Sea Asparagus Salad with Grilled Shrimp Skewers and Isola del Giglio (Giglio Island)

After a seafood lunch of orata alla livornese in Eataly, I made my way to the seafood section to buy some shrimp to cook for dinner.  As I was checking the array of oysters from Brittany, France, my eyes landed on a big container of alghe (seaweed) beside them.  I went closer and was transfixed for a full minute.  My life raced back to my childhood, remembering fond memories of Sunday lunches in my grandparents' house. 

Sundays were special and when we have seafood, my grandmother makes sure that we have seaweed grapes or lato salad as a side dish.  I shared the love of this salad with my grandfather.  Almost everyone ate it but not everyone was as crazy about it as the two of us.  Maybe because seaweed grapes look like bunches of minute grapes that I have grown attracted to or perhaps it's because it is served as a salad mixed with onions & tomatoes and dressed with vinegar.   Whatever the reason is, it remained high on my list.  This salad was soon forgotten after my grandfather died when I was 12 and the Sunday lunches became lesser and lesser until my father's family completely dwindled.  The Sunday get-togethers abruptly stopped along with this salad.  I never saw the seaweed grape salad on our table ever again. 

Seaweeds never grace Italian tables, markets, or anywhere for that matter.  For that reason, I had to scoot over to make sure that they are really what I thought they were.  Alghe.  My husband didn't  know what to make of my excitement and my decision to buy some.  

I think the signora working behind the counter was more than happy to help me when she saw what I was interested in.   The seaweed on sale were sea asparagus (Thank you to my blogger friend Jennifer for furnishing me with its proper name in Canada).  They are also known as samphire, glasswort, sea pickle and sea beans.   They didn't look like the seaweed grapes or lato that I used to eat when I was a child so the signora furnished me with valuable instructions on how to prepare and eat it.  I needed to blanch them then eat them like regular salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil & lemon or vinegar.  It's already salty so salt is not needed.  I couldn't hold my excitement.  It was exactly how I wanted to eat it, just like my childhood salad of seaweed grapes. 

The question is, how does it taste like?  It's salty so lemon or vinegar balances the taste.  It has a delicate taste that's reminiscent of a regular vegetable salad with a hint of the sea.  It's pleasant and goes perfectly well with seafood dishes.  My husband actually liked it but didn't eat more than a forkful because I completely forgot about his aversion to onions and vinegar.  It was a shame because he would have eaten more if I didn't add them.  It was his first time to see it and try it.  You see that it's not common in Italy?  Speaking about it with some friends, they were also clueless about the edible seaweeds.

The lighthouses at the port of Isola del Giglio.
Sometimes, it's hard to relate food with places in blog posts so when we recently went to Isola del Giglio (Giglio Island), I thought they can go well together in one post. So here I am skipping other planned posts again to show you this beautiful island just off the coast of Tuscany.  We did just a day trip, leaving early in the morning and coming back home in time for a quick dinner before we all crawled to bed.  It had been a tiring trip but it was fun especially for the kids who took so many boat rides.  If you want to take it easy, a weekend in the island is perfect.  

Porto Santo Stefano
From Rome, we traveled for 160 kilometers, a 2-hour car ride towards Porto Santo Stefano.  From there, we took a ferry for an hour to the port of Isola del Giglio.   The beaches that are close to the port itself are already beautiful to bathe in but we decided to go farther to Spiaggia delle Caldane (Caldane Beach) which could be reached by a small boat.  

The port of Isola del Giglio
From a beach evader like me,  I am quite happy with Spiaggia delle Caldane.  We were expecting it to be less crowded because it is the one of the most isolated among the four beaches of the island.  There's only the beach with deck chairs & umbrellas that can be rented.  There are no bars, restaurants nor bathrooms around.  A lifeguard is present to secure the water.  It can only be reached by boat or through a 20-minute foot path from the other beach, Spiaggia delle Cannelle (Cannelle Beach).  Well, it's the peak of the holiday season after all.

Spiaggia delle Caldane (Caldane Beach)
There were schools of occhiate (saddled sea bream) too!

Apart from the crystal clear waters of the island, there is one thing that made this place  particularly popular.  The capsized Costa Concordia ship had attracted a lot of attention ever since it ran aground a reef on the night of 13th January 2012.  Most of the 4,000+ passengers & crew escaped (the first being the captain) but around 30 died.  

Isola del Giglio
I remember being incensed by the actions of the captain when I was following the news over the weeks of the investigation.  My own father was a captain of an airplane and from him, I learned that the last thing a captain should do is abandon the people under his care.  No matter what happens, he should be the last one to leave.  We spoke with our boatman casually about the tragedy, and he showed us the reef where the ship caught a big chunk, and told us how the ship veered inland on its own, contrary to the heroic deed of the captain maneuvering it in position, as some news mistakenly gave him credit for. 

The Costa Concordia
On a more positive note, I like the island very much.  On a calmer period, I would definitely visit this island again to explore the town, sample the local food and enjoy the crystal clear water. 

Enjoy your weekend!


Sea Asparagus Salad with Grilled Shrimp Skewers

Serves 2

  • 200 g. sea asparagus
  • 1/2 Tropea onion (any red onion is fine), rings
  • cherry tomatoes, halved 
  • 1 lemon rind
  • black sesame seeds
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Barolo wine vinegar (or use any vinegar you have)
  • salt
  • 8 - 10 shrimp, deveined and shelled
  • fresh basil leaves
  1. Clean the sea asparagus with water.   Take away the parts that are brownish.  Set aside.
  2. Boil some water in a big saucepan.   Prepare a big bowl that can accommodate the sea asparagus with ice and water.   When the water boils, add some salt and blanch the sea asparagus for 3 minutes.  Take them with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the bowl of ice and water.  Make sure that they are submerged in the water.  This way, you trap the color and freshness of the sea asparagus.  Once cold, drain well.  
  3. Transfer the sea asparagus to a serving bowl.  Add the tomatoes & onions.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds & lemon rind.   Dress with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar & salt. 
  4. Grill the shrimp on a griddle.  Put 4 - 5 in a skewer, alternating with the halved tomatoes & basil. 
  5. Serve the skewers on top of the salad.