The Visual Diary of Summer in Puglia, SAVEUR Blog Awards Nomination & A Salad with Watermelon, Tomatoes and Local Herbs

Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-11

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. 

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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.)

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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. 

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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.  Continue reading

Conclusions, New Beginnings and A Review of ‘Sirocco’ by Sabrina Ghayour + Two Recipes

Sirocco Cookbook Review by Sabrina Ghayour | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-9

Important Pre-Post Notes:

1. Only one day is left for nominating your favorite food blogs in Saveur Blog Awards. Last year, thanks to your incredible support Lab Noon was a finalist in Best Special Interest category, which brought so much blessing and good stuff to my professional work. If you enjoy my stuff, please keep supporting me by nominating for this award again (this is a huge deal in the food blogging world). It’ll take just a few seconds. Just go here anche choose a category (‘Eat the World’ maybe?) and sign. Thank you so much!


2. Next weekend I’ll be attending a dream cooking, photography and styling retreat taught by Hortus‘s Valentina, The Freaky Table‘s Zaira and Le Jus d’Orange‘s Betty, which will be held in Gradara, in northern east coast of Italy, at Valentina’s country house/garden. Make sure to follow us all on social media (including Snapchat, to which I have unskilledly given up, it’s saghar.labnoon) and sign up for coming workshops. Valentina is doing an online version too!


3. The photos of this post have been shot in Latteria Studio in Rome; a truly wonderful studio dedicated to Food photography and styling in the heart of Trastevere neighborhood, with wonderful events, suppers and workshops, run by the lovely Alice Adams. 

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I. Digesting the Change and Making New Plans as a Grown-up

Two years ago I wrote a post here that perfectly described the Italian July, how the working years ends, people’s obsession with vacations, and thinking about starting things anew from next September. I had just opened this blog (Wow! Two years man!), and my life couldn’t have been possibly more different from what it is now. Both my work life and my love life has been dramatically changed since those days, which together with other factors, have brought me to feel fully like a grown-up, as I had never felt before. 

As you might’ve noticed, those significant changes have slowed down my rhythm of blogging, sometimes to the point of pure neglect. I have yet to learn to balance office life and the rest of my time. As of professional food activities, I have done some great photo shoots for a couple of recipe books, and food photography and styling, along with editorial design has taken a greater share than recipe creating as of late.

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I must confess my cooking time has been reduced to the least. On Sundays, I try to cook big batches of grains, veggies and greens and mix and match them to create fresh salads (such as the ones you see in these photos, which will take us to the recipes!). Now that Summer is at its peak, I often eat fresh fruit and cheese from the colorful, daily market right outside the office. 

I have new plans for the new work year, starting right from this August. A month after the food photography workshop with Valentina and other girls (see the notes above!) I’ll go the rustic home of a friend of mine in Apulia, in southern Italy, where we cook and shoot many dishes, and already I’m folding out for new collaborations in the month of September. So stay tuned!

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II. The Colorful, Flavor-Packed Wind from the East; ‘Sirocco’, Sabrina Ghayour’s New Book

If you are interested in the global food scene, specially the one regarding Middle Eastern and world food, you can’t possibly not have heard Persiana, Ghayour’s first cookbook, unless you’ve been living in a cave in the past three years. With Persiana, Sabrina managed to demystify the cuisine of the Middle Eastern regions. Many of the recipes were classic Persians with a tiny twist. The magic of Persiana indeed was in simplifying the dishes that normally seem super complicated to people and making a different kind of cooking accessible to everyone. Continue reading

Tips for Summer Picnic Food and Three Vegan Dips/Spreads

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I don’t know why they always say “Summer’s short”. If you ask me Spring is much shorter; One moment there are new sprouts on the trees, the other they’re filled with green leaves and in a blink of an eye you need a fan whenever you walk, you’re drenched with sweat under the hot sun and going out without a strong sunscreen (and maybe even a shade?) would be considered madness.

Well at least that’s how it feels like in Rome. The Roman summer always arrives in a rush. And oh this city looks so good in her early warm evenings, still lit by the pink & orange light of late summer sunsets. Magical hues as if they were copied and pasted right from Impressionist paintings, leaving long shadows of the typical Roman street lamps on the ochre, old buildings. It’s a splendid season.

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The warm season in Rome (and around) is quite long. So it’s no wonder that people have picnics in parks and by the beach from April even until October. The picnic season in Italy officially inaugurates in Easter Monday, where the tradition demands having lunch all’aperto. But So often rain and cold get in the way. In a very similar way, and almost in the same period (early April) the Persian “Sizdeh-beh-Dar“, or the thirteenth day after Norouz, the Persian new year, or the last day of holidays must be spent in nature otherwise it would bring bad luck. But I believe we Iranians are not very practical picnic people. On Sideh-beh-dar we drag our heavy pots of herby pilafs (for the whole extended family) and lots of marinated Kabab meat to barbecue later, all the way from home to the green areas out of the city. We need to figure out light and practical picnic food. 

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1. The Big Tuscan Picnic AKA the Fettunta Party

My first picnic of the year was on my birthday; a lucky day I’d say. April 3rd was surprisingly sunny & warm this year, but it didn’t last until Easter Monday which was only a couple of days later. Another classic Italian picnic date is April 25th, The Liberation Day, or when the Facio-Nazi occupation ended at the end of WWII. This year on this holiday, Juls’ Kitchen‘s Giulia invited food bloggers, friends and family to her beautiful home in the faiy-talish Tuscan country side for a Fettunta Party and I was more than happy to attend. Giulia and her lovely family were extremely kind and hospital. I can’t even begin to describe the amount and the variety of food that there was. Apart from the endless quiches and dessert that guests had brought, Giulia and her family also prepared pizza from scratch and baked in the wooden oven. Such a wonderful day spent in the hills of Tuscany. Watch all of my photos of Juls’ Fettunta Party here

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Traveling all the way from Rome, I needed to think about a food simple and easy to transport, that wouldn’t lose its shape and consistence during the not-so-short journey. I came up with the ideas simple dips and spreads, that would work perfectly not only for the fettunta (which means bruschettas or grilled bread in the Florentine dialect), but also for pieces of crunchy vegetable. These three recipes of vegan dips I’m sharing here with you —my special hummus, fresh pea & mint dip and roasted carrot and ginger dip— are exactly the ones I took the party, and I’m really happy people seemed to love them. 

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2. The Creative Roman Picnic

Somewhere towards the end of May I attended a very particular picnic. A creative one, in which I got to know three very talented girls. Veronica, the owner of WE Factory, who creates events and experiences based on food and design (crazy cool, isn’t it?), came all the way from her home in Veneto to Rome, to be interviewed for a podcast by Muse Radio. Muse Radio, which interviews creative people and talks about creative living, is hosted by two lovely and young women based in Rome; Kat, a video and photography creative, and Marta, a florist (whom I had been following for a long time on Instagram actually).

We first went to the market to pick up some fresh picnic food. It was just the right moment for some raw Fava beans and Roman Pecorino cheese (a classic snack for the Labour Day picnic here in Rome). We found fragrant local strawberries and crunchy bread from a traditional bakery. I had also whipped up a healthy, no-butter pound cake the night before, and Kat & Marta had brought Churchkhela, a typical fruity candy from Georgia. We gathered in a national muesum in the heart of Rome, I made some infused water with strawberries and basil, Veronica and I took care of styling the table, Marta arranged the flowers and Kat shot us, while we styled, chatted, ate & drank. Another amazing day, focused on creativity, beautiful things and good food. 

Watch the beautiful video Kat has made of our beautiful and creative picnic and expect to hear more of these girls on this blog. Continue reading