lunedì 25 aprile 2011
It’s Liberation Day today. On this day in history in 1945, the Allies liberated Italy, effectively drawing the Italian part of World War II to a close.
Natale con i tuoi, Pasqua con chi vuoi: an Italian expression that means, basically: Christmas with your family, Easter with whomever you want. We tend to do a little bit of both on both occasions.
We have a lot of leftovers from yesterday’s luncheon feast. We were eight in all, but we had enough food to feed many, many more. By the time the time for eating salad rolled around, no one could possibly. Even the desserts (colomba, the sweet cake shaped in the form of a dove; a large chocolate egg, and hot cross buns) were desultorily picked at, allowing most of our friends to take dessert home with them.
Naturally, we ate lamb, as most Italians do. “Flocks of baby lambs begin to appear in the fields as spring arrives, just in time to become the succulent centerpiece of Easter dinner. Lamb is one of the great delicacies of pastoral culture, but as a symbol of innocence it is also the sacrificial dish par excellence. Since 1500 the food of Easter has been the food of the Last Supper, the ultimate meal in gastronomy and history: lamb (the symbol of Christ), bread (from grain, the gift of Demeter), and wine (“the blood of the earth,” Dionysius’ contribution).” This from Carol Fields.
One of our dear Florentine friends present at the table is a dedicated animal rights activist. Just last week she attended a march in protest of the slaughter of these lambs. Another of our friends did not want to add another source of animal protein to her diet, even though she was told it was Happy Lamb – i.e., we know the shepherd, the mother of ours probably spent last summer on the Scallion’s family’s land. (We respected their views.)
(Two legs were deboned, butterflied, marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, smashed garlic, and then thrown on the grill. Opening Season of the Grill, and the most succulent lamb, ever.)
Today is also Pasquetta, or “Little Easter.” (The Italians have a way of making everything diminutive; we tend to be Size Queens (and Kings).) It’s a national holiday, and you’re supposed to go out into the country, eat raw fava beans and a young pecorino cheese. That is, if you’re Roman. Traditions differ from region to region.
An interesting vegetable, the fava bean (or broad bean, as it’s more commonly known elsewhere). My hero Alan Davidison writes: “There is a mysterious shadow over the history of broad beans, and an actual problem which may be linked with it. From the beginnings of recorded history, these beans have aroused superstitious dread. The ancient Egyptians, though they cultivated them, regarded them as unclean, and the Greek writer Herodotus claims that their priests would not even look at one, let alone eat it … There seems to have been a general belief that the souls of the dead might migrate into the beans.” He adds that beans were “associated with the dead and were eaten at funeral feasts.”
Fields continues: “On Easter Monday entire cities become deserted. No matter what else appears on people’s plates, it is traditional to eat a simple antipasto called il piatto benedetto, consisting of a hard-boiled egg, salt, and local bitter greens like arugula or radicchio, fennel, or sarset, the deliciously tart leaves grown in Piemont. It is very similar to the dish included at the start of the Jewish Passover Seder to remind participants of the bitterness of exile in Egypt and elsewhere and to keep those memories alive.”
In Greece, fava beans are eaten during Holy Week. The late, great Patience Gray writes, “During the weeks of fasting before Easter, these lavishly sown beans were eaten raw and represented the main item of diet. They were delicious but a prolonged consumption turned out to be a strain on the digestive system.”
Interesting how something relating to the dead has morphed into something celebrating rebirth and resurrection.
Gray: “The best cheeses to eat with raw broad beans are the Greek feta, salty, and the Sardinian marzotica, a kind of ricotta made from ewe’s milk, well drained, dried and conserved with salt (made in March, as its name implies).
We will eat our beans with a young pecorino, a knob of leftover French blue (not at all a classic combination), and another pecorino made by our shepherd friend. No need to provide a recipe for this: just have a whole lot of fave on hand, pod them, shell them, and eat them with cheese. You can, if you like, dribble extravirgin olive oil over it, and add a twist or two from the pepper mill.
Hot cross buns are a Lenten delicacy. From Davidson: “In England, hot cross buns are traditionally eaten on Good Friday; they are marked on top with a cross … The mark is of ancient origin, connected with religious offerings of bread, which replaced earlier, less civilized offerings of blood. The Greeks and Romans had similar practices and the Saxons ate buns marked with a cross in honour of the goddess of light, Eostre, whose name was transferred to Easter.” Stefano made the hot cross buns, and his recipe will appear on this blog, as soon as I can extract it from him.
Carol Fields, Celebrating Italy, New York, 1990.
Patience Gray, Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades, and Apulia, San Francisco, 1990.
Alan Davidson, The Oxford Companion to Food, New York, 1999.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
April 25, 2010 post re: Liberation Day
For past-blogged fava bean recipes, do please check out 4/11/10 (risotto with goat cheese, fava, & peas), 5/8/10 (risotto alla primavera), 5/17/10 (spaghetti with fava and mint), and 6/15/10 (fava bean purèe).
How thrilling to cite oneself.
Pictures of Buster’s fairly recent training session (with mixed results). No relationship whatsoever between today’s text and today’s images; but isn’t he darned cute?
Photo credit of wisteria/roses to the Scallion, April 2011.