June 18, 2009

Questa e amore!

I stopped by this 'fruttivendolo', a fruit and vegetable stand, outside of Napoli. I was provisioning a sail boat for an upcoming sail. The old man saw me there with a friend, who could have been my boyfriend. As I was paying for my goods, he picked up an onion and looked me deeply in he eye and said,'Questo e amore'. He told me he had been with his wife for over 40 years and he knew what love was. 'One has to peel all the layers back, while laughing and crying.' He was so tender, that I will never forget those words. Or why he said that to me in that moment.

What the Romans have always done

Sweep the floor in style.

June 17, 2009

Doing what the Roman's do

Graham Markeli, Bar della Pace, Rome, June 2008

June 16, 2009

Do as the Roman's do

'Imagine being 3000 years old. Suppose by some mysterious process you had managed to avoid the limitations of mortality, and year after year you kept going, adding more and more experiences to your life story until you have no choice but to repeat them because you have exhausted all possibilities.

You are the very essence of what it means to be human. You have had more than your share of victories and defeats, triumphs and tragedies, moments of glory and those of abjection, times when you wish you had never been born and times when you want to go on forever. You have loved and lost, have abandoned and been left behind, been rich and poor, skinny and fat, lived high on the hog and been forced to scramble for a few morsels of stale bread. you have seen it all, done it all, regretted it all, and then gone back and done it again.
you are 'La Citta Eterna' The Eternal City.
From 'As the Romans Do'. Alan Epstein

June 11, 2009

The black pearl of the Mediterranean

My favored legume this spring, has been the black lentil, lenticchie nere
from Sicily. I have been buying them from a small vendor of grains and legumes in Sant'Ambrogio market, here in Florence. They reminded me of the dark mini lentils grown in volcanic soil from the tiny island of Ustica.

An ancient island, it was first inhabited by the Phoenicians. It's older than the Aeolian islands and is actually the rocky top of a an undersea volcano. Ustica means dark rock~ therefore called the black pearl of the Mediterranean. Today it stands protected as a marine reserve.

I walked the 2 mile radius of the interior through fields of wildflowers. Typical of the Med, I came upon wild figs, wild capers, wild prickly pears, yet cultivated almond groves and bean fields. Islands are usually known more for their fish and this is surely the case here. I rode around in a 'gomone', (a raft with a motor) in the surrounding sea. I saw medusa's in a natural pool in the rocks that I almost jumped into. The water was inviting, crystal clear and fresh. Exactly what the jellyfish thought as well. Their presence means as much. Exhilarating would have been an understatement had I showed up a minute before. Here on the island, lentils are served with fish. Not a usual combination. Yet, from the point of view of local; what grows together, goes together.

Everything about this small, isolated island was rich and concentrated, worn by eons of wind, sun and saltwater. if you ask me, the real 'black pearl of the Mediterranean' is not the island itself, but it's native daughter, La lenticchia nera..

I am a great fan of the 'one dish meal'. Here is another version. I love these lentils as they take no time to cook. Soaking is unnecessary. They provide meaty nourishment and are known for aiding digestive healing. The bitterness of sauteed chickory
adds a juicy, yet earthy element that goes well with the beans. I have used an egg to accompany as it fits the composition of the dish, adds protein and color, not to mention a rich sauce. For the seafood version, I recommend a swift trip to the hinterland, just a two and half hour ferry ride from Palermo.

Lenticchie Nere con Cicoria e un Ouvo Bello Bollito

2 cups lentils
1 head of garlic, cooked whole in the broth
1 sprig of fresh sage
1 t of ground cumin
1 tiny dried red pepper
a drizzle of olive oil
salt to taste, once lentils are almost cooked

1 fresh chicory, (like a head of napa cabbage) cleaned and chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and chopped fine
salt to taste

4 eggs, soft boiled for 3 minutes

salt, pepper, to taste

Cook your lentils in plenty of fresh water. Bring to a boil, then down to a simmer. Choose a heavy bottomed pot or terracotta.
Add a whole garlic head, cleaned of any loose skin. The garlic slowly infuses the broth and flavors the beans. Add sage, pepperoncino, cumin, a drizzle of olive oil and simmer about 1/2 hour or so, until the beans are 90% cooked. Beans double in size, so check for liquid so the beans don't burn. Bean broth or 'pot liquor' is also delicious to keep if you choose to make a soup. Add salt- at least 1/4 t for each cup for digestion-then to one's taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then turn off heat.

Clean and chop chicory and saute in e.v. olive oil and one clove of chopped garlic. Add pinch of salt to flavor. Cook until
tender, but green color remains vibrant and not gray.

Put 4 whole eggs in the shell in a small pot covered with water. Bring to a boil. Set aside. let sit for 15 minutes.

Assemble on one plate:

A bed of Ustican black lentils
a scoop of chickory on top
a peeled soft boiled egg, cut in half and presented on top of the dish.

Add a fresh pinch of cumin, salt a dash of freshly cracked pepper
and ...a drizzle of ex..v..olive oil.

enjoy the taste of treasured ancient tastes!


Before the full-on arrival of summer, I want to speak of agretti. Agretti is a fabulous marsh grass that I look forward to seeing in the outdoor market of Sant'Ambrogio in Florence every spring. It's the only time it's succulent green fronds are seen. Slightly salty, it derives it's name botanically from 'Salsola soda', latin for Salsus, meaning salt, as it doesn't mind growing in seriously salty soil and is even irrigated with salt water. Funny then, it should be related to the tumbleweed. This vegetable is anything but dry and tumbling.

I am attracted to agretti, the same way I am sea vegetables, as if my bloodstream is standing on end saying, yes! Choose that one! Please, oh please! Dare we say liver cleanser as well? We can safely say, delicious. Carefully cleaned and stemmed, the agretti is dropped in lightly salted boiling water for roughly 5 minutes. The color shifts into that glistening green and the fronds soften like cooked spaghetti. Some people actually call it 'green spaghetti'. Personally, I like to shape it into a nest, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon, and put a poached egg on top sprinked with cumin and cracked black pepper. A crumble of Pierre Cusseau's 'Grande Sale' ( Brittany salt mixed with pepperoncino )and a new drizzle of e.v.o.oil, makes the dish. Or is it the fresh egg cooked to perfection that releases it's golden yolk into the nest like a soft yellow blanket?

June 8, 2009


I've just come back from two weeks on the splendid Mediterranean Sea, tan, and drunk, not on too much vino, but on the elements of water, wind and sea.

What better way to experience all the riches of the Amalfi coast? At a distance, in the comfort of our own boat (Hanse 540) in touch with the elements, harnessing wind power to move from point A (Amalfi) to C (Capri), in nature’s zigzag way.

Early morning's pink sunrise gives way to a quiet moment to reflect on the vast blue sea ..then it’s time to rock and roll! UP GO THE SAILS and all lazy sailors hit the deck with crazy hair and sleepy eyes. Then the day starts to shine! Not only with a luscious sun sparkling on the Mediterranean begging us to jump in, but to heed the call of fresh coffee and brioche having sailed into a perfect bay.

The Bay of Naples offers what I like to call, ‘SLOW Sailing’. The waters are calm
and the winds are gentle. We take our time getting from place to place. We won’t
be doing open sea airobatics, but we will be playing with the wind.

The Amalfi coast offers splendid views of terraced hilltops, cultivated in lemons,
mandarins and other fruits. Exquisite villages stand out on top displaying each a Dome of individual cupola design to be identified from sea. From the islands you see entire village houses painted in diverse shades of pastel, for the fishermen to look for their wives waiting for them at the window. All this detail, shape, color and life in general can be seen from our vantage point at sea. While the landlocked look out to the nothingness of the deep blue.

Eating on a boat is like being on a perpetual picnic. Circus tricks are helpful, as are lessons from the cat in the hat.( If we could only twirl plates and roll on a ball at the same time!) Moving on a boat while ‘under way’ is like this. Sure-footedness is necessary while carrying things around in ones hands, trying to keep ones balance- a mental exercise as well. Then there’s cooking on a gimbaled stove! (a contrivance, typically consisting of rings pivoted at right angles, for keeping an instrument such as a compass or chronometer horizontal in a moving vessel (a stove on a sailboat).

Pots and pans sway in place with the movement of the waves, held to the stove by a thin rail that keeps things from sliding off. Baking a whole fish is like rocking a baby in it's bed. The oven door is shut. The fish is snug, baking away to the rhythm of the sea! When slipped and docked in Port, the dinner is ready, the table is set and a new skill has been learned. Local food and wine never tasted so good.

This puts the adventure in the culinary.

A focus on wines from Compagnia, organic lemons from Amalfi, d.o.c. quality mozzerella di buffala from Paestum, rabbit from Ischia, pomodorini dolcissimi, wild aromatic herbs from the islands, anchovies, pizza! fish, fish, fish, frutti di mare, spaghetti alla vongole. Tagliatelle al limone, scamorza grilled between lemon leaves, and dolce; torta caprese (chocolate nut cake from Capri)etc.

Includes a few lessons on sailing and knot tying.

JUNE 11-18thTH, 18th- 25th 2011. VISIT THE ISLANDS OF PROCIDA, CAPRI, ISCHIA, and the