Normally, by this time of the year, temperatures have dropped and the rainy days are more frequent than the sunny ones. This year has given us the craziest fall, with areas of the country devastated by downpours and floods and other areas, like ours, blessed by 20°C in November and sunny days. Both extreme situations, both highly unusual.
I am totally meteoropathic… I can only function if my natural rhythms work, if my reference points are right. A year like this, with a never ending summer and a never coming autumn confuses me. And my stomach.
Normally, I would welcome the first cold days happily snuggled under a blanket on the sofa with a cup of thick hot chocolate in my hands.
Or toasting bread in the fireplace to prepare the first bruschette with our bright green new olive oil. Or maybe roasting a sausage on slow burning embers… That is November comfort food to me: the smell of food must mix smoothly with the smell of burning firewood.
This year, it has been too warm to even cook a soup… and I have… but we have had to eat it with our windows open!
When I sat down to write this post for this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable, I realized that all food is comfort food to me (and that is not necessarily a good thing… LOL), and that different seasons come with different comfort foods.
Fall Comfort Food
When the autumn comes, there are three things that really need to be on our table at a certain point: polenta with wild boar, castagnaccio and pumpkin risotto.
I grew up in a family of hunters, so game meat has always been available in our home. As soon as the first clouds start gathering upon the Cappelli family’s roof, my mum digs out corn flour and my dad is sent out to shoot some stuff! The fireplace is lit and the first layer of hot polenta appears soon after on the old wooden pastry board, where my grandmother gravely proceeds to cut it with a piece of cooking string. Apparently that is a sacred operation and there is absolutely no other way to test the quality of the polenta… Portions are distributed on everybody’s plates and literally buried under wild boar stew! The occasional guests might ask for the vegetarian option… polenta with olive oil and parmesan cheese. They are usually indulged, but they are likely to get my mum’s and grandmother’s sullen look, which unveils a mix of wonder, astonishment, pity and condescension and translates as “Who could possibly not want to stuff his face with wild boar stew?! There must be something wrong with them… maybe they might prefer a bit of sausage instead?! ” (I know Rebecca and Alexandra will cringe when they read this! LOL)
(Photo by Okapix)
They will be ok with castagnaccio and pumpking risotto, though! Castagnaccio is a thin, dense cake made with chestnut flour, water, olive oil, raisins, pine nuts or walnuts and rosemary. Very simple, but another “must” of my autumn cravings. As soon as the first chestnut flour is available on Monte Amiata, out comes the old castagnaccio baking tin! It’s perfect with the first vino novello!
(Photo from Tuscanfoodie)
I won’t say much about pumpkin risotto as it is not really a traditional Tuscan dish, except that in our variant, the pumpkin is likely to be sautéed in olive oil rather than butter.
(Photos from Memorie di Angelina)
Winter Comfort Food
Winter is a terrible season for my figure (not that the other seasons are any more merciful…). As soon as winter arrives, so does Christmas with the holiday sweets: ricciarelli, cavallucci and panforte. No point in even trying to resist: I have to have ricciarelli at least. For those of you who don’t know what these heavenly sweets are, well, they are traditional Christmas almond cookies typical of the Siena area. You can buy the industrially prepackaged ones, but if you happen to spend some time in a place where there is a bakery that makes them fresh every day, stock up.
(Photo from MyMySays)
Of course, with Christmas also comes the traditional boiled meat meal: you use the meat to prepare broth where you cook some tortellini or home made egg pasta, and then you eat the boiled meat as a second course with some sauces (usually home made mayonnaise and salsa verde, a green sauce made with parsley). This for me means essentially fighting with my cousin over a plate of boiled tongue. I know… it does sound revolting, but it is one of those things that I need to have before the holiday season is over (did I mention that besides being hunters, my family is also a family of butchers?) and it’s delicious!
Then New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day come. And there is no lucky end or beginning without a steaming hot plate of zampone or cotechino with stewed lentils!!! “Every lentil is a golden coin“, my great-grandmother used to say, and who doesn’t need that or the high cholesterol level brought about by a large portion of cotechino?!
Then Carnival comes (I told you winter was tricky…) with all the traditional fried sweets: crogetti (the local name for cenci – thin fried pasta covered in pastry cream, or honey and icing sugar), zeppole (small balls of fried pasta filled with pastry cream and rolled in sugar), and bomboloni (doughnuts or cream puffs).
(Photo from Amiche Cuoche)
Last but not least, Father’s Day comes on March 19 (St. Joseph’s Day) with the traditional rice fritters!
No wonder, the spring starts full of good intentions for future diets…
Spring Comfort Food
Spring means only two things to me: nespole (loquats) and strawberries. As soon as the first nespole become available I have to have them at the end of every meal. Too bad they don’t last for very long!
And of course strawberries with whipped cream, and maybe cherries! Lots of them!
Summer Comfort Food
Summer too is mostly about fruit and vegetables: the sweet tomatoes, the succulent peaches, and the watermelons!
But there are two things that I absolutely have to have: prosciutto and melone and ice-cream.
(Photo from Cool Cook Style)
I think I am a very generous person in many ways, but there is one thing I do not share: ice-cream. When ice-cream crosses the threshold of our apartment, I have no friends: I become territorial with the freezer and very protective! LOL
There is no sharing when it comes to gelato: it can take all my sorrows away, and it has to be all mine! My husband says that I “morph” when it’s around! If I am stressed, the smile comes back on my face after the first bite. If I am happy and he steals a spoonful of my ice-cream I turn into a real harpy! So beware!
Year-round Comfort Food
There is one thing that can always cheer me up and I think it’s pretty much a universal thing in Italy: Nutella. Nutella is a hazelnut chocolate spread, as if there were any need to introduce it…
It’s soul-healing power is such a stereotype in this country that there is a scene in Nanni Moretti’s movie “Bianca” which has become a symbol of this! If I had a euro for every time that I have dreamt of a jar of Nutella like his!!!
A Journey Down Memory Lane
There is one very Tuscan comfort food that I remember from my early childhood years and which my great-grandmother Tilde used to prepare whenever she was looking after me. It was typically my “merenda“, my mid-afternoon snack, and it has always had a special place in my heart and stomach: pane col vino e lo zucchero, that is a slice of stale bread soaked in red wine and covered in sugar.
(Photo from I love spaghetti and you)
I know that many of my non-Italian readers will be horrified by the idea of a granny incorporating wine in a child’s snack (probably as much as reading about my soft spot for boiled tongue! LOL), but, believe me, it hasn’t killed me or any other child over the centuries and I am ready to bet that that was a much healthier snack than most processed stuff that our children eat on a daily basis.
I remember licking the plate!
The winter variant, when it still used to snow regularly in the village, was to use a glass full of the first snow from our kitchen’s window-sill instead of bread!
Delicious, and unforgettable!
Italy Blogging Roundtable
This is the sixth post in a monthly series called The Italy Blogging Roundtable. Here you can find the posts of the other bloggers who participate in the roundtable. Our topic this month was “comfort food“: