GINO’S HIGH­LIGHTS

Sunday Herald Life - - TRAVEL FEATURE -

The Ae­o­lian Is­lands

Sit­u­ated in the Tyrrhe­nian Sea, 25km north­east of Si­cily, the ar­chi­pel­ago con­sists of seven tiny vol­canic is­lands – Salina and Panarea, Li­pari, Vul­cano, Strom­boli, Filicudi and Alicudi. Salina is re­mark­ably green and lush be­cause of its fresh­wa­ter springs. As its name (which means “salt mill” in Ital­ian) im­plies, salt is a ma­jor part of its econ­omy, but it is also fa­mous for its de­li­cious ca­pers and ex­quis­ite sweet Mal­va­sia wine.

Panarea – the small­est and chicest of the is­lands – has a rocky, dra­matic land­scape and is in­hab­ited on just one side. Cars aren’t al­lowed, so res­i­dents drive around in three­wheel trucks, golf bug­gies and scoot­ers. Since just about ev­ery­thing has to be shipped in, the ferry ar­rivals are a ri­otous af­fair as lorry loads of goods are stacked pre­car­i­ously on to these tiny, ba­sic ve­hi­cles. The sur­round­ing wa­ters are full of fish, crus­taceans and squid. I was lucky enough to go fish­ing off the is­land and was thrilled to catch one of the lo­cal spe­cial­i­ties – totano, the red squid.

Tus­cany and Elba

The Tus­can style of cook­ing is gen­er­ally fairly rus­tic, and I love it. Lo­cals seek out only the fresh­est sea­sonal pro­duce, so in­cred­i­ble meals are cre­ated from what­ever is at its best in the mar­ket that day. Al­though the cui­sine can be re­garded as ba­sic, be­cause it gen­er­ally doesn’t in­clude lots of sauces or spices, the amaz­ing qual­ity of the in­gre­di­ents means dishes are al­ways full of flavour. White truf­fles are a spe­cial treat that ap­pear in Oc­to­ber and Novem­ber in San Mini­ato, and the beef from the Chi­ana Val­ley is out­stand­ing, so per­fect for the pop­u­lar lo­cal spe­cial­ity bis­tecca alla fiorentina (Floren­tine steak). As well as tast­ing de­li­cious, Tus­can food is hearty and fill­ing, prob­a­bly be­cause bread (of­ten un­salted) is served in or with most dishes. Tus­can wine is also ex­cel­lent.

I must re­serve a spe­cial men­tion for Elba – a stun­ning, quaint is­land 10km off Tus­cany. It holds par­tic­u­larly fond mem­o­ries for me, as it was where I spent my first-ever fam­ily hol­i­day. As you may know, this is where Napoleon was ex­iled for nine months. Quite hon­estly, I don’t know why he didn’t just stay and en­joy the rest of his life here – it’s hard to think of a bet­ter place to re­tire or be ban­ished to!

Edited ex­tracts from Gino’s Ital­ian Coastal Es­cape

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