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:
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:
And prepared using an age-old but very simple recipe:
And then served alongside other Puglian delicacies.
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:
You step into a wonderful old building:
Looking up in Clelia’s kitchen:
And she allowed me to take a picture of the bedroom because I was so fascinated by the space:
The street outside:
On a walk through the village: