Skip to content

Herbaceous

La scarapaccia just out of the oven.
Wild mentuccia grows abundantly on our property.

Wild mentuccia grows abundantly on our property.

The first time we saw our land in Puglia, we were immediately seduced by its olive trees and the stone walls that contained them. It wasn’t until much later that we came to appreciate its more subtle charms. They were, quite literally, underfoot. Thanks to especially kind local senior citizens and a much younger herbalist friend from nearby Locorotondo, we now know that we are possessed of a spontaneous greengrocer and virtual herbal medicine chest on our five acres. And it’s all for the gathering, almost year round.

Beautiful wild bietola or Swiss chard grows spontaneously in Puglia.

Beautiful wild bietola or Swiss chard grows spontaneously in Puglia.

There is a wealth of local knowledge about wild herbs and greens that grow freely in the countryside here. Virtually all of it is contained in the collective memories of the aging population of contadini or country people, who learned to recognize the myriad specimens from their parents and grandparents. Happily, a younger generation of Italians has started to value this ancient practice, seeking out venerable experts and carefully cataloging what they have learned to preserve this knowledge for generations to come.

We join friends to search for wild herbs and greens in Pascarosa.

We join friends to search for wild herbs and greens in Pascarosa.

Last week we joined our friends Davide Argentieri and Katia Grilleti for a Sunday afternoon ramble on their property in Pascarosa, the little village down the road from us. They brought along a friend, Stefania Sicilia, who is an accomplished herbalist and passionate advocate for time-honored, natural remedies. Along with her sister Valeria, Stefania owns an erboristeria, a particularly Italian institution that dispenses advice and natural remedies for virtually every aspect of our lives.

Herbalist Stefania Sicilia identifes a wild sage plant through its aroma.

Herbalist Stefania Sicilia identifes a wild sage plant through its aroma.

Stefania, who apprenticed at the 400-year-old herbal pharmacy Officina Farmaceutica S. Maria Novella in Florence after earning a technical herbalist university degree in Bari, led us through the countryside in search of herbs and wild greens. We spent as much time on our knees as we did on our feet, exclaiming over our finds while trying to document them for future use. We arrived home with bags of specimens, all of which are making their way into our meals.

Wild mentuccia ready for culinary use.

Wild mentuccia ready for culinary use.

One of my favorite finds was a perennial herb called variously mentuccia, nepitella and calaminta; its botanical name is Satureja calamintha. When distilled, mentuccia is a powerful natural disinfectant. It’s also used as an ingredient in a pore-tightening facial treatment. My favorite use is culinary, though. Mentuccia adds a subtle minty undertone when cooked, with notes of wild thyme that are accentuated in food preparations. I’ve never found mentuccia growing wild in the U.S., but have been guilty of bringing back cuttings to plant in my garden, where it thrived with plenty of water and abundant sun.

La scarapaccia just out of the oven.

La scarapaccia just out of the oven.

Try this recipe for la scarpaccia, the easiest, most gratifying frittata you’ll ever make. I learned the recipe years and years ago when I lived in Florence and its been a go-to staple ever since. Now it’s on permanent rotation at our house, particularly as part of a varied antipasto selection. If there are every any leftovers (doubtful), use them as a savory panini filling with a little arugula and perhaps a few slices of tomato in season. The nutty zucchini flavors mingle with extra virgin olive oil and parmigiano while the minty-earthy thyme qualities of the mentuccia provide the perfect foil.

La Scarpaccia—Oven-Baked Zucchini Frittata

Ingredients:

1 medium or two very small zucchini
1 large shallot or 1 very small white onion
1 garlic clove
2 eggs
1/2-cup milk and water, mixed
4 Tbsp. flour, sifted
1 or 2 stalks of fresh mentuccia, leaves removed and minced, or ½ tsp. dried (substitute with Italian parsley, peppermint or thyme or a combination of these)
1/3-cup best quality parmigiano or grana padano cheese, grated (aged manchego or another full-flavored grating cheese would work well here, too)
Sea or Kosher salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

Method:

Wash the zucchini, then slice as thinly as humanly possible. A mandoline is helpful for this, but I often use the slicing side of a box grater or a very sharp knife to great effect. Put the slices in a colander, rub them with a little sea or Kosher salt, place a plate over them and weight the plate down with something heavy (can of tomatoes, a heavy pot, etc.). Leave the zucchini to drain in the sink for half an hour or so. If they are especially watery, you’ll be glad you didn’t skip this step.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Pour a thin stream of extra virgin olive oil into a 9 or 10-inch round non-stick cake or tart pan and cover the bottom and sides with the oil.

Finely chop the shallot or onion and the garlic and best them with the milk and water and the eggs until the eggs are incorporated into the mixture. With a whisk, beat the flour and grated parmigiano into the egg mixture just until incorporated. Don’t overmix. Add the herbs and grated parmigiano; mix lightly.

La scarpaccia batter is gently mixed, then poured into its prepared pan.

La scarpaccia batter is gently mixed, then poured into its prepared pan.

Blot the zucchini, squeezing any excess water from them, and then add them to the egg and flour mixture. Taste for salt; add accordingly. Grind a few twists of black pepper, swirl a thin thread of extra virgin olive oil over the top and then pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan. Slide it into the preheated oven and bake for about half an hour, watching towards the end. It’s done when the top is a gorgeous golden brown in places and a heavenly aroma fills your kitchen.

La scarpaccia is ready for baking.

La scarpaccia is ready for baking.

Serve in wedges with salad for a light lunch, as part of an antipasto selection or as a vegetarian filling for panini (sandwiches).

Makes six generous wedges.

N.B. It’s easy to double or triple this recipe if you have enough pans to cook it all at once.

La scarpaccia is ready to eat.

La scarpaccia is ready to eat.

9 Comments Post a comment
  1. Justin Discoe #

    What a bonus to have the herbs growing all around the new homeplace… Lori and I have been researching herbs for handmade soap, so we are right there with you! I remember how excited Brian was all those years ago when you all got the farm and hearing the stories about the amazing neighbors… so awesome.

    December 6, 2012
    • Do you remember when Brian and I made soap in the backyard? What a process, but hugely gratifying. And finding all these great edible greens and herbs has been incredible and so appealing to Brian’s frugal nature. Now we don’t go anywhere in the country without a little bag to carry the bounty home: mushrooms, persimmons, quince, almonds, walnuts, chicories and chard . . . and that’s just this season. Looking forward to see what the spring brings. Great to hear from you, Justin!

      December 6, 2012
      • Justin Discoe #

        Ha, I don’t remember you guys making soap… we made our first batch tonight and had so much fun! We live on 115-acre farm planting small orchards and new plants every season… it takes so much time to wrangle mother nature as we don’t have quite the bounty yet that seems quite natural in Italy. Enjoy the new life and tell Brian hello.

        December 17, 2012
      • Wow! a 115-acre farm? How fantastic! Where is it? Thanks for the words of encouragement about our Italian adventure. We are absolutely thrilled to be here and we’re discovering new things to love every day. You’ve got to get that family of yours over here! Have a wonderful Christmas and a terrific New Year.

        December 22, 2012
      • Justin Discoe #

        Our farm is in Fort Collins, very rural with a grand view of the Rockies… and less than 10-minutes away from old town… pretty perfect for us. Oh, a trip to Italy is on the docket, just don’t know when! Merry Christmas and I just enjoyed your latest blog!

        December 22, 2012
      • For some reason, I didn’t realize you were in Colorado. I went to college at the University of Denver, so I am pretty familiar with your neck for the woods. We used to go up to Ft. Collins for some Colorado State University event in the spring that, sadly, I don’t really remember well (I was in college, after all . . . !). Anyway, Colorado is great and I’m happy to know you’re there. Brian says “hello and enjoy the mole.” Let us know when you think you might want to visit . . . it’s pretty great here.

        December 22, 2012
  2. Suzanne cochran #

    Love the recipe and following your adventure! Thanks for sharing.

    December 6, 2012
    • Thanks, Suzanne. The scarpaccia has been a perennial favorite at our house. Super simple, always perfect. Hope you like it. Now that winter cold is setting in here, we’re thinking of you two in sunny Mexico. We still have blue skies and brilliant sun, but it’s chilly. Hope you’re well and please stay in touch!

      December 6, 2012
  3. Lovely story, great photos, and I have been dying for this recipe for years…ever since we first tasted it at your house what, 22 years ago?? Can’t WAIT to make the torta. The only thing missing is our wild mentuccia…we had tons of it until one of the workers who was cutting weeds decided to cut everything. Bummer. I’m hoping it’ll grow back but I’m not holding my breath. Buona giornata e un abbraccio. xo.

    December 6, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The $tingy Sailor

DIY trailerable sailboat restoration and improvement without throwing your budget overboard

Gracefully Global Blog

Where travel adventures never begin with a trip to the local monument.

My Sardinian Life

photography, expat tales and short stories from a wandering waitress

Married to Italy

Big city Texan girl meets small town Italian boy. Chaos ensues.

Zester Daily

Zester Daily

Nancy Harmon Jenkins

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Not Just Another "Dolce Vita"

A different point of view on travelling, living and loving Italy.

In Puglia and Places

My experiences living in Puglia and other places

Girl in Florence

A Tuscan Texan immersed in Florentine life: passionate about food & wine | random moments | and travel

News : NPR

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

outil de négociation

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Eater SF - All

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Eater Portland - All

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Food : NPR

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Chocolate & Zucchini

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Bon Vivant

Life's simple pleasures

Culinate Main Feed

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

stylishmews

A resource and running commentary on stylish London

Puglia Kitchen

sapori, profumi e visioni culinarie made in puglia

Cantine Menhir

News from Salento... where the sun warms the spirit, water refreshes the mind, food whets the palate, land feeds the soul, and the wine... awakens the passion.

What Katie Ate

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

smitten kitchen

Fearless cooking from a tiny NYC kitchen.

A Cup of Jo

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

Orangette

We begin a new life in Italy . . .

%d bloggers like this: