Unesco has ever thought about that. Paying tribute to the last Highlanders of our regional kitchens.   The most delicate and glorious rice pudding comes coated with shortbread in Rome and Tuscany. A constant presence on holiday tables, it's a big round cake, not higher than 3/4 inches and baked in the oven until you get those nice caramelising edges. We are going to go for the lighter version today. Rice cooked in milk enriched with either candied oranges, raisins soaked in Vin Santo or, for the most greedy, small pieces of bitter chocolate. That's what we are aiming for, in the recipe below. This was a video conceived as a result of a collaboration I did for a Parisian production company, hence subtitles are in French. However, images talk for themselves, so if you want to give it a try, you can find the instructions below the video. For all of you gluten-free folks out there, here is a mouthwatering recipe that will drive you crazy. Are you smiling in #foodhappiness swing? Now that's better.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Hw5uuD8t-U

Rice and chocolate (serves 4 people as a snack or dessert)

Ingredients:

  • 150 gr. Carnaroli rice
  • 1/2 vanilla pod
  • 500 ml. fresh whole milk
  • 100 gr. dark chocolate
  • 50 gr. caster sugar
  • 1 unwaxed organic lemon

Grate the lemon in order to obtain its zest. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla in two and collect the seeds. Pour the milk into a saucepan. Add the vanilla, the lemon zest and the sugar. Let it cook at low fire; make sure to turn off the heat before it comes to a boil.

Next, add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon. Cook over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. When the rice is cooked and all the milk will be absorbed, remove the lemon zest and the vanilla altogether. Chop finely the dark chocolate. Place the rice in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle each serving with abundant chocolate.

With love and pudding,

Eleonora