Thursday, August 13, 2009

Grottoes, Grottoes, Everywhere!

Nooks and More Nooks!

Grottos seem to be everywhere in this region.  The writer Ovid in his Metamorphosis described nymphs, gods, goddesses, and humans bathing in these cool and hollow hiding places.

A grotto is defined as a small cave near water and liable to flood at high tide.  The word comes from the vulgar Latin 'grupta' meaning 'crypt.'  I'm not sure why Italy seems so glutted with grottoes, but perhaps it has to do with the very porous tufo stone that is a hallmark of the region.  Any geologists or speleologists out there to tell me more?

For the nature lover as well as children who prefer to climb and jump rather than visit museums, a "Grotto Tour" of Southern Italy can be very satisfying.  Here's my own travel recommendation.  If you are driving from Rome going South, you will find the following:

Grotto di Pastena (nestled in a beautiful mountain in the region of Lazio.)
Villa di Tiberius (in Sperlonga overlooking the sea and part of the ancient villa ruins of Emperor Tiberius.)
Grotto di Sibilla (at Lago Averno where the Sibyl purportedly gave her oracles.)
Grotto Vecchia (in Naples in the same park where Virgil's remains are buried.)
Grotta di Seiano (in Naples... I'm still trying to find a way to see this grotto.  It's by reservation only and unfortunately, nobody answers the phone.)
The Blue Grotto (on the island of Capri, which I reviewed last week.)
Grotte Dell'angelo di Pertosa (near the Greek ruins of Paestum and apparently geared for children.)
The Emerald Grotto (three miles west of the Amalfi Coast, I've read reviews complaining that this is a rip-off and not as impressive as advertised.)
Grotta Palazzese (a high-class restaurant located inside a grotto, many famous people come here to dine and stay at the expensive hotel.  It's off the Adriatic Coast.)

Nymphs are said to bath in grottos frequently.  If you happen upon one, take pictures and post them here!

Book Recommendation:  Heavenly Caves:  Reflections on the Garden Grotto by Naomi Miller.  This book traces the development of the grotto from antiquity to modern times.

La Cucina Napoletana:  Perhaps my own puritanism has held me back, but slowly the passions and sensualities of the Romans are growing on me.  So finally, I am posting a recipe for -- an ancient aphrodisiac.

Bulbi For Love
(For all young couples and not so young couples)

Apicio writes:  For those who search for the delights of Venus, boil the bulbs in water, then, as also for the rights of a wedding, serve with pine nuts or the juice extracted from ruchetta and sprinkle with pepper.

This recipe doesn't need much more explanation.  Ruchetta is still found today everywhere in markets and grocery stores.  I've added a picture of what it looks like.

Bulbi are bulbs very similar to little reddish onions, but very different in taste.  Also known in Italy as 'lampacioni', they are 'lovers bulbs' and in order to eat them, they need to be boiled in salt water, the water changed several times, until they have lost their bitterness.  They are often eaten pickled in the Puglia region.

***Before I published this post I decided to give a shout to other great bloggers on Italy.  I found two wonderful resources.  Bella Baita View in Piedmont told me about Parla Food.  Click on Parla Food to find a picture of lampacioni in Puglia.

(Pictures:  The Blue Grotto, the Grotto di Pastena, the Grotto Vecchia, the Grotto di Sibilla, and the Grotto at the Tiberius Villa.)

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