Saturday 26 February 2022

Covid, Sanremo, Italian presidency and a cake for the Queen’s jubilee

 I had Covid at the beginning of February with mild symptoms that lasted for about ten days. I had three doses which helped eventually but I still felt poorly.  The overall sensation was so weird, like stepping into a parallel dimension. I had to self-isolate for at least 5 days and carry on isolating if the tests were positive for ten days. I only had a mild cold and some coughing but also headache, upset stomach and dizziness, the GP and 119 said that my symptoms were due to the fact that my body was fighting the virus.  My temperature was normal. The worst thing was that my head was confused for a few days and I found it hard to concentrate. I also felt a general sense of weakness and I had to rest a lot. Even reading was difficult, both books and online articles. Lack of appetite was the other issue, so I lost the two kilos I had gained during the Christmas holidays. As the days passed and I still tested positive, though I started to feel better, lack of motivation emerged, sort of a mild sense of depression. Nothing appealed me, I couldn’t focus properly and though I had some work to do (commissioned reviews, an academic article to complete and some work for IBO), all my body and mind were concentrated on fighting Covid and how to get out of it as soon as possible. After a week the T line became very faint, barely visible, and appeared only after 10-15 minutes. 

The C line was very strong. I thought I was clear but when I phoned 111 they told me I still had Covid and had to self-isolate until day 10 and take tests every day. I was also worried about infecting my husband and my daughter who live with me. My daughter caught it five days after me and my husband followed her after a few days. Their symptoms were mild as they had three doses too but they had to isolate for ten days as well.

I thought about my half term week. I had planned to visit my sons in the north. Could we still do it? And I could not see my daughter Valentina either, only Skype with her. Would it be possible to celebrate her birthday on the 16th of February at her home? I was upset with myself. I felt my body was letting me down though I had followed all the rules. The only things I could do without much effort were crocheting and some paintings but only easy things such as quick sketches with a limited palette or only pen drawings. I completed a blanket for my granddaughter and some granny squares. Everything seemed tasteless not just food and drinks. Lack of enthusiasm and motivation were certainly what affected me most. It was unsettling and bewildering as I am usually a person full of ideas and eager to experiment. Luckily, I didn’t need to go out shopping as the fridge was full and I had all I needed at home. I could still browse social media, phone friends and play wordle, which is quite addictive. When you start to look for the right word you can’t leave it; it is a competition with your own self. Days seemed endless and aimless and suddenly ended without a purpose or anything interesting to record. It was a limited perspective, a forced rest that was OK for a few days but then was irritating. I tried to get busy with cooking and some cleaning, but it all seemed a big effort I couldn’t achieve. It was hopeless until it ended. It reminded me when I was a child and was in bed for days with measles or chicken pox. I remember I was an active child so as soon as I felt better, I was out of bed playing with my sister and with my toys. But I am much older now and need to be patient with my body. 

In the real world stories continued to unravel. The Italian parliament elected the 13th president or better re-elected Sergio Mattarella after seven failed attempts to choose a different candidate. It was the best choice eventually that reinforced the stability of the government and confirmed the popularity of Mattarella, a key figure in the Italian recovery plan. His election was cheered by the whole parliament except for the party of the extreme right, Fratelli d’Italia led by Giorgia Meloni. In his speech after being re-elected, Mattarella emphasised unity, the respect of the institutions and of the constitution, dignity, solidarity and social commitment. His sense of responsibility is an example for all and his words do not seem empty but honest and genuine. When he spoke, he was slightly emotional, clearly aware of the trust and respect that the members of parliament and the Italian people feel for him. He mentioned Mario Draghi and pope Francis too in his speech; together with Mattarella, they are a triumvirate of sorts that seems to grant Italy a hopeful future both in its economical and ethical choices.

Mattarella’s sense of responsibility and his faithfulness to institutions reminds me of the queen. They are both elderly people but have never wavered and seem to hold on and fulfil all their duties. The queen, almost 96 now, is going to celebrate 70 years of reign, a great achievement and a beacon of light in this troubled time. She always inspires in me a sense of gratitude for her long-lasting commitment to the nation, her tireless work that is an example of sincere dedication. The story of her life, her style, her outfits, hats and brooches do not seem to fade. She conveys stability and fairness as ever and I feel moved by her small slightly bent figure that went through so many things, positive and negative in her own family, not to mention her latest bereavement, always showing a positive spirit. For me she is an example of dignity and commitment as Mattarella is.

I followed the 72nd festival of the Italian song in Sanremo. The theatre was full this time with the audience wearing FFP2 black masks. Amadeus hosted the event creating a simple familiar atmosphere in the best Italian style. Some songs were weird, a bit of nonsense but apparently successful. I liked a few of them such as ‘Sei Tu’ by Fabrizio Moro, ‘Ogni Volta è cosí’ by Emma and ‘Duecentomila Ore’ by Ana Mena. I agreed that the winner song was the best song: ‘Brividi’ (shivers) by Mahmood & Blanco. Here are a few links to videos:

This is the second time that Mahmood has won at Sanremo and he definitely deserves it.

Eventually, I managed to visit my sons in the north. My husband and my daughter couldn’t come as my husband still tested positive and my daughter was recovering from the Covid symptoms and felt too weak to travel. I left on my own facing storm Eunice and snow. It was all right at the end and I arrived at Wakefield safe and sound. When I was there, I played all the time with my granddaughter Violetta. We had great fun crawling around together and rolling on the carpet. With her little fingers she is starting to handle shapes and put them in place, matching wooden or plastic sticks in the right holes. We also looked at a lot of books about numbers, animals and colours and she danced at the sound of her musical toys. I bought a new hat on the motorway at WH Smith to protect my head from the wind and she loved to put it on and play with it. She is a bit fussy about food sometimes; she has a sweet tooth and prefers meat to vegetables or potatoes. I also visited my other son in Newcastle. We had a delicious dinner at Pani’s, a Sardinian restaurant that serves gorgeous Mediterranean food. We had culurgiones (pasta parcels filled with pecorino and potatoes), ravioli, a Mediterranean starter with grilled vegetables, fabulous artichokes, gnocchetti sardi (Sardinian dumplings) and pane carasau (a toasted thin kind of bread). The next morning, my son and his girlfriend invited me to a special breakfast in a bakery where they usually go in the weekend. I had a fabulous Italian style cappuccino and a frangipane little cake with a pear in the middle. All the cakes and sweets looked appetizing but I couldn’t taste all of them. Next time I will try something different. Coming back, I stopped in Wakefield one night and then drove back home on the Sunday morning. On the motorway I just had to slow down and drive on the left lane because of the wind and pouring rain. I was proud of myself when I arrived back home on Sunday afternoon as I could had done the trip all by myself, feeling safe and confident.

We also managed to visit my autistic daughter Valentina for her birthday. She was thrilled. My other daughter had made a dress for her with the picture of Leela, Valentina’s favourite Futurama Character, on the front as a present.

We decorated her room together with ‘happy birthday’ banners and balloons and had tortellini for lunch finishing with a cake. It was a sponge cake filled with Chantilly cream and decorated with berries and flaked almonds. It was meant for the Platinum Jubilee cake competition but I made it too late. I also made a cheesecake version with Philadelphia for my husband’s birthday, which was in February too. Here are the recipes:

Lemon sponge cake with Chantilly cream and berries

For the sponge you need: five eggs, 100 g of sugar, 200 g of self-raising flour, two tbsp of honey, some drops of vanilla extracts, grated zest and juice of a lemon, 30 g of melted butter, one tsp of baking powder.

For the filling you need: 200 ml of whipped cream, some custard cream.

Prepare the sponge whisking the eggs and the sugar for 10 minutes using an electric mixer. Fold in the rest of the ingredients and bake at 180 C for 30-45 minutes. Let the cake cool and prepare the Chantilly cream, whipping the cream with a tbsp of sugar and then mixing it with the custard cream. Cut the cake in half and wet the two halves with milk mixed with water. Spread half of the Chantilly cream on the bottom half and add part of the berries (I used blueberries and raspberries). Cover the cake with the other half and decorated the top of the cake with the rest of the Chantilly cream, the berries and the almond flakes. Chill it in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

Philadelphia and berries cheesecake

For the base you need: 100 g of ground almonds, 80 g of melted butter, 100 g of ground digestive biscuits.

For the cream you need: 180 g of Philadelphia cheese, 200 g of extra thick double cream, two tbsp of honey, some drops of vanilla essence.

Garnish: raspberries and blueberries, some almond flakes.

Prepare the base mixing all the ingredients and place the mixture in a tart tin. Chill for half an hour. Prepare the cream whipping the double cream and folding in the Philadelphia cheese. Add the honey and vanilla drops. Spread the cheesecake cream on the biscuit base and decorate with the berries and almond flakes. Finally, warm a tbsp of honey with a tbsp of water and pour it on the cake. Chill in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

The death of Monica Vitti at the beginning of February reminded me what a great actress she was. She was 90 when she died and had suffered from dementia in her later years. She was such a beautiful funny actress, a clever independent woman who worked with Michelangelo Antonioni, Alberto Sordi, Ettore Scola and many other famous actors and film directors. She often appeared on television in the 1970s and 1980s. she was so much fun and at the same time conveyed a sense of ordinariness. Her characters were never sophisticated but reflected the life of common people, women who struggle with their relationships and were often abandoned by their partners or rebelled against their diminished roles. She was a protagonist of the commedia all’italiana (comedy Italian style), a bittersweet kind of entertainment that is both funny and sad without a proper happy ending. Here are some links to Monica Vitti’s work I hope you find interesting:

And now Russia has finally invaded the Ukraine; let’s hope it ends soon and Putin comes to his senses. 😟

Thursday 10 February 2022

Roman style recipes

 Here are some dishes I tasted in Italian restaurants last Christmas, others are from recipe magazines and are typical of the cuisine of Rome. They are based on simple ordinary ingredients and are very tasty. 

I love them all and when I came back to the UK in January, I prepared them at home for my family and for some friends who visited us. At the end of January, I had Covid. I felt very weak for a few days but luckily my temperature was normal and I had only a mild cold. My three vaccination doses certainly helped me though I experienced a terrible loss of taste. My mouth felt sour all the time and there was no food that could help me to improve the lack of appetite. So, I started to cook the best tasty food ever to improve my taste, especially cakes and biscuits. Chocolate and fruit were helpful too. Together with a loss of taste I experienced a lack of interest in food, probably due to my general feelings of weakness. I tried to rest a lot to improve my condition as soon as possible as I felt weird and slightly depressed. I can imagine how hard it must be for people who have severe symptoms. I hope my recipes will cheer you up in hard times as they did in my gloomy late January.

Potato peels

Peel five or six big potatoes leaving thick layers on the skin. Fry the peels in hot boiling oil for a few minutes. Drain the peels and let them cool in a bowl lined with kitchen paper. Transfer the potato peels on an oven tray lined with parchment paper. Add salt. Bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes at 180 C or till crispy. Before serving you can add pepper and grated pecorino. 

Chicken with lemon 

You need 4-6 chicken thighs, some lemon juice, salt, olive oil, rosemary.

Cut part of the chicken skin and soak the tights in the juice of two lemons in a bowl. Cover the bowl with film and chill in the fridge for 4-5 hours. Place the thighs on an oven tray and add salt, olive oil and rosemary. Roast the chicken in the oven for 30-45 minutes at 180 C or till the skin is crispy and slightly brown.

Dry lasagne

This is a kind of lasagne my mother-in-law usually makes. She uses homemade pasta but you can find good lasagne sheets at the supermarket too. I usually cook the sheets in boiling water before preparing the layers. I start with some ragù tomato sauce and then build up the layers of pasta sheet adding ragù, bechamel (white sauce) and grated mozzarella. In my mother-in-law’s recipe she doesn’t use bechamel, instead she has some grated ham. The ragù is rather dry so the result is a kind of lasagne with a strong taste. She usually makes 4-5 layers alternating pasta sheets, then spreading ragù, mozzarella and ham, ending with a thick layer of ragù and mozzarella.

How to make the ragù: grind one carrot, a stick of celery and one onion. Fry the mixture in a large saucepan with olive oil. Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes then add some beef and pork mincemeat (about 500 g in all). Add salt and pepper and let it simmer for 10 minutes. Finally add some to the tomato passata (1000 ml or more), a tsp of sugar and more salt if necessary. Add also a pinch of ground cloves (optional). Let it simmer for 2-3 hours before using it. 

Fagioli con le cotiche (Roman style pork and borlotti beans)


You need: a tin of borlotti beans (about 300-400 g), an onion finely sliced, salt, pepper, olive oil, 3-4 tbsp of tomato passata, 300 g of pork cotica (the hard skin of prosciutto you can find in Italian supermarkets for free or online). 

Wash the cotica and boil it in water for about 30 minutes or till soft. Let it cool and cut it in thin stripes. Brown the onion in a saucepan with olive oil, add the tomato passata and some water, salt and pepper. Let it simmer for ten minutes then add the cotiche. Finally drain and add the borlotti beans and let it simmer for 15-30 minutes or till ready. 

Pandoro tiramisu

You need: some pandoro leftovers (about 250 g) thinly cut in slices, 2 tbsp of sugar, 2 eggs divided, some coffee or decaf coffee and liquor (optional), 250 g of mascarpone.

Beat the yolks of the eggs with the sugar and add mascarpone using an electric whisk. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold it into the mascarpone cream. Soak the pandoro slices in the coffee and line the bottom of a rectangular food container. Pour half of the cream on the pandoro and prepare another layer. End with the cream and finally dust with cocoa or sprinkle chocolate chips on top. Chill for 4-5 hours before serving.

Panettone leftovers with ricotta

You need: some panettone cut in thin slices (about 300 g), 500 g of ricotta, 200 g of sugar, 8 leaves of gelatine, 150 g of mixed peel, 3 tbsp of milk, icing sugar and chopped pistachio to decorate.

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for ten minutes. Mix the ricotta with the sugar and the mixed peel. Squeeze the gelatine leaves and pour on it the boiling milk. Let it cool and then add it to the ricotta cream. Line a rectangular food container with film and place a layer of panettone slices on the bottom. Pour the ricotta mixture on the panettone and finish with a layer of panettone slices. Cover with film and chill in the fridge overnight. Finally unwrap the cake and turn it over on a plate. Dust with icing sugar and some chopped pistachio on top before serving. 

Panettone leftovers with white chocolate

You need: some panettone cut in pieces (about 250 g), 2 tbsp of sugar, 200 g of white chocolate, 200 ml of double cream or whipping cream, some red currant or other kind of berries to decorate.

Warm the cream in a saucepan and add the chocolate cut in pieces. Stir till the mixture is smooth and clear then let it cool. Place the panettone pieces in 4-6 bowls and pour the chocolate cream on top. Decorate with the berries and dust with icing sugar. Chill in the fridge for 2-3 hours before serving. 

Pears with red wine

You need: 2-3 Bosc pears, 300 ml of red wine, 200 ml of water, 200 g of demerara sugar, one cinnamon stick, 2 cloves.

Cut the pears in halves. Peel and core them then place them in a saucepan and cook the pears in the water and wine adding all the other ingredients. When they are soft set them in a bowl and let the sauce simmer for ten more minutes. Serve the pears with the sauce and some cream. You can also have a white wine variant with star anise instead of cinnamon and cloves. 

Marshmallow cookies

You need: 250 g of self-raising flour, 150 g of golden caster sugar, 50 g of soft brown sugar, 100 g of melted butter, 2 eggs, 50 g of chocolate chunks, 50 g of mini marshmallows, 1 tbsp of rose water. 

Beat the eggs with the sugar and add the flour and the butter. Finally add the rest of the ingredients and let it chill in the fridge for one hour. Using a spoon add dollops of the mixture on a parchment paper or in muffin or cookie moulds and bake at 180 C for 15-20 minutes or till ready.

Italian style fruit cheesecake

I think this cake can be called a tart, but its taste and some of the ingredients remind me of a cheesecake.

For the base you need: 200 g of rich tea and digestive biscuits blended, and 70 g of melted butter.

For the Chantilly cream you need: 300 g of whipping cream, 2tbsp of sugar, 250 g of mascarpone, 5 leaves of gelatine. Some fruit (e.g., kiwis, grapes, bananas, mandarins, pears).

Mix the blended biscuits with the melted butter and line the base of a tart tin. Chill in the fridge for one hour. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for ten minutes then squeeze them and add some boiling water. In the meantime, prepare the Chantilly cream whipping the cream with the sugar and add the mascarpone. Pour the Chantilly cream on the base of the cake and decorate with the fruit. Finally pour the gelatine on top of the fruit and chill for 2-3 hours before serving.