open sandwich3a

I stopped and chatted with a nomadic pastore this morning as he grazed his flock along the river. Well strictly speaking he, being nomadic, stopped to chat to me! We talked sheep and finding the best pastures – one of us quite a lot more knowledgeable than the other!

bergamo pecoreHe and his dog are slowly shepherding their goats, donkeys and the lovely floppy-eared Bergamasco sheep with their 2 week old lambs towards the mountains, hoping to be up in the alpine malga in a few weeks time.

sheep feeding

He’s making the most of the beautiful warm spring weather – life’s pretty tough otherwise for these guys and as he points out, the pay’s rubbish.

However, he does manage to make goat and sheep cheese as well as getting offerings of food and bottles of vino on his travels…..and as he says….you’ve just got to keep moving, keeps you healthy!


I continued my walk back home picking dandelion leaves along the way. All this talk of goat cheese made me want a cheese sandwich and I thought I’d make it with dandelion leaves…..these are the very leaves I picked!

feeding goat

However, this is not the very goat I got the cheese from…..it was sitting in my fridge at home…the cheese that is.

So for anyone who would like a new idea for a sandwich….

A Shepherd’s Open Sandwich
Local goats cheese on home-made seeded rye bread topped with dandelion leaves, toasted walnuts and diced strawberries….and drizzled with cold-pressed olive oil.

Slices bread
Olive oil
Goats cheese
Dandelion leaves (must be organic) – if not use rucola or lettuce
Walnut halves
1 or 2 strawberries

Slice some good bread – our lovely Ukrainian friend had just made us a wonderful seeded dark rye loaf so this was perfect.

Either leave as bread or lightly toast it

Drizzle with olive oil

Spread or slice goats cheese onto the bread

Thoroughly wash and dry the dandelion leaves and place on top of the cheese

Lightly toast some walnuts and put on top of the leaves

Then – for a touch of acidity and colour – I diced a strawberry quite small and dotted a few over (to give the idea of tiny wild strawberries!)

Drizzle a little more olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt.





green soup1It was one of those slightly blah Sundays when even a trip to the Swedish giant IKEA was holding a weird sort of allure. Not that I’m one of those women described by an Italian comedienne as having a frisson of sexual excitement at the thought of a visit. How deeply sad would that be to be erotically stimulated by flat-pack furniture and shelving?!


tiled rooves

On the other hand it may seem I was going to the other extreme by going to a former San Franciscan monastery for lunch. Built on the side of a hill amongst the Franciacorta vines near Brescia “La Cucina San Francesco” caters for those of us with more un-monastic tastes in food and wine.

quadrangle bench entrance

Lunch was delicious I might add but we didn’t choose the standard fare of monasteries of old – soup or minestra. In those days it was almost unthinkable to eat a meal without starting with a warming broth to give the stomach “una piccola carezza”….presumably before piling into the heavy duty stuff.


Chervil I was told was a favourite herb of medieval monastic cuisine. The visionary medieval mystic St. Hildegard of Bingen is revered for writing, amongst other works, on the medicinal and culinary properties of herbs. She particularly recommended chervil for stimulating the appetite and as an all round digestive aid…..ideal therefore to use in a ‘primo piatto’ of soup or minestra.

chervil bunch 4

I’d actually never used chervil but when I saw pots of it being sold in our local weekly market I thought yes, it’s time to try it out. The leaves look similar to parsley but have a sort of lingering whisper of aniseed. Delicate and lovely.

Pea basket 3ASo, inspired by St. Hildegard and one of her herbal soup recipes, I decided to make a light chervil and pea soup which could well serve as an elegant starter – chilled or warm – for an Easter meal.

 violets in leaf

I particularly wanted to use violets after spotting the first ones of the year when leaving the old cloisters of the restaurant. A group of olive trees caught my attention swaying and rustling in the strengthening wind whilst peeping underneath were tiny clumps of shy violets still wondering whether it was safe to bloom or not.

violets close bunch1

I think violets are exquisite and obviously the Hapsburg Arch-Duchess Marie Theresa of Austria thought the same. They were her favourite flower and because of her later title and reign as Duchess of Parma in Italy, so the ‘Parma Violet’ came to fame.

These latter spring days I see our Sweet Violets nodding gently as I walk along my river-walk and bending down to pick a few the smell wafting off them after a few hours of sunshine is sublime.


Just as an aside….as well as looking and tasting lovely they’re full of Vitamin A & C and help with relaxation, sleep, headaches and colds. Grind up some fresh violets (or dried if you can’t find them) for a tisane or put some in bath for a total relaxation.

For 4 (small bowls)
Preparation time: 3-5 minutes
Cooking time: 8 minutes

This lovely delicate soup, smooth and silky, really does give a gentle ‘caress’ to the stomach!

green soup1

250g shelled or frozen peas (c. 900g/2lb pea pods)
500ml water
Pinch salt
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tbsp chopped fresh chervil (or use chopped green fennel fronds)
150ml almond milk (buy in health-food stores or see below for making)
Violets for decoration (organic)

Heat butter and oil in saucepan and sauté the onion until soft, but not brown.

Stir in peas anointing them well with the butter and oil.

Stir in chopped chervil and season with salt.

Pour in water and bring to the boil.

Simmer for about 4-5 minutes or until soft.

Remove from heat and cool for a few minutes.

Pour into blender and blitz until smooth.

Pour in almond milk and pulse briefly to mix.

If you’re serving chilled, put into fridge to cool. Otherwise reheat gently in saucepan – without boiling.

Serve in small glass bowls (on olive leaves) and decorate with fresh violets.

1 cup almonds – shelled but with brown skins (cheaper that way!), otherwise of course you can use skinned almonds
2 cups water
Pinch salt

Soak almonds for at least 4 hours in plenty of cold water.

Strain and put into blender with the 2 cups of fresh water & salt (just use less water if you want it thicker)

Blend until smooth.

Pour through fine sieve or cheesecloth to filter.

Use as required.

olive trees