When my mom and I took an Italian vacation back in 2005, we stayed at Casa Caponetti, a working olive oil facility in Tuscania, and have been longing to return for the olive harvest and oil pressing ever since.
The olive harvest in Italy starts roughly the same time as the grape harvest here in the states (October through November) and unfortunately, I have never been able to partake in either. I am going to have to change that one of these days – hello Bucket List!
I first became familiar with Casa Caponetti when Laura Caponetti and her son Lorenzo visited The Better Cheddar cheese shop in Kansas City, where I was working at the time, to conduct a seminar about olive oil. I was fortunate to get to know the delightful duo during the short time they were in town. Lorenzo Caponetti was as charming and handsome as his name may hint, and Laura was so friendly and gracious to share everything she knew about making and tasting olive oil. She also mentioned that she teaches cooking houses at her family home. A year later, my mom and I were on our way to Italy!
After spending several days drinking and eating our way through San Gimignano and Montalcino in Tuscany, we were Caponetti bound. It was a bit of a drive south from Tuscany along the coast to Tuscania, one of the oldest towns in Italy, but absolutely worth it. The nearly 3,000-year old town is surrounded by nothing but gorgeous panoramic views of the Italian countryside. As is, for the most part, all of Italy.
A guest may become a friend. – the Caponetti family
This visit proved to be a full-immersion course on provincial Italian life. The 125-acre farm, in the heart of west-central Italy, is peppered with Etruscan ruins and archaeological remains that span the ages. The Caponetti’s, including Laura’s husband Giorgio, have a quaint bed and breakfast, where we stayed, which features dinner in their home kitchen.
The last night of our stay, Laura prepared a feast for Mom and I, as well as another couple that was staying on the property. I remember that the dinner was amazing, but the only dish in which I can recall specifics, was a crisp, tart fennel and lemon salad. Laura gave me the recipe on the spot, and I have made it on many an occasion ever since.
The Caponetti’s family motto is, “A guest may become a friend”, but we felt more like part of the family when we left.
Fennel and Citrus Salad
Serves 4 to 6
This recipe, given to Judy by Laura Caponetti during dinner in her home is very loose (meaning no specific quantities are required), a great reflection on the casual Italian way of life. Simply set out a large, shallow platter or serving bowl and start adding ingredients.
Thinly slice one large or two small fennel bulbs and place in a bowl. Take a few lemons and supreme the segments – cut off the ends of the lemon, set them on end and cut away all of the peel and white pith. Then carefully take a paring knife and slice down between the membranes, removing the delicate segments. Add them to the bowl along with a handful of chopped green onions and/or chives and whole leaves from a bunch of flat-leaf parsley. Add another handful or two of pitted and chopped black olives (Spring for some good-quality olives…don’t you dare dump a can of black olives in here!). Season well with salt, a little freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Gently toss it all together using your hands, being careful not to tear the lemon segments, and serve.
- 1 large (or two small) fennel bulbs
- A few lemons
- A handful of chopped green onions and/or chives
- Whole leaves from a bunch of flat-leaf parsley
- A handful or two of pitted and chopped black olives
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Thinly slice the fennel and place in a bowl. Supreme the lemons: cut off the ends of the lemon, set them on end and cut away all of the peel and white pith. Then carefully take a paring knife and slice down between the membranes, removing the delicate segments. Add lemon segments to the bowl along with the onions, parsley and olives. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Gently toss it all together using your hands, being careful not to tear the lemon segments, and serve.