Seasonal Inspirations

We just discovered a piece of the peak of summer. It’s a wedge of pea patches, sheltered under a wild, grassy hill, in the midst of West Seattle. From its slopes you can just see the western sunset, still vividly colored at 9 pm at night.

In this garden of flowers and vegetables the colors of summer are gathered in their glory, breathing all the energy and light of the longest days of the year. Ripening tomatoes, spiky arugula leaves, tendrils of climbing bean plants abound. Some pea-patches have let their lettuces and onions grow tall, wild, and dense-going beyond the vegetable to some return to their wild state. One spot is tangled with large strawberry leaves without berries, while another area still has tiny strawberries straining to ripen.

Skyrocketing over-gown lavender hedges, bunches of chives and oregano herbs, rosemary bushes mingle with giant leaves of future squashes and giant pods of overripe peas. It’s all the vibrancy of summer, packed into this neighborhood microclimate and cooling under the sunset only to pick up with tomorrow’s radiant midsummer energy. Summer salads and fall vegetable roasts are made in this tiny terroir.

This local spot reminds us poignantly of another taste of place. For several uears running we would arrive from Seattle to Rome and spend a night at a comfortable beachside hotel at Tarquinia Lido, just one hour from Fiumicino. This is not your typical jet setter’s resort, but rather a local’s weekend retreat, and in our case a short step to recover from jet lag before heading all over Italy for the work of Ritrovo. The Lido is an everyman’s beach for Romans and people from the northern Lazio interior. Once we even ran into some people we had known ten years before from a hiking group in Rome. They were visiting family on a weekend out of Rome.

One of the reasons we persistently returned to the offbeat Tarquinia Lido was because of restaurant Gradinoro. We first stumbled into Gradinoro for a Roman style pizza at sunset one May evening. To our surprise, Gradinoro offered a meal far beyond a mediocre pizza. Through their family-made home cooking, they introduced us to the essence of that season in the campagna Romana or Roman countryside: local artichokes, perfectly blanched and poached in olive oil and white wine, locally-gathered cicoria selvatica or wild chicory greens (doused in our first tastes of Colli Etruschi Extra Virgin Olive Oil from nearby Blera), and the capolavoro or masterwork: Roman puntarelle chicory, crispy fresh and tossed with lemon, anchovy, and more olive oil. How many years did we return at that same season and the same restaurant just to taste these vegetables and capture -in our first return night to Italy-the essence of that season in that place.

To these magnificent terroirs we dedicate a simple seasonal salad, based on a counterpart we first tasted in a local cafe in Cinecitta, outside Rome. A salad that was so simple yet so rich in the expression of that season in that place.