Eating the Springtime

Eating the springtime blog title

One of the life lessons Italy has given me is the special taste of eating according to the seasons. There is something wonderfully simple and logical about living with the natural worlds shifting seasons, as if you are following a natural internal rhythm.

Today we are all spoilt by supermarkets who have everything we want on the shelves throughout the year. But eating fruits and vegetables which have been freshly grown and have gathered the sunshine of the summer or the warmth of spring, the autumn or fall and winter showers, each with its own unique seasonal flavour.

Those who are passionate about gardening can understand all of the work and toil behind the preparation of the soil, planting, grooming, pruning and harvesting everything according to the particular month of the year. It is with a tremendous sense of achievement that they enjoy the fruits of their creation, like crafting a masterpiece, looking after a pet or raising a child.

Typical products

Every year I spend in Sicily I have an appointment to eat the spring time, like meeting old friends I look forward to a succession of different foods and tastes. Beginning at the end of March with artichokes which for me symbolise the end of winter, then with the first weeks of sunshine in the flux of changing weather the wild asparagus sprout out in amongst the bushes of the countryside.

Then comes a blossoming free for all as the heat ushers in a barrage of ripening fruits as the sleeping vegetation starts to wake. The final wintertime citrus makes way for the mulberries, cherries, strawberries, loquats, apricots, plums and figs.

bodie-pyndus-57660-unsplash

While the Spring is flowering the preparations for the summer begin with the planting of vegetable gardens which will yield ripened summer fare in a few months, like tomatoes, basil, eggplant (or aubergine), sweet and hot peppers, capsicums, beans and more.

Sagra blog title

With the Spring comes the Sagra /sà·gra/ (festival)  season, the beginning of a series of endless food festivals that each town in all of Italy uses to show off their best local and traditional products, like a series of beauty pageants or country fairs. A preparation of endless stands which will give you a taste of everything over a couple days for only a few euros. The sagra season in Sicily begins with granita and gelato at Acireale in spring and ends with chocolate at Modica in December and literally takes you all around the island. In May alone there are a series of Sagras which are dedicated to ingredients like: asparagus, cheese, loquats, wild fennel, oranges, ricotta and strawberries.

Springtime title 2

If you find yourself in Sicily in the spring here is a quick fresh food market vocabulary of what you might find on sale, in the garden or on the menu.

Primavera  /pri·ma·vè·ra/  (Spring)

aprile (April),  maggio (May), giugno (June)

Verdura (vegetable) : Asparagi (asparagus) , barba di frate (agretti, otherwise known as saltwort or friar’s beard), carciofi (artichokes), carote (carrots), cavolfiore (cauliflower, there are many types from a beautiful purple or violetta to a bright green or romano variety, as a self confessed cauliflower hater from childhood I suggest you try one of these Italian cauliflowers you will change your mind), cavolo verza (cabbage), puntarelle (chicory) , insalate primaverili (spring salads), luppolo (wild asparagus), cipollotti (spring onions), fave (broad beans), piselli (peas), zucchine (zucchini), melanzane (eggplant or aubergine), peperoni (capsicum), rucola (rucola salad), lattuga (lettuce), fagiolini (green beans) and cipolle (onions).

markus-spiske-420568-unsplash

Frutta (fruit): Fragole (strawberries) , nespole (loquats), arance (oranges), mandaranci (a cross of mandarines and oranges), clementine (clementine oranges), pompelmi (grapefruit), cedri (citron), kiwi (kiwi fruit) , limoni (lemons), pere (pears), mele (apples), ciliegie (cherries), pesche (peaches), albicocche (apricots), ciliegie (cherries), amarene (armarena bitter cherries), meloni (melons which include several different varieties) and anguria (watermelon).

Carciofi affumicati e arrostiti

Carciofi

La primavera Siciliana è triste perchè il tempo passa da giorni piovosi a giorni di forte sole. Il vento di Scirocco nasce dal deserto Africano e soffia a lungo durante tutte le stagioni.

I fiori bianchi sugli alberi da frutto si mescolano con il grigio della passata stagione. La primavera è come un  armistizio che permette all’inverno di arrendersi e dare inizio ad un nuovo ciclo.

Artichokes

I carciofi siciliani sono tanto spinosi quanto il cambiare del tempo, ma dopo che le loro spine esterne vengono rimosse, il carnoso fiore interno è un delicato rimedio per il freddo.

Il cariofo è un cardo selvatico e viene dalla stessa famiglia del girasole. Questo fiore commestibile è nativo del Mediterraneo, risale al tempo degli antichi Greci, e venivano coltivati in Italia e Sicilia.

Artichokes2

Secondo la mitologia Greca Zeus creò i carciofi da una donna mortale. Un giorno mentre cercava suo fratello Poseidone, Zeus vide un bellissima giovane donna, ed essendo molto colpito dalla ragazza, di nome Cynara, decise di trasformarla in dea. Cynara accettò questa proposta con la promessa pero’ di non tornare piu’ a casa, tuttavia la ragazza non riusci’ a resistere alla nostalgia e tornò di nascosto a visitare la sua famiglia. Quando Zeus lo scoprì si arrabbiò, decise di ributtare Cynara sulla terra e trasformarla in una pianta.

E’ sempre un piacere preparare i carciofi e servirli in tavola ogni anno. Può sembrare difficile prepararli ma sono molto versatili, facili da imbottire e la tenera parte interna che viene tolta può essere preparata separatamente come condimento per la pasta. Uno delle piante più squisite della primavera.

IMG_0723 copy

Il modo migliore per preparare i primi teneri cariofi della stagione è di imbottirli con una combinazione di aromi freschi come pancetta, prezzemolo, cipolline, aglio, sedano tagliato finemente, un pizzico di peperoncino, il tutto bagnato con un filo di olio extra vergine di olive ed un pò di limone, e poi cuocerli lentamente sui carboni ardente o ‘braci’ come dicono in dialetto locale.

artichoke-2226733_1920

Mettere i carciofi abbondantemente conditi sulla brace calda e lasciare che gli aromi gradualmente insaporiscano il tutto è il modo migliore per gustarli. Le foglie esterne sono croccanti e bruciate ma fungono da guscio protettivo per permettere al tenero cuore di cuocere. Il grasso della pancetta si scioglie e si amalgama con la dolcezza delle verdure in un irresistibile sapore affumicato.

See the english version of this post here: Smoky Roasted Artichokes

Smoky roasted Artichokes

SicilianArtichokes

The Sicilian spring is moody as the weather fluctuates between rain and days of glorious sun. The Sciroccio wind whips itself up from the African desert and pushes the seasons along.

White blossoms in the fruit trees blend with shadowy greys. The spring is an armistice which allows the winter to gradually surrender itself and begin the cycle again.

Artichokes

Sicilian artichokes are as prickly as the late winter weather, but after their external spikes are removed the internal fleshy flower is a delicate balm for the cold. 

The artichoke is a thistle and comes from the same family as the sunflower. This edible flower is a native of the Mediterranean and dates back to ancient Greek times when they were cultivated in Italy and Sicily.

Greek mythology tells how Zeus created the artichoke from a beautiful mortal woman. While visiting his brother Poseidon, Zeus spied a beautiful young woman, he was so pleased with the girl named Cynara, that  he decided to make her a goddess. Cynara agreed, however she grew homesick and snuck back home to visit her family. Zeus discovered this and became angry, throwing Cynara back to earth and transforming her into a plant.

Un fiore Siciliano

Cynar is an Italian liqueur which gets its name from the artichoke and the mythological origins of this plant. This bitter alcoholic drink is made from thirteen different plants including the artichoke. It is generally drunk straight as an after dinner digestive or as a cocktail mixing it with soda water, tonic water and lemon, lime or orange juice.

IMG_0720

It is always a joy to prepare artichokes as part of the Sicilian table every year. They may seem difficult but they are versatile, easily stuffed and the tender internal leaves can be prepared separately as a pasta condiment. The discarded stalks can also be blanched in hot water, then blended together to make a creamy pesto like mixture.

Artichokes2

The best way to prepare the first tender artichokes of the season is to stuff them with a combination of fresh spring aromas like pancetta, parsley, spring onions, garlic, finely sliced celery, a pinch of hot chilli pepper, all soaked in a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon and then cooking them slowly over hot coals, or ‘a braci’ as they say in the local dialect. 

IMG_0723 copy

Covering the richly flavoured artichokes with hot smoking embers and letting the stuffing’s taste gradually imbue itself into the artichoke is the best. The tough external leaves are crusty and burnt but act as a protective shell until the internal tender parts are fully cooked. The fat of the bacon melts and amalgamates with the sweetness of the vegetable in an irresistible smoky flavour. 

I love preparing them for my Birthday in late February every year. The only flowers I ever truly enjoy are a bouquet of carciofi.

wcm0046

 

 

 

 

Vedi qua il post anche in Italiano: Carciofi affumicati e arrostiti