Monday, July 14, 2014

Lisa Watson's guest post

Lisa Watson grew up on a sheep farm in New Zealand surrounded by edible things.  After much travel and various jobs that range from medical research to working with autistic children, she now lives in France. She often spends time in Piemonte, thanks to her Italian husband and his family. Lisa writes Italian Kiwi, a cooking blog on Italian food, and hopes to show the world outside Italy that Italian cuisine is not about garlic bread and spaghetti with meatballs.

Sheep on my dad's farm

Lisa Watson’s Talkin’ About a (Food) Revolution

I grew up on a sheep farm in New Zealand surrounded up food.  We had a housecow that provided us milk, a huge vegetable garden, and of course, 6000-plus sheep. My parents drove an hour “into town” once a month, along a twisty gravel road, to buy things like salt and coffee that they couldn’t produce themselves.  In spite of, or maybe because of, being immersed in this bounty, food was just something you put in your mouth to keep you going.  There was no appreciation for the vegetables out of the garden. When you were hungry, it was expected that you could pick peaches or plums straight off the tree, or grab some peas off the vine and eat them while still standing in the middle of the vegetable garden. It was a right, not a privilege.

I learnt to love food in my twenties, the minute I set foot in Italy. It was like an epiphany for me. I didn’t realise it at the time, but looking back at my travel diary a few years later, the entries I made weren’t about the museums, churches or monuments I visited; they were all about the food I’d eaten while I was on the road: tagliatelle with truffles near Firenze, potato and rosemary pizza al taglio in a small town outside of Roma, chocolate gelato in a backstreet of Venezia, mountain cheeses such as Toma in the Val d’Aosta.  The list goes on.  I suddenly discovered that there was more to food than just being fuel for our bodies; food was a delight to be savoured.  The most unassuming dishes could be exploding with flavours that would send your tastebuds reeling! Every town and village had their own unique specialities to be sampled.


My first encounter with Piemonte food was years ago when I went to visit my future parents-in-law in Turin.  They had made an enormous meal of many specialities from Piemonte, such as agnolotti, vitello tonnato, insalata russa, and to finish,  pasticcini from the celebrated Turin pasticceria “Ghigo”. Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that there was going to be anything after the pasta course, so I helped myself to two plates of angolotti, and then looked on in dismay as the other dishes rolled out on to the table.  I managed to try everything in order to be polite, but I felt terribly sick afterwards. I learned a very important lesson in eating with Italians: always take small portions, and always expect more food to come. 

My husband’s grandmother was a powerhouse in the kitchen.  A week before she died at the age of 95, she bought 25 kg of tomatoes and made them into ragu.  I want to leave you with the recipe for her insalata russa that she used to make for us every Christmas.

Insalata Russa di Nonna Pierina

Prep Time: 60 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6 - 8 people

Potatoes - 2 - 3 medium sized (approximately 200 - 300g)
Carrots - 3 medium sized
Eggs - 2 large or 3 small
Pickled vegetables - 150 -200g (1 cup )
Peas - (100g) 1/3 - 1/2 cup
Tuna in olive oil - 100g ( 3.5oz) drained

Egg yolks - 2
Lemon juice - from 1/2 a lemon
Olive oil - (250ml) 1 cup
Anchovies - 2
Tuna - 1 Tbsp
Salt - to taste


Cut the potatoes and carrots into small dice-sized chunks. Boil them in salted water until soft but not fall apart, about 10 minutes.
Boil the peas.
Hardboil the eggs.
Let the eggs and vegetables cool to room temperature before continuing.
Chop the pickled vegetables roughly. Chop the boiled eggs into small pieces.
Add all the ingredients together in a bowl with the drained tuna (saving 1 Tbsp of tuna for the mayonnaise).

To Make the Mayonnaise:
Whisk the egg yolks, lemon juice and salt together in a bowl.
Steadily pour the oil in thin stream while whisking continually.
Mince the anchovies and tuna by hand, or with a small food processor , if you have one.
Stir into the mayonnaise.

Add the mayonnaise to the vegetables.  If you prefer it to be more "mayonnaisy", double the amount of mayonnaise you are making.

Store in the fridge and eat within three days.

Lisa Watson

Follow Lisa on her website Italian Kiwi
and on Twitter: @Italiankiwiblog

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