Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Rite of Spring

By Patricia Winton

Spring has finally arrived in Rome and with it fava beans, known simply as Le Fave here. You know they’re coming a couple of weeks before they’re available because these notices begin appearing outside shops selling fresh vegetables: This establishment sells fresh fava beans.

When I first noticed these signs ten years ago, I thought it meant everyone was anticipating the arrival of this venerable vegetable. I’ve since learned that there is a rare, though serious, allergy that can be triggered by inhaling the fumes released by these beans, much less eating them. Fortunately, perhaps, the condition is genetic, so you probably know if you’re vulnerable and should stay away from shops displaying the notice. But the signs still excite me because I know the treat will be here soon.

Favas were the only legumes eaten by Europeans prior to explorations of the New World. They have been a mainstay in the diets of Asians, Europeans, Middle Easterners, and North Africans for centuries, and it’s believed that North Africans may have begun eating them as early as 6,000 BC. Known by many names—broad beans, Windsor beans, field beans, or bell beans—favas are a harbinger of spring wherever they’re grown.

In Rome, May 1 celebrations—Labor Day here—include raw fava beans and pecorino cheese. But the real spring treat is vignarola, a medley of vegetables available concurrently as the weather warms: artichokes (just ending the season), favas, and peas. It’s a labor-intensive dish best prepared while seated at a table outdoors, accompanied by a friend and a glass of white wine. You can shell the legumes and clean the artichokes while enjoying the sunshine. When all the vegetables have been preped, move indoors for the cooking.


1 1/2 cups shelled peas
1 1/2 cups shelled and peeled fava beans*
2 large artichokes, cleaned ** and cut into eighths
1 lemon
2 large spring onions, thinly sliced
1/2 head Romaine lettuce, cut horizontally into strips
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup cubed bacon (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the bacon, cooking and stirring until it begins to brown (if you’re omitting the bacon, move to step 2).

2. Add the spring onions; cook until they soften.

3. Add the artichokes, Romaine, salt, and pepper. Stir well and cover. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook about 10 minutes.
4. Stir in the peas and favas. Cook an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

5. Serve warm or hot. It can be a starter course or a main dish. It also works well as a sauce for pasta.

  * A video showing how to clean fava beans
** A video showing how to clean artichokes

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Facciamo un Brindisi

By Patricia Winton

Facciamo un Brindisi is the Italian way of saying “Let’s make a toast.” There are two competing stories about the origin of the phrase. One comes from that high Italian art form, opera. That idea says the word brinidisi is based on a German phrase Ich bring dir's – "I offer it to you." In several Italian operas, two character sings an invitation to drink to each other, and the chorus joins in. The word also refers to a drinking song which encourages people in a large group to drink and toast each other. One of the most famous of this type of brindisi comes from La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi. (Listen while you read the rest of this post.)

But the word brindisi may also come from the Italian town of the same name, located on the southeast coast of Italy . This story is connected with ancient Rome. The town of Brindisi then, as now, was a port city. Roman armies embarked on campaigns to make war and conquer more territories from Brindisi. After marching the 476 miles (295 km.) from Rome, the soldiers would revel in the town, drinking and toasting each other for success in battle and a safe return.

Italian vintners have reason to make a brindisi these days. Exports of Italian wine have increased by 10 percent over the past few years, and exports of prosecco, the bubbly traditionally used for brindisi, have soared 26 percent to the United States and Canada in the past year alone. So Americans and Canadians should be making more brindisi these days.

Prosecco hails from the area around Conigliano-Valdobbiadene, in the Veneto region of Italy nestled near the Alps. The wine enjoys a “geographic indication,” which means that only wine from the region can be called by either of these three names: Prosecco di Conigliano, Prosecco di Valdobbiadene, or Prosecco di Conigliano-Valdobbiadene. In 2008, its status was elevated from D.O.C. (Controlled name origin) to D.O.C.G. wherein the authentic name is guaranteed.

It’s a wine with a sharp, fresh aroma and a light taste. Aged in stainless steel vats instead of in the bottle, prosecco is a wine to drink young as it goes flat with age. That’s all the more reason to make a brindisi.

I hope you’ll raise a glass of it soon.

Next week, I'll be writing here at Italian Intrigues again. My next post at Novel Adventurers will be April 25. Please check out my new website.