Ferragosto has just passed and I’ve made my calls to Italy. Ferragosto falls on the 15th of August and is a day of celebration throughout Italy. This holiday predates the time of Christ when the Romans honored their Gods, in particular Diana, and the cycle of fertility and ripening. It was then called Feriae Augusti. I remember our first summer in Torre Del Lago, watching the children splash water on whoever was nearby. It is a day of feasting, toasting and being with those you enjoy. It brings me back to my beloved Rodi Garganico and the wonderful memories I have so close to my heart. Though we lived in Firenze (Florence) where Ginny was painting and Sarah was attending la scuola elementare, Gaetano Agnessi, on Via Mafia near Santo Sprito, our summers were in the Gargano in Puglia. For me, it was heaven. Rodi Garganico, both fishing and agricultural village, sits on a promontory along the Adriatic Sea.
I often slept outside under the stars, catching the early morning sunrise as well as the full cycle of the moon. I measured my time in Rodi by the full moons I would experience over the summer. From our terrace, you could see the old villas, the sea, and the Grecian style village of Rodi from afar.
Early morning visits to the market were wonderful. There was a certain quiet that was so peaceful. There were the local contadini selling fresh ricotta, caciocavallo, all types of fish, salumi, cactus fruit, peaches and so much more. Imagine what it is like to feast on fresh baked Pugliese bread and sfogliatelle just out of the oven.
Rodi was famous for its citrus, both lemons and oranges. I was once told that the nearby Tremeti Islands’ sheltered the coast line and the surrounding hills from the northern Alpine winds, creating a micro climate conducive to the growth of these lemons and oranges. La famiglia Ciampa, originally of Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast, had land in Rodi and won the premio, (first prize) for best of fruit at Chicago’s World Exposition in 1893.
We have a wonderful book at home documenting the images and logos of the various local families who were significant exporters of these fruits. The paper cloths that were used to individually wrap these fruits bore their images.
By clipping the fruits at the stem and letting them drop into the cloth without touching them, they sustained their freshness all the way to the new world. A special moment for me was handing one of these cloths over to our dear friend, Michele Pilot, of Monte Verde, Roma and Rodi Garganico. The cloth had been given to me by the local priest and bore the name Ognissanti, Michael’s family name of origin.
Michael taught me how to make various fresh pastas including orchiette. Orecchiette, meaning “little ears,” is a pasta typical of Puglia. Michael also taught me his sugo, sauce, for amatriciana using guancialle instead of pancetta. Michael’s mother and father-in-law were second generation proprietors of what had been a very popular trattoria in Rome called Carlo di Trastevere.
I have a lovely memory of an early morning shop with Michael for artichokes before catching a flight back home to America. Carciofi Judaica are a local specialty and it was fun to see Michael and his father-in-law pare the artichokes to see who had the most expertise. I think Lorenzo’s hand and his wife Marisa’s finishing touches at the stove put Lorenzo on top.
I have so many food memories from Italy that fill my heart.
Visiting Rodi in the winter and having Giovanni Albano specially make me one of my favorites, calamari ripieni, or his son Nando preparing seppia (cuttle fish) in the actual ink are just two more. Nando’s wife, my beloved Anna, would always ensure that I had a piece of pecorino or prosciutto or something special from the fridge. We have known the Albano family close to twenty years. Our second summer in Rodi, 1989, I worked for them on the beach as their bagnino (“little bath boy”) Early every morning, I would go down to the beach, open the umbrellas and set the lettini and lounge chairs in order for the day.
I long for the time when I will be in Rodi in early September to stomp grapes by foot with Giovanni. These are the grapes they grow to make a gentle vino frizzante. Though a vino rosso, it is served from the fridge and gives me as much pleasure as a glass of any of the finer wines. It was several years before I realized that the clumps of grapes that I chose every morning for my walk down to the beach were the grapes that were to be used for their wine! Signora Sparta, Giovanni’s wife, never told me not to touch them. My Signora Sparta, she is the one who always has a bottle of ficchi cotto for me to bring home, even when Giovanni has said that the year has been seccho (dry) for the figs to grow in abundance to make the cotto. A drop of cotto on cappuccino gelato is such a treat. There are many recipes that have been given to me that I look forward to making. Skate fish, risotto with strawberries, and Easter lamb are just a few.
Come the end of August we will close for two weeks. It has been a wonderful summer, but I am ready to rest and pay more attention to the love of my life, my partner, Ginny. We are in the process of expansion and hope to showcase what we create by early to mid November. I will be sorry to see the last of our fiore di zucca (zucchini flowers) and granchio (soft shell crabs) come off the menu, but before we close I will make my own interpretation of Antonio Starita’s pizza that was made for Pope John Paul at the time of the Jubileo. We have beautiful organic yellow squash to be roasted and blended with bufala ricotta. The cream will be adorned with red and yellow peppers, a touch of artichoke, and the last of the fiore.
Buon Agosto! Ci vedremo a Septembre.