Insalata Gigliese, a summery salad from a Tuscan island

I’m counting down the days until we get back to our favourite annual Tuscan holiday spot, Giglio island, and in the meantime I’m feeling a little bit nostalgic about the cookbook where this recipe for Insalata Gigliese (a deliciously refreshing salad of tomatoes and celery) comes from, Acquacotta. I recently found out that it is getting harder to find copies of Acquacotta because it sadly isn’t going back into another reprint, which is such a shame because to be perfectly honest it is my favourite.

It came out 5 years ago in March 2016 and is a celebration of a little part of Tuscany that we called home for 6 months in 2015 when my husband Marco was head sommelier of the divine Pellicano Hotel. We lived in the little fishing port of Porto Ercole in Monte Argentario: a gem. The whole area of Southern Tuscany, a small part of the Maremma, from Giglio Island to Capalbio to moody Pitigliano, which looks as if it’s carved right out of tufa, to the hot springs of Saturnia, is an incredibly beautiful, rugged and still undiscovered part of Tuscany.

The landscape is one of the things that soothes my soul as it reminds me of a mixture of Italian coast and the southeastern Australian coast, where I grew up — the best of both worlds. So that gets me every time, but then there is the food. It’s the kind of food I really love: wild food from the mountains, incomparable seafood, delicious cheese, grains and legumes from the farms and rustic, ancient sweet treats. And something strangely that reminds me of Japanese food, not in the flavours (which are thoroughly mediterranean) but in the ingredients themselves and how they are used. I think as well it is just that mix of mountain and sea coming together, which is the ideal combination in Japanese cuisine too — with a similar landscape to Monte Argentario of mountains meeting the sea. So it is a combination of recipes and stories about a place that is really close to my heart.

When you see these recipes, I think they’ll surprise you, they aren’t what most people know of as “Tuscan food” (which is generally speaking quite meat and carbohydrate heavy!) and yet they are so traditional and so intertwined with the landscape around them. Of the 80 recipes, more than half are vegetarian (and of those, more than half are vegan) and over a third are gluten free (lots of chestnuts, rice and polenta here) and that’s not counting the many pasta recipes that could simply be substituted with gluten free pasta. Every dish tells a very unique story.

This salad’s story is about Giglio Island. The main protagonists are tomatoes and celery and it is so fresh and so good, I love it especially with grilled fish. We fell in love with Giglio when we visited for the first time while living in Porto Ercole to see some winemaker friends Francesco Carfagna and his family, who make the most delicious macerated ansonica. You can only reach Giglio by boat from Monte Argentario, but you have to drive over the bigger port, Porto Santo Stefano. Because of this it’s a lesser-trodden part of the coast (as the Maremma is in general). Even in the middle of summer it’s nowhere near as crowded as the rest of the Italian coast and that is a big part of why I love it so much. You can catch a glimpse of it in this 24 hour visit recap and also in this magical hideaway on the island too.

Insalata Gigliese from Acquacotta

Insalata Gigliese (Tomato and celery salad) from Acquacotta

One bite of this salad and I imagine I’m looking over that absolutely crystal sea and those huge granite rocks, a glass of amber coloured ansonica in hand. What I love about this salad is that the celery leaves are treated almost like a herb – so pick a nice stalk of celery that’s not too large and old (which will be tough), something young and tender with healthy leaves. It’s a good one to prepare in advance to give the flavours a chance to mingle.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 4 young celery stalks, leaves and all, finely sliced
  • 4 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar
  • 1 handful of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped

Put the sliced spring onions (try red onion if you don’t have spring onion) in a bowl of cold water for 10 minutes. Drain, then toss together with the celery and tomatoes. Dress with olive oil and vinegar and season with salt and pepper about 30 minutes before you want to serve it. This gives the ingredients a bit of time to get to know each other. Finally, toss through the parsley and serve.

{This photo above of the salad is by Lauren Bamford, styled by Deb Kaloper for Acquacotta}


  1. val says:

    Allow me to extend warm thanks for introducing me to this wonderful part of the world. You helped form an itinerary a few years ago, and it remains my favorite place in Italy after seven visits.
    Because of my overwhelming cookbook collection, I have not cooked nearly enough from your beautiful book, but now I feel lucky to have a copy.

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