We only had crème brûlée once when I was a kid. My mom did a great job of preparing and baking the little custards, and carefully covering the top with sugar. She commandeered my father’s blow torch to do the brûlée part, and promptly set a dish towel on fire. Abandoning the effort, she finished them off under the broiler, and brûléed they were indeed. She stuck to plain custards after that.
Now a regular appearance
Needless to say, it took me quite some time to attempt them on my own, but when I did, they became a regular dessert in our home, one that can be made well ahead of time and offered up to your guests with a flourish! Traditionally made with heavy cream, canned evaporated milk can easily substitute. However, this version uses full-fat coconut milk for the dairy challenged in the family. The lite coconut didn’t work well, but this is a treat and not healthfood! There are not a lot of ingredients, so use really good ones here.
It’s fun to light food on fire
My grandchildren all had their first experiences with a torch while making these, and of course their parents were not invited to the initial firing!
And dish towels were tucked well out of harm’s way.
When I mentioned I was working on a dairy-free Crème Brûlée a blogger friend suggested adding corn. It was a great suggestion, so I fiddled with my recipe until it was the right balance. The corn flavor was phenomenal with the maple! Definitely a New England match made in Heaven. However, if you don’t want to use the corn, decrease the egg yolks to four, and increase the sugar a bit; the corn adds a lot of sweetness.
Dairy Free Corn & Maple Crème Brûlée
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 1/2 cups pureed corn, from fresh if in season
1 plump vanilla bean, split
¼ cup granulated maple sugar
5 large egg yolks
1 tsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. pure maple extract
4 tbsp. more maple sugar
Preheat oven to 375 degrees, and put a kettle of water on to boil. Place ramekins in a roasting pan.
Place coconut milk in a saucepan over medium along with the pureed corn. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk. Add the pod to the milk while it warms to just below the boil with small simmering bubbles on the side.Whisk egg yolks, corn starch, and sugar until well blended.Let the vanilla bean simmer in coconut milk and corn mixture.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar, yolks, and cornstarch until well blended. Add the maple extract.
Slowly, very slowly at first, drizzle the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the while to gently temper. You don’t want to make scrambled eggs, so be patient here,
Once everything is combined, put the mixture through a mesh strainer to remove the corn bits and any particles of egg. Put the mixture in a large measuring cup with a spout and pour into the ramekins. That’s the easiest way to transfer without sloshing.
Place the pan in the oven, and add the boiling water to go halfway up the ramekins.
Bake for 40 minutes and check. They should be set with just the slightest jiggle in the middle.
Let cool, then cover and place in the refrigerator, overnight if possible.
When ready to serve, place a tablespoon of maple sugar on each ramekin, evenly with no custard showing, and use a blowtorch to “burn” or caramelize to candy this sugar. Let set a few moments. The sugar will be a hard candy at this point, that will be cracked with the back of the spoon when eaten, a lovely combination of creamy and hard, sweet and slightly bitter.
AceHistoryDesk – Late on the evening of December 3, 1926, Agatha Christie walked up the stairs of her stately English mansion, kissed her seven-year-old daughter goodnight, got in her car and drove away in the dark.
It could have been the plot from one of her bestselling mystery novels.
She had spent the day quarrelling with her husband, Colonel Archibald Christie, who had recently announced that he was in love with a younger woman and would soon be leaving his family behind.
Instead, it was his wife who fled.
For the next 11 days, the most famous woman in the world was gone, sparking a nationwide manhunt that involved 1,000 police officers, 15,000 volunteers, bloodhounds and aeroplanes.
Fellow detective writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle engaged the services of a psychic to try to track down his missing colleague.
One newspaper offered a reward roughly equivalent to $A9,500.
But then Archibald dropped a bombshell: Perhaps his wife was hiding in plain sight.
“She may have disguised herself by altering the style of her hairdressing and by wearing glasses,” the Daily News tabloid wrote on December 11.
“Colonel Christie says his wife has stated that she could disappear at will if she liked, and, in view of the fact that she was a writer of detective stories, it would be very natural for her.”
At the time of her disappearance, Archibald had plenty to hide, and as suspicion began to fall on him, he panicked.
“It is absolutely untrue to suggest that there was anything in the nature of a row or a tiff,” he told reporters.
“I strongly deprecate introducing any tittle-tattle into this matter.”
Finally, after 11 days gone, Agatha was found nearly 300 kilometres from her home.
She had checked herself into a spa in Yorkshire under the name of her husband’s girlfriend and appeared to be confused about her identity.
“She does not know who she is,” Archibald told reporters.
“She has suffered from the most complete loss of memory.”
From this strange episode, two conflicting narratives emerged.
In one, Agatha was a woman in crisis, driven into a fugue state by the recent death of her mother, her collapsing marriage, and intense pressure from her publisher to deliver yet another bestseller.
In the other, she was a shrewd manipulator — the original Gone Girl — who orchestrated her own whodunnit to humiliate Archibald for his philandering.
For the rest of her life, she was reluctant to speak about her 11 missing days.
She may have been the master of the genre, but the only Agatha Christie mystery that can never be solved is her own disappearance.
A woman vanishes from the ‘unlucky house’
On the surface of things, Agatha’s life looked perfect.
Her sixth novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, was published in mid-1926 and it was an instant hit, transforming the 36-year-old from a successful novelist into a global celebrity.
She and Archibald, a dashing former military officer who was by then a successful businessman, had recently bought a 12-bedroom mansion in rural Berkshire.
Many locals warned them it was an “unlucky house”, and everyone who lived there was eventually beset with romantic and financial woes.
But they didn’t care.
They wanted to raise their daughter Rosalind there. It was the perfect place for Agatha to write, and the local golf course was in walking distance so that Archibald could practise his swing.
Perhaps they believed they could transform the house’s fortunes.
But as 1926 drew to a close, the family’s luck was running out.
Agatha’s mother died earlier in the year, and she had spent months at her childhood home sorting through her affairs.
While she was away, Archibald met Nancy Neele, a woman 10 years their junior.
By the time Agatha returned, her husband asked for a divorce so he could marry his new lover.
The mood in the unlucky house grew dark.
On the evening of December 3, Agatha called Archibald’s office to find out where he was, and learned that he was staying with friends for the weekend.
Among them? Ms Neele.
As she wandered the halls of the mansion that was meant to their forever home, something broke inside of Agatha.
She wrote three letters — one to her secretary, one to Archibald, and one to her brother-in-law.
Leaving Rosalind in the care of household staff, Agatha packed some of her things in her car and drove away.
The next morning, the car was found abandoned, crashed into a hedge with its front wheels dangling over a quarry.
Her licence and other belongings were on the front seat, but the author was nowhere to be found.
The police search riddled with red herrings
With tabloids constantly seeking scandal for their pages, news of Agatha’s disappearance spread around the world in a matter of days.
As with any good Agatha Christie mystery, the saga was riddled with missed clues and red herrings.
While Archibald burned the letter from his wife and refused to tell police what was in it, his brother, Campbell Christie said Agatha had written to let him know she was going to a Yorkshire spa for a few days.
But police were unconvinced by the letter and insisted the most important clue of all was the abandoned car.
Believing she may have died or taken her life, a team of bloodhounds, as well as Agatha’s “favourite terrier”, were sent to scour nearby fields, but came up with nothing.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a passionate believer in mysticism, fairies and ghosts.
He asked to borrow one of Agatha’s gloves, which he gave to a spirit medium so she could perform a seance.
The medium insisted Agatha was a victim of “foul play” and she could be found at the bottom of a local lake, known as the Silent Pool.
Police dragged the lake twice, but came up empty.
With his wife missing and the tabloids scrutinising their lives, Archibald made a decision that he perhaps hoped would divert attention from himself and Ms Neele.
He told reporters he believed his wife had staged her own disappearance to work out the mechanics of her next murder mystery.
His claim took the intense interest in the case and turned it into a global obsession.
With her face on the front page of newspapers and a substantial reward on the table, it seemed that every Briton was hunting for Agatha.
Among them were the guests at the Harrogate Hydro, a luxury spa in England’s north.
After days of drinking gin cocktails and dancing the charleston with a mystery woman, they realised Agatha Christie had been in their midst all along.
‘Mrs Christie is a very elusive person’
On December 4, 1926, a woman arrived at the Harrogate Hydro in a taxi.
She had no luggage with her, but staff reported that she seemed well and unharmed, and checked herself in under the name “Mrs Teresa Neele of Cape Town”.
Mrs Neele enjoyed the spa treatments offered by the hotel, went shopping, and played billiards with the other guests.
They too were abuzz with the mystery surrounding Agatha Christie, but Mrs Neele didn’t seem particularly interested when she saw the story in the newspapers.
“Mrs Christie is a very elusive person,” a guest later recalled her saying.
“I cannot be bothered with her.”
After more than a week in her presence, guests and staff started to suspect Mrs Neele was, in fact, the missing author.
A banjo player with the hotel’s band, the Happy Hydro Boys, reported his suspicions to police and claimed the $9,500 reward.
The next day, Archibald and several police officers came to the hotel and found Agatha there.
But she didn’t seem to recognise her husband, initially mistaking him for her brother.
Agatha eventually remembered who she really was.
But she remained dazed and distressed as Archibald drove her away from the hotel and took her to her sister’s house to recover — and elude the press.
“My wife’s memory is completely gone, and three years have dropped out of her life,” Archibald told reporters.
“She recognises me but does not recall our child Rosalind. It is a terrible tragedy.”
In 1926, there was little understanding of mental health, and almost no empathy for a woman who made her own money — particularly one who did so by spinning twisted tales about murder and intrigue.
For the rest of her life, Agatha was haunted by accusations that she concocted this little drama, perhaps for publicity, or perhaps in an attempt to ruin Archibald’s life.
‘Up until this moment I was Mrs Christie’
Agatha chose to speak only once about her missing 11 days.
In 1928, two years after her disappearance, she was finally divorcing Archibald and concerned he might attempt to gain sole custody of their daughter.
So she agreed to an interview with the Daily Mail in the hope of putting the saga behind her — and convincing the courts that she should be trusted with Rosalind’s care.
“I just wanted my life to end,” she told the paper of the day she disappeared in 1926.
“All that night I drove aimlessly about … In my mind there was the vague idea of ending everything.”
She said she crashed her car and hit her head, and as she staggered down the wintry country roads looking for help, something strange happened.
“Up to this moment I was Mrs Christie,” she said.
The queen of crime fiction, always praised for her complex, believable characters, created a new identity for herself.
“As Mrs Neele, I was very happy and contented,” she explained, insisting she truly believed herself to be a young woman who had just arrived in England from South Africa.
She had only vague recollections of how she ended up at the spa in Yorkshire, but remembered that once she was there, she failed to recognise her own face in the papers.
“At Harrogate, I read every day about Mrs Christie’s disappearance … I regarded her as having acted stupidly,” she said.
Many historians and biographers believe Agatha’s story, and say she had all the hallmarks of having slipped into a fugue state.
Those who have experienced these episodes of dissociative amnesia describe it as losing time.
They suddenly come back to themselves in an unfamiliar place with no memory of how they got there. They might not even remember their own name.
“It’s time to do something radical,” biographer Lucy Worsley wrote in Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman.
“To listen to what Christie says, to understand she had a range of experiences unhelpfully labelled as ‘loss of memory’, and, perhaps most importantly, when she says she was suffering, to believe her.”
A week after their divorce, Archibald married Nancy Neele, while Agatha got custody of Rosalind and was allowed to keep the name upon which she built her career.
With her marriage over, Agatha was adrift.
She decided to do what she loved most: She went on an adventure, travelling on the long-distance passenger service, the Orient Express, to the Middle East.
The journey would inspire one of her most beloved novels, Murder on the Orient Express.
And during her travels, she went to Iraq, where she met Max Mallowan, a handsome British archaeologist, who was 13 years her junior.
They married six months later, and stayed together for the rest of her life.
“I like living,” she wrote in her memoir.
“I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow; but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”Agatha Christie and her second husband, Max Mallowan stayed together for the rest of her life.
AceHistoryDesk – Three John Langs have bulked large in modern Australia. All were verbal pugilists but only two would be immediately recognisable to history buffs.
Ace Press News From Cutting Room Floor: Published: Dec.02: 2023: Australia’s Trail-blazing First Novelist – John Lang by Sean Doyle, Big Sky Publishing, $24.99: TELEGRAM Ace Daily News Link https://t.me/+PuI36tlDsM7GpOJe
John Dunmore Lang was a Presbyterian minister and early advocate of a republic. Another, better known as Jack Lang, was dismissed by the Crown. Which leaves who?
Erased from the collective consciousness almost as soon as Australia attained nationhood, writer John George Lang’s name and fame spread far and wide in his own time and for a generation after his death at 46 in the mid-1860s.
After alienating two of the three father figures in Sydney who had raised him out of the ruck of “currency lads” – the first crop of white Australians by birth – Lang, whose biological father had died months before his birth in 1816 in a Parramatta pub, tried to reinvent himself by decamping to British India.
Sean Doyle, the author of this new and long-overdue biography, Australia’s Trail-blazing First Novelist – John Lang, shared that restlessness gene with his subject, having written about his own travels in India.
Doyle’s knowledge of the subcontinent and its inhabitants provides a strong point of identification with Lang, producing some of this biography’s most readable passages.
What makes the work less readable is Doyle’s overuse of exclamation marks, sometimes two to the paragraph, which makes his prose not just racy but breathlessly so at times. But back to Lang.
A bookish lad, the teenage John Lang immersed himself in the Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare and Byron, but over the course of 360 pages this reader found him – as Doyle clearly did too – someone who was “his own worst enemy”.
An anti-authoritarian streak was both asset and liability for young Lang. An asset because he could credibly write about certain characters of the establishment in Australia’s premier colony – the bibulous, bohemians, larrikins and outcasts of his day. But also a liability when this wild colonial boy indulged himself in all manner of hijinks at Cambridge University where, after six months, he was asked to leave.
This same wildness which would get him blacklisted by Sydney society was perhaps the flipside of that impetuosity which, many years later, prompted him to dive into the sea from a Calcutta-bound ship from which a boy had fallen overboard and save his life.
So much of our hero’s life and achievements were spent in British India that Doyle is forced to concentrate for most of his work on Lang’s life outside the Australia of his youth. But, in so doing, he is only being true to the trajectory of the man’s life and explaining, in large part, why Lang is in the first rank of this country’s forgotten men of letters.
The case for remembering him is strong and well catalogued here. Lang wrote Legendsof Australia – Frederick William Howard, the first novel set in Australia by someone born on these shores. He also peopled the work with recognisable types such as the colonial law enforcer and nose-thumbing larrikins, spawning the bushranger sub-genre and other sub-genres. And this, in due course, has qualified him as the writer who “kick-started an enduring, much loved idea of ‘Australia’”.
So much so that Doyle takes the liberty of christening this literary landscape Langland and once, Langlandia – reminiscent of the appellation of Greeneland for the novels of Graham Greene.
Wrenched from Sydney to a life of horrors in India, Lang’s wife Lucy and children could never have settled to anything like a comfortable home environment. Lang clearly wasn’t cut out for that. Torn between fears for their children (cholera in the present, their prospects in future) and devotion to her husband, fear won out and Lucy departed for England with the children in tow.
What was Lang to do? In his own words: “It was not long before I made up my mind to become a wanderer in the East.”
While his inquisitiveness and ready pen result in the first book on India by an Australian, he soon takes to journalism “like a cat to summer shade”, recognising an unfilled niche – up-country Britishers starved of tidings from the outside world – and fills it with a weekly newspaper, The Mofussilite, of which he makes a great success.
Success as a newspaper entrepreneur was followed by the signal victory of his life – winning a case in the Calcutta Supreme Court while representing a Sikh man who had provisioned the East India Company during its first war against his people and who claimed the EIC owed him money.
Lang the barrister single-handedly won the case for his client, the first time anywhere in the world that an individual colonised by the British had prevailed against the Crown.
And then Lang overreached. Pursuing a vendetta against the Crown lawyer who had opposed him in that case, he found what his younger self – the teen who had steeped himself in the classics – should have known: Nemesis awaits his moment to ambush even the just.
The story of Lang at that point is one of a talented but over-confident man who goes from (comparative) riches to rags in one ill-advised step. As Doyle concludes: “He could invent plots and give multiple characters distinctive motivations, but couldn’t understand his own.”
Unfortunately, Lang’s biographer also goes too far on occasion, deploying amateur psychoanalysis to excess, but at times he hits upon a personal summation that glistens. For example when he observes of Lang: “His gift for languages did not extend to the language of love: its grammar escaped him.”
This enlightening account of a life that deserves better than it has received until now could have benefited from sharper editing.
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My friend Bernadette from New Classic Recipe (https://newclassicrecipe.com) came up with the wonderful idea to have an on-line cookbook club with some of her blog buddies. What a fun, and great way to choose a recipe or two from the books, cook them, and review them. Then, you decide if the book is worth your shelf space! Please go to her site for other reviewsof this book! ~ Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen
While I enjoy Indian food, I’ve always felt a little out of my league when attempting to cook it in my own kitchen. So many regions, filled with their own specialties and techniques, it can be quite intimidating, and confusing.
An Invitation to Indian Cooking,” by Madhur Jaffrey
Madhur Jeffrey’s “An Invitation to Indian Cooking” has been around since 1973, the little book familiar at least visually to most of us. I dusted off my mother-in-law’s copy, still in pretty good shape for its age, and browsed through the treasury of dishes that all seemed to call my name. I knew this one was going to be fun.
The book has indeed stood the test of time, and this month a 50th anniversary edition will be released. That’s quite a recommendation on its own. I understand it has been revised, the introduction brought up to date, and includes a forward by Yotam Ottolenghi.
I would definitely recommend this book for your cookbook shelf. Jaffrey’s story of coming to America from Delhi, via London, and finding the Indian food available here at the time quite sketchy, she cooked for family and friends and then wrote her recipes down.
A maneuver in self-defense
In fact, she said her introduction that “The cookbook was written as a gradual maneuver in self-defense.” At first, people who were curious about her cuisine were invited to dinner, but that became a large undertaking, so she started writing down her most popular recipes, and they were handed around eagerly. Inevitably, the cookbook took shape, and has been instructing us ever since.
Old school, but easy to follow
It’s an old-school book in many ways. There are no glossy illustrations, but what it might lack in illustration, the clear and detailed instructions are all that are needed. The food is primarily from the Delhi region, with few of her favorite extras from other regions as well.
What you get
The chapters include: soups and appetizers, meat, chicken and eggs, fish and shellfish, summer cooking and barbecued foods, vegetables, rice, dals, chutneys and pickles, breads, and desserts. There are also sample menus both with and without meat, notes on flavorings and spices, am kitchen utensils and equipment. One can feel fully armed to tackle a flavorful Indian meal.
Cabbage Stuffed with Potatoes
Green Beans with Ginger
Saffron Basmati Rice
Fried Potato Skins
For our feast, I chose to center the meal on her recipe for Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Potatoes. I had just picked up a big head of cabbage from our CSA, and was planning on making my mom’s stuffed cabbage recipe, so I just made a little switch. Now, making any stuffed cabbage dish is time consuming and a bit fussy. But this was going to be Sunday dinner, and a little fussing is always part of the deal.
A lovely recipe
The cabbage was a hit. Beautifully spiced, with just a bit of warmth from the cayenne. If I make this again, I’ll add just a bit more than the ¼ teaspoon. It made a lot of stuffing, and I put more in each leaf than she called for. I rolled up 13 little stuffed leaves, and had enough left over to stuff five peppers for another night’s supper! And, I didn’t use all that head of cabbage, so there was a slaw later. Additionally, the cabbage wraps were delicious reheated for breakfast the newt day.
So, how long would you cook a green bean?
I was intrigued by the green bean cooking methods. They were all fried then simmered very low in a relatively small amount of oil, sort of a confit, for 40 minutes! That seemed like such a long time to me, so I had to give it a try. I was pleasantly surprised that the beans were well cooked, but were not mushy at all like canned beans (which was where I thought they would end up) they still had texture, and the flavor was really delicious, just a bit of heat from the chili, I’d probably add more next time.
There must be rice
There had to be rice at the meal, so I made a simple saffron rice with her trick of dissolving the saffron in warm milk and adding in streaks to the almost cooked rice. It was quite delicious.
To cool things down
To round things out, while the cabbage and bean were simmering, I mixed up a batch of cucumber raita, one of my personal favorite additions to the plate. I also saved my potato peelings, fried them up, drained them on paper towel, sprinkled with salt and cumin, and served as a little crispy garnish.
We definitely felt like we feasted on flavor from afar!
Cabbage Leaves Stuffed with Potatoes
5 medium-sized potatoes
7 medium-sized onions
10 tbsp. vegetable oil
2 tsp. whole fennel seeds
1 tsp. garam masala
3 ½ tsp. salt (I used less)
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional, I used it)
1 tbsp. lemon juice
1 medium-sized head of cabbage
Peel the onions, cut in half lengthwise, then slice into thin half circles.
In a large skillet, heart 6 tbsp. of the oil over medium heat. Add the onions, frying, stirring, and separating the rings until they are brownish but not crispy, about 7 to 8 minutes.
Add the fennel and cumin seedsand cook another 7 to 8 minutes over lower heat. The onions should look reddish brown now, almost caramelized.
Add the potatoes and mash everything up with a masher or back of a slotted spoon. To this mixture, add the garam masala, 2 ½ tsp. salt (I used about a teaspoon), cayenne, and lemon juice. Mix it all up and let it cool.
Boil the potatoes, then peel and dice them up.
Cut off the tough stem end, remove any dried outer leaves, and place in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Let it boil for five minutes, remove the cabbage from the pot, and carefully remove the leaves. You might need to put the cabbage back in the water. I used about 13 leaves for the recipe.
Be careful with the leaves, and pat them dry. Cut the tough stem end out, a little triangle of the toughest part. Place a tablespoon of filling (I used a heaping soup spoon in each as my leaves were quite large). Fold up the bottom, then fold in all the edges. Gently give the packet a squeeze to remove any excess moisture.
In a 10-inch skillet, heat the rest of the oil over medium. Squeeze each stuffed leaf again in toweling to remove moisture, then place seam-side down in the hot pan. You will do this in batches. Brown on all sides, setting aside as they brown.
When all the pieces are done, lower the heat, arrange the stuffed leaves in tightly packed layers. Add two tablespoons of water, cover, and cook over a low flame for 10 to 15 minutes.
Carefully remove to a warm platter.
Green Beans with Ginger
I was definitely skeptical about this one, cook the beans for 40 minutes! But, the beans were delightfully delicious, just tender, and filled with flavor. I halved the recipe, and it came out fine.
1 ½ lb. fresh green beans
Piece of ginger 2” X 1”, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 tbsp. vegetable oil
¼ tsp. turmeric
½ fresh green chili (optional) sliced fine
2 tbsp. fresh Chinese parsley, coriander, or cilantro
1 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
1 ¼ tsp. garam masala
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. salt or to taste
Wash the green beans and trim the ends. Slice into fine rounds, 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. When all the beans are chopped, set aside in a bowl. (I chopped roughly into ¼ or slightly larger pieces).
Put the ginger in the blender with 3 tablespoons of water and blend at high speed until it is a smooth paste.
Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Pour in the ginger paste and turmeric. Fry, stirring constantly for two minutes, then add the chili and parsley. After a minute, put in the beans and cook for another minute. Add the cumin, coriander, 1 tsp. of the garam masala, lemon juice, salt, and 3 tbsp. warm water. Cover the skillet, turn flame to lowest and let beans simmer slowly for 40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Serve them in a warm dish with the last quarter teaspoon garam masala sprinkled on top. It can be made ahead and reheated.
They go well with nearly all chicken and meat dishes. They can be eaten with plain boiled rice and Moong Dal, or served with hot pooris or parathas or chapatis.
Saffron Basmati Rice
I followed her instructions on making rice, adding the saffron.
First, I rinsed the rice many times until the water was almost clear, added fresh water, and soaked for a half hour. Follow your rice instructions on whatever proportion of water to rice. Bring to a boil, cover it tightly, then either reduce the heat to a low simmer, or pop in a 325-degree F. oven for a half hour.
In the meantime, dissolve a pinch of saffron in a couple tablespoons of warm milk and let sit. When the rice is nearly done, drizzle the saffron milk over it in streaks.
When ready to serve, gently fluff the rice, breaking up any clumps with a careful hand.
To round the meal out, Jaffrey said raita goes with just about any Indian dish, and this was really fast to make.
In a mixing bowl, combine 1 grated cucumber (squeeze excess water out) 2 cups plain yoghurt, 1 tsp. salt (or to taste) 1/8 tsp. freshly grated black pepper, ½ teaspoon toasted ground cumin, and 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper (I added a bit more). Pop into a bowl, sprinkle with a little more toasted cumin and some paprika, and chill until ready to serve.
The wonder continues: Oscar Peterson, a lovely yellow shrub rose, still blooming Nov. 17, after being snowed on twice and surviving sub-freezing temperature. And yet, more roses budding out.
I came to this topic as an eater first. My partner and I fell in love through food. We met during the pandemic and got to know each other through long walks and home-cooked meals. On an early date, she put a glistening mound of pasta in front of me and I thought how lucky I was to have fallen for an Italian. (She was born and raised in Rome.)
Most Italians have a strident pride in their cuisine; a passion which occasionally verges on the maniacal. The food and beverage industry makes up a quarter of Italy’s GDP and a substantial portion of its tourist draw. Food is tightly bound with ideas of national identity and politicians often rely on a kind of gastronationalism. (When running for election, current Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni posted a video of herself making tortellini with a stereotypical Italian nonna.)
And it’s not just Italians who hold this enthusiasm—Italian cuisine is one of the most popular in the world. Home cooks love to prepare Italy’s dishes, and about one-eighth of restaurants in the U.S. serve Italian food. Shows like Stanley Tucci’s Searching for Italy and the Netflix series From Scratch highlight just how ravenous audiences are for luscious, almost erotic depictions of Italian food.
But in researching this list, I’ve learned that beneath the promotional language and tired clichés, Italian food has a complex and often contradictory history. Academics question the true origin of classic dishes like carbonara; migration from Italy to the U.S. makes it almost impossible to disentangle the two gastronomic traditions.
Italians often obsess over this cultural purity. When Italian chef Gino D’Acampo appeared on morning television in the UK a decade ago, he was horrified by the suggestion that you could substitute ham in carbonara. “If my grandmother had wheels, she would have been a bike,” D’Acampo responded incredulously. The clip went viral, bolstering the stereotype that Italians can be fussy about their food. But the history of Italian cuisine—like the food of any nation—is a melting pot of influences.
But what of the future? Migration patterns, together with demographic trends and climate change, mean that the cuisine must adapt. Since 2003, Europe has experienced an unprecedented number of heatwaves, prompting Italy’s largest farmers’ union to estimate that almost a third of national agricultural production is now threatened by climate change. Italian food—so rooted in tradition and adamant in its authenticity—will have to change.
But for now, I’m excited to visit Rome for the holidays and soak up the city’s culinary delights: creamy cacio e pepe, indulgent layers of tiramisu, and moreish slices of pizza. I’ll photograph the food, luxuriate in it, and come home with a suitcase full of olive oil and cheese. This time, I hope to enjoy the food while knowing more about the context that underpins it. Like the best Italian dishes, this topic is rich with complexity and nuance. So please devour this collection of articles that complicate the understanding of Italian food and what it means both within Italy’s borders and beyond.
In this fascinating piece, Italian journalist Marianna Giusti aims to uncover the truth about classic Italian dishes like carbonara, tiramisu, and panettone—which are celebrated for their authenticity despite being relatively recent inventions. She speaks with older family members and friends from across Southern Italy, asking about the food they ate as children (lots of beans and potatoes) and how it contrasts with the food on menus today.
Inaccuracies about the origins of Italian food may be considered harmless—if it wasn’t for how gastronationalism influences Italian politics and culture. She cites the example of the archbishop of Bologna, Matteo Zuppi, suggesting that pork-free “welcome tortellini” be added to the menu for the San Petronio feast. What was intended as a gesture of inclusion to communities that don’t eat pork, was slammed by far-right Lega party leader Matteo Salvini. “They’re trying to erase our history, our culture,” he said. To me, food is one of life’s great unifiers. I love to bring people together around food, but just as often, food is used to divide people. This piece made me reconsider what I thought I understood about Italian food and think critically about who and what is welcome at the table.
It’s all about identity,” Grandi tells me between mouthfuls of osso buco bottoncini. He is a devotee of Eric Hobsbawm, the British Marxist historian who wrote about what he called the invention of tradition. “When a community finds itself deprived of its sense of identity, because of whatever historical shock or fracture with its past, it invents traditions to act as founding myths,” Grandi says.
In this provocatively-titled piece, journalist John Last examines how climate change and immigration patterns are changing food in Italy. It examines how ingredients from abroad and the labor of migrants were used to build one of the world’s most loved cuisines. It also cites a studythat found that the role of immigrants in Italy’s farming and culinary sectors has been systematically ignored. Italian food is often celebrated for connecting eaters with unadulterated, authentic cuisine. The reality is much more complicated. I enjoyed how this deeply-reported essay challenges ideas of culinary purity and questions who that narrative excludes. I was interested to read how Italy’s microclimates produce regional specialities, and how they will be forced to adapt due to climate change. If you’re curious about the future of Italian cuisine, this is the essay for you! It has also been anthologized in Best American Food Writing 2023 for its examination of how food shapes our culture.
It’s this obsessive focus on the intersection of food and local identity that defines Italy’s culinary culture, one that is at once prized the world over and insular in the extreme. After all, campanilismo might be less charitably translated as “provincialism” — a kind of defensive small-mindedness hostile to outside influence and change.
The early months of the pandemic were characterized by lockdowns, widespread anxiety, and a national pasta shortage. In this funny, engaging piece written by the self-described “Bernstein of Bucatini,” I learned why some pasta shapes were especially difficult to find due to production challenges. This piece is an enjoyable, twisty romp that points to the sensual delight of pasta during a dark time.
I’d like to go a step further and praise its innate bounciness and personality. If you boil bucatini for 50 percent of the time the box tells you to, cooking it perfectly al dente, you will experience a textural experience like nothing else you have encountered in your natural life. When cooked correctly, bucatini bites back. It is a responsive noodle. It is a self-aware noodle. In these times, when human social interaction carries with it the possible price of illness, bucatini offers an alternative: a social interaction with a pasta.
I really enjoyed this thoughtful personal essay about a young girl’s obsession with Pizza Hut and the influence of food on her identity. The author questions her intersecting heritage: she’s a mixed kid with an Indian father and a white mother, a New Yorker who craves stuffed crusts in Pizza Hut rather than an “authentic” dollar slice, and a pre-teen who wants to eat “white food” while her family enjoys soupy dal and potatoes flavored with cumin and turmeric. This piece is also a useful primer on the history of Italians in America, tracing the path from “other” to mainstream acceptability.
I was half Indian, half white, and all New Yorker. In simple assimilation calculus, going to Pizza Hut with my Indian grandparents in Fort Lee should have earned me points for eating in real life what the cool kids were eating in commercials. And yet, I was still a New Yorker: My ideal sense of self was white, but worldly, opinionated, and judgmental.
I loved this essay about how the author learned to cook during the pandemic and the comfort she found in the reassuring, authoritative voice of Marcella Hazan. The piece vividly describes the flavors of Italian food (“mellow, gentle, comfortable”) and the solace found in cookbooks at a time of unprecedented uncertainty. Before learning to cook, the author considered it a domestic task inextricably linked with traditional notions of femininity and heterosexual marriage. But Hazan, who is widely considered to be the doyenne of Italian cuisine, teaches her that cooking for herself and her chosen family is an essential element of survival, not only literally but existentially. This essay brought me back to the early days of 2020. As the pandemic spiraled out of control, I found my equilibrium through brisk morning walks and the comfort of a pot bubbling on the stove. I still cook most days. Sometimes, it’s a pleasure. More often, it’s a chore. For me, this beautiful essay evoked the visceral, bodily demands of appetite and how satiating them can provide not just culinary satisfaction, but a feeling of peace and wellbeing.
Hazan helped me see that nourishing oneself, and sharing a family meal, is simply foundational. To privilege invention and labor outside the kitchen, but not inside it, is to play into patriarchal distinctions of value.
Hazan herself was a cook, an educator, and an incredible creative success. She remains influential for many contemporary cooks. Her adoration of the anchovy—“Of all the ingredients used in Italian cooking, none produces headier flavor than anchovies. It is an exceptionally adaptable flavor”—foreshadows the long reign of Alison Roman. Her careful ideas about layering flavors and her scientific approach to the kitchen find their echoes in the methodologies of Samin Nosrat (who, in her blurb for the new book, also credits Hazan with beginning her obsession with the bay leaf).
My partner and I recently returned from a holiday in Sicily. The island is considered to be a melting pot of North African, Arab, French, Spanish, and other cultures—which for me, was best understood through the food. We enjoyed regional delicacies like deep-fried lasagne, cookies made with beef and chocolate, and cremolata, a sherbet-like dessert that originated in Arab cuisine. It was a delight to remember the trip while reading this mouth-watering travel essay which aims to disentangle how Italian and Arab culinary history mixes on the island. What begins as an academic question quickly becomes a catalog of exquisite meals as the author explores the island’s rich, colonial past through its food. He traces the ingredients that are core to Italian cuisine—including the durum wheat used to make pasta—to migrants who arrived on Sicily’s shores and “gifted this land with what’s sometimes known as Cucina Arabo-Siculo.”
Sicily has had so many conquerors, and there’s simply no way to pull apart all the intermingling strands of culture in order to ascertain what is precisely “Italian” and what’s “Arab” and what’s not anything of the kind. At a certain point—ideally sometime after having a homemade seafood couscous lunch in Ortigia and sampling the life-changing pistachio ice cream at Caffetteria Luca in Bronte—you have to give up trying to isolate the various influences and accept that countless aspects of life in Sicily have been informed by Arab culture in some way. It’s deep and apparent and meaningful, but it’s also a cloud of influence as dense and intangible as the lemon gelato sky that greeted me upon my arrival.