Chef Olivia Hayo of Beautiful Food Inside + Out re-creates her culinary memories of the Mediterranean using inspiration and local, seasonal ingredients, from her home in San Diego's Little Italy. This week, Olivia takes takes lessons on simplicity and the celebration of seasonality from a country meal in the hills of Galilee.
The sloping banks of the rock-strewn Galilean hills were dotted with olive trees and nestled among them was said to be a small goat dairy farm, supposedly home to a good country restaurant. Based on these rumors, we were headed there for lunch.
The freeway narrowed and tapered into a quiet rural road that wound slowly up the steep grades, affording a cascading view of the rocky valleys below. We kicked up clouds of dust as we entered the front gate, which was adorned with hand-painted drawings of goats.
The faint clang of bells echoed in the distance, and just beyond the ruby, sapphire and turquoise-painted stables, sleepy sheep grazed in the pasture. We climbed the well-worn stairs and followed a walkway that led us to the open outdoor kitchen that served as the heart of the restaurant. The terraced seating areas branched off from the kitchen and we found them full of city dwellers, like us, escaping for the day.
A woman with wind-tossed hair led us through a corridor on whose walls shelves sagged with terra-cotta cookware, wooden bowls, and clay jugs. She deposited us in a cozy room just off the kitchen. Large windows spilled afternoon sunlight onto the brightly dyed rugs. Stacks of tapestries, books, and dusty bottles filled the space with a lived-in warmth.
We took our seats on the woven cushions that surrounded a traditional low wooden table, and soon ceramic bowls filled with caramelized eggplant, tart tomatoes, crunchy winter vegetables and juicy citrus appeared.
Each dish shone with accents of floral spices and toasted nuts and seeds. Rustic knobs of local cheese, artisan bread, and fresh, grassy olive oil rounded out the spread. The contrasting textures and flavors elevated each humble ingredient to a celebration of the abundance of the hills of the Galilee.
Nowadays, when I do my weekly shop at the farmers market in San Diego, I try to make my meals a celebration of our local bounty here.
I look for produce at its peak, and the wintertime selection of crunchy and sweet kohlrabi, spicy radishes, and zesty citrus inspired my favorite San Diego citrus salad, which I serve tossed with peppery local olive oil, fragrant mint, and the Egyptian nut and spice blend, dukkah sprinkle on top.