Life Love Food
Valeria grew up in the Venetian countryside, and grew up eating local seasonal food most of which was home grown. She has a Masters Degree in Food Culture and Communications, and her recipes on Life Love Food are simple, wholesome, and inspired by her Italian roots.
Currently living in London, she chooses healthier ingredients and enjoys eating a balanced diet that just so happens to be naturally plant-based, and the recipes on her blog reflect this.
I am so excited to have Valeria Necchio of Life Love Food here on the show today.
On the Food Culture in Italy When She Was Growing Up:
I was born in Venice, in the city, but really quickly, we moved in the countryside as my father found a job. He’s a teacher, so he found a job in a school in the Venetian countryside. And my grandmother happened to be there and my grandparents as well. They had a really, really beautiful vegetable garden, and that was definitely not an issue for that generation. Everybody was, to some extent – especially when living in the countryside – just growing their own food, mainly vegetables. Sometimes they would have some livestock.
So for me, that proximity to that vegetable garden, just the proximity to my grandparents, has had a really, really big influence in regards to my way of cooking and eating. And the way they were growing the vegetables, the way they were bringing the vegetables to the kitchen, how they were transforming that and creating meals out of those. Somehow, growing up, I absorbed this concept of seasonality.
Everything was really bountiful. I learned the skill of preserving from them, because they obviously embraced modernity, and indeed had refrigerators, freezers, and things like this. But still, that kind of culture of preserving was really strong. And coming from the past, it was just something that they’ve always done and they kept doing.
For example, lots of tomato preserves and really classic Italian tomato sauce. That was definitely the first food experience for me and what really had a big impact on my way of cooking and eating.
Now it’s definitely this cycle of seasons and respecting the natural growth of vegetables that are brought to the table, and are really so fresh because they have been grown in their right season. And also, this concept of trying to preserve it for the months to come simply because tomatoes, they were not available in the winter, but then they’re really not that tasty in the winter.
So try to enjoy what summer has brought to you in such abundance and just carry on with that. Definitely seasonality is a crucial point for me, and also the fact that we’ve been eating out of this vegetable garden for so long. It has brought so many cheerful meals to our family.
For me, eating mainly vegetables, having vegetables as the core of my meals is just a really natural way of eating. It comes really effortless for me.
On the Seasonality of Food:
That’s a really really important factor, the awaiting for the ripe strawberries, especially things like strawberries that you find available year-round and most of the time are so tasteless. And not only do you miss that feeling of saying, “Okay, it’s May, June, the strawberries are ripe, so great. You just go and pick them,” but also the fact that they really don’t taste very good at all. So yeah, it’s a double miss.
On How Food Culture in Italy Has Changed:
I think it has changed a lot. Not very many people grow their food anymore.
My generation doesn’t have access to their own vegetable garden. Maybe they still have relatives that do that, but more and more, that kind of skill has been lost.
And definitely, obviously, like modern life, everything is much faster.
There is the culture of the supermarket everywhere, a lot of convenient food. People still tend to have some sort of basic knowledge about food. Somehow Italians, because of osmosis or I don’t know what, they absorb some sort of skill that helps them navigate the kitchen, the food world, and try to prepare some decent meals for themselves.
At the same time, not very many people do tomato sauce from scratch anymore. You just open the bottle and just pour it on your pasta and that’s how it goes.
On When She Realized that Food is Her Passion:
I think it happened when I left home to go and study at my university and I started to cook for myself mostly. Because before, really, I was fed rather than cook, so really lucky.
I started to experiment in the kitchen more and more, and share meals with people that were not my family, so my roommates, friends, really different types of mechanisms that go beyond the classic family meal.
For me, it started to become quite interesting to see the different dynamics that happen around the table and how food really brings people together. There were people from different nationalities at that point. So anything can trigger a conversation about food memories or traditions from other countries.
I had really started to become quite passionate about how food can play a different role, yet a really, really crucial one in all different cultures, and so I wanted to dig deeper for sure.
On a Simple Dish that is Very Traditional Italian:
Risotto is, again, a really obvious answer, but it might sound very intimidating to most because they say, “Oh, it’s so complicated. I don’t know how to make it as an Italian makes it.” But in reality, you just need to nail the basic steps and then it really comes together very easily.
Starting from the onion fried in oil. Then you toast the rice and add in the wine. And then you put your ingredients, then you keep cooking it really slowly. You keep stirring it until it comes together into a smooth cream, but the rice is not mushy. And the risotto is not too solid. It needs to be really running still. That’s it.
On Food Culture in London, UK Versus Italy:
London is a really, really exciting place for food in general. In terms of the food scene, it’s extremely diverse, so it’s really hard to categorize it. But in terms of daily cooking and daily living, I think families rely a lot more than Italians on convenience and just prepared dishes.
I also think that there’s generally less of a knowledge about basic cooking skills. You just notice it from the type of offering that you find in supermarkets in general.
Other big difference is I noticed, as soon as I came here, that most of the fruit and vegetables that you buy at supermarkets is all prepackaged, which is really strange because in Italy, even supermarkets, you just pick up your lettuce or your carrots and it’s all loose. And then I think also in terms of seasonality, there is not a lot of culture related to that. And it’s just a different way of conceiving a meal.
For Italians, vegetables are very much part of a dish, whereas here, for example, vegetables are conceived as a side. You have the protein, and then it’s like a “meat and three veg” type of culture most of the time. This a huge generalization, of course. But just in terms of feeling of how meals are constructed, I think it is pretty much how it works.
On a Food She Was Introduced to in London that She Now Cannot Live Without:
It’s definitely brassicas. We don’t use them very much in Italy just because they grow better in colder climates.
Going to the markets and finding this huge variety of brassicas, for me has been really eye-opening. You can find various types of kales, a lot of different cabbages, little sprouts and all these brassic-y things that make at least the winter a bit more colorful. It’s just not potatoes and beetroots, so there is at least something else.
It’s quite nice and I really grew fond of them besides kale, obviously, which is the big thing. But also other things, as I said, like savoy cabbage, just really, really nice ingredients to cook with and quite versatile.
On Her Blog:
I started the blog in 2010 in spring time, so it’s almost five years. It was just after I knew that I was accepted for this Masters in Food Culture.
I wanted to start sharing recipes from my family, or just recipes that I really enjoyed from Venice, from the region, as well as my experience throughout the Masters of just moving to a different town, living this experience, one year with this really international group of students and the trips that I was doing. And so it just all went from there.
After the end of the Masters, I just realized that I really enjoyed doing it and I just wanted to keep doing it. And so I just kept going.
It has been good thus far. But now it’s just hard to find the time, because London is quite busy too. It’s something that there’s no way I’m going to give up. I just cut some corners and find some time for it.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
Here in the UK, I don’t have a TV, so I don’t really watch very many shows anymore.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
One blog I always always read is written by an amazing lady and friend – Emiko Davies.
And probably one called Hortus Cuisine, for the really, really lovely photography and also because she portrays the Italian countryside in a really romantic way, which is always nice to see.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
On Pinterest, I follow Local Milk. She is quite an inspiration for things like interiors and things. And I think her eye is really interesting. I don’t know if she makes me happy, but she makes me inspired.
On Twitter, that makes me happy, Bruce Bourdain is quite interesting, and also whoever has created the account for Queen Elizabeth is quite hilarious as well.
And on Facebook, there’s an Italian satire website called Spinoza, who has always quite a sharp pen in regards to news and things. It’s quite fun.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Unusual, I have a really old mill that you use to mash basically anything, mash boiled vegetables and potatoes. Or you can mash grapes and make a grape pudding. I have that.
And then the most treasured, I treasure my food processor quite a lot. It helps save my arm and it just does the meringue better than I could ever do myself.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Cilantro. Italians really don’t have a palate for cilantro. It’s not an ingredient that we ever, ever use or you’ll ever find in an Italian kitchen.
The first time that I was invited to dinner by my Thai friend back during Masters times, I thought everything was tasting quite soapy. But then, I definitely developed a palate for it. So much so that now I really enjoy salads that are basically made just of cilantro and something else.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Jane Grigson’s, The Vegetable Book. It’s a bible and it’s absolutely fantastic for tips on how to choose vegetables, how to clean them, and just simple ways to prepare them.
I have been using Heidi Swanson’s book quite a lot, the blogger behind 101 Cookbooks. Her book, Super Natural Everyday, is just something that we pull out very, very often for a quick week night meal or just simply inspiration.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
Lately, I’ve been listening to The National quite a lot. I know they’re quite obscure, but I really like them. They have a good mixture of relaxing and cheerful that gives it a good rhythm in the kitchen.
Keep Posted with Valeria:
Definitely Instagram. It’s where I share things that I cook that I don’t have the time to blog about, and where definitely I spend most of my time when it comes to social media. Because it’s really visual and it’s just really fun. So Instagram, @valerianecchio.