Cook this: Nonna Gemma’s buttery, salty French toast

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I miss my grandmother. It still feels weird to talk about her in the past tense, that she doesn’t “exist” anymore. I don’t like writing that she “was” a big part of my life; she still is. She helped raise me. She taught me to knit and hand stitch in her sewing room. She taught me to pick out good produce at the market, and cook it like a pro. She made outfit after outfit for me, including the veil I wore on my wedding day. She gave me crap for my ripped jeans, asking if they needed mending, and telling me I looked ridiculous. She always started phone conversations by asking if I’d eaten (no, it’s not some Italian joke, she legit asked every time), and how Marley, my dog, was going. After she’d told me off for not answering my phone earlier in the day (sorry Nonna, I’ve been at work. “Why?!” was her response, most of the time – I could never tell if she was serious or not).

Anyway, I married a teacher, so I observe the comings and goings of the school terms. With the mention of the school term about to end, a memory filled my head and took over for a second, like one of those crazy movie flashbacks… I was a primary school aged kid again, at Nonna’s house. I’d usually stay at her house a few nights every school holidays, so we could just hang out together and do stuff that mum wouldn’t let me do. I was sitting at the bench in the kitchen, on the wooden stool you can see in the picture below, where we had breakfast together, watching her cook French toast for us. And I felt my soul crack a little. It’s cracking again right now, as I type this.

Nonna would work SO intently at her little stove top, making sure our breakfast was just right. Everything had to be perfect for her grand children, especially the food. Our favourite breakfast was French toast, made with thick, fresh Italian bread, cooked in an absolutely ludicrous amount of butter, with more than a sprinkle of salt. It was always perfectly crispy and golden without ever burning. She was a master, really.

Yes, it’s indulgent, and no, it’s not going to benefit your health to eat this regularly. But sometimes when your soul is crying out for a hug, comfort food is where it’s at. Here’s my best attempt to re-create Nonna’s French toast.

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It was pretty simple – a few eggs and milk whisked together, dip the bread in (I went a la Nonna and used a loaf of Italian bread, bought from the Preston market, sliced myself with the crusts removed) and fry up on a non-stick pan containing a small ocean of butter. And yes, I added some fruit to try to justify all of the butter and carbs. If you need a pick me up too this weekend, whip yourself up a plate of this buttery deliciousness this weekend – trust Nonna Gemma, it’ll make you happy!

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Cook this: Easy buttermilk pancakes

Photograph © Jess Carey 2014

These pancakes are literally easy enough to roll out of bed at 6:30am, have a shower, do your hair, put on a bit of make up, get dressed for work, and still have them on the table by 7:00am. This is by no means the “perfect” pancake, but it’s quick and easy, super delicious, and very versatile. It’s also a bit more exciting than cereal and toast, because some mornings, you need a bit of convincing to get out of bed. Breakfast win.

Here’s what you’ll need for two decent pancake stacks (this mixture made 8 pancakes):
– 1⅓ cups self raising flour
– ¼ cup castor sugar
– 40g butter, melted
– 1 large egg
– 1½ cups buttermilk
– 2 tbsp. water
– 2 tsp vanilla extract
– butter or spray oil for cooking

 

1. Sift the flour into a large bowl and add in the sugar.

2. Use a wooden spoon (controversial, I know, wooden spoon instead of whisk!) to then mix in the butter, egg, milk, water and vanilla until everything is well and truly combined and smooth. At this stage, feel free to add in anything else that tickles your fancy – orange or lemon zest, shredded coconut, blueberries, a swirl of Nutella, anything goes!

3. Heat a non-stick fry pan over medium heat (I really need to stress here that medium heat is essential. I got a little excited and cranked the heat up to high for the first batch of pancakes, and they came off crisp and burnt. Luckily, husband actually quite likes a burnt pancake, but lesson learnt – you can’t rush pancake perfection!), and use either cooking spray oil or a little butter to coat the pan before dropping your pancake batter on. I used ⅓ measuring cups to measure out the mixture and they made nicely sized pancakes, but if you want miniatures or pancakes the size of dinner plates or anything in between, go nuts!

4. Let them cook on one side until you can start to see the bubbles forming in the batter – check they’re browned (but not burnt), then flip them over and let them cook for another minute or two on the other side.

5. To serve them up, I stacked mine and topped them with coconut yoghurt and diced plums, but this is where the fun starts and you can just go crazy on these guys and top them with whatever the hell you want!