May news and Agretti recipe

cleaning agretti 2There has not been a recent newsletter because there has been a dearth of news. I have been confined to barracks, with only accompanied trips to various clinics for treatments for my partially torn Achilles tendon. I have graduated from crutches to walking sticks, and a type of padded, elastic sock.. This is known as a “tutor” in Italian. What it is meant to be teaching me is a mystery, but Italians use English words in a strange way. When I first came to Italy I was mystified by after-dinner plans to visit “a night”. The club had disappeared.

All my life I have run around in bare feet, kicking off my shoes as soon as I get home. Now I have been told this is fatal, and that flat shoes are equally bad for the Achilles tendon. It is not fun, and I am getting stir crazy.

After this self-indulgent moaning session I will move on.

The weather is glorious, and I have been lolling around on the terrace catching up on my reading. In preparation for my October Sicily visit I have re-read David Gilmour fascinating life of Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Last Leopard. It is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes, and inspired me to watch again the dvd of Viscontis “Il Gattopardo”. Anyone planning a visit to Palermo should watch this before they go.

May is a great month for vegetables because the winter greens linger on, even though the fresh spring vegetables are usually irresistible. I have denied myself the pleasure of visiting the market because the uneven cobbles would be a challenge at the moment, but I phone to talk through whats looking good before I give my order. This is probably as useless as the customers asking the fishmonger if the fish is fresh. What answer do they expect ?

Today I have bought my first agretti of the season. This is also known as “barba di frate” or friars beard, which seems an unkind conjecture. It is a pain to clean, but nowadays it is usually sold in bunches with most of the roots already removed. It cooks in a few minutes. I am giving my favourite, very quick recipe at the end of the newsletter.

A group of three friends have had to cancel their June Sifnos adventure for health problems. Their travel insurance is covering their deposits so I have three places available for 1000 euros instead of 1750. Details on my website. Get in touch if interested.

There is still availability for Sicily in October

For domestic reasons I have postponed the Ciociaria until April 2018

Agretti con uovo in camicia

Crescenza1-739x1024 Uovo agretti

1 bunch agretti, washed and trimmed

1 large, fresh egg

1 T extra virgin olive oil


Garlic, peeled

1 small piece chilli pepper

Cook agretti in boiling, salted water for five minutes. Drain,  reserving some of the water. In a pan heat the oil, add the garlic and chili. Stir in the drained agretti and stir round for just under five minutes. Carefully poach the egg for two minutes in the boiling agretti water. Lift out and serve on a large plate, surrounded by the agretti.


Special offer for Greek island


Due to last-minute cancellation 3 places available with 20% discount in the enchanting, unspoiled Sifnos.

Greek Island Idyll    Sifnos   17 to 24 June Reduced from 1750 to 1400 € to include accommodation, one main meal a day, lessons and local transport.

Flights should be booked to Athens and we will meet to take a fast boat from Piraeus.


On the island the light is very special and the sea is always present. I stay in Vathi which is a sleepy cluster of houses on the beach to the south of the island. There are 6 tavernas serving traditional Greek food and a charming little Greek Orthodox church, all on the beach. There are only one or two rows of houses and the hills host goats, donkeys and bees. An island bus links Vathi to the small towns of Apollonia and Artemonas, named after the gods, a high Venetian fortress, Kastro, and the lively port, Kamares. One summer, after a morning swim when I was the only person in the sea, I sat enjoying a glass of wine and thinking “et in Arcadia sum”. Arcadia should be shared with the deserving few, so the idea of my Greek island Idyll was born.

March News

Since my last newsletter my life has been first, a whirlwind of activity, then secondly, a very boring, immobile existence, stretched out on a couch alla Elizabeth Barrett, with no dynamic Robert Browning in sight. At the beginning of February I flew to India to choose hotels, and set up the programme for next year’s final Indian adventure, moving every two days to try to get the most out of my rushed itinerary. While I was there I signed up for a relaxing Ayuvedic massage, as I do every year, but this time I had an unlucky experience with an obviously untrained masseuse. I should have clambered off the couch after the first few minutes but it is difficult to be commanding when you are only wearing disposable massage thongs! I contented myself with asking her not to touch my hands or vulnerable right foot. She obviously over-compensated on the other foot, and in the morning I was in pain when I tried to walk. I carried on for the last two days, but back in Italy, a scan revealed a lesion in my Achilles tendon. Now I am having daily laser and ultrasound treatments, with strict instructions to use my crutches when I have to move around. Very frustrating.

Spring has come to Ferentino but I have to delegate the gardening, shopping and cleaning, and shut my eyes to the winter damage. Cooking is a problem on crutches, and all the local trattorias seem to have treacherous steps at the entrance. Still I console myself with imagining the weight I must be losing ! Of course balancing on the scales is too demanding.

I am travelling in my imagination as I book the aceito balsamico tasting for May, and I can almost smell the wild oregano drifting down from the hills in Sifnos as I plan pottery visits with Ronia. When I watched the BBC team running from burning stones spewing from Etna I remembered how in times of volcanic activity flights have to be diverted to Palermo. In October we are flying into Catania and out of Palermo so I hope Etna will be taking a rest.

When I am more mobile, after Brexit and other catastrophes, I will write another more ‘newsy’ letter.

Gourmet Adventures for 2017

Bologna and nearby Cities –      Full

Some spaces still available for :

Sifnos, Greece  –  June 17 – 24

Sicily –   October 1 – 9

Ciociaria – October 13 –  20


I will not be taking firm bookings until August but please let me know now if you are interested in one or two parts, as places are very limited. Priority will be given to returning visitors.

Sifnos – a hidden treasure


Sifnos is a small island in the Western Cyclades. It is relatively unspoiled because it has no airport and you arrive by fast boat from Piraeus or Milos. I have been coming here for years, and my heart lifts as the bus descends the steep, curving road and I catch my first glimpse of the enchanting little port of Vathi where I usually stay.

There is no road along the beach so the bus turns round and heads up the hill and you trudge along the beach to your chosen taverna. There are six tavernas, serving traditional Greek food, and many of them have simple studio rooms above.

Vathi is a sleepy cluster of houses in a single row and the hills host goats, donkeys and bees. Near the landing stage for boats there is the little Greek Orthodox church of Taxiarchis and when I was there in September for the saint’s day I was made very welcome and invited to share the famous celebratory chickpea soup which is always prepared all over the island for Sunday lunch.

There are 365 churches on an island which is only 74 square miles. Each Church has its own saint’s day and the local family who hosts the celebration gets to take the holy icon home for the following year. The austere, isolated monastery at Chryssopighi has an icon which is said to perform miracles with the grace of Panaghia – the virgin Mary – and is a place of pilgrimage for Sifnos and other Cyclades islands.

On the island the light is very special and the sea is always present. Even in August in Vathi I have been the only person swimming and around the island there are small beaches or rocky coves for every mood.

Sifnos is known as the island of potters. The clay here is very fine and the many potteries prove an irresistible lure. I always stagger back to Italy laden down with their ware. The island is also famous for its cooks. The best known Greek chef and food writer, Tselementes, was born here and the art of casserole cooking is believed to have originated on the island.

In ancient Greece Sifnos was a wealthy island with gold and silver mines and they sent treasure to Apollo at Delphi every year. There is a legend that when the gold and silver mines stopped being productive it was because Apollo was angry when one year they sent a gold-plated egg in place of the real thing. In spite of this the main town is named in his honour, Apollonia, and further up the hill is the sister town of Artemonas where historic, elegant mansions can be found. Kastro, the walled Venetian fortress, and the lively port of Kamares are both worth a visit.

Gourmet Adventure  June 17-24 2017

Sifnos, Greece June 2017



Sifnos, a small, relatively quiet island in the Cyclades, is known as the island of pots and cooks. It has also been called the island of churches since it has over 365 churches and monasteries contained in just 74 square metres

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