Food Glorious Food!
The truly wonderful thing about living in this area of Lunigiana is that we eat all that is grown and reared locally. It is so intrinsically important for our health and well being, that we know where our food is coming from and how it is produced.
Most of what we eat at Settimo Cielo Retreat is organic. If we haven’t nurtured it in our vegetable and herb gardens, we source it from local organic producers, in support of home growers.
Even our butcher in the village produces her own meat, which makes us happy in the knowledge that the animals haven’t suffered being transported for long distances. Our happy free-range hens give us a yield of daily eggs. Enough not only for our use but also to trade with our neighbours!
Mauro leaves a basketful of bietola (swiss chard), just picked from his garden, ready for me to reach from the car window as I pass, we give him eggs. I am always mindful to give him an odd number as the superstitious Italians believe odd numbers are lucky!
Our flour is bought directly from the mill in the village and olive oil from our nearest neighbours, Laura and Luciano.
Eating seasonal fare complimented by wild food sourced in this woodland, somehow naturally feels this is how it should be.
As you will have gleaned by now, food is a passion of ours. We love to place food on the table prepared from the best ingredients. What we eat provides the basis for the healthiest life. It unites us around the table, links us to one another where ever we are from in the world.
I don’t ever want to loose that feeling of celebration at mealtimes. Food should feel like a gift, one we should all be thankful for. The table is one of a few, dominating the kitchen or situated on one of our terraces, in the Secret Garden or even one carried to the middle of our woodland at Settimo Cielo Retreat.
I love to dress the table with fresh antique linen, wildflowers and candles, the experience is an important consideration.
Watching the butterflies and bees working away amongst the lavender whilst eating a bowl of home made granola, natural yoghurt from the mountains and seasonal fruits topped with a tiny spoon of raw honey, is one I would love to share.
Observing nature whilst eating is the lovliest experience!
If you are up early enough you can sit and watch the sun gradually show her face, filtering rays through the trees.
Early September and I am feeling a gentle breeze. There may even be a sunlit mist.
Margherita is an important member of our ‘family’. Margherita helps with the planting, she is very knowledgeable about wild food, collects fungi and chestnuts as well as wild fruits. A fabulous cook, she makes the very best Torte di Erbe, Gnocchi, Lasagna al Pesto and Verdure Ripiene. Not forgetting fresh pasta!
Sometimes she arrives at the door with a single tiny wild orchid or the prettiest posy of wild strawberries! How blessed I am. I love the thought that she played up here in this place as a small child with her brothers and sisters. It is special to us all that Margherita’s parents were once with her up on this ridge, that she has happy family memories, and can feel their presence. This is like home!
Jim’s passion, apart from singing and playing guitar, is his wood oven that he built with a couple of local experts. He loves the whole process of preparing the wood, starting the fire, bringing it up to the correct temperature to cook anything from pizza to our turkey at Christmas!
He prepares his dough 36 hours before making a pizza, so good even the Italians say they won’t compete! We use our own tomato sauce prepared when our home-grown are plentiful and we have made pelati.
Another favourite is Orate, (Bream), which we buy from the wet fish shop in Lerici. Jim grills it with a mix of our herbs from the garden, fresh lemon, olive oil, sea salt and pepper, and serves it with twice-cooked hand-cut chips and a fresh green salad.
I frequently buy local produce from the organic market held on Wednesdays. Home produced sausages, pecorino, fruit, veg, honey, chestnut flour, walnuts and plants are amongst the treats to be found!
In addition to our own menus we encourage our helpers from around the world, to cook dishes from the countries they have originated from. We have welcomed around 40 helpers from the age of 20 to 78 through an organisation called HelpX.
Helpers give their time skills and enthusiasm in return for a bed and meals. It has truly worked wonderfully for us, much more than just an exchange, we have welcomed them as part of our family, exchanging stories, culture, food and laughter.
Everyone is invited into our kitchen to create a dish or bake.
The Kitchen is the heart of our home, where all the love is present. You are invited to come and see for yourselves!