Seasonal Eating 3: Figs
Every morning I go down to the fig tree and pick three figs — there are many more, but after gorging on them for a week, three a day is the perfect number.
The yoghurt contains milk and starter culture — nothing else. It comes from a dairy farmer near Lucca; I return the jar and the farmer sterilises it and reuses it. I buy it at a shop in Marlia called Effecorta, which means ‘short F’ and stands for Filiera Corta or short supply line. It’s a joke on the name of the supermarket chain called Esselunga, ‘long S’. I don’t know what it stands for, but you can bet its yoghurt comes from farther away than 10 km and is produced industrially.
I bought the prosciutto at the shop in my village Casabasciana. It’s called prosciutto toscano or prosciutto saporito, which means tasty, because it’s more highly spiced than the Parma variety. It’s saltiness is the perfect foil for the sweet figs.
Orto in September
Apart from cavolo nero, I used to consider September the end of the vegetable garden until next spring. Now that my neighbours accept my gardening efforts enough to be helpful, instead of laughing at them, they’re willing to tell my co-workers on the orto, Penny and Keith, and I what grows here in winter. We’re experimenting with various plants we’ve never tried to grow.
When I bought the radicchio plants a couple of weeks ago, they were totally green. Were they mis-labelled? The man at the agraria (garden centre is the nearest translation, but I don’t think it will conjure up the right image in anyone who hasn’t been to one here in Italy) told me that as the temperature cooled, the leaves would turn red and furl to form a head. It’s still pretty warm, but there’s the red starting already.
Behind the radicchio are our twelve fennel plants. Note our new rustic capannino (garden shed) lurking in the shade at the back. Last spring this terrace was nothing but weeds. We covered it with sturdy black plastic and planted potatoes through slits in the plastic. The neighbours really laughed at that. Although we didn’t get many potatoes, the soil is now mostly clear of weeds and was easy to dig.
I know this doesn’t look like much, but it’s the plot I dug this morning, on which I’ve scattered rapini seeds. Rapini or cima di rapa (broccoli rabe) is closely related to turnips. It’s a prolific plant. You pick the leaves and they keep replenishing themselves all winter. In the spring when they start to flower, you eat the flower buds too. It has a nice bitter flavour. The favourite recipe here is to boil it till it just wilts, sauté some sausage meat (must be good Italian sausage — pork, fat and a very few spices) and then stir in the rapini at the end of the cooking. People smack their lips just thinking about it.
Cavolo nero is an old friend. I’ve grown it every winter since I’ve had the orto. It’s an essential ingredient of zuppa alla frantoiana (for more about zuppa, go here, here, here and here). The bare patch to its right is waiting for me to buy some cavolo verza (Savoy cabbage). Since the cavolo nero is doing so well, I’m hoping the dormienti (I think this is a local word for earwig) which inhabit this part of the orto and eat lettuce and bietola roots, don’t like cabbage roots. The green leaves in the bottom right corner are green bean plants, and they’re still going strong but won’t make it through the winter.
Like the rapini, we’ll be able to pick bietola (Swiss chard) all winter and the leaves will replenish themselves.
The zucchini definitely won’t make it into the winter, but I don’t think we’ll be sad to have a rest from zucchini stewed with tomato, zucchini sautéed in olive oil with garlic and parsley, zucchini frittata, scarpaccia, sformato…
The trouble with going to the orto to do a single short job is that I see a million others that need to be done. Today I hacked back the wild clematis that was engulfing the sage and rosemary, and there, hiding under all the vegetation was an autumn yellow crocus, the only one remaining out of the dozen I’d planted six years ago when I first took over the orto.
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