Mar 31, 2013

Rosemary in Italy

Seeing as it's Easter today I'd like to reminisce about one of the most beautiful Easters I've experienced so far during my time on the planet. I was 18 and working on a farm outside of Siena, Italy, where I was given partial responsibility for a herd of 70 pigs, 2 horses, 1 donkey and a half dozen pure-white heirloom breed cows who loved escaping their pasture to wander the woods like something out of a bucolic oil painting.
I was part of a group of interns who had signed up to work on the farm in exchange for room and board. We all lived in a stone building called "Pulcinella," an Etruscan style building that used to be used as stables but had been converted into living quarters. The stones the building was constructed of made it quite chilly in the evenings, so as spring began to creep in, the stones would warm and, much like the pigs who slept in piles at nighttime to keep warm, we welcomed the temperature shift gladly.

When Easter arrived, spring was in full swing. Primroses bloomed in the woods, yellow roses climbed the sides of the farm building, and borage sent out blue stars on furry stems in the yard next to the chickens. I don't recall everything about that fine Easter morning, though the midday meal we enjoyed was something never to be forgotten. We ate white bean soup with rosemary, pork chops with roasted potatoes and onions, farro salad with olives, parsley and cheese, fresh green salad with only lemon juice and a dousing of oil, plenty of saltless Tuscan bread and plenty of wine. For dessert I helped by contributing a decidedly un-Tuscan chocolate mousse, which I decorated with piles of whipped cream, borage flowers, rose petals and tiny sprigs of rosemary. We sat at the long tables in the dining room that had been decorated by Riccio's (the farm boss's) daughters with flowers and dyed eggs. What lingers in my mind so distinctly is not just the happy scene of a holiday meal but the smell of rosemary that seemed to fill the hall with the sensation that summer—with its long hot days filled with hard work, bountiful produce and endless sunshine—was just around the corner.
Rosemary still makes me feel this sensation, even when I'm spending Easter in Vermont where two feet of snow remain on the ground and the palate of colors in the landscape is limited to those found on a birch tree: white, gray, and bits of brown. Rosemary, with its intensely aromatic fragrance of fresh pine and citrus and woods, is known for its memory-inducing capabilities: "rosemary for remembrance" as they say. It is native to the Mediterranean, where in some places it grows in thick hedges as tall as a petite woman, but being a hardy, evergreen plant it is known to grow well in a variety of climates, even a stubborn New England climate, so long as you trim it down before winter or haul it indoors. Rosemary pairs well with lemon, another Mediterranean all-star, and also with herbs such as sage, thyme, and bay. It is excellent with honey and oranges, dark chocolate and all sorts of potatoes.

One of the hors d'oeuvres I made this weekend was in homage to the flavors of Tuscany. Tuscany has been called the "meat and potatoes" region of Italy, so it's a no-brainer that I concocted something by pairing potatoes and rosemary. Below is a recipe for roasted fingerling potatoes filled with rosemary-lemon mascarpone. And while pulling my rosemary out of its little plastic package wasn't as romantic as harvesting it from a hedge outside of an Etruscan villa, the memories it induced while I chopped was enough to make me swoon.

Roasted Fingerlings with Rosemary & Lemon Mascarpone

1/2 lb fingerling potatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 (8 oz) container mascarpone
1 sprig rosemary, finely chopped (about 3 TB)
2 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp salt

Tools: Potato corer
1 large zip lock bag or pastry bag

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. To create the little cavity in the fingerlings, first cut the potato in half, and then slice a little off the rounded end so it can stand up. Then, in the wider end, use the end of a vegetable peeler (the part you use to get the eyes out of potatoes) and carve a hole in the fingerling, being careful not to tear through the edge. Carve about halfway down. Continue with the rest of the potatoes, then place in a small baking pan, drizzle with olive oil and a little salt and pepper and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes or until the potatoes are slightly golden. Cool for five minutes before piping in the mascarpone.

While the potatoes are baking, empty the mascarpone into a bowl and mix in the chopped rosemary, lemon, teaspoon of salt and a little pepper. Blend well with a spoon.

To make your own pastry-bag: fold over the edge of a plastic bread bag (or large Ziplock) and spoon in the mixture, pushing the mascarpone down into the corner of the bag. Once you've pushed it all down into the corner, unfold the folded-over section of the bag and push the air out. Then snip the corner of the bag and squeeze about a tablespoon of mascarpone into each little cavity of the potato.

Place on a nice board and serve while still warm.


  1. Che figo questa storia! Viva l'Italia--mi manca molto. Buon appetito Chiara!

  2. Mmmm... when I return from Dominica I will try your potatoes. Here rosemary is an important component of bush tea - and used medicinally. When I told the lady at the market I was going to toss it with roasted potatoes and olive oil, she was shocked. These cultural differences are the real spice of life, and I am intrigued how the same herb can have such different meaning.

    1. Wow! So interesting. I've actually never tasted rosemary in tea - I'm so intrigued! Thanks for writing.

  3. In Spain they infuse medicinal alcohol with Rosemary to topically treat troubled feet.