Sunday, October 18, 2009

a garden of her own...

If you have ever read Under the Tuscan Sun or A Year in Provence, you have visioned a beautiful garden surrounded by olive trees, a rustic table, set with a hodge podge of serving pieces and glassware.  A large jug of local wine sits in the middle, and a conversation flows where a foreign language comes to you as easily as your native tongue.

I have dreamed of owning a home anywhere, that can instantly transport me, the minute I step out the door.
I think our cabin in the woods will do that for me eventually, but its not quite there yet.  Or maybe, I am not quite there yet.

On our culinary journey, we met a wonderful woman named Antoinetta.  She owns a natural herb garden, that sits on several acres.  At the edge of the property is a small home, on the hills of Romagna, but overlooking Tuscany.
The natural herb garden subsists on its own.  Essentially, Antoinetta does not water or fertilize the property.  It gets the water that comes naturally, and grows completely wild.  Her plants do quite well and she produces enough to supply dry herbs to friends, family and local shops.  She also makes wonderful conserves and a surprisingly good digestive.
We toured the garden, tasting many different herbs.  Many of which I was familiar with and others I am not.  I was dropping the unfamiliar herbs in my pocket, hoping I could find a shopkeeper I could show them to and he would immediately whip out a packet of seeds.    Oh the smell of ridiculous dreams sure is sweet.

After our garden tour, we sat on the veranda at a farm table and drank local wine and ate some dishes made better by the inclusion of Antonetta's herbs.  She presented a few frittatas and a lovely quiche that were made from the same ingredients but tasted very different just by changing the herbs.  For dessert we were treated to fresh cheese with homemade conserves.  My favorite was a cherry-mint combination.  It was delicious end to a wonderful light meal.

As we sat, at the farm table, in the shade of trees, conversing in Italian about the wonderful meal, the beautiful day and how we could really adapt to this lifestyle, I forgot I was on vacation.  I felt at home, really at home.  It was a beautiful moment.

On the table sat a plate of aromatic oil that Antoinetta makes.  She shared her recipe and I, in turn, share it with you. I think it would make a wonderful Christmas or hostess gift for your favorite eater.

Be sure to use good olive oil.  If it starts good, it ends good!
Aromatic Oil
1 liter extra virgin olive oil
6 small branches marjoram
6 small branches oregano
1 tsp whole peppercorns
1 dried chili pepper
2-3 garlic cloves
1 Tbs sea salt
Put all the herbs in the oil and then add the salt.  Seal and place cool dark place (but not the refrigerator).  After 10 days it will be ready to use.  Use on vegetables, pizza or meat as a condiment, not a cooking oil.


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