When I was a child, summer holidays were extra special. We joined the great exodus of Italians “going home” for August. My father, like many Italians, started his working life in London as a waiter. Sometimes the restaurant he worked in, usually Italian, shut for the month to allow staff to be with their families. Other times, it didn´t, which often meant a return from holiday at the start of September with no job for my father. I´ve only recently thought about this and how difficult and precarious things must have been for the family financially at times and the sacrifices they made for us children.
My family, however, thought it was important for my brother and I to be in Italy with our many cousins and aunties and uncles, spending time being free on the beach, eating meals late at night, talking Italian and sharing that special love that comes from a huge extended family. I thank them for it, I´m sure much of what I experienced in those summer holidays helped make me the person I am today.
We often drove to Italy as putting the car on the overnight train from Calais to Milan was expensive. Then we faced a further day or two of journey to the very south, the “toe of the boot”, to Calabria. It was an epic journey, but it was made fun with plenty of food, books to read, songs to sing in the car (no DVDs or Playstations then!) and stops along the way to visit more family and friends.
We always stopped in Roma, where my father had spent a portion of his youth and visited Zia Sara and Zio Angelo. Roma has some wonderful food markets and I have strong memories of someone going out in the morning to buy focaccia for breakfast – that typical flat white bread drizzled with olive oil, coarse salt and sometimes rosemary. I don´t know if it was a Roman thing, or a family thing, but if we were lucky we also got a bag of juicy figs to go with it. An extra sprinkle of salt, a little drizzle of olive oil and it was heaven on a piece of bread. Sweet, salty and peppery all at the same time.
Now I try to recreate it with griddled bread, a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a drizzle of our very own olive oil. It´s not quite the same, but the memories make it all the sweeter.