You might think he's doing something else. But in reality, he's learning how to sit/stay, and not doing a very good job of it (he eventually learned how to do so beautifully ... sort of ).

lunedì 17 maggio 2010

Under the Tuscan Deluge or Snails, Aphids, and Fava Beans

Pity the poor traveler coming to Florence for the first time and experiencing nothing under the Tuscan sun, since it ain’t out. What a May it’s been, and it’s only the 17th. Yesterday the Scallion perused La Repubblica, whose weather page (the penultimate one in the rag) used the “sun/storm” icon. Well, we have seen zero sun. In fact, we have experienced torrential downpours but no thunder (bless the gods and goddesses; Harry did not quake); yesterday it hailed; and yesterday flash-flooding closed roads leading to where we live, which didn't much matter to us, but did to those who were evacuated, if only briefly.

The sun finally cracked open a smile in this all-too gray sky mid-afternoon a couple of days ago (you can get an idea of what that sky's been looking like with the photo up above), so we had absolutely no excuse not to hunker down in our already-out-of-control garden (and it’s only the middle of May!) and assess the damage of one weeks’ negligence (due to cascading rains).

Oh, my. Dorothy Parker once said, “What fresh hell is this.” Though she was referring to her train of thought being interrupted by a telephone call, and not to an overgrown garden, her words resonated.[2] The snails, always a problem in our garden, seem to have replicated mightily during the rains.[3]

Our carefully-tended fava plants have mostly been destroyed by aphids, despite the fact that I have religiously done the (as it turns out) highly ineffective regime of dish soap mixed with water. As I weeded a long, long row of onions, I stared bitterly at the fava plants across the way. Fava season is winding down at the local markets, which means that the only way you’re going to get any is if you grow them yourself.

Though we are committed to not using chemicals in our garden, I thought longingly of DDT or its 21st century equivalent as I stared at those plants. The flower of a fava plant is gorgeousness personified – white, with a dark violet, almost black streak, running through it (do check out photo above). In the case of our fava plants, however, most of the flowers were completely black, the victims of Mother Nature’s odd collusion of ant and aphid: ants like the honeydew secretion that aphids emit, so they protect the aphids from other predators.

The web comes in handy, as usual. At, “How to Get Rid of Aphids Naturally” provides the gardener with nine steps. Number 3 is “Cut away and dispose of infested foliage.” (At this point, in our case, it should be re-worked to “Dispose of infected plant.”) The writer then provides a recipe for non-chemical insecticidal soap (which we will try even though I have no faith in anything short of an insecticidal nuclear bomb). Step 9 is compelling: “Rid your garden of ants.” Oh, for an anteater.[4]

A simple google search of “What eats ants” shows that fish (we’re near no water) and bears (found, I think, only in the Abruzzo) eat ants. So, too, do lizards, so we’ll have to figure out a way to keep the tiny little creatures who dart in and out and around us coming back for more. Ants. Who cares if they’re industrious? They are garden thugs.

More galling than the aphids eating the fava plants was the fact that they were snail infested, too. This despite the fact that we’d very carefully taken ash from the wood-burning stove, and lovingly surrounded each plant with it (snails are said not to like ash – wrong; they are said not to like broken egg shells – wrong). So I checked out the delightful, written by Aussie Robyn Perry, and adored her suggestion to put porridge or oats around the base of each plant. They eat a whole lot, bloat up, and die. Birds swing by the following morning (Perry says in a lovely aside that the birds get both their protein and their grains in one go). She also suggests beer traps, and the beauty of these is that the snails imbibe, get drunk, and birds come and have them for breakfast. What a very nice idea.

A few days ago, at a local large open-air market we frequent, the fava beans were huge, if they were to be found at all (a couple of weeks ago every stall had them; they were much fewer and far between today). Upon inquiry, we were told that we could eat them raw as long as we peeled the outer cover off, which we do, anyway.

So here, kissing fava bean season just about good-bye, is a recipe for spaghetti with fava beans. It's a spring-time version of Pasta e fagioli.

Spaghetti con fave e menta (Spaghetti with fava beans and mint)

1/2 lb. spaghetti or other thin pasta
3 T. extravirgin olive oil plus additional for drizzling on pasta
2 lbs. fava beans, peeled, podded (to make a scant 1½ c.)
1 hot pepper, seeded if you feel like it, finely chopped
1 green garlic plant (or one clove regular garlic if not available)
½ c. vegetable broth
½ c. semi-aged pecorino cheese plus additional for grating
Handful of fresh mint, chopped (or chives, if you're out of mint)

Throw the spaghetti into a pot of boiling water, and cook according to package instructions.
Heat the olive oil over a medium flame in a saucepan. Add the chopped hot pepper and garlic, stir for a minute or so. Do not let the garlic brown. Add the fava beans, stir to heat through, and add the vegetable broth. Remove from the pan, add the grated pecorino, toss into a blender, and puree. Check for salt and pepper.

Drain the spaghetti and sauce it immediately with the puree. Garnish with chopped fresh mint.
Serves two, handsomely.

Burger Corner: This from vigilant reader formerly known as Spritzer Girl/Spritzer Gal. She would prefer to be referred to in future posts as Frau Doktor von Spritz, and since she is an erudite scholar, the name change seems most appropriate. At any rate, she sends in the following: and the original link at:
[2] See
[3] But in fact, they probably haven’t. A snail’s gestation period is from 6-8 months, and they breed best under soil (see That’s practically human – at least, the gestation part of this equation. Some snails are hermaphrodites, and some can switch sex. Crazy snail literature abounds, especially if you type in “Snail reproduction” on a google search. Even more horrifyingly unfair is the fact that snails can live up to 10 years. That’s about the same as an average run for a golden retriever.
[4] Anteaters, sadly, are not found in the Mediterranean. In fact, they are mostly found in Central and South America, according to They also have no teeth.

2 commenti:

  1. For any of you who might wonder: a re-read of this caused me to erase the Run-DMC line, which omitted a footnote. Which was number 1.

  2. This is a very good dish, indeed, and it has a pretty color, too.
    Extra snaps & thanks for this recipe.