Sometimes I feel very lucky because I was born in this part of the world! A geographically diverse land full of beauty and history and so many precious works of art, each one so special – like nowhere else, I believe.
The marvels of this country seem to be concentrated, almost pressed one against the other. Small distances separate very diverse places, so I can choose between walking through the tiny roads of a historical city or an ancient village or visiting a museum or an ancient cathedral. I can also choose between watching towards the coastline or towards the soft hills.
At this time of the year I cannot but feel my feet tingling and a craving to move. Even though I love to work in my studio, the idea of riding my bicycle, wearing spring clothes, going for a long walk at the seaside are strong temptations – just to go out and maybe discover an unknown, special place. It’s Spring, the lovely season, when plants awaken, gems appear, flowers bloom and their smell fills the air. The air is once again warm and daylight seems to last longer, because night falls later. The light outside is clearer and cleaner and has a bluish hue.
I remember, when I was going to school, that we always looked forward to Spring Break, which corresponds to one of the traditional holy days: Easter. Some consider it Holy, others a Resurrection, others the beginning of Spring. It was the perfect time for going on small trips and visiting art exhibits.
I also remember, when I was a kid, the special and unusual pleasure of “eating around”. It may seem a typical Italian tradition but we always prepared something good and ready to be eaten when we were out. Bringing something from one’s own land does not mean anymore – as it used to after World War II – fearing lack of good food in the place of destination. Fortunately it is no longer so. Nor it resembles some Realistic film, when food comes out of suitcases – possibly Southern food, rich of flavor – to be shared on the train with other passengers going North in search of luck or relatives. Bringing regional food in the luggage, fearing it could not be found elsewhere, is no longer necessary now, since people and goods travel everywhere. These are only old habits, I know.
So I will tell you what it means to me to have something ready to eat outside in an impromptu picnic.
The moment will be perfect when the place will show us the best place to eat it. Having good food in reach and finding an inviting comfortable place with a nice view are the perfect ingredients to make me feel relaxed and in a privileged state of self-sufficiency and freedom.
We choose the place, the time and the food – which will be tastier if we prepare it – and everything will be ready at once. We won’t have to wait and the view will be perfect because we chose it.
The last sandwich I ate was at the seaside a few days ago. It was a beautiful, clear, warm and bright day – wonderful! Yes, because bread is the most precious food in the whole history of our species. Bread of all kinds and shapes! I read that in ancient Egypt there were already forty different kinds of bread which were cooked outside in clay ovens. I saw some of these ovens in Turin and Pompeii Egyptian museums. When I see a charred two-thousand-years-old loaf of bread I think about the hands that kneaded and cooked it – just like we do. Isn’t it moving??
Then there are images which we all have archived somewhere: the smell of fresh bread, the oven at the center of even the most humble home, the bread cut in one’s hands as shepherds do.
Considering the wide variety of regional bread, Italian creativity seems really endless. So I arrive at the roll, which is the portable, most comfortable form of bread. The round one is called “rosetta”, that is “little rose”, because the signs dividing it on top of the roll resemble rose petals.
Bread rolls remind me of so many moments, as diverse as the landscapes of my childhood. I remember the one with fig jam which I used to eat in the garden, the one with grilled aubergines which we carried on trips, the one with basil pesto which I ate on the shore of a Tuscan lake. I recently discovered a place in Florence where you can eat wonderful sandwiches which are made of fresh bread and a variety of local ingredients: you have to queue on a double line by the road, sometimes blocking the traffic… but it is worth it because they are so… so… I don’t even know how to define them, “good” is not enough.
The day after Easter is traditionally called “Pasquetta”, that is “Little Easter”. Going on a small trip on that day is almost a ritual. In this case it is a more organized trip: a wide basket, a cotton table-cloth and a small wooden chopping-board, your best friends and something to eat together. In my basket there are some sandwiches (yes, they are “little roses”!) with an omelet, as it is usually made in central Italy.
In the area around Rome the omelet with thinly cut artichokes hearts, garlic and parsley is as traditional as the Coliseum!! At this time of the year the orchard offers the first artichokes, which are small and soft, a bit sour and very healthful for their depurative properties.
Small omelets are prepared as if they were pancakes, in a kitchen where the first morning light shines… because Pasquetta starts very early. While the pile of omelets grows in the plate and the pan frizzles, I open a big book called “Art History Illustrated” which I keep in the kitchen between spices and chopping-boards – just to skim through it between one crepe and the other, one omelet and the other…
“Le dejeuner sur l’herbe”, E. Manet. My eyes fall on the bottom left corner, near the basket and the fruit, where a beautiful rosetta lies in the foreground, as if it was a small protagonist of this masterpiece. What else can I say? Bread is always there. Just like art, it is the true food of life.
An Italian provocative artist, Piero Manzoni, meant it, too: by plasticizing some rosetta rolls he made food the protagonist of art and art, at the same time, food. So many images come to my mind when I think of a sandwich and a simple picnic!! Well, now I’m going out, the bicycle is ready, the basket is, too. I cannot resist…. Happy Easter!
- 6 eggs
- 4-5 medium artichoke hearts
- 1 cup fresh parsley
- 2 tbsp grated Parmesan
- tbsp extra virgin olive oil + 1 tbsp to oil the pan
- 2 cloves of garlic
- Half a glass of water
- Favorite rolls
- Favorite salad (with fresh sprouts, if you like)
- Fresh spring onions
- Remove the stems and the external hardest leaves from the artichokes, thus leaving only the central most tender part. Cut the upper part of the leaves with a knife, because they could be thorny. Wash the artichokes, cut them into half and then into thin slices.
- Chop two garlic cloves and half a cup of fresh parsley in a non-stick pan and fry quickly with two spoons of extra virgin olive oil.
- Drop the artichoke slices and let them cook at medium heat for 10 minutes, adding half a glass of water and covering the pan with its lid. Remove the lid and let the artichokes dry by cooking them for 10 more minutes. Add salt and pepper and let the artichokes cool down in the pan.
- Divide the yolks from the egg-whites and beat the last ones very stiff.
- Beat the yolks in another bowl with a pinch of salt and two spoons of grated Parmesan, then add the artichokes and the remaining half cup of fresh parsley.
- Add the egg-whites and mix slowly to avoid flattening.
- Heat a small lightly-oiled non-stick pan (I used a 4,5 inch round one and obtained about 7 omelets) and drop ⅔ spoons of the mixture, leveling it with the back of the spoon.
- Cook the omelet until it curdles, then turn it around by using a shovel and let it cook for a few more minutes, until it acquires a golden hue. Repeat the process until the mixture is finished, remembering to oil the pan lightly between one omelet and the other. Let the omelets chill.
- Place the omelets inside the rolls, adding some leaves of your favorite salad and some thin round slices of spring onions.