- 1 Sicily
Sicilian street food When Jamie Oliver started his Italian tour, he was stunned at the quality of the food served in Sicily’s street markets. Forget greasy burgers from a dodgy stall – in Sicily shoppers can eat like kings as they buy their weekly groceries. Delicacies like artichoke, fresh salads with olives and ripe tomatoes and fillets of fried fish are just some of the tasty dishes on offer. The narrow, winding streets and covered market stalls feel more like the traditional souks or bazaars found in African and Middle Eastern cultures than the markets of other regions of Italy. It is thanks to the geographical location of Sicily, just off the southern toe of the Italian boot that it has such fantastic street food. Arab influence Jutting out in the Mediterranean ocean, Sicily was in a prime position for invading forces aiming to get a foothold in Europe In the 9th century the Moors occupied Sicily and stayed for two centuries. Their Arab Islamic culture had a lasting influence, not only in the food but also in the local dialect, as well as the architecture and industry. The large church in Palermo was converted to a mosque and still has an Arabic inscription on one of its columns, and the name of Palermo's Ballarò market is Arabic in origin. Under the Moors, agriculture became more varied and efficient, with the widespread introduction of rice, sugar cane, cotton and oranges. This, in turn, influenced Sicilian cuisine. The origins of many of the most popular Sicilian foods – which include ingredients like saffron, pomegranates and chickpeas – can be traced back to the Arab period. Trading flavours It was not only the Moors who found Sicily’s position as a trading post useful. Over the centuries, the island was also invaded by the Normans and the Romans. The most recent influence is the new influx of North African refugees who have settled in Sicily. The international flavour of Sicilian food is celebrated every year in the tiny village of San Vito Lo Capo, where the annual cous cous festival is held. Chefs from all over the world, including North Africa, the Far East and Europe, compete for the title of best cous cous chef of the year.
Air Date: 2005-10-19
- 2 Marettimo
Islands in the sun Golden sunshine, blue seas and fantastic views – no wonder Jamie couldn’t resist kicking off his shoes and relaxing on the beautiful island of Marettimo. As Jamie says: 'There’s something about island life which makes everything go slowly, softly – don’t rush, take your time and you get time to think.' This remote island, one of the Egadi isles off the coast of Sicily, had clearly worked its magic on the workaholic chef. Staking its claim in ancient history, Marettimo is believed to be the original Ithaca, location of Homer's Odysseus. Away from it all Today, lucky visitors can relax on the beaches and tiny coves or enjoy diving in the area, which is part of a marine reserve with a wide variety of sea life to discover. If you love walking, head inland to the mountains where you can climb up high for spectacular views over the Mediterranean. For culture fiends there are Roman ruins, a Spanish castle and a small temple which dates back to the 1st century AD. Many cruises stop off at Marettimo and visit Giovanni’s La Scaletti restaurant. But for independent travellers, it takes a little effort to arrive. The best way is on the hydrofoil from Trapani in Sicily, which stops at all the islands four times a day. There are direct flights to Palermo from Stansted. Or if that’s too much trouble, you can always charter your own helicopter to get there. But if you fancy an easier way to island life, there are plenty of other beautiful islands off the coast of Italy. Spoilt for choice Like Jamie, who started his tour there, you could visit Sicily – home of the Mafia, fantastic street markets and great beaches. For good old-fashioned glamour, why not go to Capri? Some of the scenes in The Talented Mr Ripley were filmed there. In the 1950s the island was one of the most exclusive in the world, a playground for the rich and famous. It still retains an air of glamour with many boutique hotels springing up along the rugged coast. Sardinia is the second largest island in the Mediterranean, known for its clean and uncrowded beaches. It’s also one of the most chic. Settle back in a café and enjoy the nightly passeggiata – the ritual stroll through the streets by the locals dressed in their Sunday best. Elba is best-known as the island where Napoleon was exiled after losing the Battle of Trafalgar 200 years ago. Now 'Tuscany's island' is a quiet place. It has a languid relaxed atmosphere, with fantastic scenery and amazing food with a strong Tuscan influence. There is plenty to do there including walking, mountain biking, snorkelling, kayaking, diving or just kicking off your shoes and relaxing, just like Jamie.
Air Date: 2005-10-26
- 3 Farfa
Going monastic Members of religious orders have traditionally been known for their good food and wines, so Jamie was looking forward to dining in splendour when he went to stay with the monks of the Benedictine community in Farfa, north of Rome. But the monks at the beautiful Farfa Abbey had long forgotten their culinary heritage. Tinned vegetables for dinner and a defunct herb garden inspired Jamie to take charge and encourage the monks to enjoy some good eating again. Peace and quiet If, like Jamie, you fancy experiencing life in a religious community or just crave some peace and quiet in a beautiful setting, you could stay in one of Italy’s 300 convents or monasteries that offer cheaper accommodation than most hotels. An institution shared by those who have taken Holy Orders is not the kind of place to stay if you’re looking for a booze and clubbing holiday, though. Most have some rules, which may include an evening curfew, a ban on loud music or modern gadgets like mobile phones and an expectation that you will be quiet in the shared areas. Many monasteries offer the luxury of a four star hotel; others offer more basic accommodation, though all are clean and comfortable and most have rooms with ensuite bathrooms. Some operate as hotels or guesthouses, while others offer a chance to share the lives of the monks or nuns. But you don’t have to be religious or even Catholic to stay in monasteries. They are happy to accept everyone, from single travellers to families with children. Something for everyone The range of accommodation should suit everyone with some monasteries or convents bang in the centre of cities while others are in remote rural areas. Many feature hidden art treasures, gorgeous architecture and magnificent gardens and courtyards. Most places offer breakfast and many – particularly the guesthouses – provide lunch and dinner for an additional charge. Meals are generally served in a dining room and, while the choice may be simple, the food is usually excellent and good value. Some even provide packed lunches if you’re going out for the day. But if you plan to stay in a monastery, make sure you book well in advance, as they are popular during holiday seasons and you can’t turn up without a reservation.
Air Date: 2005-11-02
- 4 Le Marche
Festivals of food Jamie's pasta making competition with the Mamas from Le Marche is part of a well-loved tradition in Italy. The English have their village fêtes, with tombolas and coconut shies. In Italy, the locals get together to celebrate their local foods at a sagra. Thousands of sagre take place around Italy to celebrate a particular food or wine from that area, In Le Marche, the region where Jamie visited the Sagre de Mercatello, nearly every town and village has at least one festival during the summer. Family affairs To the British, it may seem strange to have a festival devoted purely to pecorino cheese or stuffed flatbread. For Italians, though, these events are a high point of the year for all the family, with funfairs, music and dancing as well as food and wine. Most of the festivals have a historical context. The polenta festival in Corinaldo on the third Sunday in July commemorates the time when the townspeople successfully resisted a siege thanks to copious supplies of the stuff. Other sagre celebrate local specialities such as wild boar, trout or newly pressed olive oil. Local life American Rebecca Winke lives in Assisi and she says of sagre on the Slow Italy website: 'If you really want to see how the Italians in rural Italy live, your best bet is to head to the nearest sagra. 'Imagine your church youth group organised a dinner and bazaar that lasted 10 days and involved feeding about 1,000 people a night. Total chaos would reign. 'Well, that's pretty much what it is. A booth where you order your food, a big tent where you sit at long tables with complete strangers and eat off plastic plates, a couple of carnival-type booths where you can shoot cans or play the lottery for prizes, and a dance floor. 'And hundreds of people shouting orders, bustling around with trays of food, eating with gusto, and trying to talk over each other.' Real Italy The sagre usually last about 10 days and take place in the evening. The purpose is to raise money for the local community while having a great time. You may find that you are the only tourists there so this will give you a chance to take meet some real Italians - just as Jamie did. To find a sagra while you're in Italy, contact the local tourist office or look out for posters in the area advertising the events and head down there. You'll have a fantastic evening and enjoy great local food.
Air Date: 2005-11-09
- 5 Puglia
From generation to generation Jamie went deep into the heel of Italy to discover the secret to good regional food. He learnt that there was nothing the Italians loved more than having their food cooked for them– just the way their mamas do it. The test of time When he prepared a meal for a family of bakers in Puglia, he discovered they had very clear ideas about their traditional dishes like pasta al forno: keep them simple, use good ingredients and don't tamper with the recipes, which have been passed down the generations. One satisfied Italian grandfather praised the meal for being rustico or rustic – traditional peasant food which is the backbone of Italian cuisine. Many of Italy's most famous dishes have grown out of cucina povera, the cuisine of poverty. Pizzas were originally a way to liven up unleavened bread, and many pasta dishes, such as pasta con aglio e olio, served with just garlic and oil, were devised to make the most of the simplest and cheapest produce. Unlike French haute cuisine, which is built on expensive ingredients and sophisticated preparation techniques, Italian cooking remains tied to its peasant past in both flavour and appearance. This is particularly evident in traditional Pugliese food. Travel companies are marketing Puglia, with its fantastic climate, unspoilt beaches and unique architecture, as the new Tuscany, but it differs from Tuscany in many ways – most profoundly because of Italy's historic north-south divide. Contrasting cultures The north of this long, thin country is cooler, greener and lusher than the south. This makes it ideal for lucrative cattle and sheep farming. It also enjoys good communications with the rest of Europe, which explains why Venice was an important, influential city for so many centuries. Other great cities of the north, such as Rome, Florence and Milan, have always attracted more industry and wealth than their southern counterparts. By contrast much of the south is a hot, harsh environment. Puglia is luckier than its neighbouring regions in that the land is flat and fertile. It is now known as the garden of Italy, and provides around 75% of all Italian fruit and vegetables. However it is the poverty of the area that has dictated much of Puglia’s food traditions. Here, as Jamie discovered, necessity has been the mother of invention. The pasta is made without eggs, and the bread is made from the hard-grain durum wheat flour that flourishes locally. Creative tradition The people of Puglia have a very healthy diet based on vegetables, including wild mushrooms, wild chicory, and lampascione, the bulb of a wild tassel hyacinth – foods foraged from stony fields and abandoned terraces, rather than cultivated. They don't eat much meat – until a few years ago and beef was almost unknown in this region, where people prefer horsemeat. In this culture of scarcity, nothing is wasted. Stale bread is cut into cubes or crumbled and toasted in oil to make a garnish for pasta and vegetable dishes. On the programme, Jamie produced a salad using the local bread called panzanella. In Britain, Italian food is considered on a par with French cooking, with some of the best restaurants in London like The River Café and Locanda Locatelli producing exquisite meals. But, as Jamie discovered, many of these dishes have their roots in making ends meet and using up leftovers – just as the mamas of Puglia have done throughout history.
Air Date: 2005-11-16
- 6 Amalfi
With his 30th birthday fast-approaching, Jamie returns to an area of Italy that he knows and loves. However, this time he decides to go to Minori, where his 'Italian father', Gennaro Contaldo, was born and raised. Following in Gennaro's footsteps Jamie goes mussel-fishing and cooks for Gennaro's father, who was Gennaro’s first inspiration in the kitchen. Drawing together all that he has learned in six weeks in Italy, Jamie cooks a 30th birthday meal for all of the friends that he has made along the way.
Air Date: 2005-11-23