It’s no secret I love food. If you follow any of my social media, you’ll understand this. You may even be annoyed how fricking much I talk about food. If you are, you should probably stop reading like now since the whole point of this is food.
But, if you’re a foodie like me, please keep reading. I’m going to add recipes when I can, along with whatever little stories go along with them. I thought we’d start in Italy…
My Italian Adventure
Okay, so there’s a story behind this one.
Bear with me as we hop into a time machine….
At age 21, I was enrolled in a Fashion Design course and I was hating it.
The worst thing was, ever since I was old enough to dress myself, I knew what I wanted to do. I never had those crisis of identities, never had a vague, non-committal answer when some ‘adult’ (I’ve learned now that adulthood is a complete farce) asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I wanted to work in fashion. I wanted to immerse myself in this amazing, creative field that I adored.
So I went to study it.
And I despised it.
Some parts I loved, to be fair.
But the majority of it was horrible.
I can’t sew. I’ve never been a sewer. I love designing and drawing, but actually making the clothes? Never had the patience or the skill.
I figured ‘how hard can it be’?
Turns out, with someone with my brain, hard as fuck.
I cried at a sewing machine for an hour about a skirt.
A fricking skirt.
I didn’t sleep.
I was up till four in the morning sketching, designing collections, then deciding I hated them and starting all over at six when my final presentation was at nine that morning.
I was unhappy as all hell.
I felt trapped.
Because I had told everyone in my life that I wanted to work in fashion. Screamed it from the rooftops. I was kind of an asshole about it if I’m honest.
And I never quit.
My parents instilled this in me at a very young age. The last time I quit something was ballet when I was like seven (after making mum buy all the gear) after realizing in the first five minutes of my first class that no, it was not just about having cute hair, wearing a pink skirt and awesome slippers.
But after that, I never quit.
It’s not something that had entered my mind.
I felt like I was letting my mum down. Letting myself down. I was struggling. Because something so central to my identity wasn’t working. Who the heck was I?
Enter Cade and Gwen.
Yep, at one of the unhappiest periods of my life, these two saved me. I wrote about a quarter of the book before I dropped out of school.
I worked in retail for a year, Cade and Gwen banished to a dark corner of my laptop.
Then, an old fashion school girlfriend told me she wanted to backpack around Europe. And me, miserable in my retail job, feeling like a complete and utter fricking failure, decided I wanted to backpack around Europe too.
I jumped at the chance.
I bought a one-way ticket to Portugal (one of my favourite countries on the planet, just FYI), booked three days at a hostel. And that’s it.
Not even a vague idea.
And it was freaking amazing.
You know how people say things fall into place and you think ‘yeah right, asshole, you’re just saying that when really you spend twelve years planning this within an inch of your life’—well that shit actually happens.
I’m living proof.
We ended up meeting people who told us about this volunteering system where you worked four hours a day for room and board.
Since we kind of needed a free place to stay, we were all about this.
We did the gardens at an organic farm/yoga retreat in the Algarve. We worked in a hostel in Spain. And then…Italy.
An olive grove deep in the hills of Northern Italy, not too far from the ‘Italian Rivera’. And we lived there for two months.
The owner was a Kiwi expat who taught us a lot. Cooking being front and centre, since food was front and centre in Italian culture.
She had friends, old Italian men who didn’t speak a lick of English and were literally the epitome of Italy. They loved food. They loved to smoke, drink coffee, then wine, and talk. One night they turned up with a box of pastries and a bottle of grappa. We finished both of these things and talked well past midnight. Keep in mind my girlfriend and I only spoke passable Italian at this point and they knew no English. Sometimes there’s a different language. Extremely strong Italian liquor helped, of course.
But food was central to this.
So our host gave us the ultimate test. She threw a dinner party with all our fabulous Italian friends and we were to cook.
On our own.
Needless to say, I was nervous.
But we smashed it.
There was laughter. There was wine. There was happiness.
Such a small thing as cooking for a bunch of strangers turned friends who didn’t even speak my language atop a hill in the balmy Italian summer should not have felt like such an accomplishment. Shouldn’t have felt so pivotal. But it did. It solidified those tiny doubts that had been whispering to me since I booked my ticket. About how irresponsible I was doing this, about how it was going to ruin my future, end up living at home in my twenties and spiraling etc.
It shut down my negative self-talk and gave me faith that I was exactly where I needed to be doing exactly what I needed to be doing.
And it was true.
Because after A LOT more adventures, I came home with a purpose. I enrolled in university to study journalism. I finished Cade and Gwen’s book a few months into my first year.
I published it.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Is this too long of an introduction to a simple risotto recipe?
But I’m guessing you’re here because you read my books. If somehow, you haven’t and you stumbled upon this by accident, I write books, you should go and read them.
But most of you have. So you know I don’t know what it means to tell a short story.
A lot of you also know the love affair I have with food. And it started, like really started with this connection between food and peace I made in Italy. With this risotto, among other things.
Please let me know if you like this story time/ recipe thing I’ve got going on. Because I have more. A lot more.
But enough talking.
Let’s get to the recipe….
Porcini Sage and Orange Risotto
And yes, if you know me you know I HATE mushrooms. But I love the flavour. Like in sauces and stuff. And especially in this. I know, I’m weird.
- 250 g Risotto rice
- 50 g Dried Porcini
- 2 Oranges
- 4 Tbsp Sage leaves
- 2 Garlic cloves
- 60 g Parmesan
- 200 g Unsalted butter
Soak the porcini in 1 litre of hot water for half an hour. Remove porcini and keep the liquid. Rinse porcini in a sieve under a cold tap to remove any grit. Lay on a board and roughly chop.
Grate the orange rind, squeeze the juice and combine in a bowl. Chop the sage and add to the juice. Peel and finely chop the Parmesan.
Strain the porcini soaking liquid and heat gently. Season.
Heat half the butter in a pan, add the garlic and porcini and cook for about 3 min to combine and soften. Add the rice and stir to coat each grain. Add a ladleful of mushroom liquid, only adding more when the last has been absorbed. Continue adding until the rice is cooked, about 20 mins.
Remove from heat, stir in the orange juice and remaining butter, and half the Parmesan. Serve with remaining Parmesan.
Limoni di Amalfi Cotti al Forno or ‘Lemon Cups’
Sweet baby Jesus. This may not look like much, but they are everything. Seriously. With a chilled glass of rose on a summer day or a room temperature glass of pinot on a winter night, these work as the perfect addition to any meal. I could easily eat an entire tray of these in one sitting. I would’ve, had we not had to share with our Italian family. Also, they’re easy as fuck to make, so serve these at a dinner party and your friends will be super impressed and you pretty much won’t have to do any work.
- Fresh basil leaves
- Anchovy fillets
- Cherry tomatoes, halved
- Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 200c. Remove the ends of lemons then cut them in half across, scooping out the flesh until you have an empty ‘cup’. Put a slice of mozzarella on the bottom, then anchovy, then basil, then cherry tomato, salt and pepper and chilli. Top with mozzarella.
Bake in oven for 10-15 min or until golden.
Fritto di salvia e alici or ‘cockroaches’
Next up are cockroaches. No not actual cockroaches, they don’t even look like cockroaches so don’t ask me why they are called that, it’s a Canelli thing. But despite the uncertain origins of the name, these puppies are beautiful.
- 12 anchovy fillets in olive oil
- 1 Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 24 large fresh sage leaves
- Flour, for dusting
- Sunflower oil
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- 225 g flour
- Pinch of salt
- 1 Egg yolk
- 155 ml water
- 200 ml fizzy water
- 55 ml olive oil
- 2 egg whites
Place anchovy fillets on a flat plate, pour over lemon juice and zest. Leave to marinate for about an hour. While this is marinating make the batter.
Put the flour, salt, egg yolk and water into a bowl. Using a whisk, mix everything together until you have a thick custard consistency. Add fizzy water a little at a time then the olive oil. Leave to stand for about half an hour.
Moisten sage leaves with a little water then dust both sides with flour. Take 2 sage leaves and sandwich the anchovy in between, squeeze firmly.
Pour sunflower oil into a large saucepan so it’s at least 5cm deep, or enough to cover the leaves. Heat it really hot, Jamie says to know when it’s the right temperature drop a piece of potato in and if it turns golden it’s ready. Once this happens turn the heat down to medium. While the oil is heating, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt then slowly fold into batter.
Pick up an anchovy sandwich, dip in the batter to thinly coat then carefully lower into the oil for about a minute or until golden. Eat immediately.
Okay, you didn’t think I was going to do an Italian series and not have pizza, did you? Of course. Ever since Italy, I eat pizza the Italian way—simply. They will put three, maximum four toppings on pizza. That’s it. Why would you want to complicate a good thing? Simple, fresh flavours speak for themselves. And cheese. Cheese speaks for itself.
- 250 g bread flour
- 250 g white flour
- 5 g powdered dry yeast
- Pinch of salt
- 325 ml warm water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
Mix flours, yeast salt and water in a bowl to form a sticky dough. Add oil mix it in and turn dough onto a bench to knead. Knead until smooth and silky. Shape into a round ball and leave to rise in a clean bowl, covered with a plastic bag until doubled in size.
Take a lime sized piece of your risen dough and roll out until about 5mm thick and as round as possible.
Spread some tomato paste, or just stewed tomatoes with some garlic and herb and chuck it on. Then put on your preferred toppings. I went for fresh basil, buffalo mozzarella and some prosciutto. Delish.