I first spied Valeria Necchio through an insta-friend of an insta-friend (I can say that legitimately in 2016 now can’t I ?!) and her work (and her name – my mother is also a ‘Valeria’) immediately caught my eye. Pure, raw, emotional and vibrant – her food and lifestyle photography is instantly encapsulating, and her recipes – wholesome, seasonal and immensely comforting.
You can always find her procuring the most delightful local produce to cook with, her recipes influenced by her deep Venetian heritage and love for both traditional, yet timeless northern Italian fare.
In fact, beyond her recipe journal Life Love Food, Valeria will be sharing this love of Venetian food with the world through her upcoming debut recipe book Veneto, Recipes from an Italian Country Kitchen, filled with dishes largely inspired by the corner of Venetian inland that she is from, in amongst stories, anecdotes, glimpses of daily life (past and present) and portraits of people and places. A food memoir of sorts.
My heart already yearns to hold this book in my hands! I can hardly wait, but for now over to Valeria…
1. Tell us a little about yourself and how you spend your days?
After 5 years working full time in food and communications, I recently started my journey as a freelance food writer, photographer and recipe developer. My everyday routine has changed dramatically: working from home, and without a 9-6 job plus a 2-hour commute, I feel like I am now very much in charge of my own time. It’s a liberating feeling, but it can be also a bit intimidating (and lonely).
I am currently working on my first cookbook as well as freelancing for newspapers and working with brands on recipe development, so my days is centered around cooking, shopping and dishwashing. A classic day starts at around 7 pm. I’ll have coffee and breakfast first thing, then I check my phone for messages and reach for my planner and calendar to try and draft a to-do list. There might be some grocery shopping involved, which usually takes up a bit of my time as I don’t have a car. Once home, I am pretty much lost in a whirlwind of cooking, testing, styling, plating, setting up the photography set, snapping, editing photos and so on. I might take a break to share a snap from the day on Instagram, too. Lunch is generally some photography set leftover. In the afternoon, I try to do some writing either for my blog or for other collaborations, and catching up on emails and social media. Writing & admin usually takes up the rest of the day. I generally manage to wrap things up by 7-8pm and dedicate the rest of the evening to some physical activity, dinner with my husband, and a movie or some reading – articles I had bookmarked throughout the day or a few pages of a novel. I’m in bed by 11pm. I still try to take weekends off if I can.
2. What inspired you to start your food and photography journal Life Love Food?
I started Life Love Food in 2010 as soon as I received the news that I got admitted to the sought-after food studies program at the University of Gastronomic Sciences. I wanted the blog to reflect my daily life as a student of all things food and gastronomy, as well as share my culinary experiences, producers’ profiles and a bit of food & travel reportages. I was just starting out as a photographer back then and had a lot to learn still, but I perceived the blog as a journey in itself, and as a way to document my progress in both food writing and photography.
Admittedly, I made a lot of mistakes, my English was clumsy, and photos weren’t the most appealing, but I didn’t feel embarrassed. The blogging landscape was very different back then – there was far less pressure to be perfect. The blog evolved into a different beast when I finished the program and moved to London. It became the place where I wrote about how much I missed the food of my roots. I started to share more traditional Italian recipes, particularly from the region I am from, the Veneto. I continued to use it as a journal, documenting my daily living through words and images, talking about topics that felt very personal at times, but that I still felt comfortable putting out there. I never wished the blog to be dry or impersonal, a mere recipe blog; I wanted it to be the kind of space one visits knowing who’s the person behind it all. A digital, ongoing memoir of sorts.
I’m not sure where I’ll take it from here. I have just gone through a small facelift – it was time! – which makes me very happy. Content-wise, I have recently been sharing many travel guides. I’d love to explore this route more whilst keeping recipes at the core of the blog. I have a few other ideas I’m working on, including expanding it it to cover more topics and personal interests once I have completed the book and I’ll have more time to dedicate to it.
3. Who/what inspires your love of food and seasonal, provincial cooking?
If I’m not on a mission or if I’m not testing a specific recipe, I generally let the ingredients a and the seasons determine what I’ll cook on a given day: what looks good at the greengrocer, what I have at home that needs used, and what the weather’s like outside my kitchen window. It might sound trite, but being Italian, cooking simply and seasonally comes fairly instinctually for me – it’s the only way I’ve even known how to cook. Mum is a good cook but also, one who never liked spending hours at the stove. Our meals have often been thrifty and speedy, yet always homemade and flavoursome. I think I inherited a similar approach to daily cooking: I like uncomplicated things that I can stretch to cover multiple meals; and I like food that needs little tending, or little prepping. Minimum effort and maximum result is what I look for on most days. When ingredients are of good quality and at the peak of their season, there is generally very little one needs to do to put together a satisfying meal.
The interest in regional and traditional Italian recipes is, in a way, intrinsically bound to where I’m from, but it feeds on nostalgia, too, particularly when I’m away from home. On occasion, I like recreating traditional Venetian recipes, or trying out recipes from other regions I’ve seen in an old book and caught my interest. It doesn’t happen every day, though this is the type of recipes I share most often on the blog.
4. After living/working/studying abroad in many a European country (and now Australia) what ignites your travel bug? Where to next?
I have always loved traveling, but my feet became itchier than ever after finishing University. During my masters I was in a class of 25 people from all over the world, and hearing their stories and tasting their foods triggered a desire to explore the world. What happened, meanwhile, is that I fell i love with a very well-travelled and wanderlust-driven American. We travelled through America for three months, then got married in Venice and, before we knew it, we were living in London trying to lead an adult life – rent, bills, serious jobs and so on. We loved living in London, though we struggled to admit it sometimes; we just weren’t ready to settle yet, so when the opportunity to live in Sydney for a while came up, we packed up our stuff and showed up.
I’m loving Sydney – the beaches, the lifestyle, the people. I’ll be sad to leave in May, but my homeland has been calling me and I need to go. So that’s where I’m going next – the Veneto. We are still unsure of where it is exactly that we want to live, so this sort of nomadic lifestyle has worked out fine for now. Sure enough, I dream of having all my stuff in one place one day!
5. Is there a special recipe (that means more than just the ingredients) that you would be willing to share with us? What is the story behind it?
Since autumn is right upon us, I thought to share the recipe for a simple dish called risi e suca. It’s a humble dish of rice and pumpkin that is very traditional to the region I come from. The texture resembles a wet risotto, though it’s still considered a minestra (soup). Mum used to make it all the time. There was always a stash of pumpkin chunks in the freezer – Grandma loved growing pumpkins and always gave us a few to take home. So whenever mum didn’t know what to cook or was in a hurry, she boiled some pumpkin, blended it to make a stock of sorts, and then cooked rice in it. Dinner was on the table in no time and with very little effort. As for me, I loved the sweetness and comforting nature of this dish as a child, and I am still very fond of it to date.
The recipe is pretty straightforward, but as we any recipe calling for very few ingredients, quality is key. A sweet, slightly earthy pumpkin and a good variety or risotto rice are wort seeking out. Keep plenty of Parmesan on hand, too: its savoury/umami note will balance the overall sweetness of the dish and make it beautifully creamy, too.
Risi e suca
30 g butter
1 medium golden onion
800 g pumpkin, peeled and cut into small chunks
1.5 L hot vegetable stock
250 g risotto rice
1 ½ teaspoons fine grain sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated Parmesan, to taste
Fresh rosemary sprigs, for garnishing
Heat the butter in a large pot. Add onions and fry gently until soft and glistening, then add the chunks of pumpkin, lower the heat and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring every so often, until the pumpkin has become tender on the outside. At this point, pour in the hot stock and increase the heat to medium-high. Cook the pumpkin until it basically falls apart. Remove from the heat and blend until smooth.
Place back over medium heat and add the rice. Continue cooking until the rice has absorbed most of the pumpkin stock, at which point it should be tender but still fairly al dente. Add a bit of hot water if the soup thickens too much; the end result should be something between a soup and a wet risotto. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve with grated Parmesan and a bit of rosemary for freshness.