Last weekend I spent a few days in Campania, a Southern region of Italy. I was invited by the generous Chef Berardino Lombardo to study in his kitchen which is known for their traditional dishes carried on from the old grandmothers of the fields--hence the name of his restaurant 'Il Contadino' or 'The Farmer.' In fact, in his humble manner, he declines the title 'Chef' but I can assure you that he is indeed one of the best chefs in the region.
The idea to study at his kitchen came one year ago after a visit to friends in the region. We were on our way home from spending New Year's Eve in Rome and I was dreading another holiday meal. My friend knew just the place to take us. We arrived to a rustic farmhouse after driving through the country. Upon entry we were greeted by a welcome site--a large table generously arranged with seasonal vegetables.
At the dining table, food started to arrive. Plate after plate of vegetable dishes! Usually when I try new foods I can discern how they were made--well, they put this and that together...what a great idea! These dishes were different, I had no idea how they were able to make these vegetables taste so good. I am always looking for more vegetable recipes, especially delicious ones, and put it in my mind to return.
The team at Il Contadino have worked together for many years and are like a family. I was lucky to be welcomed with open hearts and made many friends. Chef Massimiliano worked closely with me and as he is also a teacher at a local culinary school, was attentive to helping me understand the details.
As we worked together, I better understood the significance of the table of vegetables that greet the guests upon arrival. Throughout the day, people would arrive with fresh produce and it would go onto the table. One older man arrived having just come from the forest with a basket of wild asparagus with eggs from his chickens underneath. The asparagus was added to the bouquet of vegetables. As we cooked, we would take what we needed from the table to create the dishes that we were preparing. The dishes turned out to be simple after all--as Italian dishes tend to be--with fresh ingredients and time-tested techniques.
I am grateful to the chefs and staff at Il Contadino and am looking forward to sharing some of these recipes at the Mediterranean Diet for Cancer and Prevention™ Retreats this September. Of course, I will share one with you now....
"Finocchio al Forno" (Oven-cooked Fennel)
1. Cut fennel in half lengthwise and place flat side down, cut lengthwise slices about half an inch each slice
2. Parboil slices by covering in boiling water that is lightly salted until soft--about 5 minutes
3. Remove from water and cool
4. Oil pan with olive oil and arrange slices flat on pan and sprinkle salt
5. In blender, mix the following ingredients: olives, capers, garlic and stale whole-grain bread pieces (amounts can be adjusted according to your taste)
6. Sprinkle this mix generously over the fennel slices in pan and drizzle olive oil over this
7. Bake in oven at 350° for 15-20 minutes until fennel is very soft and bread crumb mixture is slightly browned
If you are interested in learning more about the Mediterranean Diet, be sure to visit our website and consider joining naturopathic oncology specialist and chef Dr. Michelle Qaqundah in the beautiful hills of Tuscany, Italy for a one-week hands-on culinary retreat! You can also follow our FaceBook page to read about more culinary adventures.
Until our next adventure...I wish you all "BUONAPPETITO!"