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.

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. down recipes

Space saving non perishables.  Beans and pulses take up heaps less room in the dried form, and hey, in lockdown 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

This recipe is the sweet conclusion to a 12 month mission to find the perfect protein packed but still addictive chocolate chip biscuit.  During hard lockdown I baked these almost weekly to bulk up the homeschooling treat supplies.  As a base I used, and then tweaked, this recipe from Corriere della Sera’s COOK section.

Biscotti di Avena, Nocciole e Cioccolato  Oat, Hazelnut and Chocolate Biscuits

Makes about 24 – 30 biscuits

200 g oat (or farro) flour – whizz some oats in the food processor to grind your own
50 g plain flour (all purpose, 00)
60 g dark brown sugar
40 g white sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
125 g butter
100 g toasted peeled hazelnuts
100 g dark chocolate (min 50% cocoa solids)
2 free range medium eggs

Roughly and only slightly chop the hazelnuts, leaving some whole and half pieces.  Roughly chop the chocolate according to the same principle, leaving plenty of larger chunks in there.

In a large bowl – or stand mixer – mix the flour, sugar, salt and baking powder.  Cut the butter into cubes and rub deftly into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  Mix in the chopped chocolate (some fine and floury, some chunks) and the hazelnuts and mix to distribuite.  Lightly whisk the eggs and add to the mixture, using them to bring everything together into a nice pastry consistency.  If the  mixture feels too dry add a teaspoon or two of water, if it feels too moist then a teaspoon or two of flour.

Knead the mixture quickly on a clean and lightly floured work surface before wrapping in baking paper (or the just used butter paper) and rest in the fridge for 30 mins or so.

Preheat the oven to 180°C with fan. (170°C if you have a slightly fierce gas oven oven like mine). Prepare a small bowl of plain flour to use for the rolling. Line a baking tray with a piece of baking paper.

Cut the chilled dough into four large logs and then break these down by hand into smaller pieces, depending on what size biscuits you like.  I aim for roughly 8 biscuits, and I do the breaking by hand in order to maintain the chunks of choc and hazelnuts.  Flour your hands and roll each piece of rough into a rough ball, place on the baking sheet and flatten slightly.

Bake for 15-20  minutes until they are just golden.  Remove and cool on a wire rack.


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