This isn’t the first time I’ve had a l-o-n-g dry spell between posts, so I won’t offer any excuses (disabled computer, lack of good Wi-Fi, sudden finger paralysis . . . anything else?). No, it seems my utter failure to organize my thoughts isn’t particularly dramatic, but it is something of a metaphor for our lives lately. Let me elaborate.
If you’ve been following our adventure, you know that we left our home, our jobs and our family and friends over three years ago to live in a little, southern Italian town called Martina Franca. It wasn’t the first time. Over two decades ago, we spent a year in in the central Italian region of Umbria with our very young children, diving deep into local culture through elementary school, neighbors and so many memorable meals.
At the end of that year, we kept going, traveling to southern Italy and, as it happened, the region of Puglia: the high heel that supports Italy’s boot. And that’s where it happened. We fell hard for Puglia, something like a colpo di fulmine (lightning bolt) that just about knocked us senseless. Before we knew it, we had bought five acres, 150 olive trees and a centuries-old stone oddity called a trullo—an architectural talisman of this UNESCO World Heritage-designated zone complete with a Hobbit-like, cone-shaped roof.
Still slightly giddy and not just a little nervous about our flight of fancy there in the sun-kissed countryside, we returned to our American lives and dug back in. We raised our children, climbed our respective professional ladders and went to Puglia every summer, acquiring yet another property in the jewel-like, hilltop Martina Franca. And then every summer just wasn’t enough anymore.
So we leapt. Our children didn’t quite know what to make of it: “Children are supposed to leave home, Mom. Parents are NOT supposed to, though.” Although we sometimes found ourselves brought to our knees by a physical ache for our children, they were busy with their post-university lives, loves and their passage to adulthood. And we were consumed with living our nuovastoria.
In short order, we launched Pascarosa, our extra virgin olive oil export company with the certified
organic olives we grew on our property. Starting a business is always daunting, but starting one while deeply immersed in another country’s culture ushered in a whole new level of complexity. In for a penny, we decided to offer food and wine-focused tours of our beloved Puglia, acquainting olive oil customers with the food culture and traditions of the terroir that produced their olive oil. Through the eyes of our guests, we fell in love with Puglia all over again. Our circle of Italian colleagues and friends grew wider as our roots reached deeper.
Culture is sometimes defined as “ . . . a way of life of a group of people—the behaviors, beliefs, values, and symbols that they accept, generally without thinking about them and that are passed along by communication and imitation from one generation to the next.” Even though I speak Italian well and have lots of Italian friends who don’t speak a word of English, we will never become integrated. While our lives here are rich in just about every way that matters, we are still a novelty, sometimes an oddity—never just part of the landscape. Maybe that’s okay and maybe it isn’t, but the pull of our own cultural landscape is almost impossible to resist.
So now we’re thinking about where our future lies. We will always be deeply, powerfully tied to Puglia. Our heads and our hearts are woven into the fabric of the very old piece of southern Italian cloth that has grown frayed, even torn, over time. Yet strong new threads are being interlaced through the culture, offering a ray of hope for the future of a place that has always defined itself through its ancient traditions. But we long to explore new cultures, expanding our reach beyond what we thought was possible when we were raising a family and working to support our future. We also long to explore the culture of our own next generation—that not-too-distant time when our children will become parents. And our own parents, whose lives have been so full, are becoming all the more precious, too.
This summer of weddings, anniversaries and new beginnings has passed in a whirl of emotion. In the fall, we hosted droves of delightful Pascarosa guests in Puglia, brought in the olive harvest, dipped our toes in Turkey’s Bosphorus and returned to California for the longest stay since we left three years ago. In California, talk of an El Niño year caused us to shore up an old farm cottage where we’re hunkered down for what promises to be a welcome, wet winter in the drought-ravaged western United States. We’re thinking about what’s next, too, while we make soup and feed friends. For better or worse, we’re deep in the embrace of our own culture, which feels like the right place to be right now.
We may be in California, but our culinary heart is still beating strong for Puglia. When the weather is blustery here, we turn to the warmth of the southern Italian kitchen to sustain us. Nothing beats this sturdy, simple soup from Altamura, a neighboring town known all over Italy for the quality of its bread. Called Cialedd’ in dialect, it defines the concept of cucina povera—making use of homegrown ingredients when money is tight—and without the eggs, it’s a perfect vegan supper dish.
Cialedd’ (Pronounced cha-LEDD)—Altamura-Style Vegetable Soup
2 yellow onions, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1” pieces
1 bunch of Swiss chard, roughly chopped (about 2 cups)
1 bunch broccoli rabe, woody stalks removed, roughly chopped (about 1 ½ cups)
1 leek, white part only, chopped into ½” pieces
1 large or two small tomatoes, quartered (or use 3 or 4 well-drained sun-dried tomatoes preserved in olive oil)
4 cups vegetable stock
6 pieces of artisanal country bread (make sure you use great quality bread to avoid soggy disintegration in the soup)
Extra virgin olive oil
In a large soup pot (preferably enameled cast iron), put all the vegetables and a scant cup of water over medium heat. Cover the pot and sweat the vegetables gently for about ten minutes.
Add the vegetable stock. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pan—this soup is brothy. Bring the vegetables and stock to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer the soup until the potatoes are tender. This may take up to an hour. Make sure there is at least an inch to two inches of broth above the vegetables at all times; it may be necessary to top off the soup with more broth during the simmering process.
Taste for seasoning; add sea salt and freshly ground black pepper as needed.
Brush the pieces of bread with extra virgin olive oil, then place them on a baking sheet and toast for approx. ten minutes at 350 degrees until slightly crisp. Rub the surfaces with a cut clove of garlic if you like the flavor.
Poach the eggs in a separate saucepan of water (here’s a great method).
To serve the soup, place a piece of the toasted bread in the bottom of a soup bowl. Ladle hot soup over the bread and top with a poached egg. Drizzle everything with extra virgin olive oil and serve immediately.
Note: Although they wouldn’t think much of this idea in Altamura, you can puree half of the soup mixture and add it back to the vegetables in their broth. This step adds creaminess and heft, which seem especially welcoming to us on a cold night.