In spring, the meadows of Parque del Monte Subasio near Spello in Umbria are smothered with a carpet of flowers and aromatic herbs; over 80 specimens of them in fact. It is here that peasants used to come after the harsh winter to forage for seasonal pops of flavour to brighten their soups, stews and rustic salads; and it was there that we walked bare foot one Sunday afternoon contemplating life and chatting as the heady aromas of nature arose from the ground; oregano, thyme, marjoram, basil, rosemary and sage. Herbs link us to the earth and history, especially across the lands that surround Assisi where the presence of Saint Francis is so palpable. This isn’t a religious thing for me, it is merely a reminder of the importance of the principles that this great man of the people held dear: simplicity, acceptance and nature. When it comes to cooking Italian food at home, the thing to remember is that keeping it simple by using a few good quality ingredients is the key to success. With this in mind, here is my recipe for herb-marinated mozzarella di bufala campana bocconcini, a small, semi-soft, white and rindless unripened mild cheese that originates from Naples. In itself, the cheese is pretty bland but, when left to bathe in a mixture of sunny extra-virgin olive oil, summer herbs and a kick of chilli, it is transformed into bite-sized pops of greatness; perfect for salads and a great partner for spicy mezzes.
1 pack of mozzarella di bufala campana bocconcini (available from good delicatessens)
Zest of one lemon
3 sprigs of fresh thyme
3 sprigs of fresh oregano
A couple of pinches of green jalapeño flakes (you can also use crushed red pepper)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Extra-virgin olive oil
How I make it
Sterilise a medium Kilner jar.
In the jar, layer the bocconcini with the herbs, jalapeño flakes, lemon zest and a good grinding of salt and pepper.
Cover with olive oil.
Seal and keep in the fridge for up to a month. Once opened, use within three days.