Italian Holidays, Lentils With Lemon, and Giving Your Life Meaning With Brioche Alla Crema


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In Italy they have holidays. Not holidays conveniently attached to a weekend like in England, but stuck randomly on whatever day they feel like.
They might try and claim that they’re on exactly the day they are meant to be on, but I think they just put them on whatever day I’ve decided to do my shopping.

So on the 25thApril, they were celebrating their National Liberation Day – for no better reason than that was the day that Italy was liberated from Nazi occupation – and all the shops were shut.
How that was supposed to help me get the wherewithal for a decent lunch I have no idea.

Oatcake Woman said that if I paid a bit more attention to what’s going on in the world instead of listening to the sound of my own ego, it might not have taken me 30 years to notice the date of one of Italy’s most important national holidays.

And all I said was that I wanted to buy myself a bit of lunch.

Anyway, I returned from my shopping trip – 20 minutes drive each way – with no more food than I started with, and I was more than a bit annoyed to waste an entire morning shopping, and not even get my shopping done.

Oatcake Woman said that if I hadn’t wasted half the morning in the bar eating brioche alla crema, I would have realised immediately that everywhere was shut, and gone straight home and got to work.

Which is ridiculous – eating a brioche alla crema is never a waste of time.

Although it does use up a lot of my daily points, so lunch would not only have to consist of whatever I had left in my fridge, but be as pointless as possible if I wanted to have any left for dinner.

And I did: dinner is one of my absolutely favourite things.   Closely followed by lunch.  And breakfast.

If I want to be pointless and full, I often go for lentils, and I almost always have some, ready-cooked, in my fridge.    I would like you to think that’s because I am marvellously well organised, but it’s usually because I cook too many at a time.

But it’s one thing having them sitting there waiting to be eaten, but I usually add a pointless version of salsa verde, gremolata, or chermoula to them, all of which require parsley, and I had run out.  Nor was I in the mood for waiting till I had roasted some veg: I wanted to eat NOW.

This lentil salad has zero points, leaving plenty of scope for a good dollop of Hellmann’s (2 points per tablespoon) to go with it.


   Lentils with Lemon, Red Pepper, and Carrot

100 gr cooked small brown castelluccio lentils – or other small variety.
1 grated carrot
1 small, finely sliced, fresh red onion – or several spring onions
½ red pepper finely diced
½ lemon diced
A splash of balsamic vinegar

Mix everything together and eat immediately, before you find yourself driving down the hill – or getting on a plane – for another brioche alla crema.

Diva Notes:
Cooking the lentils:

 Boil them for twenty – thirty minutes with coriander seeds, peppercorns and cardamom pods until they are al dente. Drain and add salt. Plenty of it. Better to die of high blood pressure than an insipid life.

Dicing the lemon
Cut it into thin slices as for a gin and tonic; then cut the slices into strips, and across the strips to make little squares – the middle squares will be mostly juice.   The combination of juice, flesh, pith and zest is rather good, and less harsh than plain lemon juice.

Raw onion refuseniks
If you don’t like raw onion or find it doesn’t agree with you, soak it in water for ten minutes, and it will keep its opinions to itself.    The practice of waterboarding onions is not against the Geneva Convention, so take no notice of anything the Onionistas say.

 A word about Hellmann’s:
As you know, I am a fundamentalist cook-from-scratchatarian, but I never make my own Hellmann’s. I make mayonnaise occasionally, and usually wish I hadn’t as it is always disgusting – even worse than my mother’s.   My mother was a fine cook, but she was not sound on the subject of mayonnaise: when she finally stopped making her own, she actually claimed that Safeway own-brand tasted the same as Hellmann’s!

 This is not a misery-blog, but mayonnaise-wise, I was lucky to survive. 

In my fridge I also found the makings of a puntarelle salad, but that is a huge subject that needs a piece of its own. Starting with what is puntarelle?

And talking of which, you might be wondering the same about   brioche alla crema. 

About Brioche Alla Crema

In English, they would be called custard croissants, which sounds decidedly unappetising and gives no indication of their divine, creamy, deliciousness.

Or that they are one of the main reasons for moving to Italy.

In particular, for the ones made at Chieli in Sansepolcro or Marco Nocentini’s Pasticceria in Pieve Santo Stefano.


Brioche Alla Crema, Slightly Eaten.


It is important to stress that not all brioche alla cream are created equal, and you absolutely must not throw away your career prospects, family ties, and pension pots in order to eat one – or more likely two – every day for breakfast, if you are going to eat the ones made in Anghiari.

You’ve probably heard of Leonardo da Vinci’s lost masterpiece, the Battle of Anghiari.  But you may not have heard that it was almost certainly lost because he used inferior crema and mass-produced dough.

Yes, I’ll probably get death threats for saying such a thing, but some things are too important to worry about personal safety.

Oatcake Woman has just said that I am supposed to be writing about losing weight, not suggesting that people should give up all meaningful life in order to eat custard in a bun every morning.

She seems to have no idea that the whole point of losing weight is to live longer so you have more mornings on which to eat brioche alla crema.

Although she did have a point about Anghiari being one of the most enchanting medieval hilltop towns in Tuscany.

An Urgent Warning About Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner: 
There is a new type of psychopath at large:  instead of going round murdering people, they write books exhorting people – with promises of everlasting health and thinness – to give up eating for anything up to 18 hours a day, or even whole days at a time.

If you see one lurking on your bookshelf or smiling enticingly at you in your local bookstore, bolt your door and call the police.

Your life will not be improved by the introduction of death-by-a-thousand-missed-meals, and you can lose weight and improve your health just as well by eating breakfast, lunch and dinner every single day.