Mediterranean in Little Italy: Pea Shoots, Citrus, and the Italian Riviera
Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration, and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week she creates a vibrant dish of watermelon radishes and spring pea shoots, whose colors reflect those of the Italian Riviera.
Cool morning air still clung to the concrete path that led us to the center of Manarola, a cliffside village of Italy’s Cinque Terre on the Mediterranean Sea. The gelato-hued buildings that lined the path repeated in colorful clusters along the coastline, in stark contrast with the subdued colors of the sheer cliffs and terraced hills.
Our only plan for the day was to get lost in the quiet alleys, ports, and step embankments of the Italian Riviera.
Boats wrapped in pastel tarps lined the teal coves where adventurous sun-bathers staked their claims on the rugged rocks.
We took a seat on a bench carved from the cliff and sipped our cappuccinos. We traded bites of orange and apricot jam filled pastries; the crumbs we brushed from out laps became breakfast for the doves at our feet.
We wandered further up the road where a group of locals queueing around a truck caught my attention.
It was an unusual truck, its sides hidden with blue vinyl curtains. The driver jumped out and pulled back the fabric to reveal shelves filled with seedling flats of green herbs, flowers, and vegetables.
We stood quietly, watching the locals stock up on gardening essentials. I let my gaze slip back to the steep terraced hills surrounding us.
What I had at first seen as wild unruly patches were actually lovingly tended gardens bursting with spring’s bounty.
We looked upward to the top of a wall where a man just beyond the railing gathered fistfuls of weeds from the base of olive and citrus trees.
I followed his movements as we walked along the path until we were eye level with a modest brick shed. A turquoise door, terra cotta pots, and wildflowers adorned the building with vibrant pops of color.
The radish greens and fennel fronds growing among untamed grape vines and pea shoots blanketed the space in soft greens that perfectly complimented the brightly-hued buildings all around.
Back in San Diego, springtime colors have taken over the farmers markets, bringing back my memories of the magical town of Cinque Terre.
An simple salad of aromatic fennel, juicy citrus, spicy watermelon radishes, and sweet pea shoots topped with toasted hazelnuts, grassy olive oil, and local honey bring these colors and Mediterranean flavors together for me in one cheerful dish.