The blank paper sheet I have before me is flashing in all its annoying brightness.
It had been waiting me for days… weeks, I should say. Sometimes I feel like I can’t restrain the words on this page because all I want say seems too much. Or too big for words? I don’t know.
Just when I think I’ve put a thought into focus, another one gets in between, wiping out the previous, dragging me into a messy whirlwind of loose ideas. So, I put this task off for another time, and replace my white sheet with the deep black of the backdrop I usually use for my shoots, waiting for my thoughts become evanescent, less sharp and perfect.
I delude myself into thinking that it might be easier, but it isn’t – especially when these thoughts are stuck in my mind, crisp as the marks of my footsteps in the dew-covered grass.So I give up to the fact that maybe I cannot share by words all what I want, because the weird and imperfect connections we establish with everything around us are the result of some unseen – and indescribable – forces, which are able to push us towards a direction rather than another.
Like the time that I sent a short and stupid email to Valentina, and I was already feeling that it would be the first of a long series. Exactly like the first time we met, the belief that we wouldn’t easily lost touch with each other anymore had already taken shape in my mind, as a kind of prophecy.
We attract beings that are similar to ourselves with easy luminous baits; we lure them in and we hold them close. Because after all, the sea is wide and the chances of finding each other are slim, and not to be taken for granted.
So Venice, and what promised to be a wonderful day, has brought me back once again to my friend Valentina, with whom I embarked on a short explorative journey towards what I like to call “the amazing world of Hortus“.
We saw the landscapes change slowly through the windows of the regional train, the one which is always late and lazily crosses the whole country from North to South.
Behind us, we left a trail made of pastel colors of the venetian lagoon, and days spent together stealing flowers from the hedge of my neighbors. As we approached Romagna, in front of us appeared the hills covered in the first soft grass of spring, the marked blue line of the sea on the horizon and the smell of the Adriatic coast which, like a salty wind, goes up to via Fratta, and to the very top of the hill between golden cornfields and ancient olive trees. There is where Valentina’s home is.
The raku bowls I made for her reached her house before I did, and are all lined in her kitchen, between those shelves full of well-arranged glass jars in which Valentina keeps her spices and scented teas.
Even though I have never been here before, the objects I’ve learned to recognize through her pictures are enough to make her whole world made of delicate harmony instantly real.
It’s heartwarming to imagine her here, in the silence of the early morning with a cup of tea in her hands, while she bathes into the light coming through the window, wondering if it will be good enough for shooting some pictures.
I find myself in every word she says and in every corner of what her life is between these walls, in this lawn where the chickens wander free, in the vegetable garden of her family, into the attention to detail that represents Valentina so well.
250 kilometres separate our daily worlds, which are made of incredible similarities: drawers full of cutlery, remote corners of the home that we know make a perfect spot for some nice pictures… in those spots, where for barely 15 minutes a day “the perfect light magically strikes the surface”.
I almost have the feeling of diving staight into the pages of a book – Valentina’s book, the real one that we will soon read on paper (!) – and the virtual one, that I followed through her blog… but above all, I have the feeling of jumping into the book of her life – a book of which I feel grateful to be a part of.
Like when we have “freaky-hortusized” the recipe for the green soup we made and photographed together here at my place (link). This time, we’ve prepared a recipe that is indigenous to the area she lives in, but in an alternative, green version (we like green so much!): Passatelli in brodo.
Passatelli are one of the typical main courses of the culinary tradition of Romagna, a region of the Northern Italy of which Gradara, the small town where Valentina lives, sits right on the border.
Gradara is famous for its medieval Borgo and the historical misadventures occurred in its castle between two star-crossed lovers, much like Romeo and Juliet.
Passatelli are a kind of thick vermicelli made from a dough composed of breadcrumbs, a little bit of flour – we used emerald-green pea flour – eggs, Parmesan cheese and lemon rind. The dough gets split in little ‘thick strands’ by using “il ferro”, a special kitchen tool which much resembles a potato ricer.
They can be served in broth or as any kind of noodles, seasoned as you prefer.
But no matter how close each region is to the other, the culinary traditions are always quite distant and different. Valentina told me that the Passatelli are a very popular dish in the area where she lives and they often are served as “speciality” during the holidays. I didn’t know about it! And, just like all the delicious things I do not know of, I find myself wondering how I could have lived without them until now. A life without Passatelli… what a waste!
So, in the semi-darkness of that beautiful room with that gray, coarse concrete wall, where we have taken these photos and where I left my heart, we found ourselves dipping our fingers in the cold broth – but with a lot of elegance and flowers in our hair – and eating the Passatelli straight from the bowl (theFreakyRaku bowl!) with out own hands after the shooting.
A family of swallows dashed back and forth over our heads, literally. They were flying in and out from the door, carrying pieces of straw in their beaks to their little nest, meticulously built on a beam in the ceiling of that room.
The evening brought rain and endless chatter, sipping that tea that smells like roses. I feel like I can tell her everything, and destroy those stupid walls that we make for ourselves when we’re afraid to be judged. We speak the same language. We are soul sisters.
And only when Valentina is there with me at the station for our goodbyes, at the platform where my train for Venice is leaving, I remember that very soon we’ll be together again for our workshop in July, with Betty Liu as well.
I just get all these butterflies in my stomach thinking that all the spots has been booked so fast and I feel myself getting dragged in a weird limbo of anxiety and happiness.
We’re still receiving requests and regretfully, our answers must be that there are no more spots available. For this reason (and thousand more!) we are happy to announce that Valentina and I we will do a two day workshop where we will get hands-on experience, both in cooking and photography.
September 3rd – 4th, Gradara – Italy
Taught in Italian and English by Zaira and Valentina, in partnership with EatTravelTeam
Price: 195 € per day, 390 € for both days (you can register for both days or just one)
All lessons and discussions (cooking, styling, photography, editing, blogging)
2 sit-down lunches and dinners
Tools and utensils
A little welcome gift for our guests!
Transportation to and from Gradara
A full day of food photography (from ingredients to finished dish) and styling, in which we will learn all about ISOs, aperture, depth of focus and all the basics of photography and composition. as we cook, we will each be able to shoot a recipe start to finish. Once done shooting, will also post-produce the photos together and learn about the ways to bring out the best from each photo and find your own style.
A full day, morning and early afternoon, spent cooking a vegan menu (appetizers to dessert), foraging fresh ingredients from the vegetable gardens and from the countryside, and learning how to make the best out of fresh, seasonal ingredients. A photography and styling session will be held in the afternoon with the finished dishes.
Lunch is provided for each day, and we will reward ourselves with a nice sit-down dinner with the recipes we create.
Register by emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org to reserve your spot.
- About 60g very fine breadcrumbs
- About 60g pea flour (substitute any flour you prefer if you do not have pea flour)
- 3 large eggs
- 100 g grated Parmigiano or Grana cheese
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp to 1 tsp pepper
- 4 cups of your favorite, flavorful, organic veggie stock
- 1 cup shelled peas, fresh or frozen
- To make the passatelli, combine all the ingredients in a bowl, and knead with your hands. You should get a dough that is soft, yet not sticky and easy to handle. If needed, add more or less flour to achieve the right consistency.
- Wrap the dough in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for 20 minutes to overnight.
- In the meantime, bring the stock to a gentle boil, and cook the peas until soft, about 15 minutes.
- When ready, prepare the 'ferro' to make the passatelli: if all you have is a potato ricer, consider keeping the dough a little softer to make it easier to squeeze it through the holes. Squeeze the dough through and straight into the boiling stock, and let cook until they float to the surface - it should take about 3 minutes.
- Serve immediately, or let cool a bit and enjoy warm. This dish is even better the day after, as the cheese intensely flavors the broth.
- You can also cook the passatelli like regular pasta: instead of dumping them in broth, line them on a well floured tray and let dry for 15 minutes before boiling in salted water for a scarce couple minutes, and toss in the pan with your favorite pasta sauce (for this purpose, the dough should be a little more on the tough side.