Sunday special – erba di mare or rock samphire – antipasto recipe

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Easter 2014 we had the singular pleasure of dining at Clelia’s house in Santa Cesarea  Terme. Clelia is a good friend of Giulia’s nonna:  Nonna di Giulia – who has been featured regularly on my blog with her recipes from Salento, spanning such delicacies as crostata , pasta, Puglian meatballs, and my favourite fava bean soup. Clelia is a  retired teacher – and if an invitation to dine at her house is on the table, believe me, I will move heaven and earth to be there. Yes her cooking is that good. She served an amazing array of salty cakes, cheeses, tuna fish and capers, and an intriguing home-made cured plant she calls Erba di Mare. I have no idea what this is in English, I was sure it was Agretti, I have since ordered Agretti seeds (salsola soda) and planted them, in the interest of good reporting however, I checked photos of agretti against photos of Clelia’s plant below, and discovered it’s not a match:

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After checking various photos and asking food aficionado, expert and father of chefs, at fromthefamilytable for his input,  I decided that what Clelia calls Erba di Mare is in fact Crithimum Maritimum – or rock samphire – further googling in pigeon Italian have confirmed my suspicions thanks to a very helpful website: here – the plant is called finocchio maritimo in Italian (martime fennel) or in dialect: ripili, critimi (Nonna di Giulia’s dialect), salippici, or erba di mare (Clelia’s dialect). The plant grows wild in close proximity to the seashore in crevices as you can see above and in big clumps surrounded by other vegetation below:

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Erba di Mare is harvested in big bags in the springtime, Clelia sadly didn’t want to feature on the blog so you cannot see her face) :037

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And prepared using an age-old but very simple recipe:

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And then served alongside other Puglian delicacies.

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Not sure where one would source rock samphire, but if you can,  this is really delicious. This might even work with Portulaca oleracea, which I have growing on my balcony. Anyhow, we have enjoyed this on bruschette, I have also pureed it and used it as a salad dressing where it adds a really interesting note.

Clelia’s Erba di Mare recipe

  • erba di mare – washed –  and then tear off “twiglets” with 2-3 leaves on them
  • 1 liter of white vinegar
  • 1 liter of water
  • Salt to taste (quanto basta – a uniquely Italian instruction, add salt until it is enough, if you cook, you can figure this out) – go with what you’d add to a pot of boiling spaghetti water would be my suggestion
  • some whole black peppercorns

Bring to the boil and from the point of boiling count 40 minutes. As you will have noticed I don’t say how much eba di mare to add and if you check Clelia’s recipe above, you will note, she also doesn’t mention it. Having checked back with Nonna di Giuila. I got extra instructions: you need to make sure that your erba di mare is covered by the boiling vinegar/water mixture, so don’t add more erba di mare than that.

When the 40 minutes are up you pour off the water, and lay the erba di mare leaves on paper towels/kitchen towels to dry overnight, they should dry completely by morning.

The next morning put them into jars and cover with either vinegar or olive oil depending on your preference.

Have a look at the pictures below to get a sense of the wonderful place Clelia lives in the summer – Santa Cesarea Terme imagine walking into her house, first you pass the clothes drying outside:

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You step into a wonderful old building:

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Looking out:

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Looking up in Clelia’s kitchen:

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And she allowed me to take  a picture of the bedroom because I was so fascinated by the space:

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The street outside:

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On a walk through the village:

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The village:

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15 thoughts on “Sunday special – erba di mare or rock samphire – antipasto recipe

  1. As always, beautiful images, and you have captured a beautiful, magical place. I would think you would never want to leave. I am with my chef children, and none of us knows for sure what the plant might be. The best guess was ice plant, but I’m not sure you would want to cook with that. We will continue our research. All best wishes.

    • And thank you so very much for looking into it – had you and your chef contacts pegged as the perfect sleuths for this. Do they use agretti at all? Its all the rage here in europe at the moment – happy sunday poli

    • Dear Sheryl, thanks so much for your kind comments, especially on the photography, I still only use my iPhone, although I do have proper cameras in the house, but somehow the iPhone is always with me, and although I pledge to get back into the habit of using my Nikon, up until now I havent managed. I am hoping your comments will inspire me!

    • rock samphire – fascinating to me to learn about it too! I collect so many recipes over the year that I don’t find the time to blog about them all, so I am glad I finally got to this one 🙂

  2. Beautiful and interesting post Poli of an ingredient I’ve never used before. Samphire is definitely something I’ve heard of though and know that it can be found in some of the more southern parts of Australia. Various cooking shows over the past few years have featured it from time to time as well. An interesting ingredient… with I’m sure a very unique taste. Having just googled it, it may well be Marsh Samphire that I’ve seen in use, rather than Rock Samphire… Either way, I think it’s fabulous that you’re featuring this rather rare herb on your blog. Oh and love those vaulted ceilings and the picturesque town of Santa Cesarea Terme – just beautiful!

  3. The local samphire we have here is quite different. The recipe is very Italian, i.e. not precise at all and for experienced cooks only. The main parts are a 1:1 ratio of water to vinegar and 40 minutes of cooking time. Your stories and photos make me long for Italy — but I have to wait for August!

    • 🙂 I guess there are many different kinds of samphire, agreed the recipe is the classic type you get from aunties and grandmothers, where experience counts more than exact measurements…all expressed in the non-measurement …quanto basta…:) – thanks so much for reading through I am glad the stories make you long for Italy – August is the classic Italian holiday period – is that when you are going – South/North/East/West? So much to eat! If you happen to be the Salento region and would like a nice night out try this place, from your blog I think you’d like it:
      http://www.masseriatorrecoccaro.com
      /en/home/
      Oh and Stefan – do you have a pacojet in your kitchen? I am curious!

      • We will be going the last week of August and the first two of September, to hopefully still have good weather but to avoid the crowds (and high prices) of earlier August. We will be going to the North-East, our first time to Friuli-Venezia-Giulia.
        The masseria looks nice, although the rooms are more luxurious than what we would usually go for.
        My favorite restaurant in Puglia is probably Antichi Sapori in Monterotondo, near Andria. We’ve been to Puglia in 2008 and would love to return, perhaps next year.
        No, I do not have a pacojet in my kitchen 😉

      • Well have a wonderful time – sounds like you will have a wonderful time! The masseria we always pass through from the airport on the trip down south and stop for dinner – we don’t stay there either, I am happy in simpler surroundings too, I will make a note of your recommended restaurant for my next trip! Thanks for the tip!

    • 🙂 yes i want that roof too – the ceilings amazing – small flat but spectacular like being in a chapel – and the food was to die for too! Need to get recipes for the other dishes clelia served – very memorable

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