Thursday, September 27, 2012
We know when the seasons change here by what is on our plates. When we arrived at the end of May, we were able to enjoy the strawberries and cherries that were bursting with juice. I remember picking strawberries in Connecticut as a child. Those sweet red gems would stain our hands and lips as we ate as many as we picked. What a treat to have homemade strawberry shortcake for supper as a reward for our hard work! I fear that children in Connecticut now have no idea what a real strawberry tastes like; those hard, dry berries from California will never measure up. I would rather have the real thing for a few weeks than the genetically modified version that we get now. Well, the strawberries here are like those of my youth; imperfectly shaped, but full of juicy sweetness.
Come summer, the peaches come into season. For us, a peach is a peach. For the folks here, every peach is different and worthy of its own recipes. There are red peaches, white peaches, and percocche to dunk in a glass of red wine. There are fuzzless peaches and tiny early peaches that are sweet and satisfy that need for peach flavor before the big ones are available. Then there are the melons. Oh the melons! Long watermelon, round watermelon, cantaloupes, yellow wrinkled melons (these have been superb this year), melons that are hung to dry to be consumed at Christmas. The melons are amazing!
For veggies, we are never lacking. Green beans in early summer, and then later in the fall the second crop comes in. In between, they can't be found. Summer squashes, peppers, and eggplant abound through the hot months of July and August. Mid-way through September, we start to have broccolini, those bitter greens that go so well with orecchiete and sausage. Orange squash, similar in color and flavor to our butternuts, but shaped more like a pumpkin show up on the fruit trucks. Fall is the time for those rich, comfort foods that everyone craves.
But the true sign of the change of seasons, and of the local produce we love, are the mushrooms. When it rains in September, the mushrooms begin to sprout. Folks trudge up and down the mountains, wearing Wellies and flannel shirts, carrying baskets for their prizes and special sticks to pry these treats from their hiding places, all in search of the wild mushrooms. I've never been brave enough to try to identify the good ones from the poisonous ones, so we rely on the generosity of our friends to satisfy our cravings.
Yesterday, Giovanni Raviele, a distant cousin, came by with a big plate of these treasures. There were "tuorli" (egg yolks) that look just like a hard boiled egg. These are best sliced very thin and marinated in lots of fresh lemon juice. There were porcinis, that are best sauteed up with some garlic and onion. And there were other kinds, of unknown name but of stupendous flavor, that I have chopped up and frozen so that we will be able to enjoy these treats a bit longer.
Today I made a mushroom risotto that was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. Just a bit of onion, a cup or so of the mushrooms, a hot pepper and some broth was all we needed to make a creamy, yummy risotto that really hit the spot.
I know that in Connecticut we can never really live according to the seasons. When I go back to my Stop & Shop, I'll be buying asparagus all winter and will enjoy it too. But living here in Cervinara has given me a sense of how our forbears used to live, how they carefully preserved whatever came from their land and how every season was special. I appreciate now how the authenticity and origin of our food really do matter. Buon appetito!