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52 New Recipes in 2010 – 12, Risotto al Cavolo Nero

September 2, 2010

My first love was languages.

I discovered this on a school exchange to Burgundy when I was 13. (I discovered food at the same time, but I didn’t realise this was a legitimate career choice or object of academic study until much, much later.) I was obsessed. I read my friend’s old children’s books in French; I attempted to teach myself Italian and Portuguese when I went on holiday, and successfully made myself understood (mostly); I read Teach Yourself Linguistics in my spare time; I took three languages at GCSE (four if you count Latin) and two at A-Level; I did Linguistic Olympics puzzles for fun;* I annoyed my language teachers with my unwavering enthusiasm; I eventually ended up at Oxford doing French and Linguistics; I’m currently funding my MA by translating business documents from French into English.

Somewhere along the line, though, a combination of perfectionism, proficiency and not being able to afford to travel abroad killed my initial enthusiasm. Being able to speak French so well made me frustrated with my rusty German and my well-meaning Italian-Spanish holiday hybrid. Someone once tried to teach me to count to 10 in another language – we got to about three before I was all, ‘Ooh, is that that strange phoneme that doesn’t exist in any other language?’ and, ‘Ooh, it’s really interesting that this other language in the same family has this word for two, which is different from…’  To wit, I have a rudimentary understanding of how noun gender works in Swahili and a pretty thorough knowledge of language policy in Kenya and Tanzania, but I spent six months in Kenya on my gap year and was too shy to jump in and talk to anyone. I’m still too shy to jump in and talk to anyone.

This is the kind of attitude that HAS TO GO.

Partly for mundane reasons of personal growth, but also because I really can’t turn up at Terra Madre and be all, like, ‘Well, in this globalised world, I think you should all speak in English… Thanks, that makes my life so much easier.’ So, in addition to all the other stuff I have to do between now and the end of October, I’m going to learn some Italian.

And I want to learn to speak Italian, not just use my knowledge of French, Latin and Romance Linguistics to decipher newspapers and signs. I have a Teach Yourself book, and another book my friend lent me, which are great, but I what I really need is some Italian people to talk to. Preferably a beautiful Italian man. Which in our case we have not got. Alas.

In the absence of, like, actual human interaction, I turned to recipes. Partly by accident. Thursday is veg box day, and kale always needs eating asap or it goes bitter. So I needed to do something with the cavolo nero tonight, and due to Italy-trip-enforced uber-strict budgeting, I had no pasta,** which I would normally eat with kale. Google turned up very few recipes that didn’t require something I didn’t have – so risotto it was!

The recipe I used is a vegan recipe. My version is not strictly vegan, as I used turkey stock, butter and a good handful of Parmesan. (Incidentally, I saw another version of cavolo nero risotto which sounded awesome and included gorgonzola and walnuts – which in our case we have not got…) The recipe was also in Italian. I have now learnt that the Italian for onion is cipolla; ridurle a striscioline means to cut something very fine or shred it,*** and that spargere is ‘sprinkle’ or ‘scatter’. I repeated all these words out loud as I chopped, stirred and grated. Also, I now know to avoid things with sedano in them when I’m in Italy, and that you can substitute dried rosemary for a rametto di rosmarino if you forgot to water your herbs during the dry spell and are relying on things in packets…

Another useful thing I learnt is that you can fry up a carrot with the initial onion (and, if you are so inclined, sedano celery…. urgh….) and use water for cooking instead of stock.

And now, I must return to preparing for Italy by reading about the external costs of UK agriculture and writing a reading response paper on gender and food studies. *sigh*


* No, I was not an especially cool teenager.

** Actually, this is a lie, I have some incredibly posh pasta but it’s being saved for a special occasion. I also have no rice. After the couscous is gone, it’s veg box potatoes all the way.

*** Ridurre being the infinitive, le being the object.

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