Beyond my, now well documented, love of Lisbon there is a little secret. The countryside outside of Lisbon, all within less than 2 hour drive. Looking deeper, past the veneer of maybe little too perfect home renovations, there are still captivating stories to be told, with colorful local characters, oblivious to the demands of instagrammable perfect shots. Moments that unfold into stories, and only take time and curiosity to develop. Enter the village of Ericeira, on the Atlantic cost. While my traveling companions went into the cave looking for elusive sea urchins (elusive mostly because they were not in season!), I opted for the above ground vantage point, mesmerized by the waves. This is how I spotted a local fishermen in the churning and terrifyingly crashing waves. Sometime later, he was happy to tell me his story of the day, but only in a very animated Portuguese! Through little research I figured out that he was harvesting a local delicacy, gooseneck barnacles.
Meandering through the countryside on the back to Lisbon we stopped at Veronica’s farm. The table was set for a casual feast of clams cooked in a simple garlicky broth, bites of cheese, rustic bread and, of course, sardines. The conversation was just like the food, honest, unassuming, and wholesome. Challenges of leaving a steady job in Lisbon to focus on restoring the farmhouse and the small farmland, some successes, some failures, struggling orange trees, dreams and hopes. The every essence of gathering around food outdoors is that you can turn your gaze to the patch of garden where the strawberries on the table came from, or run your hand through the thyme perfuming the clam broth. The connection is made, the homage to the land and the human cultivating and foraging it is paid. Watching the golden light setting on nearby hills feels almost like a frivolous bonus by then.
I did not expect to be so smitten by the food culture in Rome. I know, seriously, how was that possible? How many cookbooks on Italian cooking can be found in an average bookshop? How many cooking shows are out there? Well, I do have an excuse here – I hardly ever watch tv. But the true reason is different, and so prosaic…that is downright silly. Years ago, I worked in an American-Italian cafe as a cook. Menu was very limited, and while the wood oven pizza, which I had nothing to do with, was great, the pasta with alfredo sauce or shrimp scampi must have turned my taste buds off. I could not understand how anyone would gobble down so much pasta with plain cream, and keep coming back for more. If this was Italian cooking, I was not buying into it.
When I found myself in Rome this June for Bay and Orellana food photography and styling retreat, I headed for the familiar ingredients, to taste the waters. Pasta with porcini mushrooms? Bring it on, I have never heard of anyone ever ruining anything by adding porcinis, after all. Follow along for a feast of color, taste, and simple elegance. Rome, as I see it…
Stop 1: Cafe alfresco dining
Stop 2: Dessert hour at the Apartment
Stop 3: Alfresco lunch in the country