Immigrant Food Stories: A Persian Quince Stew, A Supper Club & A Cookbook from When It Rained Bombs

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11 Quince Stew – Other photos from my last trip to Iran in August ’15

Immigrant Food Stories, a Feast of Togetherness for Dark Days

It was a rainy Saturday night early in November. There was the smell of cardamom and butter in the air. Windows were condensated after hours of boiling rice and stewing meat. The speakers of Alice’s record player were connected to my phone, that played songs of which only I could understand the words. Others were distracted from the melodic tunes by the food and the conversation. Around a long table topped with pale rose, red Autumn leaves, quinces and pomegranates, there was a cheerful group of eight people who were chatting the cold, rainy night away. With a glass of Syrah in our hand, we were feasting on the colorful and aromatic dishes, in a company that was just as vibrant and stimulating.

We were from Iran, Italy, The US and Sweden, with some German background. The food was Persian, fragrant and seasonal. This was the Persian Autumn Dinner that I hosted at Latteria Studio, as a trial for my supper club. It was only a couple of days before the US election. And I could’ve never imagined that 3 months later when I finally wrote a recap of that evening, we would be standing where we stand now.

This post is a part of the Immigrant Food Stories; the contribute many fellow food bloggers are making against hate and fear of the other, particularly to Trump’s dumb and cruel muslim ban (that thanks to a healthy judiciary system, has been halted). I am touched by these people’s stories, and willingness to narrate how we are all similar at the end of the day. Make sure to check out the links below and to look for #ImmigrantFoodStories on instagram, twitter and facebook, and please share your own immigrant food stories too!

If you have followed Lab Noon for a while, you’d know that this whole blog is a long, ongoing immigrant food story. It’s the tale of my Iranian culinary heritage combined with what I learn everyday from the spectacular food culture of Italy, where I immigrated a decade ago. What you might not know is another food story; the food stories of wars, the food stories of sanctions, the food stories of shortage, instead of abundance.

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Bombs, Coupons and a Cookbook from “Rosa

I was born in 1985, right in the middle of eight years of Iran-Iraq war. I still remember as if it was just yesterday when the bombing siren went off, and what I now associate as the most horrifying voice in the world, announced the beginning of the bombing and the minutes we had in order to run to shelters. As terrifying as the siren was, the running and hiding seemed like a big, collective game to us children. A game that our parents were often too concerned and worn out to play with us.

Food and other essentials were rationed during the war in Iran. A grocery coupon system was applied so that all families could have to them, without having to obtain their food and other goods from the black market (which was also very active). The aisles in the super markets were often half empty, and the queues in front of shops that sold with coupons were very long.

I had long forgotten about the grocery coupons and the long queues until some weeks ago, when I received a small, but heavy parcel from my mom. It was the two huge volumes of “The Art of Cooking” by Ms. Rosa Montazami, the bible of cooking in Iran. The book is a vast collection of Iranian and international savory and sweet recipes, so important that for decades it has been gifted to young brides to help them cook well in their new home. Continue reading

A Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake with Pistachios & Goat Cheese for Virtual Pumpkin Party

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh

Announcement: I am hosting a Persian Autumn dinner in Rome, Trastevere on November 5th to kick start my supper club. Tickets are on sale and they’re selling fast. Get yours if you’re in town. 

The Virtual Family Gathering

When Aimee contacted me a while ago to take part in the huge food blogger round up for a virtual pumpkin party, automatically my mind started searching for something Persian and sweet. But then I remembered I had already posted my favorite Persian pumpkin dessert last year. So after giving it some thought, I knew I was going for an Italian recipe for this orange marvel of Autumn. A savory one. 

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-1

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A hearty pasta bake, I thought. (believe it or not, this is my first pasta recipe on the blog!) A baked pasta dish is the heart of an Italian table at Sunday’s lunch. Just think lasagna, cannelloni or other pasta bakes. It’s often cooked by a granny, or a collaboration of aunts. It should be bubbling hot and cheesy, yet with crunchy and crispy at the edges of the pan, just instant before being burnt. That’s what your guest will fight to get, the angles of baked pasta, kinda of like our Persian tahdig (the crust at the bottom of a rice pot).

Try to picture this big family reunion on a Sunday; where you hear that distant hums of everyone chatting in the kitchen while preparing, when you’re chilling on a couch. It’s a crisp, cool day in October, a large number people sit at one enormous table, break bread, chat and share their stories over a meal. 

This round up is a kinda like those Sunday family lunches; we’re in one hundred and eleven! ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN pumpkin recipes, from different places, and different people. You can find the complete list of all the fellow bloggers with a link to their post after my recipe.

Before I let you sit back and enjoy all these beautiful posts, I should thank Sara and Aimiee for “hosting” this party and all the organization. It’s a tough job, we know, and we’re very grateful of all this shared bounty. <3

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11
Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-13

Tips for The Pumpkin Pasta Bake with a Persian Touch

This pasta bake is extremely simple, and unlike the typical Italian pasta al forno, is not too heavy/oily/cheesy. I have used only parmesan and aged goat cheese. By all means do add besciamella when layering the pasta if you feel like it. I found the saffron pumpkin sauce sufficiently creamy and wet to embrace all the pasta.

The reason I used aged goat cheese is that the pumpkin sauce (since quite simple), is very sweet, so the full and strong flavor of aged goat cheese is crucial to create a balance between the sweetness and tartness of this dish.

I have used whole grain conchiglie (sea shell) pasta, and I suggest you use a short pasta that can absorb all the sauce. Fusilli e penne can also work well. Use whole grain pasta to get more nutritional goodness and fiber. (Also, refined carbs don’t like me much.)

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-5

For this recipe, I cut the pumpkin (I used kabocha squash) in small pieces for roasting the oven, because I wanted to increase the surface of caramelization on the pumpkin, gives a depth to the flavor. But you can just roast the pumpkin  and scoop out the flesh for making the sauce, although in my opinion it will be too sweet this way. The skin is edible and delicious too! Don’t waste it. I also put two mandarines (cut in half) for roasting the pumpkin in the oven, merely for good (holidayish) smell.  Continue reading

Conclusions, New Beginnings and A Review of ‘Sirocco’ by Sabrina Ghayour + Two Recipes

Sirocco Cookbook Review by Sabrina Ghayour | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-9

Important Pre-Post Notes:

1. Only one day is left for nominating your favorite food blogs in Saveur Blog Awards. Last year, thanks to your incredible support Lab Noon was a finalist in Best Special Interest category, which brought so much blessing and good stuff to my professional work. If you enjoy my stuff, please keep supporting me by nominating for this award again (this is a huge deal in the food blogging world). It’ll take just a few seconds. Just go here anche choose a category (‘Eat the World’ maybe?) and sign. Thank you so much!

 

2. Next weekend I’ll be attending a dream cooking, photography and styling retreat taught by Hortus‘s Valentina, The Freaky Table‘s Zaira and Le Jus d’Orange‘s Betty, which will be held in Gradara, in northern east coast of Italy, at Valentina’s country house/garden. Make sure to follow us all on social media (including Snapchat, to which I have unskilledly given up, it’s saghar.labnoon) and sign up for coming workshops. Valentina is doing an online version too!

 

3. The photos of this post have been shot in Latteria Studio in Rome; a truly wonderful studio dedicated to Food photography and styling in the heart of Trastevere neighborhood, with wonderful events, suppers and workshops, run by the lovely Alice Adams. 


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I. Digesting the Change and Making New Plans as a Grown-up

Two years ago I wrote a post here that perfectly described the Italian July, how the working years ends, people’s obsession with vacations, and thinking about starting things anew from next September. I had just opened this blog (Wow! Two years man!), and my life couldn’t have been possibly more different from what it is now. Both my work life and my love life has been dramatically changed since those days, which together with other factors, have brought me to feel fully like a grown-up, as I had never felt before. 

As you might’ve noticed, those significant changes have slowed down my rhythm of blogging, sometimes to the point of pure neglect. I have yet to learn to balance office life and the rest of my time. As of professional food activities, I have done some great photo shoots for a couple of recipe books, and food photography and styling, along with editorial design has taken a greater share than recipe creating as of late.

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I must confess my cooking time has been reduced to the least. On Sundays, I try to cook big batches of grains, veggies and greens and mix and match them to create fresh salads (such as the ones you see in these photos, which will take us to the recipes!). Now that Summer is at its peak, I often eat fresh fruit and cheese from the colorful, daily market right outside the office. 

I have new plans for the new work year, starting right from this August. A month after the food photography workshop with Valentina and other girls (see the notes above!) I’ll go the rustic home of a friend of mine in Apulia, in southern Italy, where we cook and shoot many dishes, and already I’m folding out for new collaborations in the month of September. So stay tuned!

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II. The Colorful, Flavor-Packed Wind from the East; ‘Sirocco’, Sabrina Ghayour’s New Book

If you are interested in the global food scene, specially the one regarding Middle Eastern and world food, you can’t possibly not have heard Persiana, Ghayour’s first cookbook, unless you’ve been living in a cave in the past three years. With Persiana, Sabrina managed to demystify the cuisine of the Middle Eastern regions. Many of the recipes were classic Persians with a tiny twist. The magic of Persiana indeed was in simplifying the dishes that normally seem super complicated to people and making a different kind of cooking accessible to everyone. Continue reading