Some things can’t be homogenised, commercialised, mass produced or copied. Thank goodness. You have to wait until they come around again, like the seasons of the year. A lot of things in Italy are like that. Some see that as an archaic attitude to life, lacking rationale (economic in particular), and a wasted opportunity. But not all experiences can be bought or made, sometimes they are just to have. And its in the having and savoring, without a desire to do anything else with them, that Italians excel; and why their lifestyle and culture is so envied and, ironically, copied………
Its exactly eight years since I last tasted the tart little tarts, filled with fruit from the orchards and fields that surround them deep in the heart of the countryside south of Rome. The paddocks are lined with glasshouses that supply the city with its peaches, figs, tomatoes, and berries. Buffalo cows that produce the milk for mozzarella meander the streams that flow down from the rocky mounts behind them. into the sea just in front of them. We search for the small, nondescript little cafe that we always stop at, about half way into our journey from the city to the sea and yes, it is still there!
And so are the tarts……… I choose blackberry and as I bite into it thank goodness that some things stay the same, that some things are a genuine expression of their local resources and culture. I thank goodness that the owner of the bar still serves these tarts, as she watches me. No doubt wondering why a foreigner, who has probably lived all over the world (I have), would bother to look so happy and satisfied at a roadside stop somewhere between Rome and Naples. But I have come literally half way around the world and waited eight years for these little dense, well built, rounds of fruit.
We continue on our way to Sperlonga, a beautiful white stone, seaside town built on top of a cliff. Its staircase, which begins at the sea, twists and turns up the mountain through caves designed to be blocked off so that invaders (including a pirate called Red Beard – really!) couldn’t reach it. The water at Sperlonga is a particularly high quality due to the underground springs of fresh mineral water that bubble up through the seabed, in bursts of freezing cold water, in the otherwise 22 degree, translucent blue, undulating body of sea.
At the bottom of the cliff the large stone, knee height pool that fills with natural spring water is still there, built for the women of the village to do their washing in and take advantage of the clean, cold water. Italy bursts with fresh, cold drinking water from the ground for its citizens. Where ever you are it seems the earth sprouts forth the enticing and the necessary to enable and cherish life and encourage it to stay (or return) right here at its source, enjoying and relaxing in its abundance. Maybe that is why the residents are so thankful to their local Saint, who presides in a full life sized statue over the beach.
It is hot and sunny, the perfect day for our first swim of the year/season. We have our lunch in the shade of the Saint, giving thanks and celebrating our first swim with local buffalo mozzarella, local tomatoes and a zucchini and ricotta strudel from this months La Cucina Italiana cooking magazine, http://www.lacucinaitaliana.it
When I first arrived in Italy, I was fresh from back packing around the Greek islands. I wasn’t carrying any cook books in my backpack. The internet didn’t exist and cookbooks in English were rare. I knew how to cook but not how to use Italian ingredients (I had no idea what to do with an artichoke and some months it is THE main vegetable on offer), or cook Italian food (and many of the ingredients I was used to were unavailable – pumpkin, ginger, coriander, self raising flour). I was especially not used to only using seasonal produce. I was so stunned the first time I asked for strawberries and everyone in the shop laughed at me. So I needed to learn how to cook in Italy and I needed to learn Italian. In the days before the internet, La Cucina Italiana monthly magazine did both. I learnt all the Italian words for food and cooking terms, including local expressions like ‘a string of oil and 2 fingers of milk’, as units of measurement. It helped that there were a lot of pictures, step by step guides and special features each month on what to do with the in season vegetables and fruit, as often you couldn’t get much else.
“Do you have anything besides zucchini?” I once asked my fruit and vegetable seller.
“What do you mean? We have dark green zucchini, light green zucchini, baby zucchini, zucchini flowers, why do you need anything else?”
So in zucchini season its helpful to have a few recipes for zucchini. I have translated it so you don’t have to learn Italian as well. See below for recipe. Serves about 9.
- Slice up finely and length ways (called a listerelle) about 6 zucchini (not the baby ones) with a bunch of spring onions and fry them for about 10 minutes in some italian extra virgin olive oil (its really important to use this oil and not another type), with salt, pepper and sage, oregano or bay leaf.
- Mix together 300g ricotta cheese with 200g of fetta cheese, some salt, pepper and a small dash of italian extra virgin olive oil.
- Mix the cooled, cooked vegetables in with the cheese and spread it on a sheet of flaky pastry. Put another sheet on top of it and close the edges so it is as rectangular as possible. Make some slits on the top of it and brush it with egg yolk. Bake it for 20 minutes at 180
Contact me for one of my private tours in the Tour page on this website or my Facebook page – Roman Daze
Read more in: ‘Roman Daze – La Dolce Vita for all Seasons’, Melbourne Books, 2013
Available at all bookstores nationally within Australia, FAO Bookstore Rome, and via Amazon, Kobo and ibooks.
Click here for a free download of the Prologue and first chapter.
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