Benvenuti !!!

 I’m Niv Zilli and I’m a lover of food! That love has made me very curious about food and over time that curiosity has grown into a serious fixation. What I have is certainly more than a crush as I’ve been in love with food since I can remember. I’m always thinking about food, experimenting with it, talking about it, reading about it, and now even writing about it. I’ll never forget the first time I attempted home made pizza. That evening Despair was an uninvited guest at our table and over stayed it’s welcome. Maybe you’ve had that experience, working towards a goal only for it to turn out badly? My goal was pizza. I did all the home work, talked to some friends in the know, followed all the “rules” and the end result was pitiful. I remember laying in bed. Staring at the ceiling.  My mind on overdrive. Tick tick tick tick……. I kept going over it in my head questioning where I went wrong, obsessing over  every detail. Towards the early hours of the morning as I was trailing off to sleep crushed from failure – a light bulb moment! Next morning I tried again. Success! That day we had pizza for breakfast and the only word to describe it – bellissima! My method is so simple, homemade pizza has become a staple in our home even though we don’t have a pizza oven and pizzerias in Italy are a dime a dozen. I’m always having days like that, experimenting with food until I’m happy enough to share it with somebody else. While I may not be able to say that every dish I share with you is going look like something out of the cover of a magazine, I can promise to improve the quality of food you serve at your table, making every day eating something to relish.

Here, I make cooking, baking and home-making a celebration!  For me it’s not just a contemporary statement to want to eat better to live better, I knew from before it became fashionable, that I love to cook good food and create things with my hands. If I’m  not in the kitchen feeding my huge appetite,  I’ll be in the “ugly room” feeding my soul. Most likely I’ll be messed with paint, hair disheveled, suffering from glue gun burns or smelling of iron vinegar looking  quite “ugly” myself. Between that, you can find me at vintage shops, markets, fairs and fests in support of the little man, or driving through the countryside in search of fruit, or wild herbs and foliage for my teapots, or else I’ll simply be sitting in the Piazza with my nose in a book and my fork in a bento box, close to the coolness of the big fountain. When I have more time I roam the Old Town, visiting century old artisanal butcheries, sweet shops, pastry shops, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells with my camera for companionship. I love the Old Town’s old world charm, it’s a maze of cobbled streets, ancient cathedrals, street musicians, side walk cafes and century old buildings. It’s a wonderful mix of culture there, one minute you’re in Italy then suddenly one turn into another cobbled path and you might think you’re strolling through a Souk in Morocco.  I’m always drawn to that part of the town whenever I’m there. From hand painted tagines and handmade lamps to exotic meats and spice blends, it’s all there.  It’s perfect for a food lover!

But coming back to Italy may I just impress that the Italians have their culinary culture down to an art but of course you already knew that. I feels satisfying to live in a country revered for its gorgeous appetite. Living here, I’ve learned so much and I’m always in the learning process. An average street in Italy has no less than three fruit and vegetable markets because people here are mad for fresh produce as they should be. I did a quick count of the number of markets found 500 metres from the street where I live and this is what I discovered. Six fruit and vegetable markets, (giant corporations not included), three pastry shops, two butcheries, one fishery, one wine, olive oil and cheese market, and one little shop dedicated to selling planted herbs. Bear in mind if you can that none of them have that boutique type ambience going on, because actually they’re not considered speciality shops, this is simply the norm. I think that’s the aspect I love most about this concept, the fact that this passion for quality food is considered normal. Its a constant food fest and everyone’s invited, even those with little money. It’s the very reason why Italian food has gained so much popularity. Every day eating and drinking in this little part of the world would be considered a celebration in most other countries, which saddens me because I think that every person should have access to ample markets that sell non GMO produce from meat to eggs to cheese to fruit and veg, as well good wine and good oil that doesn’t cost an arm and leg. The average bottle of extra virgin olive oil in Italy costs about 3 times more abroad (even when it’s not “made in Italy”) and only affordable to a privileged handful, while the Italians have olive oil running through their veins. It’s no wonder then that the average lifespan of  Italians , is about 83 years and many still walk to the markets, and I know this because I see them every day from my balcony. When I thought about starting this blog I wanted to teach people how to eat better and living here has granted me this opportunity. I love all the flavours of the world and I’m always experimenting with various food cultures in my dishes so of course this is not strictly an Italian food blog. But Italy is absolutely a food lover’s paradise putting me in the best place to be able to share its culinary lifestyle with you. Italian food has taught me simplicity, so we’re off to a good start.

As I started saying, I love to cook, mainly because I love to eat, but scathingly close to that obvious reason is the truth that I do love to entertain. When there’s friends, family and laughter around the table, all is well with the world, or so it seems.  My dream is to one day have a table big enough to be able to share my food with those who have nothing to eat. The best way I can describe how much I enjoy cooking at home is to liken it to the nourishing, natural goodness of cream found at the top of a farm fresh bottle of milk.  That anticipated moment of licking the spoon when enjoying the best of nature’s gifts is kind of how I feel when I cook and bake – sheer joy. Cooking, sharing and feeling the enjoyment that can come only from eating, is for me, one of life’s greatest rewards. Being South African with deep Indian roots, married to an Italian and exposed to a multi-cultural family I’ve come to realise that good food is always the true guest of honour in any celebration no matter the culture. We all love to eat and eat well and we shouldn’t have to only when we’ve made reservations or want to celebrate. We should all be able to eat delicious celebratory dishes inspired by tastes all over the world in the one place where we dine the most. Home!