Two years ago, towards the end of the summer, I was in Paris and was fully immersed in one of the happiest times of my life. I won’t even try to tell about the countless reasons for which I’m so much in love with that city.
Sometimes, I can still feel a little pain in my stomach, similar to when you leave for a long journey and, then, when you are already far from home, you remember having forgotten something important. It is like a wave that comes and takes me away till I find myself again in those colorful markets in the cold air of the early morning. The bond that we have with particular places can be really strange and changeable. It’s almost similar to the one we have with our distant memories. While I was walking along the large boulevard, I could strongly feel I was in a place that for some reason belonged to me. A kind of deja vu feeling to be living something I had lived before, maybe in some other life. This is the bond we have with a place. It’s a sort of communion, strong and truly discernible, that never leaves you. Something like: you are at home, and everything will be fine. There are few places to which I feel so connected and Paris is one of them. When the call becomes too strong to bear, I know that I must take a train and go.
There are many things I miss about Paris. Some are pretty banal such as walking for hours along the Seine and stopping in every boulangerie. During my time there, walking for long hours was what saved me from getting as fat as a pig.
To step into any boulangerie, from the more sophisticated in the city centre to the humble ones in the suburbs, it was like stepping into paradise. Tons of butter and other forbidden things: Croissants aux Amandes and Flan Pistache in great quantity. “Soon all this will be over”. I’d say to myself “You’ll return to your sad Venice where there are no boulangerie and where bakeries and pastisseries are another thing all together”.
I spent months like this, filling my mouth with scrumptious little things and keeping quiet the little voice inside telling me not to stuff myself with cakes. Anyway, I did walk a lot! My favorite boulangerie in Saint Paul wasn’t just around the corner and I also lost some weight, in the end, just like in the best dream in which the more you eat, the more weight you lose.
Sometimes, I still have some of these nostalgic and compulsive attacks towards cakes, like the other day, for example, when I had to find something refreshing to eat because in Venice the heat has reached very high temperatures in these days and I’ve been indoor in an unreal dimness. It’s forbidden to open the shutters because the sun outside is too hot. It’s forbidden to put the oven on because it’d be like a suicide. It’s forbidden to move around fast. There couldn’t be any more slow-living than this!
These Tartellette – just to sound a bit more French – are something between an American cheesecake and an Italian cake because of the Amaretti which are some traditional Italian almond biscuits. These Tartellette reminds me also of the Flan Breton, because of the density of their cream. A bit of a mess really, but they are very good and I don’t say this just because I made them.
The Amaretti are the key ingredient in this recipe, but if it’s difficult for you to find them, they can be replaced by finely grinding some toasted almonds to the dried biscuits and adding a few drops of almond natural extract. It won’t be the same thing but it’s an alternative idea.
I don’t like summer very much because I miss the winter light, but having to stay indoors in the darkness because of heatwave creates almost the same interesting atmosphere.
Food is a very powerful tool. Food instantly connects us to our most intimate memories, it connects us to the people we had shared it with and, of course, to the place it is associated with.
There wouldn’t be any recipe, any idea, any image, any story to tell if we weren’t emotionally tied and connected to something.
But what keeps surprising me is that every single thing is part of a beautiful circle and everything comes back again even if in a different form. And talking of being connected to places, I want to tell you this story: I was told that when I was a child, I was strongly convinced I had been a “Horseback ballet dancer” as I used to say. I remember very well how this was one of my first childhood perceptions.
Like in a dream, I saw myself as a young woman, with very long blond hair, standing on the back of a black horse that was trotting in a circus. I remember well the feelings and the movements of the horse’s back under my feet and also what I saw around me. There was a large audience and I remember thinking that they were all dressed in a weird way. Could it have been a different period?
I was dancing like a ballet dancer while the horse was running fast. I know for sure, and my parents also confirmed it to me later on, that I’d never seen such a thing.
It’s never happened to me, then or at any later stage, to see or hear about ballet dancers dancing on horseback. As I’ve never searched to find out if such a circus performance really existed or if it had only come from my imagination. Nevertheless, I’ve never forgotten about it. This memory remained stuck in my unconscious as an important part of my past.
With time, even the most wonderful dreams are taken away from us, no matter how much we struggle to hold on to them. But mine wasn’t a dream, it was a pivotal event. It was something that belonged to my life-story and therefore I couldn’t forget about it, I could only put it aside for a while. And this is what I did. I grew up without showing any interest in horses or in flying circuses until I arrived in Paris.
I had found a place in rue Amelot, a long and narrow road not far from Place De Voges. I had just arrived and I was carrying my big suitcase which contained the summary of my life. It was quite a heavy summary and without even knowing exactly where the house number was, I kept going along the street till I came across a polygonal-shaped building with two big bronze horses standing at the gate. It was the Cirque d’Hiver, one of the oldest circus in Paris. Suddenly, something struck me. I didn’t know that place and I had never been there before but, in that moment, I was certain I had arrived exactly where I should have been.
The house I was going to stay was there, just a few steps away from the circus. This was enough for me. It had welcomed me well and in unexpected way, and it didn’t matter if this was a sign or a strange coincidence.
But some time later, while I was rummaging through some old books in one of the oldest bookshops in the centre of Paris, I came across the reproduction of a lithography from the beginning of the century, I felt a punch in the stomach. It was a copy of an old poster of the Cirque d’Hiver where a woman with long blond hair and wearing a red jacket was riding a rearing black horse. Her arms were stretched and she was holding the riding crop.
I’d never seen the image of what was an unknown memory for me, but having that piece of paper in my hands was like looking back at an old photograph that I’d forgotten. I bought the lithography and now it’s hunged in my house in Venice. To me, that picture means much more than I can say in words: it’s a connection.
I wasn’t looking for something and I didn’t need to prove anything because nothing would have canceled that feeling that had never left me for so many years and this was enough for me.
However, I felt a sort of confirmation, as if something was saying: “You’re on the right way, it’s allright”.
All of us know how nice it is to find reassurance, to find something that makes us feel that, after all, there could be more.
To be connected means this. It doesn’t matter, if it is a lithography or a piece of cake that make us closer to our feelings or to our special memories. It’s something magical and mysterious at the same time.
And while I’m eating these tartellette with Francesco, he surprises me by saying: “Do you remember that boulangerie behind Saint Paul….?”
More than you can imagine.
- 100g Amaretti (Italian Almond Biscuits)
- 50g dried biscuits
- 60g butter
- 150g blueberries
- 200g low-fat Greek yogurt
- 100g fresh ricotta cheese
- 10g / 2 gelatine leaves
- 1tbsp of milk
- 1 organic lemon
- 3tbsp confectioner's sugar
- In a food processor grind the Amaretti and the dried biscuits together.
- Melt the butter in a little pot and slightly grease the tart tins using a cooking brush. Mix the remaining butter with the biscuit flour and combine well.
- Line the tins with the biscuit mixture and level well with a spoon. Put in the fridge for 30 minutes.
- Melt the shredded jelly leaves in a little cold water for about 10 minutes.
- Beat well the yogurt and combine with the ricotta cheese and 2 tablespoons of confectioner's sugar. Grind the lemon peel and add it to the cream.
- Squeeze the jelly leaves very well and put them in a little pot with 1 tablespoon of milk and let it melt on very low heat till it becomes liquid.
- Add the jelly to the cream, stirring quickly and very well. The cream will be quite liquid. Put it in the fridge to thicken for at least 30 minutes.
- Take the cream out of the fridge (it should be very dense) and beat it again for 2 minutes using an electric whisk at medium speed. In this way, the cream will be frothy again.
- Fill in the biscuit mixture tins with the cream, top them with the blueberries and put in the fridge again for 20 minutes.
- Dust with the sugar and serve cold.