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
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
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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

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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Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-55

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Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-25
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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.)

Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-2
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Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-24
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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. 

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-34

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Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-8
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Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-3
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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