Two weeks on the sun-baked island of Pantelleria and one is transported to a place where the woes and joys of the rest of the world simple don’t matter. In my view it is an island where time stands still. Steeped in history it feels like you have time travelled to a place that maybe existed fifty years ago, or maybe longer. From the moment you depart the rather swanky new and civilised airport, the first thing you notice is the roads and probably most critically the cars. Every car has a dent and is missing a wing mirror or two, that in itself is not so strange, but the island must be the home to the densest population of Fiat Pandas outside their factory birth place. These are the donkeys of the island, haring up absurdly steep inclines on some of the most pot holed and narrow roads I have driven on outside Africa. All of which is strangely charming, and that in many ways is what the island is partly about. It is refreshingly simple and easy on the eye. Don’t be alarmed when you are not greeted by pristine avenues of ‘Cyprus’ and a manicured Tuscan landscape, but do be enthralled by what looks like a truly ancient vista, tidily portioned out by miles and miles of low lying dry stone walls. Dotted in between the painstakingly built walls are ‘Damussi’, the classic farmsteads that Pantelleria is famous for. Greek in origin, the ‘damussi’ feel more Arabic, and in many ways this is not a surprise, after all one can almost scent the proximity of Africa. On clear days one can see across to ‘Cap Bon’ in Tunisia, most evenings the lighthouse can be spotted, flashing its’ beacon from the Dark Continent. All of which I find rather romantic, sitting on a lump of volcanic rock looking across the Mediterranean to the watercolored outline of Africa. It’s decadent, nostalgic, dated and magical, and I haven’t even started on the food!
This is the island where Mr.P famously discovered ‘gamberi rossi’, the delicate little red prawn that is caught in this area of the Med. Surprisingly sweet they are quite divine and a real luxury, coupled with fresh sea urchins, I couldn’t be closer to foodie heaven if I tried. Strangely you don’t see the urchins on the menu ‘per se’, and that’s where Jack Sparrow, showed his true colors and came into his own. A few kind words and off diving he went. 50 or so urchins later, 1 octopus and a star fish and suddenly ‘Francesco’ was my hero, a true pirate stealing from the rich seabed. Beyond the sea the island has the typical array of superb Italian produce one would expect to find elsewhere in Italy. Flat white peaches a plenty, Burratta, Parma ham, olives, the best tomatoes and of course truckloads of capers; I think you are getting the picture, no one was going to starve on this holiday. Lunches tended to be pasta, homemade pizza or spada (swordfish) on the BBQ, dinners a simple salad followed by salsiccia with grilled radicchio, octopus, monkfish (gosh they are ugly) and on one occasion, a whole fillet of beef that had been lovingly tracked down in Trapani in Sicily. Simple, clean, wholesome, surprisingly healthy eating, and very Italian.
Never knowingly happier than creating a ‘salad number’ I was pretty much in my element playing around with the goodies Pantelleria had to offer. The holiday favourites being the all time crowd pleaser, ‘white peach, Burratta and Parma ham’ and a ‘chargrilled courgette, ricotta, rocket and mint’ salad. The latter being the subject of this post. The farm has a glut of courgettes in the garden so this little number has been reworked several times since our sun baked Pantescan holiday, which sadly is fading way too fast into a distant memory. I have tweeked it here and there, the beauty of this salad being that it is quite versatile. Smoked ricotta is my chosen cheese but realistically unless you have a very good Italian deli close by it is going to be hard to track down, fresh ricotta works just as well as does fresh goats cheese. Likewise I have used roasted hazelnuts, walnuts and latterly cobnuts, all equally delicious. Last week I added in chive flowers, and I guess if you have a shortage of rocket, watercress would be a perfectly good substitute. In a nutshell this is just a sublime late summer salad, one to make the most of before the shorter days of autumn take hold and we all start craving hearty soups and slow cooked comfort food, and importantly one that reminds me of warmer climes and the happy, hazy days of a family holiday!
Chargrilled courgette, ricotta, rocket and mint salad
2 green and 2 yellow courgettes
4 handfuls of washed rocket
1 handful of fresh mint leaves
50gms of nuts toasted (hazelnuts, walnuts or cobnuts)
6 tablespoons of olive oil
Maldon sea salt
Fresh black pepper
200gms smoked ricotta, fresh ricotta or fresh goats cheese
1. Put your chargrilled pan on to heat up and using a peeler or mandolin, slice the courgettes lengthways to create courgette ribbons.
2. Place the courgette ribbons on the chargrill and press down with tongs so the entire length gets a chance to have some heat on it. As soon as the charred stripe appears remove with tongs to a separate dish. You need only do one side of the courgettes.
3. Roast the nuts in the oven, they rarely need more than 10 minutes but do watch them, I think I burn more nuts than anything else!
4. Finely zest and juice the lemon and whisk together with the olive oil.
5. Now put you salad together, rocket first, a few courgette ribbons, some nuts, crumbled ricotta and some chopped fresh mint, drizzle with the dressing between each layer and season well with salt and pepper.
How to get there: Actually it is not that easy, no direct flights, but a liquorice assortment of combinations of flying to Italy or Sicily and then on. Alternatively one can fly to Trapani and then catch a ferry to the island.
Where to stay: I am sure there are a many hotels on the island, but we opted for the self-catering option and stayed at the fabulous ‘Djenna’, which is sublime, I could write an essay on how wonderful it is. http://pantelleriacollection.com/it/pantelleria/
Where to eat: We only ate out a couple of times but both restaurants I would recommend; La Nicchia in Scauri and ‘The Prince and the Pirate’.
This has to be the best salad even with substituted ingredients in some places, rapeseed oil, and brie, it certainly rates highly, thank you for the inspiration looked and tasted delicious with flowers from butternut squash and chive.