Last week was the fifth anniversary of my friend Steph’s wine shop, Ottimi Vini. It’s an excellent achievement bearing in mind the economic situation in the last five years and the challenges of being an English girl, in Italy, selling Italian wine. However, through hard work, determination, and an encyclopedic knowledge of wine, she’s made it and now has one of the most well-known and popular enoteche in the town of Sansepolcro.
For every zucchini grown, there is a beautiful saffron flower. Unfortunately in many countries this is allowed to die and never gets seen: in Italy, they are picked and eaten as a delicacy in themselves.
This is an incredible time of year, with fruit and vegetables seeming to come into season with the frequency of trains arriving at Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. This week, it’s the turn of cherries. I have two small cherry trees at La Madera which yielded enough fruit for a cake, but a friend with several mature trees offered me a few from her garden. That ‘few’ turned out to be a huge bowl full which left me to put together a long list of things to make.
Nothing is as Italian as pasta, or is it? Its origins remain unclear and many other cultures, most notably the Chinese, have similar foodstuffs in their traditional repertoire. Did, as the legend says, Marco Polo first bring pasta back to Italy from China in the 12th century? This seems unlikely since Marco Polo was from Venice, in north-eastern Italy and pasta seems to have its origins in the south. Also, a reference to pasta in Sicily has been found dating to 1154, exactly 100 years before Polo was born. Some authors have even linked an ancient Roman dish called lagana to modern lasagne al forno so pasta could have been present on the Italian peninsula a lot longer than we think.
Caprese, as in Caprese Michelangelo (the name of my village) means ‘of the goats’. The village coat of arms contains a goat, and indeed legend has it that after his birth here in the castle, Michelangelo was left by his father, to be raised by the wife of a goat herd, before taking him off to Florence.
In cooking terms, for most people caprese is a salad. Nothing to do with goats there—the mozzarella cheese used to make it comes from buffalo milk—since the name derives from the island of Capri down in the bay of Naples. This tartlet, which I’ve named for the village, has a distinctly goaty flavour, as it uses Tuscan goat’s cheese.