Le Erbe D'Estate
Gabriel is an avid hiker. Now, when I say "avid" you might imagine hiking for 5-6 hours every once in a while, well you need to change your definition of avid in order to really get Gabriel. He spent his summers in the mountains of Greece and the rest of the year in the mountains of Switzerland. Hiking. For days.
The greatest irony of my romantic life revolves aroung hiking. One of my most painful breakups was with (from?) a very outdoorsy guy and after months of depression and loss, my first thought that the breakup wasn't really all that terrible was, "Hey, I never have to go hiking again!" I've always considered myself a very urban person. Growing up in Chicago means there's either the City (with things to do) or corn fields (with nothing to do) and I mean days' worth of corn fields. So when Gabriel invited me on our first hike, I was a little hesitant. As we were still in the "polite" phase of the relationship, I figured I'd tolerate marching around in the middle of nowhere for this guy I really liked.
But then something happened! Much to my surprise, it wasn't boring! You see in Europe (the first hike was indeed in Greece) you can't go very far without finding a village; the vast tracts of wilderness (or corn fields) just aren't there to the same degree as in the Midwest. And there's food everywhere! We walked along a mountain path and Gabriel taught me to distinguish the wild oregano growing all over the place! Throughout the rest of that year, I made dishes with my hand-picked, wild oregano and was so satisfied by the whole thing that I couldn't wait for the next summer. Above you see bay leaves on the left, oregano in the middle and (bought, not collected) garlic all drying for our culinary pleasure.
Now, every year we collect our supply of oregano on hikes to Milopotamos and Propan, and when I take the path to the swimming rock, I grab some stalks of wild bay leaves. But this year our Italian guests made a discovery all their own. It seems that the country house sits in the middle of a gigantic mentuccia romana patch! What's mentuccia romana, you ask? It's an herb that has a light minty flavor and is used in all sorts of fish dishes (see here for one from Gigliola). It's also what we Greeks and Greek-inspired folks have called "false oregano" for years! I don't think Greeks (at least in Pelion) use this at all (any Greeks out there who can tell me different, please do!) but Italians (the ones I know at least) go nuts over the stuff so we were eating all kinds of mentuccia romana dishes this summer.
P.S. Gabriel was surfing the internet last night and found what vlita (see previous post) is in English. It's a type of amaranth (and there are many edible varieties of amaranth). We think it's "Mediterranean Amaranth or Amaranthus graecizans L. but it could also be Amaranthus lividus or maybe Amaranthus hybridus.