May 22. When I was a child, the end of May marked the beginning of cherry-picking season in Italy, and for the next month or so I could often be found doing my homework with a big bowl of juicy fruit in my lap, and a few red stains on my books .
The decadence of sucking on the cherries is counterbalanced by the zen quality of spitting the pits into a saucer. Ciliegie are the perfect, meditative snack: "una tira l'altra" (one pulls the other, you just can't stop eating them) - that's also true of potato chips, by the way, but potato chips aren't being touted as the next "superfood".
Cherries are actually so good for you that they are now being marketed in the form of capsules. I find that a bit ridiculous: wouldn't you rather stick them into a pie? At least dip them into white chocolate? Or, if you are being truly virtuous, how about using them for a colorful salad?
- 1/2 ripe cantaloupe, diced
- 1/4 small ripe watermelon, diced
- 3/4 cup goat cheese, or crumbled feta
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and whole
- fresh mint or basil
- 2-3 tbsps of the best extra-virgin olive oil you can find (not too strong or acidic)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 loaf Italian or French style bread, sliced and toasted, broiled, or grilled
- Rub the toasted or grilled bread slices with the garlic cloves while they are still hot. Discard the garlic. Brush with very little oil.
- Spread a little cheese on the slices.
- Dress the two melons (separately) with the rest of the oil, and little salt and pepper. If using feta, which is saltier, you can skip the salt.
- Top some slices with the cantaloupe and others with watermelon. Decorate with fresh mint.
- 1/2 lb phyllo dough (home-made or store-bought)
- 1/2 lb vanilla gelato (home-made or store-bought)
- 1/2 lb bittersweet or dark chocolate (grated, or use chips)
- 1 basket berries
- milk and butter
"Nothing is more memorable than a smell. One scent can be unexpected, momentary and fleeting, yet conjure up a childhood summer beside a lake in the mountains; another, a moonlit beach; a third, a family dinner of pot roast and sweet potatoes during a myrtle-mad August in a Midwestern town" (Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses).
One of my first olfactory memories features a lemon lavender crostata, baked by my grandmother on a summer afternoon about four decades ago.When we think of lavender fields, most of us conjure up images of Provence: maybe because they were often depicted by French impressionists. However, this plant (a member of the same family of savory herbs which also includes sage, thyme, and oregano) is cultivated all over the world, from England to Brazil, from Russia to Japan and new Zealand - and of course, Italy. My grandmother lived in Pistoia, a town about 30 minutes North-West of Florence, and just over an hour drive from the Chianti region and its stunning landscapes of rolling hills lined with cypress trees, vineyards, olive groves and (surprise!) lavender fields, in a patchwork of incomparable natural beauty. That's exactly where my parents and I used to pick our flowers. Only after a generous tip to the farmer we would be allowed to leave with a large bundle. I remember that I would often come back with a bee sting, promptly treated by the local pediatrician, Dottor Federico: lush lavender shrubs are always humming with fuzzy bees, and the product of this romantic relationship is the most elegant of all honeys.
My grandmother was never a remarkable cook or baker, but somehow this particular tart, made using her next-door neighbor's recipe, and almonds and lemons from her own orchard, always came out so delectable that it was gone in five minutes - however, its exquisite memory has lingered on for over 40 years….
- 1 disc puff pastry or short pastry, home made or purchased
- 2 egg yolks
- 3/4 cup (heaped) sugar
- 1/4 cup (heaped) potato starch
- 2 1/4 cups 2 % milk
- juice of 2 small lemons, or 1 large lemon
- zest of 1 organic lemon
- 2 teaspoons dried lavender