Giulia Scarpaleggia of Juls’ Kitchen
I had such a lovely time visiting with Frances Mayes, that I have decided to extend my virtual soggiorno in Tuscany for another week. Today I am dropping in on Giulia Scarpaleggia, author of Le Ricette di Mia Nonna (My Grandma’s Recipes) and of the Italian food blog Juls’ Kitchen.
Although I am a veteran food writer, I am a latecomer to the world of blogging (my own blog is less than 2 years old). When I finally waded in and started surfing, Juls’ Kitchen was one of the first blogs that bobbed to the surface and caught my eye—and my ear. Giulia’s blog is beautifully photographed, with composed shots of the country food that she cooks and soft images of the Tuscan landscape that surrounds her. But it’s her voice that really captures me, her exuberant tone that embraces the world, her romantic descriptions, in tumbling words, of life’s daily rituals, of moods that shift with the seasons.
I find myself visiting Giulia’s blog when I need a pause or a fresh dose of inspiration.”I simply love cooking,” she says on her About page. “It gives me satisfaction, it makes me happy, it channels my positive energy and washes out the clouds from my eyes.” If you are a follower of Italian blogs, you may already be familiar with her work. Although our interview took place via email, I imagined us talking over una bella tazza di caffe’—a nice cup of thick, concentrated espresso—maybe in the vintage kitchen of the stone house she grew up in…
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DM: As you know, people come to Tuscany from all over the world. What is it like to grow up in one of the most beloved and famous places on the planet?
GS: I’ve always lived my life with a fairy tale attitude, so I consider this a gift and a very important chance. The fact is you don’t even realize how lucky you are until you try to see your life from another perspective. You can lose the wonder in the daily routine, miss the charm of the beautiful countryside, of the old and historic towns, of the superb food if you start living your life mechanically. Even though you live in one of the most beloved places on the planet, you need everyday fresh eyes and new suggestions. Once you find the key to get surprised every day, you discover the magic bliss you have to live in a place like this.
DM: Your blog has evolved from its early days, when you were writing more posts about experimenting with foreign and ethnic food, to now, where you are focusing more on the food of Tuscany and cooking seasonally. Can you talk about how your blog and cooking interests have changed?
GS: At the beginning I was searching for something new and as far as possible from my daily habits. My mum and grandma were cooking daily great local food, and I wanted to find my place in the kitchen in order to express myself: that’s the reason I started experimenting with foreign food as Thai, English, Japanese… Then, when I fell in love again with my region, I started to feel the urge to know it deeply, and food was obviously the main instrument to get in touch with the core of habits and traditions. Since Tuscan cooking has a strong seasonal approach, as a consequence I understood also the importance of having the freshest and local produce when in season. Simple cooking techniques and very few spices and herbs call for fresh and seasonal ingredients to produce inventive and tasteful dishes. This doesn’t mean that I’m eating everyday pappa al pomodoro and ribollita, I mean, a sushi bar is still the place to bring me out for dinner if you want to impress me, but I finally found my place in the universe of food, in the local fresh Tuscan culinary tradition.
DM: Juls’ Kitchen has gorgeous, luminous pictures of the food you make and also of the Tuscan landscape. Have you studied photography? Or is it something you picked up as a hobby? What do you try to capture with your photos?
GS: When I was a child I was renowned as the one who took awful pictures. Every time I got back from a school trip my parents were ashamed to see my pictures of people with head out of the framing and dull details. It has been like this since I discovered food, precious, delicious, glossy, fragrant and, most important, still. I learned day after day to take better pictures, basically exhausting my friends and my dad with questions and spending hours browsing through the blogs and books of the best foodblogger and food photographers to steal their secrets. Now my pictures are still technically imperfect, because I do not have a technical approach, but I try to convey an atmosphere, a story, the feeling related to the recipe. Eventually if you feel hungry looking at my pictures and all you want is to run into the kitchen to make that cake or that pasta, I reached my goal!
DM: Your first book, Le Ricette di Mia Nonna, was published in 2011. What was that experience like? Are you planning to do more cookbook writing?
GS: If you ask me what do you want to do as a grownup my answer would be a food writer. The first book has been one of the deepest emotional experience of my life, my blog translated into real paper, with real pictures and lots of pages, I was proud of myself and of my supportive family. Another book is therefore in my plans, well, not just one… Words are my passion, it would be just brilliant to be able to write and put in words all the extraordinary experiences you can live having food as starting point.
GS: If you refer to a real person, this is definitely my grandmother Marcella, the same person responsible of my soft being, since she spoiled me since my childhood with the most tasteful and hearty food. She’s passionate about cooking, a real Italian grandmother, generous with food and love but very very critical about her results! She’s never satisfied enough with her recipes, that’s the reason she keeps experimenting. If instead we want to talk about inspiration and true love, Jamie Oliver and his down-to-earth and passionate approach is definitely my cup of tea. He pushes you to cook even though the most elaborate recipe you’ve made so far is a fried egg!
DM: Can you tell us a little bit about the part of Tuscany where you live? What are some of the local food specialties of your area?
GS: I live in a stone house that used to be a stable in a tiny village in the countryside between Siena and Florence, that’s my private heaven! Since I’m a real Italian girl, even though I’m 30 years old, I still live with my parents, but I have projects to move to live on my own as soon as my new career will develop into something less uncertain. But let’s talk about food, what else! In this area they breed the cinta senese, an ancient pork breed extremely tasty, believe me or taste salami, prosciutto and sausage made with cinta… How not to mention the olive oil? We have an excellent DOP extra virgin olive oil, the background flavour of many a recipe. Then, since I’m a fresh pasta maniac, pici is the thing to taste if visiting Siena and the Valdorcia on the south of Siena. Pici are a kind of thick homemade spaghetti, usually served with aglione sauce (tomato sauce with a lot of garlic) or fried breadcrumbs.
DM: It’s spring in Tuscany. What seasonal ingredients are you cooking with right now, and what are you making?
GS: Fava beans are my favourite Tuscan ingredient in spring. You taste green and the new season with them, I prefer short cooking to save their fresh and grassy flavour, as in this salad I made a few days ago to celebrate the season. I’m really looking forward to strawberries as well, tiny juicy berries to use in fruity desserts, my soft spot.
DM: You recently made a big change in your life. You left your job (promoting extra-virgin olive oil) to devote yourself fully to a career as a food writer. What made you decide take this “leap” and what are you doing in your new career?
GS: I was 30 years old, I was no more satisfied with my daily job and I used to stay up till late every day to blog about my experiences with food, the decision to take the leap was almost necessary, after 3 years of behind the scenes preparation. This is also a serious economical period in Italy and abroad, maybe not the best one to venture a new career, I have to admit it. But let me quote Albert Einstein: Let’s not pretend that things will change if we keep doing the same things. A crisis can be a real blessing to any person, to any nation. For all crises bring progress. Creativity is born from anguish, just like the day is born from the dark night. It’s in crisis that inventive is born, as well as discoveries, and big strategies. Who overcomes crisis, overcomes himself, without getting overcome. I trusted him, wouldn’t you? I’m just at the beginning now, but I work every day with passion, trying to reach my goals, enjoying every single minute of this new life and gratefully appreciating challenges and new experiences. As I said at the very beginning, I’ve always lived my life with a fairy tale attitude, so I believe that dreams come true, you just have to work hard!
Grazie, Giulia. Thank you for sharing your Tuscan world with us, and for sharing this recipe for your Nonna’s artichoke frittata.
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La Frittata di Carciofi Come Fa Nonno / Grandma’s Artichoke Omelette
from Le Ricette di Mia Nonna, by Giulia Scarpaleggia
Lemon to brush the artichokes
Flour to dust
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Pecorino romano cheese
Clean the artichokes by removing the hard outer leaves, trim the top—cutting off the sharp points—and the hard part of the base. Cut them into quarters and rub lemon over the artichokes in order to prevent them from blackening before being cooked. Once cleaned and sliced, thoroughly dust them with flour.
Pour a splash of extra-virgin olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan. When it is hot, add artichokes and brown them on all sides, stirring often. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs with the salt and pepper and a generous grating of pecorino Romano cheese. Pour the egg mixture over the artichokes, add a few leaves of basil, and let the omelette become firm on the bottom. Then, with the help of a dish, turn it upside-down and let it cook on the other side.
Serve hot, so that the omelette will remain soft and it will exalt the contrast with the crisp wedges of artichokes.