Moments of Glory
Three times every winter we organise an Advanced Salumi Course. During the course participants learn the theory of Italian salumi from Giancarlo Russo, Slow Food consultant, and work alongside Italian artisan norcini (pork butchers) making sausages, salami and other traditional cured pork products. Here are some proud moments from our course that ended yesterday.
Fare La Scarpetta
Scarpetta means slipper, but fare la scarpetta doesn’t have anything to do with making slippers. It means to wipe your plate clean with a piece of bread, something all my Italian friends do on informal occasions.
There are several opinions about its origin. It seems to come from southern Italy. Perhaps it’s a metaphor likening a shoe scraping along the ground picking up whatever it finds to the crust of bread mopping up the sauce in the plate. Or maybe it refers to ‘scarsetta‘ or poverty which obliges people to content themselves with whatever there is, usually very little.
A third opinion suggests that the fingers pushing the bread around cleaning up the plate looks like a shoe with a leg coming out above. Take your choice.
Seasonal Eating 4: Cardoons
If you see something in Italy in winter with stems like giant celery, it’s probably a cardoon. The cardoon is the same plant as an artichoke, except that artichoke cultivars have been selected to have large edible flowers and cardoons to have large edible stems. In Italy they’re called or cardo or gobbo, depending on where you are, or cardo-gobbo if you’re in Piedmont and grow the Slow Food presidium Nizza Monferrato variety. Gobbo means hunchbacked and refers to the curved stems.
One month before the cardoon is mature, the farmer bends the stems over and covers them with soil to blanch them and give them a sweeter flavour. It’s very labour-intensive and now you see many straight stems because commercial market gardeners just slip a paper sleeve over the stems to make them turn white.
The stems taste very similar to the flowers, and since you get much more to eat from a stem, a cardoon makes a more economic and equally delicious side dish. Cardoons are usually steamed or boiled. You pull off the strings; I find a carrot peeler does the trick. Cut them into finger-length chunks, boil them in salted water (with some lemon peel to keep them from discolouring) until not quite tender and drain them. They’re then ready to stew in oil with some Italian sausage meat scattered over the top (Tuscans never missing a chance to add meat to a good vegetarian dish), a bit of stock and a sprinkling of parmigiano. Cover and cook on a gentle flame until done.
The road to Bagni di Lucca
This monumental road sign stands at the intersection of Borgo Giannotti and Via San Marco just to the north of Porta Santa Maria, the main northern gate to the city of Lucca. Borgo Giannotti was a meeting and resting point for merchants on their way from the port at Viareggio to the Garfagnana where they sold their wares. There are many other interesting things to be discovered in Borgo Giannotti and I’ve written about some of them in my blog on the Slow Travel Tours website:
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