Spring Celebrations, a Fragrant Ricotta Cake & Saveur Blog Awards Nomination (Wow!)

healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon

1. Thirty feels good & I love this Spring!

Too many things have happened in the past couple of weeks. Important matters, life changing events and personal/professional achievements. Spring bloomed and with that, a light breeze of relief and satisfaction started to blow in my life. And… it happened.

I had dreaded it, tried in vain to escape from it and obsessed about it so much, but when I finally turned 30, I realized that I already liked it. I figured out that my previous birthday had been more scary. On that day (my 29th birthday), my friend Tommaso and I were shooting my head shots (the one on the right and here) for this blog. I was so scared of getting old without having constructed enough foundations. This year however, despite some difficulties, I was just happy, with no need for many descriptive adjectives to communicated how I really felt. My birthday party was an unconventional, casual picnic in one of Rome’s beautiful villas with a bunch of intimate friends, some easy peasy veggie pies made with home-grown, Sicilian vegetables from a friend’s garden, and a big, Easter chocolate egg. Even the weather was on my side; We enjoyed long hours of laying on the grass with the warm sun kissing our skin, chatting, eating & drinking.

healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon

Before my birthday however, there was my thesis defense session and graduation. As I mentioned, as the final project in my graduate studies in Graphic Design & Photography in Rome’s Fine Art Academy, I created a cookbook with my own recipes & photography, and designed every single detail from typography to layouts. I was very satisfied with the project (despite being exhausted) and I was quite speechless by the flattering compliments of the professors and everybody else. This has made me more confident in the journey that I have chosen to step in; the one that embraces good food, photography, editorial design and a lot of determination. 

healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon
healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon

I will soon add more photo/info about this cookbook prototype but in the meanwhile let me say that YOU appear in the acknowledgments! How could I not thank each single one of you who reads, likes, and share what I do and gives me a lot of support?

Speaking of your support, as you probably know (if you follow me on facebook and/or twitter), Lab Noon is a finalist in the 6th Annual SAVEUR Blog Awards! From a record-breaking pool of nearly 50,000 submissions, it was selected as one of top six contenders in its category. This was a dream when I had just started this blog, and thanks to Saveur editors, previous winners (among the editors) and most importantly, thanks to you who have nominated me, this dream came true in the very first year of this blog! This too, encourages me to work harder and push this little blog and its affiliated projects forward. 

Lab Noon is nominated in “Best Special Interest” category with other 5 blogs of great talent and originality. This is the great thing about Saveur blogs awards; you get to know a lot of amazing people who are doing beautiful things. To know us better please read the presentation of our blogs and our bios on Saveur’s site. 

In order to vote your favorite blogs simply click here (or on the Saveur badge in the sidebar) and register/log in to Saveur’s website. I would appreciate it if you supported me and cast a vote! Remember to check other wonderful blogs in every category. I’m sure you will find a lot of pleasant surprises. Share the love on your social media with the link saveur.com/blogawards and the hashtag #‎SavBlogAwards‬.

healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon

2. Let’s celebrate with a healthy, moist and fragrant cake!

I didn’t have a birthday cake right on my birthday. But since it was Easter, and as I told you there were just too many reasons to celebrate, I baked this one a couple of days later. Easter, just like any other holiday in Italy (and many other places) means a lot of heavy meals, chocolates and Colomba (a typical Italian Easter cake similar to Panettone for Christmas). And then, there are those of us who have just finished celebrating Norouz, the Persian new year with —again— a lot of food, sweets and pastries and salty nuts.

This one is a relatively light and healthy cake. There’s no butter in it and the only fat is 4 tbsp of olive oil. The main ingredient is fresh sheep ricotta. Ricotta makes the cake incredibly moist and soft. Spring is the time when the milking season of sheep begins. So if you know some farms around, ask for fresh sheep dairy. I remember when I was little, by around May you could find excellent sheep yogurt in shops. The supermarket near my home has some products from local farmers and fresh sheep ricotta is one of them. However, if you don’t find sheep ricotta, by all means use normal ricotta cheese. Just make sure you find a skim one (to keep the cake lighter). The ricotta cheese I use normally has 150-160kcal/100g and 11-12g fat.

healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon
healthy Ricotta Cake | Torta di Ricotta senza burro | Lab Noon

Ricotta is also the base of the frosting, mixed with orange blossom water and some maple syrup (depending on how sweet you like it). The southern cities of Iran such as Shiraz and Kerman are famous for excellent citrus. Dry, warm weather is essential for good quality and fragrant citrus. Just like in Italy, where best oranges grow in Sicily and best lemons & citrons in Campagna. We owe that refreshing scent to the sun of the south. They say if you walk in the allies of Shiraz in this time of the year, you’ll get drunk by the mesmerizing aroma of orange blossoms that have invaded the city. Continue reading

Persian Chia Seeds Drink to the New Year. Happy Nowruz!

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz framed text

Chaper 1. Nostalgia

I imagine the streets of Tehran at this time. It’d take you half an hour to walk 100mt and I’m not exaggerating. Everywhere’s overcrowded. Few days are left to the new year and everybody’s out shopping. Green sprouts of wheat and lentils have invaded every possible corner of every possible shop and all the angles of the streets. There are so many tanks and bowls full of gold fish everywhere you go that you might wonder if you’re walking in a huge aquarium. There’s the smell of Samanu in the air, a wheat pudding (which I dislike!) that is an essential part of Haft Seen Table. You can’t walk by without being hit by the aroma of countless flowers, specially hyacinth, narcissus and lilies. It doesn’t matter what the weather feels like. You’d know by sure, that Winter is over and Spring has arrived.

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-3
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-29

That’s why we’re celebrating. In the most romantic and naturalistic view of the world, the Persian new year begins when the Earth wakes up, after a one-year journey around the sun, exactly at the moment of March Equinox. So the new year could begin at 8.23.03 am or 6.04.49 pm or just any other time. And most importantly, it occurs at the same exact moment in the whole world. 

Chapter 2. REBIRTH

Norouz, this truly beautiful ancient festival that has been celebrated for more than three thousand years in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan & many other countries, is directly connected to astronomical and seasonal events. And again, different cultures and civilizations have interpreted these natural happenings into different celebrations of Spring. (This explains the similarities between Jewish & Christian Easter with Norouz & other Spring celebrations. Remember when I told you about the similarities of Christmas & other winter celebrations?) 
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-7
The winter solstice feasts celebrate the light and the end of darkness, while the Spring feats, in all forms and names, celebrate rebirth, resurrection, a new life, a new day. That’s what “Norouz” literally means in Persian; A new day.

Chapter 3. Graduation & Persian Food Bloggers Round-Up!

I swear I tried so hard to write a short post. But I just can’t shut up about the beauty of these ancient pagan-and-non rituals. As I told you, I am working so hard on my final thesis and I am graduating on March 28th. That’s why this year I’m skipping the detailed preparations for the new year. However, at the cost of ruining my tight schedule, I couldn’t not take part in the Persian Food Bloggers‘ round-up.

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-11
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-12

I am so glad I have known them and collaborated with them since last October. It’s almost the only celebration I get this year. I strongly suggest you check out the links at the bottom of this post for delicious, Persian-inspired recipes to get in the mood of celebrating Spring, Norouz and the new year. (1394!)

Chapter 4. Persian Chia Seeds Drink with a Twist

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-28
This simple and delightful Chia seeds drink actually has got nothing to do with Norouz! It’s usually served on ice as a summer drink. Long before chia seeds were cool & trendy in the healthy-eating world, people used them in Iran —I think exclusively— to make this drink. It’s a basic Persian syrup. Water, sugar, rose water. There’s little Chia seeds in the drink. It shouldn’t become a smoothy or a porridge; It’s just a beverage

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-14
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-18
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-20

You can actually make this drink in both a hot or cold version. All you need is a teaspoon of chia seeds for each portion, some brewed saffron, a drop of rose water, your favorite sweetener (I used Nabaat, Persian crystallized saffron sugar but you can use raw brown sugar or raw honey), a slice of lemon/lime and some peppermint. It’s basically infused water with floating moist chia seeds. You might think that there are too many aromas in this drink, but don’t worry. The only ones you should really feel are the saffron and rose water. Lemon and mint/peppermint just add a note of freshness and bring your drink to life.

Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-5
Persian Chia Seeds Drink for Nowruz | Bevanda di Semi di Chia alla Persiana per Nowruz | Lab Noon #PFBNowruz-30

The lovely lady appearing these photos is my dear friend Maryam, who turned her beautiful home into a perfect set for this shoot.

Continue reading

Early Breakfast at the End of Winter & a Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni)

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Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon
The alarm rings at 5.30 am. I turn it off immediately so that it wouldn’t wake him. I look at the phone and I run my thumb up and down on the screen to make my half-open eyes get used to the light. I sit in bed, It’s still as dark as it was when I went to sleep barely 5 hours ago. Then slowly, I reach for my woolly poncho and I prepare my heavy body to drag itself to the bathroom. By the time I get the courage to splash some lukewarm water in my face, some 20 minutes have passed. I know I’m gradually coming back to life when I turn on the big computer and open Spotify. I search for my super early morning playlist, “Sounds of Nature” and I make sure a forest sound plays. I pray the ads wouldn’t start right away. 

Mission: Breakfast. 

I turn on the espresso machine and I think about what to make for breakfast. My usual routine alternates between oat porridge and something with one organic egg. Mostly it’s a simple and healthy french toast that I prepare with my home-made sourdough bread, which I always bake with wholegrain flours such as rye or spelt. When I’m out of bread, I make a small oat pancake-thing (I love oats for breakfast). Then I’m distracted by the jiggles of my phone. It’s my to-do-list app saying I must prepare the files for MAXXI museum’s speciale event for Norouz. “Yeah, I know, I know” I mumble, and I open the whole list, which is synced to another calendar app, which is synced to the notes app and iCal. 

It’s a little overwhelming to say the least. It’s a loooong list of projects I need to finish, tasks that ought to be done, researches, meetings etc. Most of them are related to my final thesis project, which is due by the end of March. I am officially finishing my long university studies (two bachelors and one master) at Rome’s Fine Art Academy in Graphic Design & Photography. The project is very close to my heart as I told you, because I get to combine my passion for food & photography with my love for graphic & editorial design. Now I can finally reveal you what I’m working on. I’m creating a cookbook! A single, unique copy with my own recipes and photos (which have either already shown up on this blog or will soon). I think it would be a dream for a designer foodie to make their own cookbooks all from scratch. It also tickles that not-so-secret desire of getting published that lurks at the back of the brain of any food-blogger. So you get the picture. It’s a period of hard work and barely any rest.

Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon

That’s when I decide I want something more than my oaty breakfast routine. Something special, cozy and sweet. After all, my early breakfast is the only moment during the day that I can dedicate completely to myself. Enjoying the quiet, taking my time, listening to the cheep cheep that comes from the speakers, sipping my coffee and getting mentally ready for the long, busy day. I opt for a homey comfort food. Firni (or Fereny) is a porridge that my mom used to make me either on Friday mornings (weekend in Iran), or when I had a soar throat. It’s the closest thing that comes to Kheer, the famous Indian rice porridge. Actually similar porridges are common in many countries in the region, specially in central Asia. I even discovered it’s called by the same name in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 

Firni: aromatic, silky warmness in bowl

Now that mind is made up, with a lively sprint I search in the pantry and reach for the rice flour. Some cardamom pods, and the most significant ingredient, rose water. This combination of aromas would pour the essence of childhood into my bowl of porridge. Rose water is the smell of middle east captured in a bottle. You need to take it in little doses, like a powerful potion, or you’d kill the dish with too much aroma. Just the way too much potion would ruin the magic. A teaspoon is more than enough for two portions. 

Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Persian Kheer Recipe (Firni) | Budino Dolce di Riso (Kheer) alla Persiana | Lab Noon

I dissolve the rice flour in some water, heat up the milk with the cardamom pods and then mix them. I keep stirring, while looking outside the window, watching the first rays of sunshine rising from behind the buildings. I almost lose track of time, it’s like meditation. I know it’s ready when I feel the liquid has thickened. Then I sit against my hot Firni, white as marble, soft and smooth as silk, smelling like a garden of roses in Spring. I hold the bowl with both hands to warm them up. Each spoonful wraps my mouth in a gentle and warm velvet and I feel it’s milky path all the way from my throat to my belly.

The light is still grey and blue but now I’m fully awake, warmed up and fresh as the roses. Despite the chilly dark morning, I know Winter is over. The new season is at the gates. I smile and I think to myself… Buon giorno! Continue reading