Thursday 19 March 2020.  Schools in Rome have been closed since the 6th, and we have been on official and increasingly stringent lockdown since Monday the 9th.

How is it?  Relaxing?  Challenging?  All of the above.  Nothing to do but loads to do, a bit like tossing simultaneous balls and not managing to catch them all.  Swinging between the kitchen sink, the laundry basket and the computer while supervising homework and monitoring device use.  Making occasional and quite joyous escapes to further provision for the next meal.

How do I feel?  Hopeless one minute, hopeful the next.  Full of optimism and positive energy on one hand.  Lacking the will to do anything constructive on the other.  Mainly trying hard to be zen and locking out forward planning of any kind beyond the next meal.  Gripped by intermittent and almost maniacal urges to sort out everything, right now.

Whatever happens, and however long it takes for dear Italy and the world to come out of this, when we do the combined weight of the family will be roughly 20 kg the heavier.

So, here are a couple of recipes to try whether in quarantine, or not.  First, the simplest of bakes, with fennel and potato, that Carla, Rachel and I have made part of out till now suspended Market to Table series.

But first, a few ideas on how to be create positive noise while in lockdown.

Shop SMALL, shop LOCAL.  Never has there been a better time for it, and like never before small businesses are going to NEED OUR BUSINESS in the coming months.  Go to the butcher, buy up at the baker (freeze some small rolls and sliced loaves), get to the market while it is still open.

Order BIG.  When I was last in Australia I was captivated by the rolls of funky recycled toilet paper in my cousin Meg’s bathroom.  Brilliant!  Order in bulk, another reason not to have to go to the bastards at Woolies.  I believe Who Gives a Crap are currently out of stock in Aus, but working hard to catch up with production.  Meanwhile here in Italy, where the COOP is the only supermercato to stock a really environmentally sustainable dunny roll, but you can also order  kitchen paper and toilet paper from Grazie.   I made a huge order at the beginning of the year, full of enthusiasm for the year ahead, stockpiling for the cooking classes and photo shoots that were booked to fill the studio for the spring and summer.  Oh well, at least we were prepared for lockdown. 

Space saving non perishables.  Beans and pulses take up heaps less room in the dried form, and hey, we all have time for the hassle of pre-soaking.  Add nuts, dried fruits and dried CORN to the list, popcorn is such a low waste, low sugar snack and one bag goes a long way.

You can help businesses stay afloat in Italy by:

  • pre-purchasing accommodation and buying gift cards and  direct from small hotels and accommodation, businesses that have literally had their welcome mats ripped out from under their feet.  You can buy a gift card for accommodation at The Beehive, a boutique hostel in Rome that is pre-selling accommodation to help get through this period.  What a great gift for friends you know are coming through Rome when this is all over.
  • ordering something online.  My favourite ceramicists CNN Ceramiche Nicola Fasano deliver worldwide.
  • drinking lots of Italian wine, that always helps both the drinker and the producer

Gratinato di finocchi e patate  Fennel and potato bake

As simple as can be, with good sea salt and extra virgin olive oil pulling out all the sweetness of the fennel, which sits happily next to the creamy comfort of the potatoes.  Allow cooking time of at least an hour.

Ingredients for a roughly 25 x 20 cm baking dish – enamel seems to work particularly well

2 bulbs of fennel

4-6 starchy potatoes

100 ml olive oil

Sea salt flakes

Ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 180°C (170°C fan forced)

Wash fennel and slice finely lengthways.  I find it easier to slice lengthways as a whole fennel, so you will then need to cut woody core out of the middle slices.  Wash, peel and finely slice the potatoes.  Lightly oil the bottom of the baking pan, then start layering potatoes, then fennel, then potatoes and so on.  Salt each layer, and add a drizzle of oil to each layer too.  A grind of pepper is nice on the final layer.

Cover the baking tray with baking paper & aluminium foil (or snug fitting lid) and bake for 50 minutes.  Remove cover and bake for another 40-50 minutes until the potatoes are cooked (slice into to try) and top is sufficiently browned.  Serve hot.



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