{Retreat} The Old School Kitchen: From the Etruscan Table to the Roman Banquet, June 30 – July 6, Tuscany

A CULINARY RETREAT INSPIRED BY ARCHAEOLOGY AND ART

I am excited and honored beyond words to tell you that I have joined archaeologist and food writer Farrell Monaco to offer you what I’d shamelessly call the dream workshop for food and history geeks and Italy lovers with a side of science and eye for art.

I first discovered Farrell last year quite by chance, and I was blown away by her archaeological research in the food of ancient Romans (particularly her fascinating excavations in Pompeii), and her recreation of many ancient Roman recipes. We met, and many emails and calls later, I am delighted to announce this summer we will take you to a castle in the midst of the Tuscan countryside for a culinary retreat inspired by archaeology and art.

Read on for the full program.

The Old School Kitchen: From the Etruscan Table to the Roman Banquet

culinary retreat in tuscany roman and etruscan food

Join food archaeologist, Farrell Monaco, and food photographer, Saghar Setareh, for a 5-day live-in edible archaeology master class at a palatial medieval castle hidden in a valley in the Tuscan countryside as they explore the food history of Etruria and Rome from 800 BC to the Imperial Roman Era (AD 476).  June 30 to July 6, 2019 – Monte Amiata (Tuscany), Italy.

About the Retreat

The master class will be comprised of 10 sessions held at the iconic Castello di Potentino, a restored medieval castle, that is situated in the heart of an ancient Etruscan valley in Tuscany, Italy. Originally a medieval castle built over an Etruscan settlement, the towering castle boasts three kitchens, two dining rooms, 11 large guest rooms, a pool, an olive grove, a wine cellar, and a vineyard that produces award winning wines. In the surrounding area are Etruscan archaeological remains that take us back 2,500 years in time to a place that is pre-Roman but that is key to the development of Roman food culture and the Roman civilization itself.

Courtesy of Castello di Potentino

Your hosts pride themselves in providing a culinary experience that is authentic and based on legitimate historical data. Daily workshops will begin with a lecture in the medieval chapel adjacent to the castle followed by hands-on cooking, the use of ancient food preparation technologies, ancient meal preparation and bread-making lessons, the use of ancient herbs and spices, food-styling workshops, food photography lessons, and a session on staging Roman food frescoes for the camera. Lessons and recipes will be compiled using authentic sources and peer-reviewed research from the Etruscan, Greek and Roman archaeological, written and pictorial records.

Participants will also enjoy a foraging trip into the countryside with a local resident who will teach us how to identify and prepare edible wild herbs and fungi that are indigenous to the valley and have been used for culinary purposes for millenia.

Left: Panis Quadratus by Farrell Monaco, Right: Panis Quadratus fresco in Pompeii

About your hosts

Left: Farrell Monaco (Photo by Ash Naylor), Right: Saghar Setareh

Farrell Monaco is an archaeologist and food-writer whose research centres on foodways, food preparation, and food-related ceramics in the Roman Mediterranean. Farrell is well known for her experimental archaeology projects where she painstakingly recreates Roman recipes using instruction, ingredients, and technologies sourced from the archaeological, written and pictorial records. Her blog, Tavola Mediterranea, was nominated for a Saveur Blog Award (2018) and her work has been featured on Atlas ObscuraRadio New ZealandMade in Pompei and the BBC. Farrell’s current research is centred ancient Roman bakeries and breads. She is a member of EXARC, the Archaeological Institute of America, and she sits on the media relations committee of the Society for American Archeology

Web | Instagram | Twitter

Saghar Setareh is an Iranian food photographer and writer based in Rome, where she discovered her love for the culinary arts of all forms. Her blog Lab Noon, which was nominated for Saveur Blog Awards (2015 and 2017) and Corriere della Sera Cucina Blog Awards (2017 and 2018), celebrates Persian and Italian recipes. Her work has been published on Italian and Anglo-Saxon websites and publications. She also collaborates with restaurants, chefs and food brands regarding their digital communication and food photography and teaches cooking, styling and photography workshops. 

Web | Instagram | Twitter

Saghar’s food photography & food styling

About the Venue

A Bathroom at one of the guest rooms at Castello di Potentino

Castello di Potentino is an ancient castle built on an Etruscan site. It lies in a secret valley in one of the last undiscovered corners of Tuscany – Monte Amiata.  The medieval building is surrounded by unspoilt countryside, dotted with the vines and the ancient olive trees used for the estate’s small production of high quality wine, grappa and olive oil. Agriculture and viticulture are about growing and living, so eating and drinking well are an important element in the Potentino ethos which is concerned with the sustainability of how we inhabit a place and relate to it physically and mentally.

Continue reading

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Pt. II

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

This is the second part of a previous post about my 10 food striking memories from more than a decade of living in Italy that you can read here.

As I said, not only was I not a foodie when I came to Rome in 2007, I wasn’t aware nor interested in particular ingredients or recipes either. I had had limited experience with some food on one hand — pork and alcohol, due to the restrictions in Iran — on the other, I still had the culinary taste of child, on some levels. I didn’t eat most of the vegetables, I hated fish in every form and way. All this changed forever when I started eating my way through Italy. 

Join me on the rest of this journey though food and drinks that made the best part of my twenties (and early thirties). There’s no recipe in this post, and photos don’t necessarily represent the dish I have written about.

6. His Majesty the Pork; Porchetta and Salumi

All the pork I had tasted back in Iran came in the shape of a few varieties of cold cuts. That is to say just some ham, and maybe some sausages that on very rare occasions we bought (illegally) from the Armenian’s shop, or that someone had smuggled in from abroad. 

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Once in Rome, soon enough I was introduced to porchetta, the pork marvel rolled with tons of herbs, then roasted in its own skin until very crispy. I would ask the lady in the sandwich shop near Campo de’ Fiori to fill my sandwich (in a Roman ciabatta bread), with sun dried tomatoes and grilled eggplants. The tiny grocery shop right under my house on the other hand, would sell cheap pork steak. The fatty meat tasted divine to me, or better to say, it was a delicious sin I had never made.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Once I discovered the glorious world of salumi — the Italian cold cuts, there was no going back. One slice of prosciutto crudo and I was sold. Fatty salame used to be my favorite, capocollo, and mortadella came next. My heavy consume of these cold cuts was at its peak when we used to go to very inelegant evening picnics to the hills just next to roads, packed with a couple of supermarket baguettes, some cold cuts and a bottle or two of wine that we would share. No cutlery, no glasses, pure joy.

7. Seafood

It is no secret that I used to absolutely hate fish. It took me a couple of years in Italy to transform that dislike to love and curiosity. I came to the realization that fish has an adult flavor, meaning you can’t really appreciate it until you’re fully grown up. My first ever pasta with fish, was with smoked salmon and cream. I spat out that first mouthful my friends insisted I tried.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Later my friend Gianni suggested he would make me shellfish pasta “the Sicilian way”, which consisted in topping the pasta with heaps of a mixture of slightly toasted bread crumbs with finely chopped garlic and parsley, soaked in a generous amount  of olive oil. Bread on pasta? Why not! Just another lovely, Italian carb on carb. 

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

My romance with seafood may have started from the readymade frozen shellfish sauces from the super market, but it has gone a long way from there. I’ve learned to cherish and absolutely love seafood thanks to the Italian way with fish, to the point that now it’s among my favorite dishes. Not a summer passes by without many cones of fried little fish (baby octopus, anchovies and calamari), and I have mastered the art of perfect spaghetti alle vongole veraci — clam spaghetti, which is now one of my most favorites pastas ever.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy by Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
Continue reading

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Pt. I

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

From a Girl to A Woman

On August 23rd 2017 I celebrated the 10th anniversary of my arrival to Rome. I had long thought about celebrating a decade in grandeur and style. What I did however, was just a spontaneous and sentimental Instagram post with the picture of the Colosseum, telling the story of what exactly happened on that August 23rd 2007, feeling all the feels that there were. 

When I first arrived here, in a way I was pushed into world of adulthood without fully realizing it. To be entirely truthful, those first couple of years felt like a long Erasmus experience, thanks to our student lifestyle. Suddenly I was in charge of doing all my stuff, including grocery shopping, which meant I could buy and eat literally whatever I wanted. This was my little rebellion, since my mom had always been obsessed with “diet” food, struggling (in vain) to control my health and weight. There I was, in a new country, in a new continent, exposed to a new world in the realm of supermarkets, filled with long isles of (mostly) junk, which I knew nothing about.

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

It took me a couple of years to develop a solid interest in what I was eating; real, authentic Italian food, the correct recipes and the artisanal production of iconic ingredients. But then as I developed my interest in food, I got to discover myself. This sentence may sound quite worn out in today’s obsessively foodie media, but food truly is culture, history and an excellent medium to acknowledge our identities.

Late Celebration

The whole idea of celebrating a decade of life in Italy was introduced to me by Alice (the owner of Latteria Studio in Rome), who back in 2015 wrote 10 posts on her blog about 10 things she has learned from Italians. Later, I read Arlene’s post about a decade of life in Rome (which is not food related at all, thank god), and I though it’s too good of an oppurtunity to not write about. 

rome market and streets-14
pvt workshop july 18-23

In a world obsessed with live posts and 15 second “Stories”, where news from yesterday are old and we’re forced to be in a constant race with numbers, this is a very slow post. It has been sitting here half written and half photographed for a long time, while I found myself pondering upon the sense of blogging at the end of 2018. , I decided to take my time with blog, and publish only what really matters to me, which can be of value to you too. 

There is no recipe in this long post; only memories and photos, which are not even necessarily related to the dishes I talk about. I spent months trying to remember my most significant food memories in the past eleven years in Italy. I recorded my own voice, recounting the anecdotes related to each dish. It was a therapeutic and cathartic process that I encourage you to do too.

So here they are. Enjoy reading the first part of my 10 most striking food memories that have marked 10 years of my life in Italy.  The second of part will be published soon. 

1. Caffè Latte e Cornetto al Bar

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Back in the days I studied Italian in Iran, one of the topics of daily conversation was about whether you have breakfast at home, or in a bar. This made absolutely no sense to me, until on my second day in Italy. My friends took me to neighborhood’s bar Angolo Russo which famously bake their own conrnettos — the Italian equivalent of croissants. I will never, ever forget that first taste of caffè latte and cornetto. The milk felt silky in my mouth, its temperature was perfectly warm when I actually expected the hot milk to burn my tongue. The flavor of coffee was intense, yet softened by the velvety creaminess of the milk. The surface of the cornetto crumbled into million flakes with each of my bites and left a sugary coat on my lips that was wiped with each sip of the caffè latte. The core was soft, and not sweet at all. I have few other food memories as powerful and vivid as the memory of my first Italian Breakfast.

2. Wine on an Island

10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

Growing up in Iran where it’s officially forbidden to consume alcohol, my drinking experiences were limited to homemade (very strong) liquores, and smuggled beers and whiskeys that we drank in indoor parties. I had never tasted “real”, properly bottled wine. I had never even seen white wine. To celebrate our arrival to Rome on our first night ever in the Eternal City, we bought a decent bottle and we opened it on Isola Tiberina, a tiny island in the middle of Tiber river. The wine tasted too acidic to me in the beginning, but I began to like it as it started to calm down my tired nerves (I had been awake for more than 48 hours by then).
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
White wine surprised again when Gianni my friend, taught me to soak slices of yellow nectarine in it, and add a sprinkle of sugar and some mint leaves. Then chill in the fridge and serve for dessert on hot a summer day.

Perhaps the most unexpected experience with wine, was dunking cookies in it! Ciambelline al vino are simple donut-shaped cookies made with wine. Nothing will get you tipsy, happy and full, like a bag of wine cookies dunked in fizzy wine. Just as if it was normal cookies dunked in milk, but for adults. 

3. Spleen Sandwich in Sicily (and other Italian Offals)  

Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon
10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

I have only been to Sicily once. It was more than 9 years ago and I could write 10 striking food memories just about those 5 days. The most memorable, and the tastiest one was undoubtedly panino di milza or the spleen sandwich. Everywhere in Palermo, in small carts, or little shops, you can find the boiled, then sliced and finally fried cow’s spleen, stuffed into in a little (or not so much so) buns. A squeeze of fresh lemon juice on top is a must, while shredded provola cheese is an option. 

Palazzo Braschi- Rome, 10 Striking Food Memories from 10+ Years of Living in Italy, Saghar Setareh | Lab Noon

I had no idea what what milza or spleen was, I knew it was an interior from the vivid gestures of palermitani showing the place their spleen would be in their rib cage. Italians love offal, although at first they might not admit it. But poor man’s regional cooking is full of offal recipes. When in Palermo, you must try this spleen sandwich. When in Rome, do as romans do and try la pajata, the cooked intestines of unweaned calves. Trippa alla romana, Roman tripe in tomato sauce — is another option. Tripe has a glorious time in Tuscany and Campagna too. In Florence, you can’t possibly miss the Lampredotto sandwich (cow’s last and fourth stomach, boiled, chopped and dressed with salsa verde and chilly oil). You should eat it on the benches in front of Saint Ambrose church. If you’re going for a culinary adventure in Naples, be courageous and try centopelle, cows (third? or fourth stomach again?), boiled, chopped, salted, lemon juiced, and served on a piece of paper. Continue reading