How is it possible that the news always arrive altogether, I wonder.
While I look at the water-flooded garden, the bamboo trees have already turned yellow and the heavy rain makes them swing.
Yesterday everything was still green, while an incredible sun shone brightly as if winter was still far away.
I am not the kind of person who accepts rapid changes, I think. Yet I am beginning to understand how necessary they are for me sometimes, to remain flexible like a bamboo tree.
Renata arrived one afternoon with a backpack on her shoulders and some fresh Norwegian air in her golden hair. She smells good and her magnetic eyes look at things for the pleasure to discover and treasure them.
I didn’t know how long she would stay with me before continuing her trip around Italy nor did I know how revealing her presence would be. There are people who can inspire you just because they are special in the most profound sense of the word… and she is certainly one of them.
Sometimes we just happen to meet somebody. Out of a billion people populating the world, we come across someone whom we feel connected with, even before telling each other who we really are. If I needed another proof that karmic relationships truly exist, I think that was it.
Culture, language, age, diversities of any kind which make us unique are the beauty of these meetings, while the kilometric distance separating our daily lives becomes at once irrelevant, something abstract which does not count at all.
I put my routine into pause, not only for Renata but also to create a “different” and most precious time to devote to something special, a time for myself.
Renata is like the leaves of my bamboo trees, the uppermost ones. The wind shakes them until – after wavering on those branches for so long – they decide that it is time to follow the fiercely blowing North wind, like the call of a distant land.
She moves gracefully, touching the earth and flying back up, with slow and fluid movements which remind me of a dance. She appreciates new things and says “… life is so beautiful!”. Her eyes smile when she tastes new flavors and she is thrilled by something which I have always given for granted, like the kaki tree in the garden.
She is in love. Nature has an overwhelming effect on her, she dives into the sea in mid-October while I look at her drifting away among the waves, with the fringes of my woolen scarf flying around me. She walks barefooted on the fresh frost in my garden, because she has to feel the earth under her feet.
The earth… what an immense richness! We come back home after collecting the first pumpkins of the season and some herbs to prepare a green smoothie, her favorite one. We listen to Norwegian music while the scent of herbs fills the kitchen and the postman rings the bell. I run outside to receive the mail. This time it is a heavy package I was waiting for and an envelope from Amio, a Venetian firm I am proudly announcing a collaboration with. I immediately open the envelope and read: “Zaira, you know how to look beyond food and turn it into a tasty work of art […] We welcome you and invite you to discover the Earth’s hidden treasure!”. I cannot but smile reading these words… arriving precisely during these intense days when Renata is reminding me how deeply I am linked to this Earth, to my beloved garden and to the food it offers us.
In the box there is a selection of pulses which I will use to create five recipes you will very soon know about. FAO declared 2016 the year of pulses and that is one more reason why I am very happy to collaborate in a project which is built around this inexpensive but precious food.
In Italy we say that someone has arrived “a fagiolo” (‘fagiolo’ means ‘bean’) when we want to emphasize that something – any kind of thing – has arrived precisely at the right moment. I don’t know why we use the word ‘fagiolo’ for this kind of nonsense expression, but right now there is no better way to describe the inspiration I felt as soon as I saw Amio products and, among them, the white Corona beans I have used for this recipe. Renata, too, has arrived in my life “a fagiolo” – sorry, I cannot avoid it (!) – like a bean which sprouts and becomes a beautiful flower…
- 200 g dried Corona beans
- 1 small organic pumpkin (*Delica variety – with a thin green skin)
- 100 g white rice flour
- 80 g Muscovado sugar
- 1 whole egg + 1 white
- 100 ml coconut oil
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 250 ml fresh whipped cream
- 50 g pumpkin seeds
- Soak the dried beans in water the night before cooking for about 10-12 hours, then rinse them and pour them in a pot with half a liter of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook at low heat for about one hour (if you use a pressure cooker, 30 minutes will be enough). Drain the beans and let them chill.
- Wash carefully the skin of the pumpkin, then open it and remove the inner part with seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 1 cm thick slices, without taking the skin away. Put it in the stove on a baking paper covered tray and cook at 200°C for about 20 minutes. Let it chill.
- Preheat the oven at 180°C.
- Blend the beans to obtain a wet flour, similar to chestnut pulp.
- Blend the pumpkin with its skin (it must be organic!) separately, to obtain a cream.
- Whip the whole egg with sugar in a wide bowl, add the coconut oil and keep whipping until you obtain a puffed cream.
- Add the mashed beans and the pumpkin cream, mixing everything with a spoon to dissolve all clumps.
- Add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of turmeric, then sift the rice flour and the baking powder until everything is well mixed. You should obtain a smooth batter (if it is too liquid you can add some more rice flour, if it is too dense you can add some coconut oil).
- Beat the egg white until stiff and delicately add it to the batter.
- Cover a muffin baking tray with paper cake tins and fill them evenly with the batter.
- Cook them in the oven at 180°C for about 30 minutes. Let them chill.
- Finely grind the pumpkin seeds to obtain a flour, then beat the cream to stiff and pour it over the cupcakes by using a pastry bag. Dust them with a bit of pumpkin seed flour.