After every storm the sun will shine again, something to look forward to

October 13, 2022

The summer is gone. Florence is shrouded with grey clouds as the rain settles. A sight I haven’t seen for a long while in Italy after the hottest and longest summer we’ve had in many years.

The saddest part is that when it’s too hot to do almost anything, you just wait for the temperatures to drop. Once they do, the moment of the enjoyment of the balmy weather is so short, almost gone with a blink of an eye. It’s exactly what happened this year. But I’m trying to hold on to summer, I don’t want to let it go. The will and above all the need of seeing the sun coming out again is stronger than ever, also in my personal life.

Almost every August means for the Dégustatuer and I a trip to my home village in Poland, to stay with my parents. Two weeks in the midst of the rural countryside, the place I grew up in, the place I love. It’s nothing special really, apart from a vast and beautiful landscape of farm land and golden crops ready to be harvested, and fond memories of my simple childhood, when life felt simple, safe and careless.

The time seems to always fly there, even faster towards the end of our stay. Isn’t it always the case anyway? The days at home in Poland have a natural and seamless flow, breakfast either together or separately, on the terrace, amongst my mother’s bountiful and well looked after flowers. Lunches and suppers however, are the meals which we have together, sitting down properly at the table. Evenings especially are accompanied by wine and lots of laughter, easing the unfortunate language barrier of the Dégustateur.

My mother traditionally cooks for us, as she enjoys having us all together and it gives a great joy (the cleaning afterwards is another story). But this time I did a lot more cooking than usual, as my mother wasn’t well. I did a lot more other things than usual too, dedicating a lot more of my time to my parents, following the natural changes in life.

My only routine and constant when back home is to go for a long walk, taking our two little family dogs with me. They absolutely love it. As soon I put my trainers on they start to jump to my face from the excitement, bark and make all sort of right noises, as dogs do when they are happy. For the first few meters they tend to literally pull us (the Dégustaur often joins me) on their leeds, once we turn onto a back road the run freely, enjoying a deferent surrounding and the smells in particular. On our way back, they walk behind us. Then there are the cats, three to be precise. Two of them, twins, found their way to our home as kittens during the first lockdown, and of course they got all the love and attention that there is. Luckily we have a lovely garden to play in and enough space for the „little zoo” to have their own sofa or armchair to sleep on.

After the everyday business comes time for supper, my favourite meal. On several occasions I made us risotto: risotto allo zafferano and a mushroom risotto. I’ve always loved cooking risotto, some people find it daunting, but believe me, there isn’t anything scary about it. My mother sat in the kitchen, watched me cook and made notes. The Dégustateur also contributed with an occasional stir and wine top up. I also made my favourite Italian style meatballs in tomato sauce, and I made lots of them, so my mother could freeze them and conjure up an easy yet delicious meal any time she wants to after we’ve left. Additionally, I left behind a few jars of pomarola, a Tuscan tomato sauce, to be stirred with freshly boiled pasta any time of the day.

There was also an apple cake, twice. I had been wanting to make a proper apple cake for months. By proper I mean lots of apples and a lovely moist dough, exactly as I like it. I’ve never been a fan of dry cakes or crostatas in Italy. The only crostata I’ve ever enjoyed here was a fig and hazelnut crostata in Piemonte, a gastronomic heaven.

I grew up with apples and I miss them in Italy. In fact, I stopped eating them. Once we had a chat with Leo, my favourite fruit and vegetable vendor at Mercato di Sant’ Ambrogio about apples. Most of the varieties started to disappear with the international food companies entering the Italian market, reducing the number of varieties from plenty to just a few. So I took the opportunity and baked us an apple cake in Poland. I followed the recipe from the Letitia Clark’s book „La Vita è Dolce” and it was a sheer delight. My father was also at home when it came out straight from the oven, we almost finished it all before it managed to cool down.The only change I made was the method of making it (easier for me) by whisking everything together using an electric mixer, and the sugar quantity as per my personal liking (you can follow the recipe by clicking here).

Chocolate and almond cantucci dunked in Vin Santo were a big success. Even I was surprised how big of a success, I can call it a triumph. After the apparently filling risotto, everybody still found a space for them, lots of space. Even the Dégustateur couldn’t stop himself from eating them, whilst back in Florence he wouldn’t even have touched them. Somehow, on rare occasions in life things do fall into place.

After August September came, along with certain changes in my life.

Cooking and sharing food or a meal has always been a way for me to express care and love. It still is, but lately I had to realise and actually learn to cook for one, for myself. Something I hadn’t done in many, many years. So what to cook when all of a sudden you are truly on your own? When you hope for that rather bitter filling to disappear soon? How do you start?

I started to encourage my almost non existent appetite with what I can always eat and will always have a craving for: cornetto alla crema, an Italian croissant filled with a vanilla custard. It’s soothing both for the body and soul. My latest favourite cornetto and coffee spot is the Caffè Gilli, where I stroll in the morning trough the very elegant Via Tornabuoni and then turn into Piazza della Reppublica to reach it. Then there is Forno Ghibellina on my way to the market Sant’ Ambrogio. The staff there are really wonderful, and when they run out of my preferred choice, they ask the pastry chef to fill a plain croissant with the crema pasticcera for me. It’s the best thing. Anything with a creamy filling is an absolute winner for my tastebuds and appetite. When I come back from the market I sometimes bring a cornetto home with me, to have it on the terrace with a large cup of coffee. Last weekend this fresh filling was so generous that my breakfast must have weighted almost a kilo. I happily skipped lunch.

Recently I’ve been leafing through a cookbook that I brought with me from Bologna (almost a year ago, gosh, time really flies). No photographs, just stories and honest local recipes. I stumbled upon a chicken dish, perfect for one, or two or eight. It may sound simple at first but the end result is so satisfying, along with its baking juices, which are so rich in flavour that I could make this dish just for that reason (served with some crunchy bread to soak it all up). All you need is a chicken breast, nutmeg, parmesan and a few tablespoons of a good vegetable or chicken stock. Then the magic happens in the oven.

Another recipe that caught my attention which I adapted from that book is for tagliatelle (egg pasta of course) with a walnut and dry porcini sauce. To lift this dish and add some freshness to it I like to stir in towards the very end of cooking the sauce a little bit of lemon juice and freshly chopped parsley. The proportions are generous enough to feed four (three if very hungry), but the sauce keeps well in the fridge for a few days. For a dish from Emilia Romagna we can’t forget about grating some good aged parmesan on top to make it complete.

I’ve just started baking again. A whole cake is a bit much for one, even over a couple of days.
As a solution and perfect timing I’ve been sharing my dolci with my usual vendors at the Sant’ Ambrogio market. Whilst living in Rome I always managed to spread my baked goodies among my friends. Raffaella in particular was appreciative of it, as her son Pier, could eat a horse during his student years.

Let’s face it, unfortunately freezing cakes or tarts, is not the most delicious idea.
My next plan for baking is an apple cake with Calvados (I make one with a custard filling using créme fraîche, but this one will be different) and a walnut and chocolate kranz/babka. In fact, the very delicate yeast dough is slowly rising under a warm cover as I write these lines. I am looking forward to the end result and the smell of a baked yeast cake travelling from the oven, to hopefully share it with you soon.