The palestra is a wondrous phenomenon. For one, working out is a rare pastime in Italy, so if you tell someone you regularly work up a sweat in one of these Italian gyms you can expect some raised eyebrows. And I agree, because exercising in these dingy, noisy locales is not exactly my idea of fun either. Frank Bruni’s calls them “perfunctory setups” with “meager scatterings of equipment” in his hilarious memoir Born Round.
But who needs state-of-the-art machines, if exercising is only secondary to the entire purpose of the palestra? First and foremost, you go to the gym to socialize. In Bruni’s gym, patrons would just lean against the machines,“monopolizing it without attempting anything more physical than the arching of an eyebrow. La Roman members did this all the time, provided that the weight machine in question afforded them a good view of other patrons and vice versa.”

Haha, so true! Where in Holland (or anywhere else) people turn on their iPods and do their thing, here it’s like a dance, in which the participants show off, stare and comment. Without ever getting too sweaty, of course. When you see one person doing bench presses, there’d be at least five bystanders delivering feedback. It’s loud, chaotic and actually quite entertaining.

But since there is hardly any air-conditioning, I prefer breaking into a sweat running around the Villa Doria Pamphilj park. Even though it means getting up at six am. I keep on exercising, because it keeps me sane, but the Italian mentality reminds me not to overdo it. Sometimes I decide to just idly sit in that park. What I like so much about Italians is that they never ever feel the need to justify indulgence. As a result, exercise is not linked with guilt. The way it should be. Work out if you want to, but treat yourself whenever you feel like it. It’s about finding a balance, and I love it!

This salad is especially refreshing after a workout, but not necessarily so. It’s quite healthy, fresh and has many interesting, clean flavors. The saltiness of the ricotta salata and the olives go fantastically well with the sweet watermelon. Dig in and enjoy! And please go for seconds, if you feel like it!

Insalata di anguria con ricotta salata ed olive nere (watermelon salad with ricotta salata and black olives)

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ watermelon (about 3-4 cups)
  • 1 cup pitted black olives
  • 3-4 big handfuls of rucola (ca 50 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh mint
  • ½ cup salted almonds, coarsely chopped
  • a big handful of ricotta salata (salted dry ricotta cheese, which you can substitute with any salted hard cheese), coarsely grated (about ¾ cup)
  • Juice of ½ lime (3 tablespoons)
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh ground black pepper

If you want to mellow out the taste of the red onion, soak the slices in ice water for 30 minutes before adding them to the salad.

Cut the watermelon into cubes (1 inch-2,5 cm), remove the seeds (didn’t your mom tell you you would grow a watermelon plant inside?)

In a large salad bowl, combine the watermelon, onion, olives, rucola, mint, almonds and ricotta salata. Add lime juice, olive oil and freshly ground black pepper to taste and toss carefully. Refrigerate for 10-15 minutes to let the flavors blend nicely. Add another drizzle of olive oil if you’d like. You can also add a bit of salt, but the ricotta salata should make the salad salty enough.


Author Irene

More posts by Irene

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • BartB says:

    My mom expected me to know that watermelons don’t grow on trees…

  • Irene says:

    I actually meant plant! But thank god someone is reading my recipes! Grazie!

  • Maria Hykin says:

    Ah, il dolce far niente! (Just watched “Eat Pray Love”:)). Not only am I reading your recipes, but actually about to follow this one in particular tonight! I hope I can make it as good looking as it is on your picture.

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