Food is a form of art, and during this trip I have become more convinced than ever of this truth. While creating food, you must use 4 senses all at once, not easy! Textures, flavours, colours and smell. They all have a role to play in the creation of a successful dish. When it comes to this play of the senses, I am driven to constantly explore new ways of doing things and my interests are endless. This drive has kept me moving over the past months from the north down to the south of Europe, exploring, tasting and trying new things.
When you want to stay creative, you have to challenge yourself to learn and see the world from different perspectives. I believe the best way to do this is to learn from other people, not reading my way through cook books. Maybe this has to do with the fact that I don’t have the patience to read, I am a do-er, always have been. And this trip has helped me to invest in new skills, new knowledge and new appreciation for the art of food.
Enough food philosophy for now – let me take you to the world of Il Cibo dell’Italia, or; The Food of Italy!
It’s been a month now that I have been cycling through Italy. Following the sun right down to the south of Italy, to my end destination; Sicily. Every region, every town, every family in Italy has its own style, products and local secrets. First I passed through northern Italy, the Veneto region, between Verona an Venetia. Here I encountered rice, polenta, and butter, flat landscapes and a LOT of red wine. From Veneto I cycled down to Emilia-Romagna, famous for its parmigiano reggiano, aceito balsamico and delicious ravioli with pumpkin. My new friends there also introduced me to fried bread with fresh creamy goats cheese, which is incredibly good! Right now is chestnut season… and they use it in everything. In cakes, bread, pasta, crumbled over a fresh salad and the best combination I found was Michella’s; risotto with pumpkin and chestnut… fantastic. Italy uses products how they should be used; fresh and in season.
Further down the boot I entered Tuscany, and was greeted by mountains, olive trees, linguine pasta, fresh veggies and the wild boars they love to hunt. Simple and rustic! After next week it’s time for Sardinia, renowned for so many dishes, infamous for the cheese with maggots (yes, really), flat breads, olive oil, pork, fish… actually they are good at everything, including how they live life! Sardinia is one of the 7 blue zones of the world, a region where people live longer, healthier and happier. I will dive head first into this island, because I want to figure out how they do it. Maybe it has something to do with food, sun and family?
Italy is a food paradise, but it’s not just the food that makes this country so special. It’s also the way Italians think about food and the products they use. In Italy, the cheese is fresh, the coffee is always at just the right temperature, the tomatoes are juicy and the pasta is al dente. Italians eat together, take time and everybody is welcome to join. No rules, just eat, enjoy and laugh.
I am meeting a lot of people and families who invite me into their homes. This happens for a few reasons I think. Firstly, because they like showing off their family recipes. Also, people are curious and open minded when they hear about my project. And the fact that I am traveling alone by bicycle means I have the time and opportunity to meet. You’re just easier to talk to. That’s why I love to travel by bicycle.
But also cycling allows me to dream away about the people I have met, all the projects I want to pursue in the future, and what the next day will look like. And sometimes I tune out, switch off. I crank up the speed heading up the next mountain, powering to the end with all my strength.
This balance of movement and food is pure joy for me. The two go hand in hand during this Life Cycle Stories adventure. As cycling boosts my mood, and appetite, this gives me the energy and enthusiasm to meet new people every day and talk about food. And then the circle is round. A successful combination.
I’ll be back in a Amsterdam in a month, looking forward to turning these insights into practice. Meet new people and start sharing stories.
And as always, a delicious recipe from the road; Michela’s risotto with pumpkin and chestnut – enjoy!
When you cook for 4 friends, you need;
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 3 gloves garlic
- 4 pieces of thyme
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 1 carrot
- ½ celeriac
- ½ fennel
- 2 onions
- 1 cup dry white wine
- About 6 cups of hot chicken stock or vegetable stock (preferable homemade)
- 1 pumpkin, baked in the oven. You can leave the skin on.
- 1 cup grated Parmesan
- Around 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Fennel, celeriac, onions and carrot in kitchen machine quickly. Or cut into small pieces.
Heat the oven to 220 degrees. Cut the pumpkin into 4 pieces and take out the seeds.
The pumpkin is ready when it caramelizes and the skin starts to come off. (it takes around 45 minutes)
In the meanwhile:
In a medium-size heavy saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic an the thyme in the pan and sauté. Stir continuously, just until softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Ad the veggie mix and sauté for 5 more minutes. Now its time to add the rice, stir gently, using a wooden spoon, to coat the rice with the oil. Everything needs time, so don’t burn the garlic, oil or thyme! Take it easy.
Add the white wine and continue cooking, stirring often, until it has been absorbed by the rice. Pour in enough chicken stock to cover the rice completely, and continue to cook, stirring often, until all the liquid is absorbed. Keep on adding stock and stir gently till the rice is al dente. (A little chewy, and most of the liquid has been absorbed)
When the pumpkin is ready, take of the skin and cut into pieces. (it will be puree in a anyhow so in don’t really matter how big it is)
So now stir the pumpkin into risotto add the very end. The risotto is aaalamost ready.. and it doesn’t simmer anymore. Stir in the Parmesan and butter to give the risotto a creamy and powerfull taste in the end.
When everything ready, crumble the chestnut on top of the dish. What a masterpiece you will serve to you’re guest!
In Italy, this will be a starter. But for me it’s enough as a main dish 😉 You can finish also with some freshly chopped parsley. So you have a very nice pallet of colours …
Because cooking is just like art!