We left Italy more than two months ago. There has been so much living since then. So much good, so much chaos, so many good meals. Still, sometimes I just close my eyes and imagine myself right there, on that shore, looking at those rocks and the water lapping against them. There was peace.
When we were in Italy in May, teaching cooking classes for Jovial Foods, we were content to wander around the villa and meander down the hill to the tiny town at the bottom of that hill. However, one day, the wonderful Carla (head of Jovial Foods and tremendous tour director as well), arranged for a bus to arrive at the villa early the next morning. Anyone want to go to the Cinque Terre?
Everyone wanted to go to the Cinque Terre. For decades, I had been hearing from friends that these five tiny towns perched on cliffs above the blue Mediterranean collectively are one of the most beautiful places in the world. How were we going to say no?
So we piled into a bus with the folks who were staying at the villa, people whom we had been teaching in classes, then cooking with them, then laughing in the evenings in the enormous villa kitchen. Lu played games with Jenn and Mark, who took astonishing photos of her through the trip. There was much laughter on the curvy winding roads up to the first town.
When we all finally tumbled out of the bus, there was much talking and then we stopped. None of us could believe it.
How was this place real?
I love the benches of Italy, the old men gathered, gossiping with the woman who walks by.
I love the real food of Italy, not the tourist Italian-American food we think of as Italian food. Everywhere we went, the tiny markets displayed boxes of gorgeous ripe fruits in front. Tomatoes had just come into season.
And the coffee. Oh, the coffee in Italy.
I’ve written this before, many times, but it is wonderfully easy to eat gluten-free in Italy. In the Cinque Terra, we saw this sign a few times, at least. No glutine foods!
The restaurant we stopped in, after meandering down the hill with our friends Debra and Rod, had a big SENZA GLUTINE sticker in the window. It really couldn’t be any easier.
After making sure I would be fed safely, I forgot the gluten. The waitress brought a basket of stiff gluten-free bread, but I let it sit there. Who needs bread when there were prawns like these?
They had been fished out of the ocean that morning. The fresh briny taste of the sea shone through that spicy tomato sauce and the flecks of scallions. It was a dish that called for lots of napkins and loud sucking and slurping and entire enjoyment.
After eating this cioppino, with more seafood fresh from the ocean, I’m pretty much ruined for any other cioppino. I’m willing to make the sacrifice of not eating cioppino until I get back to the Cinque Terre again.
After that long, leisurely lunch —— did you know that you can sit in an Italian restaurant without receiving a bill? you have to ask for it if you want to pay —— we took a boat, out on the ocean. We let the wind blow through our hair and smelled the salt on our skin for a few moments. And then we walked slowly through the next town. There was gelato, of course. And a slow walk up to the top of the hill to see this.
There weren’t many thoughts that day, besides wow. And sigh. And look at that. And how is that real?
I love those too-infrequent days, free of thoughts, full of joy instead.
And Lu, our darling girl? She danced up and down the stairs of those towns, even at the end as we sat in the sunlight, eating farinata together. She loved the people we met and ate with that week in Italy. She still asks us, “When are we going to see our friends from Italy again, Mama?”
She also found a pair of Ariel flip flops on a rack outside a tourist shop in the Cinque Terre. We had told her she could choose a special treat from the town, so we agreed to buy the Disney princess shoes. It’s pretty much the first thing she told our family and friends when we returned home, “I went to Italy and found Ariel flip flops!”
Ah well. She had her own experience. And she enjoyed the hell out of her day.
Regular life is rarely as joyful and peaceful as it is on vacation, especially if you’re lucky enough to go to the Cinque Terre in Italy.
But that day of calm? It stays with me still. Our days have been far more peaceful this summer than they were before we left. It stamps you, this place. It stays with you.
And if I ever need a bit of calm? I look at this photo, remember this moment when I stood on the edge of the ocean, and breathed it all in.
We are teaching another week of gluten-free cooking classes with Jovial, in the beautiful villa outside Lucca. We’d love to see you here, and perhaps take you to the Cinque Terre too.
And, if you click on this link, you could win this 8 day/7 night vacation in Lucca for two of you. Go! Enter! We’d love to meet you and cook with you.
Full disclosure. Jovial Foods is one of the sponsors of this website, because we truly believe in the food they make. They paid for airfare for the three of us, as well as putting us up in the villa and providing train tickets. All opinions expressed here are our own.
We had slices of farinata — thin crisp chickpea crepes — in the Cinque Terre. A pizza place at the top of the hill, near our bus, announced loudly they served farinata for those of with celiac. I had a couple of slices, with gorgonzola and fresh basil, and felt fine afterwards. But two of the folks in our party felt they might have received some cross-contamination. That means it’s time to make it at home.
Socca in France and farinata in Italy, this is street food at its finest. It’s hot, fast, crisp, and full of flavor. In fact, it’s one of the few places I like garbanzo bean flour. I’ve been making it for years, off and on. However, after our trip to the Cinque Terre, I realized I’ve never put up a recipe here. (For a great photo tour of someone making this, google David Lebovitz and socca.)
Have a little taste of the Cinque Terre.
- 2 cups warm water
- 90 grams (1 cup) chickpea flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Making the batter. Pour the warm water into a large bowl. Slowly, shake the chickpea flour into the warm water, whisking as you do. Whisk the water and flour together thoroughly, then add the salt and stir again. The finished batter should be slightly thickened. Let the batter sit for at least 2 hours.
- Baking the farinata. Heat the oven to 500°. Put 2 9-inch cast-iron skillets in the oven. (You can also cook these one at a time and save the rest of the batter for later.) As the oven is heating, stir in the 1/4 cup of olive into the batter. Use the rest of the olive oil to grease the hot, hot pans. (Be careful!)
- Pour the batter into the pans, dividing the batter evenly. Slide the pans into the oven. Bake until the edges are starting to brown, the tops are set, and the farinata pull away from the edges of the pan, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- Remove them from the oven and slide the farinatas out of the pan, using a metal spatula. Allow them to cool briefly, then slice and top with your favorite toppings.