While I was in Positano, Italy back in April, the master of the house, Giuseppe, invited me into the kitchen to show me what he had just brought in. With my luck, I was expecting a small goat or lamb that needed killing. No such luck. It was a bunch of green stalks with buds and yellow flowers.
“Looks like weeds.” I said to him, which was like saying it to myself because he barely understand English.
My trusty translater Bruno di Fabio was gone (probably buying dinner for his judges at the World Pizza Championships to give him a high score) so I had to muddle through my total ingnorance of Italian. Giuseppe sat down and pulled the leaves off on some newspapers while I watched.
“So…(I always start off all my Italian communication this way) what is that?” ” Quanto?”
“Maybe rocket, eh? But not,” he said, and looked down.
He shoved a stem in my face and I bravely bit off the end-stalk: flower, buds, leaves and all. I looked at the empathetic scrunch his face made as I was greeted by a bodacious bitterness not unlike the poke of “Poke salad Annie-gator got yer granny…” fame.
“No,” Giuseppe said, taking a leaf and putting it into his mouth. I was the good little monkey and did the same. Wow. The leaf was arugula-like in its pepperiness but not as bitter.
“No, maybe …ehhh… broccoletti?” By this time, my fine companions were calling me at the top of the cliff at the beginning of the driveway.
“Broccoli? I don’t think so,” I thought. “Well, I’ve gotta go,” I said, looking down at Giuseppe. This time I saw a picture of the Pope on the page under the stems.
“Il Popo.” I said as I pointed.
“Si.” Giuseppe nodded and pushed aside the greens so the pope could peer out at us.
I never did find out how Giuseppe prepared these mystery greens. We had to leave for the north that day. As we drove those winding roads again, I said goodbye to Positano, Giuseppe, Gilda the Amalfi coast and the Pope.
How could you even want to leave a place like Positano or as great a bed and breakfast as “Holiday House Gilda?”
When I got back home to Athens, Ohio, I saw these pictures and was determined to find out what this was. I finally gave up but then got out Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons, which helped me forage for my previous blog entry, “Wild and Local Springtime Pizza.” On page 226, there it was . Wintercress.
Euell articulated how as he sees the first sign of spring outside Philidelphia when the Italians walking along the roadside to gather wintercress.
“BINGO!” I screamed, throwing the book down and scaring my family half to death. “Wintercress, Upland Cress, Yellow Rocket, Scurvy Grass, Belle Isle Cress, Wild Broccoli. Holy Cr… er crud, Giuseppe was right!”
So wintercress it is. Next year, in March I have committed to make an Avalanche pizza with wintercress on it. Thanks Giuseppe. Oh, and thanks, Mr. Pope.