Hi Emiko! Tell us a little about yourself: I'm a cookbook author. I grew up in Canberra and Beijing, but have been based in Tuscany for the past 18 years.
How did your career in food start? It started as a little blog, back in late 2010 when I barely knew what a blog was. I just posted about the food and the recipes I discovered living in Florence and that grew to writing more about regional Italian cuisine for other publications too. I had a small stint reviewing for a restaurant guide too. In 2014 my publisher contacted me to ask me if I was interested in writing a cookbook!
Does anyone in your family cook? If so - what is your favourite thing they make? I am surrounded by good cooks, my Japanese mother is a fantastic cook and my husband Marco is too. One of the things I love when I go home is my mother's sukiyaki. It's a hot pot dish where you cook everything at the table together on a little portable gas stove. I love it as it's interactive and I actually get to talk to the cook as she's there at the table!
Must have pantry staple? Extra virgin olive oil! Living in Tuscany we are spoilt for choice and usually have about three or four options that we go through very quickly.
Favourite cooking tool? And why? Other than my Japanese vegetable knives (large, heavy and sharp ones that are great for chopping onions for example), I always need a microplane handy. Nothing does a better job for zesting lemons if you ask me, and I also use it for grating parmesan cheese, chocolate and even truffles.
Do you have a favourite cookbook? What’s the most cooked recipe from it? I don't have just one so this is a really hard question for me. I love old cookbooks and some of my favourites are Elizabeth David's Italian Food and Patience Gray's Honey from a Weed, which are so good as books to read as well as to cook from. A very well cooked recipe is one that Patience Gray describes when visiting some friends in Puglia in the middle of the tomato harvest – they make a 'double tomato sauce' where both freshly made passata and finely chopped, ripe, raw tomatoes with garlic are tossed through the pasta right at the table.
When you can’t be bothered to cook - but need to eat - what do you make? Usually toast or isobe mochi. The second one has been one of my favourite snacks since I was a child. It's a dried Japanese rice cake that you heat up on a pan until it gets browned and puffed, then you dip it in soy sauce and wrap it in nori seaweed. I like to add a slice of cheese in there too.
Friends have popped over unannounced - what’s on the menu? Probably pasta! Being an Italian family we always have a few different types of pasta in the pantry, so it's just a matter of picking out whatever is around to go with it – I usually have lemons and parmesan so a lemony pasta is a good one, but otherwise even aglio, olio, peperoncino (garlic, olive oil and chilli) is always a hit.
Favourite dessert: Ok this is like the favourite cookbook question. So many, it's impossible to name one but in the top 5 they would probably mostly be Japanese desserts that involve red bean paste. At the moment I am also really into custardy desserts like crème caramel and crema catalana (a crème brulee-ish dessert that is very popular in Tuscany).
It's the holiday season - what’s your favourite cocktail? I do love a spritz but I've become a bit tired of Aperol which can be so sweet, so I prefer it with a Venetian bitter called Select, which is a bit more on the bitter side, closer to Campari.
Best place in your city to eat? I do love a good old Tuscan trattoria and Collebrunacchi is a gem. As old school as you can get, complete with a fireplace roaring in the main dining room in the cooler months, laminated menus and the television always on.
Best food instagram accounts I follow… I love @cannellevanille and @turshen in general, @emcdowell for all kinds of baking inspiration, @chinasichuanfood when I get cravings for Chinese food (which is so hard to get where I live), @oliahercules and her husband @joe_woodhouse – to name a few!
Favourite music to cook with… Billie Holiday
I chose the Mercer shirt because… I love wearing shirts and am always on the lookout for a well made, but also interesting one, they're classic and practical for everyday wear but also look sharp.
I’ll be wearing it… all the time, I suspect!
Top 5 picks from Irving & Powell: Basically anything stripe and gingham!
Emiko's Torta di nocciole (Hazelnut cake)
This wonderful cake comes from the Langhe region of Piemonte in Northern Italy, a beautiful place, seemingly created just for food and wine lovers. I like to use raw hazelnuts that I pulverise in a food processor just before baking for a moister cake, rather than toasting the nuts or using pre-prepared hazelnut meal, which could result in a dryer crumb.
You could keep this nutty cake plain or try drizzling over a thin icing of made of 1 cup of icing sugar and a tablespoon of coffee - a sprinkling of chopped hazelnuts is nice too. It’s very nice served with a zabaione or custard, or perhaps just a dollop of thick cream.
250 grams raw, shelled hazelnuts
100 g plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
125 grams butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
125 grams sugar
4 eggs, separated
60 ml freshly brewed espresso coffee, cooled
125 ml full cream milk
Heat the oven to 180ºC and grease and line a round spring-form cake tin (approximately 23cm/9 in diameter).
Pulverise the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine or like the texture of sand. Place in a large bowl with the flour and baking powder.
Beat the butter and sugar together in another mixing bowl until creamy and pale. Separate the eggs into two large mixing bowls and whip the whites to firm stiff peaks. Add the yolks to the butter and sugar and mix.
Next, add the dry ingredients, then the (cooled) espresso and milk, and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined. Finally, fold in the egg whites.
Gently pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is springy and deep golden brown – a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean. Remove and leave to let cool completely before removing from the tin. This cake keeps well for up to 3 days.