Featured

Etruscan Cerveteri

La vista della campagna a Cerveteri – A view of the countryside

Happy Summer tutti. June 21st was the official start of the summer. The second homes which were left empty during the winter months by occupants that live in Civitavecchia, which is just as hot as Rome, are now being occupied for the summer. By the end of May, spring cleaning, painting and planting of flower pots signified the start of a new season. The temperatures are now rising across Italy and from one day to the next it has become a hot mixture of humid and rainy afternoons. The scirocco which are hot sandy winds that blow in from the Sahara have come early and once again the mountains have become a haven as it is much cooler at our elevated heights than Rome. There is no such thing as air conditioning, so now unless I leave the house before 7 am and retreat back inside at 12, it is far to hot to be outside until around 7pm when there is a cool breeze flowing up from the coast.

Luckily in May we took several day trips while the weather was still at its cool best. From Monti della Tolfa, it is possible to visit small towns, many of which are abandoned or not quite vibrant but very rich in history. The region of Lazio is definitely more than Rome. Northern Lazio was once the home of the Etruscan culture, a people that came long before the Romans. They occupied all of middle of Italy and dominated from about 800 BC when the first city states of Cerveteri, Tarquinia, Vulci (all in Lazio) were formed. In it’s hey day there were 12 great city states that were rich and powerful. The Tolfa area belonged to Cerveteri.

The Etruscans flourished until the early Roman days and to the 6th century BC. Then they vanished. It was not until the 19th century when excavations of the necropoli (grave-cities) began that they once again became known. Sadly, prior to my first trip to Italy, I have to admit that I had never heard of the Etruscan culture – all I ever heard or learnt about were the ancient Romans! Now living in the midst of of what was once Etruria, I have grown fascinated as I learn more.

I have a thing with travel writers from the 19th and 20th centuries. It was a time when it was fashionable to come to Italy either to get away from dreary English or German weather to the sunshine, for culture appropriation or to simply find one self- maybe much like today. D.H. Lawrence is one of them. Lawrence said that “when he first became conscious of Etruscan things at a museum in Perugia he was instinctively attracted to them”. It was the same for me when I first went to Tarquinia many year ago. Lawrence’s book “Etruscan Places” has now become my guide to finding the Etruscans in this region and it is fascinating to compare his trip of 1927 to mine of 2021. I think he was a bit disdainful of the Romans of which He said “Romans in their usual neighbourly fashion wiped them out in order to make room for Rome with a big “R”. It seemed that the puritan Romans did not approve of the more liberal Etruscans.

“Because we know nothing about the Etruscans except what we can find in the tombs”, so off to the tombs we go! Our first city to visit is Cerveteri which from Tolfa is a 40 minutes drive. Cerveteri was the most important seapower being on the coast. There in Cerveteri is the “Banditaccia” necropolis, a precious testimony of the Etruscan passage in this territory. Its necropolis, together with that of nearby Tarquinia, was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

The land of the Etruscans

“-so that the Etruscan cities vanished as completely as flowers, only the tombs, the bulbs, were underground”

D.H. Lawrence in “Etruscan Places”

It’s a beautiful sunny May day, much cooler than we expected but the best day for a trip outdoors. Located a few kilometers (about 6) from the Tyrrhenian coast and if you are coming from Rome it is about 40 kilometers north traveling through the Roman countryside to the sea. The meadows are spring green with pockets of yellow buttercups and vermillion red poppies grow carelessly along the roadside. From the coast we passed the pink and creamsicle orange buildings of the town of Cerveteri to the grey tombs outside the town were it was tradition and still is, until this day to bury the dead. We drove through a 2 – lane flat road which was unpaved and white in Lawrence’s day and under a row of trees lining the lane, which he described as “a noble avenue of umbrella pines”. We turned into a vast parking lot being guarded by a family of calico and brown cats. Besides the road a small field of lavender and deep purple thistle plants known as cardo in Italian, form a backdrop to the town in the distance and further down was the sea. The area is fenced off and once we paid our entrance ticket we were free to roam the “city” of necropolis .

 Replica of Sarcophagus of the Spouses. Painted terracotta artifact from Cerveteri (Lazio), Banditaccia Necropolis 520 BC. The real sarcophagus can be found in Rome at the Museo Nazionale Etrusco Di Villa Giulia (Villa Giulia National Museum, Archaeological Museum

THE NECROPOLIS ON THE HILL IS CALLED BANDITACCIA AND IS THE GREATEST COLLECTION OF 7TH AND 6TH-CENTURY BC ASHLAR BUILDINGS TO BE SEEN IN EUROPE. It is a well planned out ‘city’ with established avenues lined on either side with mushroomed-shaped structures with mounds of grass on top.

The bases are carved into girdles of stone, all around. They are sunk a bit into the ground with avenues making a path in-between.

In May, Italy was still under several restrictions and as a result there were still not many travelers outside of the regions. So we had the place literally to ourselves with the exception of one or two other families which had already moved on to the otherside of the garden. The atmosphere had a very still peacefulness. It was a place where you could sit and contemplate the past or just mediate and be in the moment. “A curious peaceful repose” Lawrence said. Unlike other ancient cities e.g. great pyramids in Mexico, Celtic places or that of Egypt, he thought that there was a stillness and a softness in these grey grassy mounds. Walking around there was a “lingering of a homeliness and happiness, a soothing in the air and a feeling that it was good for one’s soul to be there”.

Some of the tombs are underground but they are not oppressive to descend into them.

These homes of the dead are quite large. Cut out of the volcanic rock and some deep below the surface, they are like houses. The roof has a beam impression which imitate the roof beam of a house. In fact it is a house, a home for the departed. But as you go in, there is a pleasant feeling that they left behind. In fact, apparently they were a jovial people that truly new how to enjoy life. In Tarquinia the painted tombs left behind tell of how much they enjoyed good food, wine, exercise and going to the sea. So as they lived, they died leaving that pleasant atmosphere behind. Death to the Etruscans was a pleasant continuance of life, with jewels , wine, flutes playing and dancing. It was a natural continuance of the fullness of life, neither a heaven or purgatory just that everything was in terms of life or living.

There are many many tombs and if you are like Riccardo you will descend into them all. Some are large and some small, the larger seemingly to be for the noble and wealthier citizens. Most have several chambers and antechambers.

I don’t think it is possible to grasp the reality that these people once roamed these lands 3000 years ago, at least 700 years before Christ. They left behind the beautiful round structures that were once filled with gold and silver and jewels and vases that looked like Greek vases. All the tombs are empty. All the treasures are gone. When the Romans took over and started collecting Etruscan antiques, there was a great sacking of the tombs. Then Rome fell and the barbarians pillaged whatever was left. Over time the earth washed in and filled the entrance way covering the stone bases of the mounds and trees and bushes grew over the graces. What was left was a hilly, bushy waste country. Under these tombs lay silent and untouched buried on the other side of the town until 1836 when it was discovered.

I feel the need to return in order to capture that feeling and moment in time. There are far too many tombs and like all sightseeing in Italy, each place or monument needs two or three trips to understand the magnificence of the passage of human time. There is a museum but on this trip we did not make it. There I am sure it is filled with examples of Etruscan life, jewellery, weapons and objects as well as Greek vases.

On leaving the Banditaccia we made a quick stop in the town and I marvel that here live a people that may have descended from the vital, jovial Etruscans. Some claim that the Etruscans still ‘live’ in this part of Italy. And I believe it. The ability to enjoy the good things of life, good food and drink, good company and long dinners and not be too concerned about what the future may bring are traits that my Italians friends carry. Lawrence felt that “Italy may be more Etruscan than Roman and the Etruscan element is like the grass of the field and the sprouting of corn…it will always be so”

Featured

Monti della Tolfa – A place to call home

I often get the question – why the Tolfa Mountains?  How does a Jamaican move to this region of Italy? Considering that my husband was born in Rome why is it that we chose these hills instead of Rome? I think perhaps you may have to visit Jamaica in order to be able to understand. They say a Jamaican can be found anywhere in the world and as it is I’m the first and only Jamaican that has ever lived here.

Italy has become a second home for me. From the very first visit when Riccardo introduced me to Italy in 2003 the 10-day vacation – you must see everything kind of visit to all the tourist spots, I fell in love with Italy. Slowly as our visits became more frequent, it was less about seeing the tourist sites but more of being in the moment and enjoying the company of family and friends.

Over the years I have read countless travel novels featured in Italy. Books written by authors such as E. F. Forester, D. H. Lawrence, H.V. Morton who detail their time spent in fascination with Italy. I was enamoured with Frances Mayes’  book “Under the Tuscan Sun” which I purchased at a book shop in Montepulciano. I became engrossed in her novel while waiting for Riccardo at a cafe who in the meantime was next door enjoying the gore of the medieval horror house with all its trappings of beheadings and tearing limbs apart. From France’s recounting her experience living in Italy along with mouth watering recipes, I started collecting cookbooks and travel novels that described what I have come to known as la bella vita that is so ascribed to Italy. I poured over Rick Steve’s travel books and Youtube videos, and still do until this day. I spent countless hours studying the language. But then realized I would only master it if I lived in Italy and was forced to speak it every day.

Rome was where Riccardo was born but the whispers of the Tolfa Mountains have been calling us.  Over the years as we dreamed and pondered on how and when we would ever move to Italy, the coronavirus pandemic decided for us. In March 2020, as we experienced the first wave of deaths in America, and as New Jersey went into that surreal lockdown, my heart stopped which I later came to realize was a panic attack. Riccardo had also just returned from Italy in February and left his family behind already experiencing the tragic effects of the virus and knowing what was to come in America before most Americans even could imagine what was to come. By April, I felt we had waited too long to fulfill our dreams of moving to Italy. We both did not belong in America. It it is not the country of our births and I never wanted to die there. For me the feeling was stifling, suffocating and became even more so when borders to our countries were closed. We could not leave! I needed to leave! The summer of 2020 became a toxic and unsafe environment especially for black people. Most importantly, I did not want my son to grow up in such an environment. America was no longer that sparkling dream I thought it was when I arrived in the summer of 1998.

The Medieval towns of Allumiere, La Bianca and Tolfa that make up the region of Monti della Tolfa, Is a little over one hours drive north of Rome. It is one of Lazio’s secrets and it has became the place we wanted to “come home” to. We thought that the woods would be our safe haven from a world gone mad. After all, the second thing on Maslow’s pyramid of happiness is the need to feel safe and secure.

Entering La Bianca

Riccardo’s parents have been going to the mountains since the 70s which consequently became a second home to them. The villages of La Bianca and Tolfa hold special childhood memories for Riccardo who spent the time hanging out with friends in the cooler hills and away from the hot summers of Rome. Naturally when we met, he introduced me to the place and his friends that meant so much to him and his parents. But little did they know that I would one day wish to call it home.

Tolfa
Allumiere

From the moment I first caught glimpses of the sea as we drove along the coast, from Rome towards La Bianca, I felt that sense of familiarity having grown up on an island. The sea on the left and the mountains on the right, just like the coast of Jamaica.

I imagined and felt transplanted back to my first job after my undergraduate in Jamaica. As a livestock nutrition researcher I would visit farms located on rolling green pastures in St. Ann occupied by Jamaica Hope cows or white brahmins grazing happily on the hillsides of Jamaica. At every moment, there was something that reminded me of my country.

Leaving Kingston for the countryside to visit relatives in Jamaica always involved a drive on the coast. But when we left the coast at Santa Marinella and started heading up the Mountain on a narrow winding two lane road sometimes filled with potholes, the memories of my childhood drives to visit my father’s relatives in St. Ann came flooding back. For that matter, this drive could have any mountain drive in Jamaica. Up from Constant Spring through Stony hill which was lined with flaming red Poinciana trees in bloom, instead it was shocking pink Judas trees that invaded the green of the mountainside. Or was it the rolling meadows dotted with white long horned Maremmana cows or goats and sheep grazing on the rainbow of flowers that could be found in the springtime?

Maremmana cattle in Allumiere

To me, Monti della Tolfa is the place that feels the most like Jamaica. But the uncomplicated version.  Jamaica is one of the most beautiful countries and its where I feel the most whole. Where there are others that look like and sound like me. But it is a complicated country. Filled with more layers than an onion and constantly changing. And once you have left it – and 23 years is a long time- you have lost a piece of what it means to be currently Jamaican. The Jamaica of the 70s is different from the 80s is different from the 90s.  Each immigrant has a nostalgia for something different from the time that they left it.

While living in America, I was never able to assimilate into the culture. Often times for immigrants assimilation is confused with letting go of certain nuances that make us unique. Accents, personality, culture and backgrounds are hidden in trying to become American. And over the years, the nostalgia of the Jamaica that I left behind was overwhelming. I wanted to find my way back home. After a summer in Jamaica in 2018, I realized that I had changed so much along with my country. And although essentially, I will always consider myself Jamaican, but by not changing along with the country, I suddenly felt “foreign”. That’s what the taxi drivers and the vendors in Jamaica at least believe. I am foreign. I look differently, dress differently and no matter how much I try to sound Jamaican apparently there is a little change in the accent that leads them to believe that I was in “foreign’ for some time.  This phenomenon opens you up to all kinds of misplaced transactions and scamming which is quite prevalent.

So, with eyes opened to the realities of returning home, my nostalgia for Jamaica was cured. But I still felt that need to find the place when I wake up in the morning that feels like home. The place I know I belong. They say home is where the heart is. Maybe I am wrong but I need to be one of those people that need a physical location and along with that location comes the community.

Over the years we started visiting the Tolfa Mountains on a regular basis. After our first extended stay in the spring of 2015, the seeds were sown. I had an ah ah moment after spending days with friends and observing their lives which seemed more in tuned with the way I used to be when I lived in Jamaica.

Then after 6 weeks in the summer of 2019 while living in La Bianca, I knew that this is where I could call home. Just north of Rome there are all the things that I miss in Jamaica.  It is the best of both worlds. The mountains 4000 ft above sea level and when I need to just 20 minutes away, I can be at the sea. And for an island girl like me that grew up and worked near the ocean that is of number one importance!

 Fast forward to 2021, driving up the winding road from the port of Civitavecchia I can transport myself and think that I am in St Ann driving towards Claremont from Ocho Rios. Or I can think that I am coming from the Kingston Harbor and making my way up to the Blue Mountains.  The mountains reflect the serenity that I have found in the cool air. 

Where is home any way? The Dalai Lama said home is where you feel at home and are treated well. Having a community of family and friends. For me it is not only a physical space. But it must feel like home, smell like home and look like home. For now, I have found in this Medieval town of Allumiere that was once inhabited by a people almost 3000 years ago, long before Jamaica was even a thought in the European mind, a place that I can transcribe attributes of Jamaica that make me feel that I have come home.

Featured

An interview with InstantItaly.com

I love to give interviews about living in Italy. It’s an amazing country and I’m excited to be featured on Cinzia’s site which is filled with information on learning Italian and living in Italy. Hope you enjoy💕

A photo journal of The wildflowers of spring in the Monti della Tolfa

How is it summer already? The spring went far too quickly, and with it the spectacular show of flowers which began by the end of March. Before I move on to summer I must review my new found love of flower photography that has been a result of wandering around the mountains during some really stressful times earlier this year.

Here in Allumiere, we experienced various yellow and orange zone lock downs for Christmas, New Year’s and Easter. February became even more sad and stressful as the cases in coronavirus increased rapidly both in Tolfa and Allumiere. For such small villages the numbers became scary. Sadly, even before the government decided to put us from yellow to orange and then red by easter, everyone retreated back to their houses in precaution and fear. The lockdown seemed endless.

Luckily, we are surrounded by woods, farm lands, meadows and lots of open spaces. Long walks in nature became a thing of comfort and much gratitude from a maddening world.

We started the ritual of doing 5 mile walks on Saturdays. Much has been said about walking and mental health. But when you throw in taking the time to really notice nature, especially through the eyes of the camera lens, the noise of the world stops and it is truly possible to be in the moment. Anxiety, depression and negative thinking and moods are diminished in the presence of the beauty and wonders of nature. The cool mountain air, the choir of the birds, bees and butterflies happily fluttering around the spring flowers that emerged, lifted my sad moods from the confinement of not being with friends.

Monti della Tolfa

I even got Riccardo into it. Many years ago when we first met Riccardo would take many photos on trips and I thought he was pretty good at it. He gets that from his Mother who in turn is a very good photographer. But over the years he stopped taking the time to take good photos. When I first started walking I noticed that he was always preoccupied with other thoughts and never in the moment. I suggested to him to really think about the photos he was taking – like he used to. It took a few more long walks and by the time the flowers and butterflies started appearing, I was happy to see that he was once more stopping (and taking the time to smell the flowers) to really take the photos and be in the moment.

 At the end of March starting with the Mimosa blossoms, each week as the weather changed, brought out a new flower.

Mimosa tree in La Bianca

April and May saw an explosion of jaw-dropping fields of wild flowers on the roadside, in the meadows and on the forest ground.  Nature has it down beautifully so that the blooms are staggered and that there is no competition between them. We can admire each specie as it emerges.  I couldn’t help it – a new hobby emerged, flower photography!

At the beginning of April while the sun was still able to shine through the leafless trees of the forest, and reach to the roots of the beech and chestnut trees of the Faggeto and on the roadside, the daisies, buttercups and dandelions captured the full sun so that the earth suddenly was ablaze with white and sunshine yellow flowers.

 The region of the Monti della Tolfa covers a few different ecological areas so depending whether you are on the mountain peak, within the forest or travelling towards the coast and at the sea, the botanical variety is amazing. Leading into the woods or the Bosco as they are called in Allumiere, were rivulets of pink cyclamens and white and lavender blue anemones.

The anemones are called windflowers possibly because they are so delicate and resilient as the end of winter winds blow their soft petals.

Easter brought the spectacular pinks of the Judas tree blossoms that stood out in the now green mountain side found along the road leading to Civitavecchia.

Judas tree

In May, the range of yellow and purple flowers not to mention the greens of the meadows are the panettone artist’s delight

La Campagna

In the meadows, dandelions sometimes deemed a nuisance bring the landscape alive

And the large shiny petals of the buttercups seem to absorb the yellows from the sun.

With every walk, a new flower which I had to look up its name would appear. Wisteria climbing on walls, wild orchids on the roadside, thistles in the fields. There are so many more that I am still learning about. Can you recognize any of these? Please let me know in the comments.

It is estimated that there at least 30 species of wild orchids in this region alone

In mid May the roses emerged! And what a rose lovers delight in giant pinks, peaches and dark red that can be seen in gardens. But these are the cultivated ones.

These roses perfumed the air of the garden

To my surprise while walking along the dirt path that I take at least once per week, wild rose bushes (Rosa cannina) suddenly appeared. Baby pinks or white petals with yellow pistols perfume the countryside.

On a day trip to Orvieto, the giant fennel (which can grow as tall as 6ft) along the road side was astounding. Although we saw these at the beginning of April on the road leading down to Civitavecchia they were not as large as these. So although not in the Tolfa Mountains I still had to showcase them here

Giant Fennel

By the end of May the vermillion red poppies emerged.

As the flower show is diminishing, and with the coming of summer, the yellow of the ginestra blooms are now dominant in early June. Along the strada, from the mountains leading into the sea, and on an evening walk to the ruins of the castle rocca in Tolfa, the ginestra makes the countryside glow.

Ginestra at the Rocca looking down on Tolfa

I hope I have inspired you to notice the wildflowers on the roadside and when you do come to Italy in the spring, maybe include flower photography in your itinerary.

Reflecting on World Oceans Day 2021

Growing up on the island of Jamaica, the sea has been apart of me as long as I can remember. Both my parents grew up near small fishing villages. My father who was born in St. Ann would often tell me how small a fishing village Ocho Rios was when he was a small boy. What is surprising and disturbing that before the pandemic several cruise lines would dock at this tiny beach. My grandfather and uncles were fishermen from Great Bay in St. Elizabeth. I spent many holidays with cousins and relatives from either side where going to the beach was a must. After much swimming and hanging out in the warm green blue Caribbean Sea, the afternoon would not pass without fried fish (Jamaican escovitch fish) marinated with a peppery vinegar-based dressing made colourful with julienned bell peppers, carrots and onions.

Jamaican fried fish smothered in scotch bonnet pepper and onions marinated in vinegar

Hellshire the beach of Kingston brings to mind some of the best fried fish located right on the beach. The fried fish stalls were a treat to look forward to after a Sunday drive. Freshly caught that day, we chose the brightest coloured fish with the clearest eyes for our meal.

Looking back I was really fortunate as a kid growing up to be able to visit Great Bay in the 1970s where fishing was a thriving business and my uncles always brought home, conch, snapper and kingfish which my Aunt Joyce would cook for us. Now 40 years later, that thriving fishing industry and culture in Great Bay is no longer. My Grandfather and Uncles have passed and with them so many other fishermen and an industry that made the village vibrant.

Looking back it’s not surprising that I entered the world of marine biology when I studied for my undergraduate degree at the University of the West Indies. Later on I entered that of aquaculture which is the farming of aquatic animals. For many reasons many species of fish have been overfished and I believe that aquaculture can be one solution to helping ease the pressure of overfishing.

A visit to the Discovery Bay Marine Lab, Discovery Bay, Jamaica

After so many years living away from the Ocean I am so grateful to be living once again near the sea. The sea has been an integral part of the coastal people in Italy stemming back to the days of the Etruscans. It is suspected living so close to the sea that at their many banquets there was fish (especially tuna) and seafood aplenty.

The tomb of hunting and fishing

In the Tomb of Hunting and Fishing (Tomba della Caccia e Pesca), which is an Etruscan tomb in the Necropolis of Monterozzi near Tarquina, Northern Lazio, frescoes show seascapes with cliffs, boats, fishermen with harpoons and nets, hunters with slings, water birds, and leaping dolphins. The sea scenes not only represent the natural environment of Tarquinia’s shores, but also the long journey over the sea to the afterlife. 

Roman floor mosaic dating to between 350 and 375 CE and depicting fish. Food was a popular subject in mosaics throughout the Roman period. Provenance: Toragnola, Rome. (Vatican Museums, Rome) https://www.worldhistory.org/image/1279/fish-roman-mosaic/

Fish, most of which are still found in the Mediterranean today, was also a staple in the Roman diet. It was eaten fresh, dried, salted, smoked or pickled. As supply was irregular, the preservation of fish ensured a useful protein addition to the Roman diet, and it is interesting to note that fish and shellfish were also farmed in artificial salt and fresh-water ponds.

Today, June 8th is dedicated as World Oceans Day which started in 1992. The objectives of the first World Oceans Day were to move the ocean from the sidelines to the center of the intergovernmental and NGO discussions and policy and to strengthen the voice of ocean and coastal constituencies worldwide. The theme for World Oceans Day in 2021 is ‘The Ocean: Life & Livelihoods’. According to the UN website, “this year’s annual event will shed light on the wonder of the ocean and how it is our life source, supporting humanity and every other organism on Earth”.

The theme is “especially relevant in the lead-up to the UN Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development, which will run from 2021 to 2030. It is hoped that the next decade will strengthen international cooperation to develop the scientific research and innovative technologies that can connect ocean science with the needs of society”.

It is really sad to see how overfishing, plastic pollution and rising temperatures are destroying our oceans and biodiversity. We can all play a role from eating local, sustainably-sourced fish to stopping plastic pollution. Today for World Oceans Day let us celebrate and preserve our oceans for sustainability.

JAMAICAN ESCOVITCH FISH

https://cooklikeajamaican.com/amp/jamaican-escovitch-fish/

Ingredients

4 whole red snapper
Salt and pepper
1 cup cooking oil

Method

1. The day before, clean and scale fish. Season with salt and black pepper and refrigerate.
2. Set stove to High and add cooking oil to pan. Dry fish with paper towel and pan
fry for about 5 minutes each side.
3. Take fish out of pan and place on paper towel to drain oil

Escovitch Dressing

Ingredients

½ each, green and red bell pepper, julienned
1 carrot, julienned
1 small onion, sliced in rings
3 Tbsp cooking oil (you can use leftover oil from frying fish)
2/3 cup vinegar
10 pimento berries (optional)
½ tsp salt
1 tsp hot pepper sauce
½ scotch bonnet pepper, seed removed and chopped

Method

1. Cut and chop vegetables and put aside.
2. Put vinegar and oil into a saucepan and bring to a boil
3. Add carrots and let simmer for about a minute
4. Add pimento seeds, if using, salt and pepper sauce
5. Add red and green bell peppers a simmer for a minute
6. Add onion and simmer for about 5 minutes or until the onion is transparent
7. Add scotch bonnet pepper and stir
8. Place fish into serving dish and spoon dressing on top

Serves 4

Salvatore’s Pesto

It’s June 1st and already the summer is upon us!

It is a holiday weekend for the kids as they are out of school until Thursday in celebration of Republic Day which is on June 2.

Republic day is a national holiday in Italy that commemorates the day when Italians abolished the monarchy, and a republic was formed. In 1946 when World War II ended, the Italian people really looked forward to the end of fascism and to the start of a new chapter in their history. Since then, Italy has been a unitary parliamentary republic.

Although each of Italy’s regions has developed its own unique culture and cuisine, there is no doubt that Italians share the trait for the love of good food.

A perfect example is Riccardo and his parents who I consider to be foodies in every sense of the word. Every meal is discussed in detail. Where is the wine from? Where was each ingredient originally from? and where can it be purchased? So what better way than to spend the holiday with my in-laws learning from them, and how they prepare certain traditional foods. Today Riccardo’s father Salvatore is making pesto for dinner.

One summer on a visit to Rome while staying with Riccardo’s parents, I watched my father-in- law processing large bunches of giant shiny green leaves into a robust spring green paste with a large mortar and pestle. As he did this slowly in a delibrate thoughtful motion, almost akin to meditation, the aroma of fresh basil permeated and perfumed the air. Pesto making is a man’s job in this family. As is making the coffee! Naturally once we had our own square of garden space Riccardo went about covering every inch with basil plants. We started growing our own basil leaves in New Jersey at the end of May 2013.  With the exception of the summer of 2014 when we had an infestation of caterpillars, we were able to harvest organically raised basil leaves all summer. Since then pesto making became Riccardo’s new hobby. 

So once again another summer is upon us and Salvatore has generously allowed me to film him making pesto using a recipe that has been passed down through the family.

You can view a short video that I put together of Salvatore making pesto on my Instagram page, @ajamaicaninitaly https://www.instagram.com/ajamaicaninitaly

or on facebook

https://www.facebook.com/jroyes

Fresh basil from the balcony garden

Salvatore said “With just a few ingredients pesto can be made in 5 minutes”. He used basil grown on their balcony, shredded pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), pine nuts, butter made with buffalo milk, extra virgin olive oil and salt. Riccardo has his own version where he adds garlic, no butter and instead of pecorino he uses parmigiano. These were the ingredients that we were able to find in New Jersey.

Fill the food processor cup with leaves

If you have a large mortar and pestle to grind the leaves this method will prevent the burning of the leaves in the food processor. Here Salvatore used a food processor for the early 1980s which still works perfectly!

Extra virgin Olive oil to cover leaves

Add olive oil to cover the leaves and grind. Do not process for too long as the leaves will be over processed and burn. The olive oil also retains the colour and keeps the leaves bright green and fresh

Pulse – do not over grind the leaves

Add the pecorino and pulse

1 cup of shredded pecorino cheese

Then the pine nuts

Pine nuts ( a small bag added)

A stick of burra di bufala was added and finally salt.

Pulse to get all the ingredients mixed.

Buffalo milk is high in protein and fat which gives it a rich creamy texture, perfect for making butter. Dont worry about the fat though buffalo milk is more nutritious than cow’s milk.

2 sticks of Burro di bufala

The paste can be chunky or smooth depending on how you like it. Here he left the pine nuts chunky as he did not over process the leaves. This of course produced a lovely green colour to the pesto

Pasta fresca all’uovo – tagatelli made with eggs

Salvatore loves to weigh out the exact amount of pasta that will serve everyone. Today for the 5 of us he weighed out 300g of fresh pasta that were made with eggs.

Pasta with pesto

He used tagliatelle, a type of pasta from the Emilia-Romagna and Marche regions of Italy where the pieces are long flat ribbons and similar in shape to fettuccine.

If you grow your own basil, you have to pinch off the white flowers and harvest the crop at its peak. Old leaves have a bit of a bitter taste. Once processed, fill batches of small sterilized jam jars and top them with olive oil which keeps the leaves green.

Jars of pesto will make great dinner gifts.

Buona Festa della Repubblica!

Strawberries every day in May

Most saturdays we try to take long walks which usually takes us from Allumiere to Tolfa and back. Last Saturday we spotted the first wild strawberry on the roadside that seemed to grow over night with the recent rains. A small red button peaking out from under a wild rose flower at our feet. This was truly an exciting find. All spring I have been completely fascinated by the wild flowers, herbs and fruits that grow naturally in this region.

We crouched low to pick a few, when we looked up, to our surprise it was a huge strawberry patch! Extending from the roadside towards the woods this large patch was brimming with tiny red berries that by next week will be ready for picking.

wild strawberries (fragole selvatici)

Six years ago on my first spring visit to Italy, I noticed that after every dinner we had with family and friends, there were strawberries for dessert. I found it strange and curious why everyone kept serving the same desert. By the third week of our stay, it dawned on me that like in Jamaica, Italians eat seasonally, unlike in America where fruits that are out of season can be found at any time of the year. I had forgotten what it meant to eat seasonally. For Jamaicans, its mango season, avocado season and many other fruits that we would only eat at certain times of the year. Eating seasonally means that you are eating fresh ingredients at the height of their flavour. This is probably why these were the best tasting strawberries that I have ever had – wild or cultivated. They were bursting with flavor!

Strawberries makes me think of freshness and they are the ultimate spring fruit. Every year Italy produces 150,000 tonnes of strawberries grown in greenhouses and in open fields. So I have embraced strawberry season and purchase at least three cartons every other day. I remembered from that spring how Riccardo’s aunt, Zia Nena as we call her, served marinated strawberries after a Sunday lunch. In a large bowl she put sliced strawberries, coated them in spoonfuls of white sugar and poured enough limoncello to cover the strawberries. The homemade limoncello in pure alcohol from Riccardo’s father left us quite happy the rest of the afternoon!

Incidentally, that trip was in May at the height of the strawberry season so we had strawberries in all formats. With whipped cream, orange juice, dusted in sugar or marinated in a dry red wine, marsala wine or a dessert wine such as sweet Moscato wine. I like to prep and serve my strawberries for the whole family in sugar right away so that the fruit retains its texture and vibrant color. For those that like alcohol, marsala wine is my go to.

Ingredients to serve 8

  • 2 lbs strawberries
  • 1/3 cup of white sugar (or brown if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup of marsala wine (if you prefer you can leave out the wine or add another wine or rose’)

Wash and dry strawberries. Cut in half and add to serving bowl. Add sugar (and wine if adding) and toss gently. Serve immediately in desert goblets. If you are serving later toss occasionally after 1 or 2 hours.

strawberries marinated in marsala wine and sugar

A refreshing spinach salad with strawberries and walnuts with a balsamic vinaigrette is another way that I like my strawberries. Eating seasonally will ensure that we will be having strawberries every day.

spinach strawberry salad with pizza bianca

Ingredients for vinaigrette

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

.

Rough seas at the Port of Civitavecchia

It’s the third week in May and the weather has been unusually chilly and windy. Since we got our freedom from the constraints of being in orange zone for some time, we have been making a point to tour and see something new every weekend. The Port of Civitavecchia is 20 minutes from Allumiere and if you are driving from Rome it is a little over an hour. It is the port that many tourists on cruises disembark to waiting taxis or tour buses to rush them to Rome. There they will do the whirlwind tour of the Colosseum, Spanish steps, Trevi fountain, Piazza Navona and possibly the Vatican before they return to the cruise ship that night. I feel though that it is a port to explore and it is on my list of the many places to explore in Lazio. It is an ancient port and if the seas could talk I am sure it has many stories to tell from the days of the Etruscans.

Sea side of Civitavecchia

Since 2020, the harbour in Civitavecchia has become a parking lot for cruise ships and on some days we can see as many as 10 of these humongous floating cities as we drive down from the mountain towards the coast.

Today the winds have picked up and the leaden skies make the ships that are parked away from the cost to prevent smashing against the rocks look like ghost ships.

The seas are so mesmerizing to me. Calm or rough. And today there is a special energy as the waves roll and froth and crash against the rocks. I sort of enjoy this energy which drew me to the nearby rocks. I stopped and watched for a while allowing this energy to be transferred and absorbed.

Several years ago I saw the William Turner collection in the Frick Gallery in New York. I love that museum. If you ever get to New York you should check it out. He was the master painter of the sea. He produced many unfinished works that are in a collection called “the beginnings” where he experimented with colour and painted the sea as he saw it. His “Study of the sea” comes to mind (https://www.artribune.com/report/2014/04/il-pittore-del-mare-e-delle-onde-turner-a-greenwhich/attachment/study-of-sea/ ). I think he would have enjoyed the sea today with its many greens and blues broken intermittently with white foam.

It seemed to be a good day for fishing. I wanted to get a closer look at the sea and walked along the rocks towards an elderly man fishing while his son seemed to be guarding him so he didn’t fall in! I have never seen such a long fishing line which seemed to be a metal pole with a shorter fishing line at the end and I assume took a lot of strength. I could not pass without greeting them. The old man was very proud to show me his catch.

Over the loud drum of the waves he told me that these silver beauties are called Orata (I am not sure what the translation would be in english). I would have like to have a long discussion about how to prepare them but the fish were calling and I had to quickly get out of his way as the pole was tossed back in.

These fish look like they would be great with just a little seasoning , salt and pepper and grilled. I will be looking for some recipes and will be posting again how to prepare the orata.