I. The Heat and The Gratitude
The distance between the desire to lay on a white beach on a hot summer day with a cool beer in hand, and the first hot drink during a rainy day that already smells like Autumn, might feel like a blink at times. In Italy though, that blink can last for several months. Several, hot, exhausting months of merciless summer. I guess at the age of 32 and long after school holidays I should be mature enough to confess that no, summer is not my favorite moment of the year, thank you very much!
In fact, I believe had it not been for berries, stone fruits, melons, figs and fresh sea food, I would not even enjoy summer. And I am sure, that if it wasn’t for frisa (Pugliese hard bread to be soaked and seasoned before serving with fresh cherry tomatoes) I would probably starve in hot, humid days that cooking, along with any other activity seems plainly impossible.
Please accept this rant about the unacceptably hot summer as a justification for my absence here. Complaints and nags aside though, I have been quite busy. Determined to swim against the tide during August, when all Italy literally shuts down to go on vacation (read “to the beach”), I decided to stay in Rome and work. And work I did! But before August, the month of limbo and transition in Italy, I headed south towards my beloved Puglia, for a brief vacation.
In this post, I try to write only a few words to set the mood and leave everything else to the images, as a visual diary. As you can see there are tons of them, and it took the great part of summer for me to select and edit them (I listened to the whole series of Harry Potter audiobooks in the meanwhile! An utter delight!).
I also add the simplest, most refreshing non-recipe for a summer salad with watermelon chunks, a variety of tomatoes and tons of aromatic herbs.
Of course, the post can’t be completed without thanking you immensely for having nominated me for the prestigious SAVEUR blog awards for Best Photography! The news came as the most pleasant surprise just when I was about to leave Puglia for Rome. I am still speechless and drenched in bliss for this.
There’s still a little time to vote, so please keep supporting me! (Update: Voting time is over! Thanks for the support.)
II. The Pugliese Diary
I stayed in the same country side home that I have been visiting for the past two years; old, authentic and rustic. Built in a dry yet fertile land where ancient olive trees have deep routs in the red earth, grey and white Trulli host guests and a small garden provides the necessary vegetables to feed us all summer long. The eggplants, zucchinis and green peppers are satuèed in local extra virgin olive oil, tomatoes end up in jars of “sala” (tomato sauce) to dress pasta dishes all year long, and even grapes are conserved in alcohol with anice seeds to served as post-dessert after a long meal.
Meals were often simple and fresh. Local cheese (read tons of burrata and a lot of mozzarella nodini) from nearby masserias (Pugliese farm houses), taralli and olives. Of course, frisa were in the order of the day, and we ordered fresh orecchiette and panzarelli (fried dough filled with tomato and mozzarella) from another nearby masseria.
Speaking of these typical Pugliese farm houses, I went for a visit of the dreamy Masseria Potenti too! Masseria Potenti, a remodeled fortified-farmhouse-turned-into-hotel, is our venue for The Puglia Encounter Workshop that I will host at the end of October together with Emiko Davis and Alice Adams. I can’t wait to be back there, to chill by the pool, to wander around with my camera and to go treasure hunting in Grottaglie, the land of magical Pugliese artisan ceramics.
Naturally, being in south Italy meant days spent on the beach too. In the heart of Puglia, where I stayed, we had the fortune of choice between Adriatic and Ionio seas at either side of the “heel” of Italy. You’re supposed to choose based on the winds. If the wind blows from south east “Sirocco”, you go to one side and if there’s “Tramontana”, the wind from the north you go to the other side. This simple harmony and understanding of nature is something that slips through my hands and I have no more knowledge of it.
III. Salad with Watermelon, tomatoes and Aromatic Herbs, An Ode to Summer Freshness
Too often, the answer to the question “mom, what’s for dinner?” during the summertimes of my childhood in Iran would have been “bread, cheese and watermelon”, or grapes, or melon, depending on our stocks. Persian flat bread, feta-like salty and crumbly cheese, sweet summer fruit and a dish of sabzi, or fresh aromatic herbs.
This, together with the memory of another salad I had last year in Brussels at brunch, is where this salad gets its inspiration from. This is not really a recipe, but rather an invitation, to combine the unlikely flavors of watermelon and tomatoes. The sweetness and the acidity. I suggest you try a variety of tomatoes, not too juicy ones. As for the herbs, basil and mint can definitely work, but if you can, do add some tarragon. Its bitterness cuts like a razor through the sweetness of the watermelon. I used the herbs I found in the garden: purple basil, fresh oregano and mint.
Simply cut the watermelon into large cubes, halve and/or cut the tomatoes, dress with salt and extra virgin olive oil. Add a handful of fresh herbs of your choice.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.