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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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).