Visiting Europe was a childhood dream. How appropriate, how fortunate, how positively serendipitous it was to be able to realize that dream the summer before my last year in high school, while I am still considered by many to be a child.
I’ve got to say though, up until we got on the plane in Philadelphia and started out over the Atlantic, everything still felt like a dream. There was no more of the unbridled excitement that I could have easily summoned in my younger years over even a small excursion like going to Portland, Maine. Perhaps it was because I’d already done so much traveling this year. Humans can adapt to (read: lose appreciation for) anything.
It wasn’t until sometime around seven in the morning on August 16th (Rome time) that I the waves of excitement began to wash over me. After giving up on sleep and having watched already The Devil Wears Prada and Taken, I opened the window a crack to see a touch of orange glowing on the horizon. As my grandmother dozed beside me, I just watched the sunrise, watched as it slowly took over the sky and washed everything in a pink glow. As I spotted land my heart quickened, as I tried to discern our location. At every landmark (the Alps, the Mediterranean,) I became more and more excited.
And it was all well-warranted. I’m back to report that Tuscany, well, it does look just like the movies depict it. And, it looks like that EVERYWHERE.
(Feel free to scroll quickly past the, yes, I’ll admit, excessive number of photos of the Italian landscape, improperly posted on a blog that’s supposed to be about food).
I could go on for centuries about that trip. From the farms we visited and ate at, to the olive oils we tried there and brought home. To the late nights where everyone in Montecatini (the town we were staying in for the week) came out to create a much more vibrant nightlife than I’ve ever experienced before, to the saffron gelato I tried in San Gimignano. To the cobblestones. To the doorways, for which size signifies wealth. To the four million cathedrals and frescoes. To the pushy street vendors. I loved every bit. Thankfully, Spanish is similar to Italian, so it wouldn’t take much to learn the language and return to Italy unaided in the future.
However, reminisce as I may, school’s now started, and there are other things to ponder. Particularly college things. It’s going to be a long year. Yet, somehow, I’m excited for it. I never imagined that I’d be someone to get excited about senior year, but I guess that’s a little bit of it. That, and Fall. For the last few years the seasons have shifted and I’ve had no energy to really care. Somehow I do this year. Apparently some things, no matter how common, continue to astound.
As to this recipe, it’s a wild adaptation from one that came in a farm share we got from some friends while they’re out in Las Vegas for the half-Iron Man World Championships. Apparently it was 110 degrees there today. In that weather, I can’t imagine running a mile letting alone 13.1, plus 56 miles of biking and 1.2 of swimming. Thankfully, I don’t have to. I only have to try out all the items of the farm share they left behind, a far more manageable task.
The recipe was originally done with cheddar cheese. Now, I like cheddar well enough, but it just didn’t seem like it was interesting enough. I was going to use goat cheese, but my mother has a severe aversion to it, along with things like anise, fennel, and chewing carrots too loudly. Thus, I saddled myself with feta, which meant changing the herbs up a bit, removing the butter, and revamping the essence of the thing. The end result was very satisfying. With very little extra fat, no eggs or breadcrumbs, it highlights the truly divine flavors of produce in late summer.
Tomato, Red Onion, and Potato Gratin
Significantly adapted from Teri’s Kitchen
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 pound red potatoes, scrubbed well and sliced with a mandoline to 1/8 inch
2 large red onions, sliced thinly
1 pound tomatoes, sliced thinly
1/4 cup chopped, lightly packed fresh oregano
zest of half a large lemon
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
4-8 ounces feta, crumbled (I just used four)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease with extra olive oil what you think to be an adequately sized baking dish (I used a 10.5 inch diameter, 3-inch deep casserole-type dish).
Mix together the oregano, lemon zest and garlic in a small
You’ll have to do two layers of each vegetable. Start with potatoes, then onions, then tomatoes. Over the potatoes layers scatter half the herb mixture and lightly salt and pepper. Lightly salt the tomato layers as well. You can, after the first 3 layers, add in half the feta if you plan to use the larger amount (8 ounces).
Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 1-1 1/2 hours (for me, 1 hour was perfect). Remove from oven and top with crumbled feta.
Broil in the oven for a few minutes, or until the feta and tomatoes start to brown. Remove and let sit for at least five minutes before serving.