Sometimes when we spend time with gardeners, we feel transported across the world to Italy. Such was the case when we spent the afternoon with Domenico and Rosa Bellocci and their family in Orangevale, California, just outside of Sacramento. From the moment Rosa opened the front door of her house, we were greeted not only with her warm smile, but with the aroma of focaccia baking in the oven and bracciole stewing in fragrant sauce. We stepped into the kitchen and heard the soft chatter of an Italian game show on the television, and suddenly we were miles and miles from California. The abundant Sunday dinner Rosa had prepared was a treat unimaginable outside of an Italian home – which we all agree is the best place to eat.
Among the dishes Rosa served were hot from the oven muffin-shaped, herb focaccia shimmering with olive oil imported from the family’s hometown in Puglia…
a caprese salad made with fresh tomatoes and basil…
and a mozzarella roll filled with prosciutto, crisp lettuce and juicy tomatoes. The feast also included artichokes preserved in olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes seasoned with garlic and mint, ravioli in homemade tomato sauce, and succulent braciole from a traditional Pugliese recipe. Each dish was prepared with homegrown herbs and vegetables picked at the peak of perfection just steps from the kitchen’s backdoor.
Pair all that with Domenico’s homemade vino nero made from his homegrown grapes, and needless to say, the meal left us feeling very full and very happy.
After dinner everyone agreed that we could use a stroll before dessert, so Rosa and her son Francesco took us out to see the impressive gardens. The Bellocci’s have one and a half acres of gardens, fruit and nut trees, and grapevines in their expansive backyard, and their front yard is a miniature citrus grove with lemons, grapefruits, blood oranges and tangerines.
What a joy it was to see all that was growing even on that mid-November day! As we walked through the gardens, the Bellocci’s picked zucchini, peppers, eggplant, basil, grapefruits, oranges, tangerines, broccoletti, arugula, grapes, chestnuts, pomegranates, quince, olives, rosemary, bay leaf, and more. We’ve created a Garden Gallery to showcase just how incredible their gardens are. Visit it here.
When we headed back inside, we enjoyed a sip of homemade prickly pear liqueur and Italian cookies, called monaci. The cookies get their name, which means “monks,” from their black and white coloring reminiscent of the robes of a monk. The dark outer color comes from vincotto dei fichi, a syrup made from dried figs, and an almond paste filling creates a light colored center.
To see more of the Bellocci’s extensive gardens, visit their Garden Gallery here: