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Spring brings new beginnings. The earth smells sweeter, the dullness of winter has become a distant memory. The Italian Spring Table resembles an Arcimboldo painting. Artichokes in bloom, bright peas, young cheeses like ricotta and Pecorino made with the season’s first sweet milk. Memories of planting curvaceous broad beans from my grandmother’s field will always stay with me. We ate our body weight in fava beans, my Grandfather’s loot of spindly wild asparagus was met with shrieks of excitement. These simple celebratory rituals have never left me.
Today they shape and inspire all we do in the restaurant. Each seasonal menu change is shaped by moments at that table in my grandparent’s home. There is no separating food from emotion for me. Intricately woven into each plate is also modern culinary technique, however, they are applied sparingly to let the flavours speak for themselves. To cook simply requires discipline.
There is a fragility about food, you eat it in a moment and then it’s gone, however, the memory stays with us for longer. As well as the Italian table, the French table is also embedded in my fond food memories. My French aunt was my gastronomic goddess. Although born in Italy, she was a little girl when her parents, along with my mother and her brother Gianni, moved to Lyon. Bruna, or “Babette” as she was affectionately known, was the walking vision of “la classe”. Her style was ‘Bardo-esque’, backcombed blonde tousled hair, sun-kissed olive skin and beautifully slender. Her heart was Italian but her soul was French.
Ballet was her first love, much to my mother’s annoyance. Every Saturday the sisters were tasked to clean and polish the parquet flooring. They would strap slipper cloths onto their feet and “patinage”. Bruna would easily get distracted practising ballet movements whilst her elder sister looked on with disapproval. Tensions were eased later in the day when they were rewarded with a gateaux from their favourite patisserie whilst shopping at the local outdoor market for their mother. Sundays were family days, walks along the Saône River, watching their father play pétanque, ending always with a simple family meal.
Whilst my mother was a child of the 50’s, Bruna embraced the 60’s and 70’s with carefree bohemian zealous. She trained to be a hairdresser, later opening her own salon on the Rue du Jacobin.
It was the small details of everyday life I remember with her. Breakfast was bowls of warm milk tainted with cocoa and served with pain au chocolat. The afternoon casse-croute for the children was bread and butter with her homemade mirabelle jam. She would sit with us at the table moulding dough and cutting apples for a tarte aux pommes effortlessly.
A few years later she came to visit for my first communion. The celebratory spread included foie gras and caviar that she had snuck into her luggage, she was the life and soul of the party. Singing French drinking songs and getting the whole family to join in with her doing the birdie dance! I adored her craziness!
When I returned in my late-teens to stay with her for a few weeks, the afternoon casse-croute was substituted for l’apero of Ricard accompanied with pork scratchings. Meal time preparations were one of inclusion, love and nourishment. She encouraged me to watch her prepare and taste, sharing her immense knowledge of wines and cheese. I learnt that it was as, if not more, important who you were eating with compared to what you were eating. She loved entertaining and would spontaneously throw dinner parties for 20 plus friends. I once watched her dig a pit in her garden to cook a pig in the ground! She taught me to work with nature, showing me on one occasion how to clean and eat mussels with no other utensil than the shell itself. On the same evening, she taught me how to play poker and drink whisky! My mother would have been horrified!
She lived in the moment and was great fun to be around, seldom seen without a cigarette in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, accompanied by her little dachshund “Kiki”. Family friends who stopped off in Lyon to visit her were mesmerised when she spontaneously did the “Lambada” in the street with them halting rush hour traffic.
She spent her last months with her sisters, my mother and their little sister Franca. She had spent her life dedicated to nurturing and feeding all of our souls. Her love was expressed in her food, enriching the lives of all her family and friends. Her story of the plate was not just about the ingredients but how we make others feel. It went beyond a taste memory, it was a moment of shared happiness forever embedded in all our hearts.
Homemade Ricotta by Giovanna Eusebi
1 litre of full fat milk
100ml of single cream
30ml of freshly squeezed lemon juice
1tsp of salt
Small cheesebaskets or a muslin lined colander
- 1. Put the milk and cream in a heavy based pan.
- 2. Using a temperature probe slowly bring the milk and cream to 80°C but do not exceed 90°C. It should be just simmering.
- 3. Add the salt and lemon juice to the pan.
- 4. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to cool for 10 minutes. During this time, you’ll start to see some soft curds forming. If only a few curds form, add a little more lemon juice, just a teaspoon at a time.
- 5. Carefully scoop out the curds out of the pan using a slotted spoon. Place the curds into baskets or the muslin lined colander.
- 6. The cheese can be eaten warm or stored in an airtight container for up to one week
- 7. Don’t throw away the whey, the liquid can be used in a risotto or when making pizza and bread dough!
- 8. Serve with a drizzle of organic honey, finely chopped rosemary and warm bread. We use a beautiful “Millefiori” honey from the “I Ciacca” family.
- 9. You can enjoy your cheese on its own, with honey, or in a pasta.