Rome has the Colosseum, Venice has the Grand Canal, and Cilento, a sub-region east of the Amalfi Coast, has Italy’s healthiest food. The Mediterranean Diet, as so named by American physiologist Ancel Keys in the 1950s, originated in Cilento when Keys was inspired to study the exceptional health and longevity of his neighbors there. Last year scientists spent six months studying the diet in a small Cilento village where one out of every seven residents is a centenarian. Now a group of Swedish scientists are so intrigued that they are swapping 200 residents from Malmö to live with host families in Cilento. The same number of Italians will temporarily relocate to Sweden. (Personally, I think the Swedes are getting the better end of this deal.)
Having a grandmother from Cilento who lived until 90, I know that these two things are key for a long, healthy life.
1) Go slowly. Piano, piano (slowly, slowly) is a phrase uttered constantly in Cilento.
2) Eat a lot of green vegetables. Every day if possible.
In the Cilento escarole and anchovies are considered a perfect pairing for fall where the mountains meet the sea and the summer warmth fades away slowly. When sautéed, escarole wilts to translucency, but it doesn’t succumb into mush. The anchovies dissolve completely in the sauce, imparting only their umami flavor.
Guests of our cooking classes with Baronessa Cecilia Baratta Bellelli all learn how to make this dish, a true staple of the Cilento kitchen.
Escarole and anchovies
2 heads escarole, washed, any tough outer leaves removed
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
Pinch of red chili flakes (optional)
Coarsely chop the escarole.
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over a low flame. Add the chili flakes, then add the garlic and press it against the pan’s surface with a wooden spoon to flavor the oil. When the garlic becomes soft and translucent, remove and discard it. Add the anchovies and stir with a wooden spoon until they completely dissolve.
Add the chopped escarole to the oil and stir to coat. Cook for approximately 4 minutes over a low flame or just until the escarole becomes translucent. Serve as a side dish with a hunk of crusty bread or mixed over pasta (cavatelli are a good option).