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. 

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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

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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.)

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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

A Simple Persian Pumpkin Dessert, Fading Borders & The Travel to Iran

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I. On Home & Borders

I always have contrasting feelings whenever I travel to Iran. When I am about to leave, when I just get there, in the middle of the trip and by the time I am back in Rome I always experience very intense, and diverse emotions. No matter how many years have past since I left my country —eight, to be precise— each time, I fail at the vain attempt of keeping a sort of neutrality.  It’s that very simple word, with its captivating sound, that causes all the confusion. Home. The more time passes, the more I am convinced that I can no longer attribuite that word to one physical place, but more to a sensation, as it also said here long ago.  #BeautifulIran Visit Iran Pt.1 | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-57

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I firmly believe that our times will be later named as the era where borders began to disappear. Those borders, are more than the imaginary lines between territories that decide who can get to a certain fortune/misery and who can’t. The borders between our cultures, our lives, our food, are fading away. And I am one hundred percent for it. 

Whenever people hear about my cooking stories and the supper club (more on that soon!), usually they first thing they ask is “Do you cook Iranian food, or Italian food?“. My answer to that question is always none. As an Iranian who has lived in Italy for more than eight years now, I can never say the food I cook a hundred percent Italian or Iranian. I have been contaminated —in the best way possible— by the culture of totally different country, that happens to have one of the best cuisine of the world, I have inherited an incredibly sophisticated and refined culinary tradition; and in between, I have tasted the world! I have met a lot of people from different countries. “Who cares what your passport say, or even if you’ve got one. Let’s eat!“. Show me what you got, I wanna try it all.

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We are not all that different after all. Not just food wise (you might find it surprising how some Italian and Iranian dishes are similar, like I said here), we human beings, at the end of the day like and dislike the same things. No matter where we come from, what spices we use more in our food, and who we worship, we like to be happy and safe. We hate to know that our family is danger. We all aspire to live a better life. We want to put some pieces together to make prospect. Some of us, like me, are much luckier than others. I wanted to attend a conference for food bloggers in London. I wanted to learn more, to make this blog —therefore my business, my life— better. But because of those imaginary lines, borders, I couldn’t. Despite the time, money and energy I had put in it to make it happen.

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Those who don’t have the our privilege of living in safety and peace, spend much more of time, energy and money, to try to aspire to live better. They risk their lives, just for having a mere chance at that. Can —and should— those imaginary lines really determine who can, and who can’t get a chance to aspire for a better life?

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II. Seasons Change, Everlastingly. So Bring a Pumpkin Dessert.

Nature is the best example when it comes to show how really similar we all are, in spite of our names and documents. All human beings celebrate the change of seasons and natural changes of the nature. We might’ve interpret it in different ways through history due to our different geography and history, but we are all talking about the same fact.

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By now that October is already here, we all have tuned into Fall. Shorter days and cooler breeze. The comeback of the blankets on sofas and soups on the stove tops. The return of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and cacao. It’s time for the last harvest of the year and to get ready for the cold season. Dry fruit is more popular. Walnuts and hazlenuts. And of course, the glorious, orange presence of pumpkins, butternuts and kabochas. All types.

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In ancient Iran, at these times of the year, they celebrated Mehregan. It’s a festivity of harvest, they say. They brought red fruit and many legumes. They celebrated all together.  It was exactly last year at this time when I had the honor of joining of other Persian food bloggers for a recipe round-up. Last year, I shared the recipe for a perfect matrimony between Persian and Italian cooking, —Lentil Risotto. This year, I am sharing a recipe so simple it could be from anywhere. At the bottom of this post you can find the links to all the other Persian food blogs sharing seasonal recipes for the occasion of Mehregan. Remember to check them out! My mom used to make this simple Persian pumpkin dessert during school days, —because it’s so simple and healthy that it doesn’t count as a treat. (and I absolutely hated it! That’s because back at my school days I hated pretty much every vegetable.) Continue reading