Lately, I have been thinking about what being authentic really means.
I am a person who falls in love with everything, and has a very flexible mind. Even though I write a blog about Italian food, my favorite food to cook and eat is Asian. I cook Italian food almost uniquely for the blog and for my clients and, while I absolutely love it, my days are filled with vegetarian dashi, miso paste, and simple soups and salads. I often eat with chopsticks.
Even though my blog focuses on vegetarian and vegan food, there are times that I will eat oily fish, as I need lots of Omega-3s to help my PCOS-fatigued hormones work well, and I have to take fish oil supplements anyway.
I am an advocate for ditching sugar and its derivatives, but that one time of the month I have dessert, I want it to be proper sweet.
Even though I love making pasta and bread, and LOVE teaching how to make them, I hardly ever eat them. And, even though I live in Italy and write about how beautiful it is over here, sometimes I can’t shake the feeling that my heart belongs to the US and there are times I just feel like crying in a corner because I miss it so much.
So, am I a big, fat contradiction of a person?
Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that being authentic does not necessarily mean to be 100% consistent with one’s ideas. Rather, it has to do with sticking to doing what you love and following your gut instinct, and not become a slave to your own ideals. And, I think that not being stubborn about our own views and ideals has inherently to do with doing the right thing and making right choices. As this thought about what authenticity is kept harassing me, I realized that I was trying a little too hard in making recipes that looked consistent with the image everyone has of my country and culture. As it turns out, those recipes were, although probably consistent with the nature of this blog, not coherent with the nature of who I am. So I think I am going to cut myself some slack and use a little more of the ingredients I love the most for my recipes, like tahini or miso.
Every time I develop a recipe, I ask myself ‘would I really eat this? And would I really love it?’
Sometimes, I am sorry to say, the answer has been no.
But I shared it anyways, because I though it would feel authentic.
Well, it can’t feel authentic if I don’t love it – at least, not authentic to me. So I am going to answer that question more truthfully from now on. Be prepared to see some more variety of things in this blog from now on, and I hope you will love it as much as you do.
This salad recipe is full of bittersweet feelings: as all sorts of cruciferous vegetables start their decline (of which I am really sad about), the first spring produce is appearing in our markets: asparagus, liscari or agretti, and artichokes are all making a first shy appearance, aided by the warm weather that has blessed the beginning of March. Gardens and parks are full of flowers, and I am surrounded by a whirlwind of white petals falling from the early flowering plum trees. I picked some daffodils growing on the edge of a country road around here for this photoshoot, and my kitchen now smells like flowers and (slightly less romantic) IKEA vanilla candlestick.
Spring in Italy is pretty, indeed.
I made this salad after cooking up a batch of (protein-packed) broad beans and brown sprouted rice from Baule Volante – a kind gift from my friend Riccardo, and sprouted brown rice is SO good. I actually love it plain, with just some vegetables on the side.
An egg ‘Mimosa’ is nothing more than crumbled hard-boiled egg yolk. it is called by that because it looks like Mimosa flowers, a tree of pretty yellow clusters that usually bloom in March, and it’s a super spring-y kind of thing.
This garlic dressing, though…if you’ve never roasted garlic before, please do and enter a whole new world. Roasted garlic loses its pungency and turns mellow and creamy, and even more packed in flavor than in its raw state. For this recipe, you will likely have leftover oil and garlic dressing, and you’ll be glad you do.
I got quail eggs, as I saw them in supermarkets (I guess they have a season, as well), just for the sake of trying them out, as I never did. I usually get my eggs from my own hens here in the garden (I can see them walking in front of my window door now, actually…). They sure are pretty for photoshoots, aren’t they?
As for the Romanesco, I did not realize that it is a uniquely Italian vegetable until some of you told me that you could not find it where you live – I had no trouble finding it in New York and I’m pretty sure I saw it all over LA as well. If you cannot find it, broccoli would work perfectly, and so would brussels sprouts.
This salad makes for a wonderful dish to put on the Easter table, for those who want a lighter take on Easter lunch. But it is a perfect everyday salad, alright. Rather quick if you are using pre-cooked rice and pulses, as well.
- Cloves from 2 whole garlic heads, unpeeled
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- The roasted garlic
- 3 tablespoons roasted garlic oil
- 1 tablespoon warm water
- 1 tablespoon tahini
- 2 ~ 3 fresh basil leaves (1 tablespoon chopped)
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Pinch pepper (yuzu kosho is nice here if you have it)
- Lemon juice, to taste
- TO FINISH: Shaved Grana cheese, or some toasted nuts of choice
- ½ cup dried broad beans, or 1 cup cooked
- ½ cup sprouted brown rice, or 1 cup cooked
- 1 small bunch asparagus (about 10 spears)
- 1 small head Romanesco Cauliflower, cut into florets (works wonderfully with broccoli as well)
- 6 quail eggs (or 2 regular eggs)
- Sea salt and pepper
- Add the garlic cloves and the oil in a small baking dish that is about 2 inches tall, and cover well with aluminum foil. Roast at 390 F˚ / 200 C˚ for about 30 minutes, until the garlic cloves are soft.
- To make the dressing, squeeze the roasted garlic cloves, which will have turned creamy and mellow, into a mortar. Add 3 tablespoons of the roasting oil, water, herbs, salt and pepper, and grind to a paste. If you do not have a mortar, you can smother the garlic in a bowl with the back of a spoon. If you like, add a little lemon juice at the end, to taste. Reserve the remaining oil.
- If using dried broad beans, soak them for at least 12 hours, and boil them until soft, about 1 hour. Boil the rice as per package instructions - it should take about 40 minutes. If using pre-cooked beans and rice, combine them in a bowl.
- Remove the hard bottom part from the asparagus by delicately bending them until they snap on their own. Steam (or boil) the Romanesco florets and the asparagus until soft, about 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 390 F˚ / 200 C˚ (you can do this in one go with the garlic).
- Toss the steamed vegetables with a tablespoon of the garlic oil, salt and pepper and roast until nice and caramelized, about 30 minutes.
- In the meantime, boil the quail eggs by placing them in a pot of cold water. Turn on the burner and wait for the water to come to a boil: from then, count 2 minutes for soft-boiled eggs, and 3 for a set yolk.
- Once everything is ready, toss the vegetables with the broad beans and rice and the dressing (you might not want to add all of it - adjust to taste). Transfer to a serving plate or to individual plated and finish with the quail eggs, crumbling a couple hard-boiled yolks for the 'Mimosa' effect.
- Save any leftover oil and dressing in a jar in the fridge for another use.
A NOTE ON SUBSTITUTIONS: I am not sure I would love this with cauliflower, but in the absence of Romanesco, Broccoli or Brussels will do the trick wonderfully, as mentioned above.
As for grains and pulses, try cannellini instead of broad beans, and quinoa or couscous instead of rice. Still awesome!
Can you find Romanesco where you are? How do you use quail eggs? Did spring produce already make an appearance where you live (unless you’re in Australia…)?
PS: Stay tuned for some news! Me, Zaira and Betty are conjuring up some sweet stuff. I LOVE collabs between bloggers! We can do so much amazing stuff together. I am also working to set up a couple workshops in the warm season in the Italian countryside. Stay tuned!