Lessons on Cooking and Love
This Summer I had was lucky enough to meet a very special someone. I first found out about Daniela Groza through her project “Be Kind for Real” and moving through the simple but nonetheless awesome T-Shirts that she makes and uses proceeds generated from their sale to support two non profit organizations, I stumbled at the time upon her campaign to help build a school for girls in Tanzania through her photographic work. We began talking virtually and she even gifted me a lovely photograph that I’ve proudly added to my “Wall of Women”. And if all of this wasn’t enough proof that she is one Solid Gold girl, as the tattoo splayed across her chest boldly states, I got to meet her in the flesh a couple of months ago. Moreover, I got the great gift of having her over in my kitchen for the day, where she cooked for me and my family and some of our closest friends.
Daniela has many talents, she’s a great artist, a marvellous thinker and undoubtedly a great cook. And the one thing that makes it all come together so so good is the love that she is filled with to the brim. For Daniela, it’s all done with a lot of love, all the time. She even got to talk publicly here about love a couple of weeks ago and I am grateful I had the chance to be there.
Back to the dinner we shared, we started our quest for ingredients with a tour at the marketplace in the morning, a pop in at a deli for some semolina flour and then we were all set. Daniela wanted to prepare homemade beet pasta and it was pretty great to see how she finds inspiration for what she wants to prepare by touching, looking at stuff and basically, drooling over the final dish that is already being cooked in her mind. This is how she decided to make pasta two-ways: with tomato and kale sauce and with brown butter, sage and walnut sauce. We shared conversations over her prepping and cooking ritual, that was intersected with some DJ-ing, just to have the cooking mood on. Once the evening settled in, our guests started arriving and just as the sun was setting, we started digging in the lovely food Daniela had made for us and I got to take a snap of her in the wonderful twilight.
Apart from the fact that she has strengthened my idea that self love is the generator for love of all others, what I’ve learned from Daniela, food-wise, apart from making pasta from scratch, is that humility is one of the keys to happiness, eat what is being served and be grateful for it. Everyday. And if you have the chance to eat in the company of loved ones, be grateful tenfold.
To learn more about Daniela and her projects click here
For the roasted beets:
700g/1½ pounds beets (5cm/2 to 2½ in. around), washed and dried
1 Tblsp sea salt
2 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 200C/400F. In a large mixing bowl, toss beets with oil and salt to coat. Place on lined baking sheet and place the oven for 1 hour. Remove and allow to cool (about 20 minutes). Peel beets under running water and pureée with the aid of a blender.
For the pasta:
3 large free-range eggs
200g/1 cup puréed roasted beets
500g/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
125g/1 cup semolina flour (to sprinkle while thinning out pasta dough)
Make a mound of the flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour and add the eggs, beet puree and any other flavoring you choose. Using a fork, beat together the eggs, oil and flavorings and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. As you expand the well, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape. Do not worry that this initial phase looks messy. The dough will come together when half of the flour is incorporated.
Start kneading the dough with both hands, using the palms of your hands primarily. Once you have a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any leftover crusty bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic and allow to rest for 30 minutes at room temperature. Note: do not skip the kneading or resting portion of this recipe, they are essential for a light pasta. Roll out to four 17cm x 40cm / 7 in. x 16 in. sheets.
For the Tomato & Kale Sauce:
1kg/2 ½ lbs. tomatoes (I like to mix heirlooms with traditional Romanian garden tomatoes and cherry tomatoes)
1 head of celery + celery leaves
1 red pepper
1 bunch of oregano
1 bunch of kale
4 Tblsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 beets (for color)
Core the tomatoes with a small, sharp knife and rip apart, by hand, in a large saucepan – this way the tomatoes preserve their juices. Add olive oil and start cooking on medium heat. Add the shaved celery head whole, as well as the carrot, the beets, the oregano bunch and the kale – they’re all added for flavor and will be removed at the end. Cook for approximately 30 minutes, then add thinly sliced onion and the red pepper (thinly sliced rounds) to the sauce and cook for another 10 minutes. At this point I like to let the tomatoes rest, drain the juice and let it simmer on its own until it thickens and the flavor intensifies, approximately 20-25 minutes on medium heat. To serve, add the reduced sauce back in the saucepan with the tomatoes.
For the Brown Butter, Sage & Walnut Sauce
225g/2 sticks butter
65g/½ cup chopped walnuts
1 bunch of fresh sage
Turn the stove on low heat and place the butter in a small saucepan. Let it simmer until it browns (10 minutes); I recommend using a light-colored saucepan to make sure you get the desired result. Slice the onion very thinly and add in after the heat has been turned off. In another pan, add the chopped walnuts and cook on high heat for 1-2 minutes until toasted. Take the sage leaves and the walnuts and add to the brown butter and voilà!