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On Your Mark, Get Set: Roman Earth Yields Treasures to Grill, Chop and Marinate

2011 August 9

By Jennifer Kightley

Wild fennel grows everywhere

My relay inspiration came from Jeremiah’s cooking technique for his Sweet sausage patties with Cucumber Tomato SalsaGrilling. Thank you Jeremiah! Your posts are impressive.

I seem to spend a lot of time grilling vegetables in the summer; the vegetables are cheap, plentiful and at their best, they make light-eating for heavy summer weather and I love them. We slice and grill eggplant for the Sicilian “spaghetti alla Norma”, served with a simple tomato sauce and grated ‘ricotta salata’.  Peppers are grilled, their blackened skins peeled and the flesh torn into strips – tasty, served in olive oil and lemon juice.

I remembered a recipe I had found years ago in the local paper whilst holidaying in Sardinia, which is basically grilled vegetables in a marinade. It’s a joy to make; as you chop the herbs they fill the air with a heady Mediterranean fragrance. Now I can make it my own by adapting the marinade to use ingredients that we grow in our hillside terrace garden at Le Tre Stallette.

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The hillside in question is the first big one you come to traveling east out of Rome towards the Apennines in the Regional Park of Monti Lucretili. At 650 meters we are at just about the highest point for growing olives. But, because of the height, we don’t have to use insecticides as they do in lower altitudes.  In fact, we don’t use any chemicals on our small plot. As well as olive trees we have figs, walnut, and grape vines. We make olive oil, various jams, jellies and other preserves and of course wine. Our herbs do well there too: rosemary, sage, basil and chives. Wild fennel will grow anywhere you let it and the oregano we planted escaped, preferring to bask in the sun on a dry stone wall rather than share light and soil with leafy neighbors.

We’ve not had much luck with vegetables lately as we unwillingly sharing our space with a neighbor – a prickly fellow who thinks it’s ok to nose around our roots and shoots to find a tasty morsel. Sadly our broad beans and peppers fell victim to… the porcupine.

So, where do we get vegetables? Recently in Rome there’s been a growing interest in alternative sources for fruit and veg: alternative to mass-produced food. You can find farmers’ markets around the city, though they tend to be pricey. Consumer groups, like gasintegrati, have got together to buy in bulk directly from producers. Some producers such as Biola take their own produce round the city and sell from the roadside to regular customers.  Others, forced out of business in a local market, have taken clients’ phone numbers and deliver weekly door-to-door. We have been lucky to have, close to our house in Rome, one of the rapidly disappearing, old-style, Roman street markets, where local smallholders bring their produce every day. It is fresh and ‘almost’ organically grown. Their prices are competitive and real bargains can be had at the end of the morning as stallholders pack up for home. So it was there that I went to choose vegetables to marinate for my RecipeRelay.

I’ll meet you there on Thursday!

Jennifer Kightley is a recently retired teacher who is looking forward to having enough time to do the things she has neglected in the past. She and her husband are the owners & operators of Le Tre Stallette Bed & Breakfast on the outskirts of Rome, Italy.

  • Stephanie

    Jennifer, your “small plot” is so beautiful! I have never been to Italy. Funny how I wouldn’t have imagined porcupines there. We lost two heads of cabbage to some critter a few weeks ago. I look forward to Thursday’s recipe!