Monthly Archives: March 2019

The Best Pesto, the Italian Za’atar and the secret for making guys fall in love.

Za'atar
The Italian Za’atar

Three years ago I have planted some Za’atar (Origanum syriacum) in the land we have in Italy, this is a native plant in Israel and the surrounding countries it is also the main ingredient in the Za’atar spice, made with sesame seeds and ground sumac. However, as we have been talking about our latest inspiration with food and rural development strategies this time I would like to go on a little journey into Italian food.

We All love pesto, originally a paste from Genova made with Pecorino cheese and pine nuts, Basil, garlic and olive oil. However like many things on our table, we make pesto from whatever herb grows plenty, so Thyme, Oregano, and even Rosemary. Instead of pine nuts, we use whatever nut is in the cupboard. Walnut is a good choice although it can add a little bitterness, Brazil is also a great choice, but as those don’t grow locally I prefer walnut after all the trees are just a little walk away, and so are almonds (although in this case, they came from the bag in cupboard which is quite local to the kitchen).

So back to our thread, in tonight’s cooking blog entry I would like to explore a very simple and potent mix, and what we think now is actually, the best Pesto.

We started with a load of Za’atar herb, at this time of year it has a strong new growth, usually I like to transplant a lot of the herbs by using cuttings, but at times one of the bushes does so well, and using it in teas doesn’t do it enough justice, because the amount exceeds what we can consume fresh. Although come summer we make pesto every third day, if you prefer Basil all you need to do is plant a few plants and keep picking the top leaves only, each leaf will sprout into two new ones so your plant will never go into seed and turn into a mighty bush, at least until winter comes.

Best Pesto

Here is the recipe –

100g of fresh picked Za’atar herb, (you can use Oregano if you can’t get any because you live in northern Europe, although it is like 20% of the strength).

100g of organic Almonds (this makes for a sweet counteraction to the intensity of the Za’atar)

100g of Pecorino cheese (I prefer Sardinian mature pecorino to the Abruzzen ones, although at times you can find a really good homemade one locally).

Olive oil – We use the local veriaties of Intosso and la Gentile most as they are strong and flavourful and those are the trees we have locally.

3 cloves of garlic (you may want to use less if you don’t like it to strong) I prefer the local red garlic of Sulmona, as we grow it in the garden.

pesto ingredients
Pecorino Sardo

To make the pesto put all the ingredients, but starting with the nuts and herb only, in a strong blender, we have an omniblend V. Having now owned it for 5 years we use it daily, it’s good enough to make flour out of grain so the nuts aren’t a problem for it. Once it is all mixed till its a paste you add olive oil, garlic, and the cheese, at this point if your blender isn’t strong its motor has just burned out!, which is a shame as we can not make balck chickpea Humous or even Falafel (also known as blender killer).

This is a short way to making a great dinner because it takes all of 5m, and if you are a pasta lover you can simply cook a great pasta and serve with pesto only.

For the pasta part we use Ancient grain pasta. This time we used senatori cappeli. It’s not as ancient a grain as the Solina or Saragolla we love, but it is considered one of the highest quality “grano duro” for pasta. You can maybe be lucky and taste it at a good Italian restaurant in London, but here in Abruzzo we actually see it as the lesser grain, because it was crossed to produce its characteristics. Where the Solina is an older grain, and the Saragolla traces its origins to one of the earliest the Khureshan wheat (it’s Egyptian) and was supposedly brought over to the area by Bulgarians, hence its name meaning yellow grain, but it made for a better picture than hand made pasta.

For sauce we threw a simple red sauce, Italians maintain that one shouldn’t bother with fresh tomatoes, and they simply use Passata, we only buy organic ones, and although I do prefer fresh tomatoes, to do it justice one has to peel the skins off, and as this is all done already in the bottle and the seeds are sieved its a no brainer for a quick meal. If you start from fresh this could be a great way to say your tomato seeds, I just peel, blend and sieve in that case, or if you prefer having bits you can just peel and cook.

I prefer leeks to onions, and for the best pasta sauce I use an old Jewish Italian method that adds the onion (leeks in this case) only after the sauce, it is sweeter that way. I love using rosemary and I use a lot in pasta sauce, but that is also because I need to keep using as much as the bushes give us. You can add some green like broccoli heads (cima di rapa) or similar. Cook it until it runs thick, I don’t like to overcook it, but the rosemary is my guide in this case and I cook until the dryish herb becomes soft and one with the sauce.

Ancient grain pasta served with Jewish Italian sauce and best pesto

Before we leave this meal there is another part that completes a good recipe. Or rather its a way of cooking, so if growing your own food and inventing dishes out of your favorite herbs and cereals isn’t enough, there is a secret ingredient that is the most important in my opinion, and that is conscious cooking. Although the name may be a little confusing, as it makes it sounds like some new age thing that goes well with yoga, it isn’t. But I call it that because its under that name that I was taught it, the idea is that everything is connected, and cooking is an alchemical act, conscious cooking is a lot about feeling, or the alchemy of only putting in the food what is meant to go there.

When I teach it to others I get asked if I mean cooking with love, I don’t. Conscious cooking is the act of being aware when cooking, It is done by trying to feel or sense all the feelings you actually feel at that moment so they don’t slip by and end in the dinner and get eaten by everyone, because most of the feelings we go through should not really be served to others, the same goes to thinking. In my opinion, it is best to simply not think at all when cooking. But if you already are thinking (we seem to not be able to stop) try and stay in touch with it, and don’t start “running it” into the dinner. There is a more advanced part, its about feeling all the feelings in the space even those which aren’t yours and saving the food from them too, but this may be too farfetched for most so lets keep sweet.

Now, I agree that once you master the basics and you can hold it, and if you have a flow of love you can add it to the mix, but I would prefer someone who is angry yet holding their feelings to cook my dinner most days. This is the basic law, it is hard to explain what feeling your feelings in full actually means, but whilst cooking this is the method I follow. Sometimes when I feel like I have a free hand and I can be creative I use consciousness as an ingredient itself, in that way you can actually choose what effect your dinner will produce in others, and I don’t just mean taste here. I had a great friend who I taught this method to, she used it on a guy she liked. She was so good she only needed to make him a cup of coffee and he fell totally in love with her, it’s not that she wasn’t the falling In love sort of material, she was. Its the magic she put in while making coffee, so you get the idea, and we should leave it at that.

So here is the best Pesto Recpie, the best pasta in London (but only one of the better ones in Abruzzo), and the secret to making guys fall in love with you through coffee.

‘Before It’s too late’

My inspiration currently is food, I’m getting really excited about the connection between old vegetables, cereal and legumes and a way of life that is being forgotten. Like you probably already know we do a lot of work in Italy with sustainable tourism. My current hero though is an American chef called, sean brock.

Hence the title (I stole it from him) – he revived the culinary traditions of the American south from the ground up, that is what I find exciting claiming them back before it disappearnd it’s too late. He didn’t just recreate the recipes which he had loved growing up, he went as far as getting people to grow old grains that were extinct, like Carolina rice, in a search after the real taste. I sometimes play with the idea of running a restaurant like that or having a company called “Real Tastes”, finding the real foods that aren’t grown anymore, growing them and making food for people from them. If you end up at my kitchen table that’s the game I play almost every day, and I think everyone should.

My Current hero (with vegetable tattoos)

What excites me about all of this is creating a way to take people into another layer, into an experience. Into the well being of the past, into the rich taste of real stripey tomatoes, black chickpeas. I mean, seriously wherever you live there have been veg, cereal pulse, cheeses, all grown or made in certain ways for hundreds of years, and it’s worth reaching for that taste, finding that old way of being, and weaving it into your life.

What I like about Sean Brook’s work is that he went after taste the wholesome way, and that inspires me. We have been working with cultivating some old Italian Varieties for the Heartland Association, mainly wheat, with the queen grain in my view being Solina, the soft and warm mountain grain of Abruzzo. You wait until you taste a homemade pasta made with this grain (don’t freak out if you can’t find any, just send us an email and we can get some sent to you).

Ancient Italian grain
Solina Harvest
Solina and Spinach pasta

I love taking our volunteers and getting them to help plant the fields, grow grain, harvest it by hand with us, plant herbs and gardens, and I love teaching them about conscious cooking, and the art of Alchemy in food.

Carrying apple cuttings from the red mother tree to be grafted unto our apples.

I am not joking you, eating from your garden is one thing, but eating ancient grains that have been grown in the mountains of central Italy for thousands of years, and getting people to learn how to cook them with magic, eating them with veg and pulses that too have molded to the people and the land over a millennia and simply sitting in front of the fire and letting all of that go in…. it’s like what the locals say about olive oil, “it’s not food, its medicine”. The olives are not only not sprayed, for the better part they have not even been picked for years, seeing no man, but the air and water are pure, and so you end up with – sun, stone. solitude, and silence, as is the olive tree lore.

Olive harvest with an Abruzzan Shepherd of the mountains.

The thing that inspires me, in all of that, is creating an experience. I am working on a new model for sustainable tourism, and developing a new type of campsite experience, and I want to make the Alchemy of conscious cooking one of its main pillars.

Along with all of that, I believe its time we take Glamping, as it’s called, into another direction, I don’t appreciate that it has become this Instagram sort of experience, I want it to be real, I want to combine 4 elements in the campsites we work to create. We already covered food, the second is obviously, open unspoiled nature, the third is the structures themselves, and I have always preferred the tribal ones, although I have seen some amazing spaces that inspire me in other directions. You can inspire people in so many ways by taking them into a setting. I loved staying at the Albergo Diffuso (scattered hotel, as in, it’s not just one building but half of the old village) of Sextantio in North of Abruzzo, it’s like living in an untouched medieval hilltown – the whole feel is 15th century, the houses are untouched and all done in an old way, the restaurant is in a castle cellar, it allows one to drift into another place, to dream..

The old rooms of Sextanio inspire a dreamlike atmosphere

The fourth pillar is inner work. My volunteers make me laugh a lot (even if I make them cry in return) but together we have made experiments in group conscious work, I am their guinea pig and they are mine, and for a spell, we experiment together in another way of being. The setting is wild Abruzzo and you can feel the old Samnite pastoral nomads walking their sheep in the air, and so we too let go and find different ways. I let them explore consciousness and they let me take them to places they haven’t been before, and we keep the process open and shared. We also run events that take people into this process on a deeper layer, and so this fourth element is the one I deem most important. A lot of it is allowing people to share more, and putting things in the centre, but the connection to weather and body and how everything communicates with itself is also important. One of the things that happen when we host for example is that it always rains when new people come, it’s like a rule, we will be enjoying months of Italian sunshine and…. boom, a newcomer and a storm. Explain it to a 21-year-old?!, but the thing is that some of them get it, so much so they kind of control the weather afterwards, so if you end up seeing some really strange weather, it isn’t climate change, it’s one of our volunteers on a wild day, Ok I’m just joking.

Group work in the Sun

I’ve seen our workers become telepathic, and all it took is putting them into the group making process, living in nature, and sharing life together in a tribal setting, they wake up at 4 am in different tents going through the same thing, later they go back living in separate countries and the same thing happens, its like for a spell they are still connected, yet after a while the spell (usually) fades.

Fire time magic and the power of being

I would like to develop this whole system into the campsites we design and work with, that’s what excites me, a framework and experience from the ground up. Lucy is also a fountain of ideas, she has endless experience types, and how to tailor them around a business plan and she makes me really laugh at some of the ideas of what she would like to see in a campsite/retreat experience.

So this is our current focus – we have started designing a whole new type of experience, and its code is going back to wholesome, to the food grown in a locality, to its history and tradition. The magic of being together in nature. I feel quite amazed that somehow all I need to do is choose a new direction and life finds me the people to work with, and suddenly there is this flow of people asking for our help to design their campsites. And here was me thinking we went against the “Glamping” stream, in that we always push for sustainability and back to earth practices. I thought most people just want to turn their campsite into a money-making machine, but I was wrong, and people find us exactly for that, so in order to help, I thought I would write the basics down, good ideas should be shared openly. I can’t say it will be a good idea for everyone but it inspires me, before it’s too late.