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. 

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-58
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-55

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-94
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-42
Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-25
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-5
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-81

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
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-16

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-96
Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-19
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-56
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-68
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-78

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-26
Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-24
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-54
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-69

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

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-28
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-25

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-11
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-7
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-29
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-24

Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-8
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-22
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-36
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-53

Lab Noon in Puglia | Watermelon, Tomato & Herb salad | Saghar Setareh_-3
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-95
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-91
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-93

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-20
Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-49

Lab Noon in Puglia | Saghar Setareh-15

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

Immigrant Food Stories: A Persian Quince Stew, A Supper Club & A Cookbook from When It Rained Bombs

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11 Quince Stew – Other photos from my last trip to Iran in August ’15

Immigrant Food Stories, a Feast of Togetherness for Dark Days

It was a rainy Saturday night early in November. There was the smell of cardamom and butter in the air. Windows were condensated after hours of boiling rice and stewing meat. The speakers of Alice’s record player were connected to my phone, that played songs of which only I could understand the words. Others were distracted from the melodic tunes by the food and the conversation. Around a long table topped with pale rose, red Autumn leaves, quinces and pomegranates, there was a cheerful group of eight people who were chatting the cold, rainy night away. With a glass of Syrah in our hand, we were feasting on the colorful and aromatic dishes, in a company that was just as vibrant and stimulating.

We were from Iran, Italy, The US and Sweden, with some German background. The food was Persian, fragrant and seasonal. This was the Persian Autumn Dinner that I hosted at Latteria Studio, as a trial for my supper club. It was only a couple of days before the US election. And I could’ve never imagined that 3 months later when I finally wrote a recap of that evening, we would be standing where we stand now.

This post is a part of the Immigrant Food Stories; the contribute many fellow food bloggers are making against hate and fear of the other, particularly to Trump’s dumb and cruel muslim ban (that thanks to a healthy judiciary system, has been halted). I am touched by these people’s stories, and willingness to narrate how we are all similar at the end of the day. Make sure to check out the links below and to look for #ImmigrantFoodStories on instagram, twitter and facebook, and please share your own immigrant food stories too!

If you have followed Lab Noon for a while, you’d know that this whole blog is a long, ongoing immigrant food story. It’s the tale of my Iranian culinary heritage combined with what I learn everyday from the spectacular food culture of Italy, where I immigrated a decade ago. What you might not know is another food story; the food stories of wars, the food stories of sanctions, the food stories of shortage, instead of abundance.

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-1

Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00012
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00011

Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00026
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00005

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-8
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00001
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00014
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00013

Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00022
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00032
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00033

Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-4
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00003

Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00004
Immigrant Food Stories | Persian Food | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh00021
Persian Quince Stew | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-6

Bombs, Coupons and a Cookbook from “Rosa

I was born in 1985, right in the middle of eight years of Iran-Iraq war. I still remember as if it was just yesterday when the bombing siren went off, and what I now associate as the most horrifying voice in the world, announced the beginning of the bombing and the minutes we had in order to run to shelters. As terrifying as the siren was, the running and hiding seemed like a big, collective game to us children. A game that our parents were often too concerned and worn out to play with us.

Food and other essentials were rationed during the war in Iran. A grocery coupon system was applied so that all families could have to them, without having to obtain their food and other goods from the black market (which was also very active). The aisles in the super markets were often half empty, and the queues in front of shops that sold with coupons were very long.

I had long forgotten about the grocery coupons and the long queues until some weeks ago, when I received a small, but heavy parcel from my mom. It was the two huge volumes of “The Art of Cooking” by Ms. Rosa Montazami, the bible of cooking in Iran. The book is a vast collection of Iranian and international savory and sweet recipes, so important that for decades it has been gifted to young brides to help them cook well in their new home. Continue reading

The Layoff, A Praise to Creative Work & Gradara Workshop Recap

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-35-01

Read Betty’s recap post about Gradara Workshop here | Read Zaira’s recap post here | Valentina’s post coming soon. | My recap starts at point 2 of this post.

I. The Gentle Layoff or a Note to Self

After the huge ups and downs that started in my life last year, early this Spring, it started to feel more steady, workwise speaking. After a six month internship in an startup office, I was hired as the content manager; I’ve worked on the blog and the social media of an interior design website. An exciting adventure and a very full time job, that demanded for almost all of my energy.
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-78

However the euphoria of the new job did not last long. Soon I started feeling restless, as what I did, although thrilling, was not much creative. I started missing working in the the creative/artistic/culinary world. 

Now that I look back to the end of July, I can see clearly how attending the Gradara Workshop —hosted by talented ladies Betty, Zaira and Valentina— was a turning point. I had never met these girls in person, and it was my first time at Valentina’s home, but somehow I felt at ease with whatever was going on, things came naturally to me, I was at the right place at the right time. 

As I came back to Rome, I started to feel uneasier every day at work. I tried to remain focused at my deskjob but I felt out of breath as I dreamed about cooking, shooting and creating something instead of organizing documents. 
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-1-2

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-5
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-3

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-6

At a certain point, on September 1st when I woke up in the morning, I looked at the rays of the early sun outside the window, then sat on the bed and… started to cry! The mere idea of going back to that office for a long, indefinite time made me feel plain miserable.

Later when I was washing the breakfast dishes, all I could think about was the need for a big change, a revolution.

The big change arrived some hours later. On that same day, I was, very nicely, laid off.

And, odd as it may sound, I felt relieved! I felt that my chance had come, I could do whatever I wanted. This is an opportunity. Now I can dive back into creative work and start anew! 

It wrote these words down immidiately, in order to record my precise intinctive reaction to this apparently bad news; down at the bottom of my guts I was feeling lighter, content and not worried at all. 

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-71

That night I went to bed quite late. The subconscious did its dirty job. I jetted awake, very early, feeling quite anxious.

So, I left This note to remind myself to trust my instinct. To remember, always, what my reaction was to this. To know that I can do better. This is not some self-helping acknowledgin or inspirational note. It’s what it is. 

Do not forget it. Do not forget how miserable you felt on the morning of September 1st, thinking about going to office, and how things lightened up and how you sincerely smiled, after many days, when on early evening of the very same September 1st, you were fired.”

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-62

***

Here I also inform you officially that as of October 1st, I’m available fulltime for jobs for Photography, blogging, cooking lessons, workshops and graphic design, food tours in Rome/Italy and recipe developing for brands and editorial products.

***

No better moment than this to finally publish this memoirs of three days of pure creativity with like-minded people, with a touch of magic that only true passion at heart and crafty hands can bring to life.

2. The Gradara Workshop, The Italian Riviera, July 2016

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-69

It was Summer time at its peak. The Italian riviera, where Valentina lives, was hot, humid and adorable.

I got on a train from Rome’s Termini station that took me towards north one day before the workshop. There, in the station of Cattolica Valentina, Zaira and Betty were waiting for me. Though it was the first time we met, we clicked immediately; we shared the stories of our lives and a laughter or two.

That evening we had the best piadina (Italian authentic flatbread from the Romagna region, wrapped around cold cuts, cheese and vegetables), somewhere looking over the sea. A simple, incredibly convenient dinner that represented the charm of local Italian regional gastronomy at its best.

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-16
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-22

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-15

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-21
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-19

On Friday, we harvested and arranged flowers, wrapped the gifts for the attendee (incredibly gorgeous looking Raku ceramic bowls by Freaky Raku), froze peaches for the welcome drink. Betty, Zaira and Valentina went through their keynotes and slides.

By the times the attendees arrived to the garden of the Solfrinis, the sun was low, and our beautifully styled Summer table was decorated with fresh fruit, crystal glasses, roses and flowers from the countryside and olive branches.

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-36
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-23

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-30
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-24

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-46

Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-39
Gradara Workshop | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-31

We were a group of talented, sensible women from all walks of life, different religions, and three different continents; In a moment where the world is being teared apart by hatred and fear, we gathered around from Italy, Germany, Switzerland, USA, Canada, Croatia, Turkey, Lebanon, Kuwait and Iran and celebrated our similarities, while each expressing uniqueness through our personal stories.   Continue reading