WELLNESS MERCANTILE: the warmth of sharing meals

Through my own work as a Reiki Master, Holistic Health Coach and Intuitive Brand Strategist, I have met some incredible and inspiring women in wellness along the way. I wanted to create a platform that celebrates this movement towards a collective consciousness. Through community and connection, The Wellness Mercantile is exploring ways to support each other.
— Erica Joy Dunn, founder of The Wellness Mercantile

The Warmth of Sharing Meals

words + recipe by Linda Sarrisimages by Katie June Burton @katiefresca

I started working in the culinary world when I turned 25. Leaving an office job and transitioning into something that really made me happy was a big leap. Two things that I am discovering in my growth as an entrepreneur are that you need to take care of yourself and you need to foster relationships that strengthen you. Freelancers get caught up in the hustle (especially in New York City) oh too often. We have to hunt, search, and scrap for jobs. Every day is different but that is what makes it terrifyingly exciting. 

Taking care of yourself could mean a balance of eating well, exercising, positivity and self love. Being my own best cheerleader, even when I think I'm bullshitting it, just keeps me moving forward. Surrounding yourself with strong people who lift you up is the second part; whether it's a mentor, a lover, a partner, a client or a friend -- we can't do it on our own. After cooking school, I was lucky to receive a scholarship that sent me to Sicily and into the hands of my mentor, Fabrizia. But it's no longer luck that keeps the adventure alive, it's the choices I'm making that allow me to build relationships, continue learning and growing. 

While traveling in Sicily this fall, I had an opportunity to work the olive harvest in a town called Sambuca di Sicilia. What comforted my heart while being away from home was of course the satisfaction of eating local and seasonally but also the combination of warm Sicilian sun and even warmer people. Whether I was sitting on the ground in the shade of an olive tree splitting a panino and some pomegranates with a farmer or cooking together with friends sharing the meal with their family of perfect little loud Italian children in the comfort of their homes, eating together is a ritual that I love more than any other. 

Most of the time, I'm the one in the kitchen but sharing meals or cooking together is the best way to comfort yourself, thank friends, cheer them up or celebrate! I usually save it for date number three with new guys. Risotto is something I make when I need to wash away the winter blues. I can whip it up with items from the pantry and it's always a crowd pleaser. The recipe is simple but requires focus. You need to dedicate your time and cannot be distracted with other things. In this vegetarian recipe, I use broccoli rabe paired with a new harvest Italian extra virgin olive oil and some stinky strong cheese on top. I like to add a squeeze of lemon juice at the end to brighten it up. The balance of bitter greens with high-quality oil and salty cheese are guaranteed to warm your belly. 

Linda Sarris is a private chef who splits her time between Brooklyn and Italy. She finds inspiration from her badass female CEO clients and cooking mentors abroad. Linda travels often for research and work-study programs including an upcoming Sicilian food/wine tour with guests from May 6-12. Follow her culinary storytelling through instagram @thecheekychef and lindasarris.com.

RECIPE: Broccoli Rabe Risotto

serves 3

  • 1c. arborio or carnaroli rice
  • 1 small red onion, finely diced
  • 4T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2c. white wine
  • 3c. vegetable stock
  • 2 bunches of broccoli rabe, 6c. of trimmed sprigs
  • 3T unsalted butter
  • 1/2c. parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated
  • sea salt and flakey finishing salt
  • black pepper
  • lemon
  • funky cheese like pecorino, taleggio or an earthy castelrosso to finish the dish

Trim tough stems from the broccoli rabe and remove large outer leaves. Add the florets to a pot of heavily salted boiling water, cooking until bright green and softened. Blanch in ice water to stop the cooking, drain and set aside. In a wide flat-bottomed pan, heat the extra virgin olive oil on medium. Add the onion, cooking until softened and translucent. Meanwhile, heat the vegetable stock in a separate pot and grab a ladle. Add all of the rice to your risotto pan and stir to coat with the oil and onions. Toast for a few minutes then add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Sti continuously with a wooden spoon so the rice doesn't stick to the bottom, allow the wine to absorb a little bit into rice and burn off the rest.

Start adding 1 ladle of broth at a time until fully absorbed. Lower the heat to just simmering and always keep stirring. The whole process should take about 20 minutes. Cook to your desired doneness; the rice should stick to your teeth (al dente) but not feel too crunchy. Stir in the broccoli rabe for a few minutes just before the rice finishes cooking. Turn off the heat and finish with butter and grated cheese for the "mantecatura" step. Season with sea salt and black pepper to taste. The butter and cheese will melt and make the risotto creamy. Finish with a drizzle of good quality extra virgin olive oil, flakey sea salt and a few bits of funky cheese. 

Cheeky's Risotto Notes:

  • Measure 1 espresso cup of dry risotto rice per person. It's the perfect amount.
  • Chop your onions smaller than the size of the rice.
  • Wine, olive oil and salt are very important. Don't skimp on quality.
  • Serve right away; both risotto and pasta waits for nobody.

Menfi with Marilena Barbera

Sicilia non è un’isola, è un arcipelago.
— la mamma Nina Barbera

On the #CHEEKYbici cycling trip through Sicily, our next stop was a visit to Marilena Barbera in Menfi. She is a winemaker that Silvestro was excited to finally meet after many trips back and forth missing one another. We never knew when or where the cycling trip would lead us which made planning winery visits, hotel bookings and restaurant ressies a bit difficult. Sometimes coastal winds, torrential rain, hangovers would keep us from making it from point A to point B in the time we expected. In the main piazza of Menfi, we asked a young guy where we might find a hotel for the night. This guy randomly had a pamphlet for a chic hotel (not what you typically find in rural Sicily) but after a few calls around to B&B's we opted to go for the fancy place. We biked completely uphill for 45 minutes or so to finally arrive at the hotel. It was a brand new place with great rooms and even a pool! After the crazy bike ride to find the hotel, we decided that it would be impossible to walk to town for dinner and biking after dark was out of question. Take out from seamless.com is not an option here in Sicilia. With the help of the concierge, we found a pizzeria in Menfi that was kindly willing to deliver food to us via Vespa up to the hotel. With a few bottles of wine and pizza in the room, we were happy and nobody was complaining. The next day was our visit to Marilena's winery!

We arrived at Cantine Barbera with our bicycles, just a quick trip from the town this time. Marilena Barbera is a bombshell gorgeous smiley woman with strawberry hair, not what you might expect from a Sicilian. That's the beauty of this island! The people, the food, the culture is all a wonderful mix. Marilena and her mother, Nina, gave us a tour of the winery and showed us the small bottling facility, the cellar and took us to the tasting room to try a few of her delicious wines. We tasted two inzolia white wines from Menfi and two red blends.

At Cantine Barbera, they are located so close to the sea on the southwest of the island so you can actually taste the salinity in the wine. The beauty of this location is that the vineyards can benefit from warm dry summer weather, a coastal breeze, and a mild winter season. Marilena is the third generation of her family making wine here; her grandfather started planting in the 1920's. She plants Sicilian white varietals like inzolia, catarratto and grillo plus reds like perricone, nerello mascalese and nero d'avola. Marilena is very good at marketing internationally and travels abroad often to wine fairs and to meet buyers, restaurateurs and customers. Her social media presence is well beyond many other Sicilian wineries especially with the small size of her production. In NYC, the imported T.Edwards carries most of her wines here in the States. She will be coming to the States sometime this year and hopefully collaborating on a dinner with me!

CANTINE BARBERA | viticultori in Menfi

Azienda Agricola Barbera, Contrada Torrenova S.P. 79, 92013 Menfi (Agrigento) Italia

Tel. +39.0925.570442 | Marilena Barbera | info@cantinebarbera.it | http://www.cantinebarbera.it