In the distant past it was a common belief that East of Asia Eden could be found. Countless merchant ships relentlessly searched for a place, a compass point, a tangible position on a map where Paradise lost could be rediscovered. The biblical location of Eden may have pointed to the East but the gastronomic location of the garden of earthly delights most certainly was to the West. If Eden had a taste it would be Italy.
And one of the heavenly fruits in the garden would most certainly have been the Paradiso Fig. The name Paradiso comes from a story about an old man in Italy that sat under his fig tree every morning eating figs and bread for breakfast. People passing would ask him if he was alright and his reply was, “This is my Paradise” Paradiso.
The juicy fig with the green skin and full bodied reddish pulp originates in the town of Genoa, in Northern Italy. It is not the only fig variety grown in Italy. The Tarantella, Tuscan White Triana and the San Pietro grown near the island of Sardegna are also wildly popular with Italians who use them to make cookies (cucidati), jams and preserves and as a filling for tarts. Figs pair well with walnuts, honey and cheeses, particularly gorgonzola dolce, and soft varieties like goat cheese and mascarpone. Prosciutto Wrapped Stuffed Summer Figs, as a topping for pizza bianca, bruschetta or focaccia, dried, preserved or fresh – all are delectable. The heavenly hosts must have lobbied the Lord to include the fig tree in the Garden of Eden.
For those of you who want to bring Italy home, the Paradiso as well as other Italian varietals can be gown in an outdoor container and brought indoors or sheltered during cooler weather. The trees are beautiful and the foliage is deep-lobed. Eating a ripened fig from the tree is satisfying and sweet like a taste of paradise.
If you’ve traveled in Italy you’ve probably walked on thousands of stone pavements and roadways covered in cobblestones with little regard for their importance. Yet like everything in Italy they do have a history especially the bevelled stones of black basalt, the sampietrini that line the streets of Rome.
After recurring carriage accidents due to the faulty roadways and ancient potholes near St. Peters, various Popes employed Vatican artisans and tradesmen to repair and repave Piazza San Pietro with a special type of stone cut and sized by hand and pounded into a compressed bed of sand and dirt. The stones laid were called “sampietrini”, the dialectical version of sanpietrini, after the “little St. Peters”, workmen who took care of the maintenance in and around the Vatican.
Throughout the years various geometric patterns, fans, herringbones and sampietrini rainbows lined the streets of Rome, a quaint reminder of the historical charm of the city. However because of its peculiarities, the sampietrini are no longer suitable for the streets of Rome. High traffic volumes and high speed vehicles find the irregular pavement hazardous and if you’ve walked the sampietrini in the rain you know they can be slippery.
In Janurary 2015 Rome’s Mayor Walter Vetroni, declared the stones of St. Peter “dangerous” for pedestrians and cars. A hazard that needs to be replaced with regular pavement. He ordered the removal of the sampietrini wherever possible, citing the “damage to monuments, noise pollution, hazards to small two wheeled vehicles and complaints of pedestrians”. There are plans to replace them with larger, flatter stones embedded into a concrete foundation, similar in appearance to the old sampietrini but much easier on tires and pedestrians. Although the sampietrini will remain in certain parts of the city the streets of a Roman Holiday will seem a little less grounded in history.