Hi folks. I've got a special treat for you today. I love Italy, and I thought it would be fun to have patricia Winton, who has lived in Italy for more than ten years, the past eight in Rome where she reads and writes, cooks and eats. talk to us today about the food and how she's incorporated that into a fabulous mystery series. So take it away, Patricia. Enlighten us :-))
Thanks, Kari, for inviting me to blog today.
The sleuth in my WIP is Caroline Woodlock, an American journalist who is building a new career as a food writer. She’s in her mother’s native Italy to write about food and to research a cookbook. When she’s not stumbling over dead bodies, she’s collecting recipes and sampling Italian food. I get to do the research. So far, I haven’t stumbled over any dead bodies, but I’ve collected lots of recipes and sampled a lot of food.
One of the joys of living in Italy is using the markets for food shopping. While supermarkets abound here, as do traditional mom-and-pop grocery stores, the markets are the mainstay of the Italian kitchen. In a market, Caroline once overheard a vital clue that helped her unmask a vicious killer.
The markets are seasonal. Strawberries in January? Never. Oranges in July? Not a chance. Law requires that the place of origin be displayed along with the price. If you come upon asparagus in December, the label will probably indicate someplace in the southern hemisphere, and few people will buy it. The first citrus will be labeled “Spain” or “Morocco” because the Sicilian crop hasn’t come in yet. Italian people have strong opinions about what part of their country produces the best of everything. The best tomatoes, they say, come from Pachino on the tip of Sicily. The label will show “Pachino” in bold letters. You’ll pay more for these than for those labeled simply “Sicily.”
In winter, the vegetable stalls are stocked with more than a half dozen different leafy greens: spinach, chard, dandelion, mustard, chicory, wild field greens, and more. There are three or more different cabbages, three different broccolis. Throughout the winter, there is an ever-changing array of artichokes as diverse varieties come into season. And the fruit stands make you weep: mandarin oranges, clementines, blood oranges, fresh citron, a vast selection of apples and pears.
Now in April, the stalls are shedding their winter coats, and spring produce is appearing. The last of the artichokes are being harvested before the weather gets too hot, so tiny ones are in the market. They’re so small that they have no chokes and are incredibly tender. The fava beans, which have been growing throughout the winter, are appearing, as are fresh peas.
Caroline has been cooking Stufato di Vedure Primavera, Spring Vegetable Stew, because the window for making it with fresh baby artichokes, fava beans, and peas just lasts a couple of weeks. You can find the recipe on my website www.patriciawinton.com, which will be up-and-running next week, I hope. She’s also going to make a risotto with the artichokes before they’ve gone from a recipe suggested by my friend Federica De Luca.
Last week, I was in the market with her. “Have you bought strawberries yet,” she asked. “Were they good.” She made me walk the length and breadth of the market to inspect every display before she selected a place to buy them. The ones she chose were from Terracino, not far from last year’s earthquake. The Italian Agriculture Ministry website says that strawberries from Terracino were praised by Ovid and Pliny. I bought some of these noble berries, too, and they were excellent. I think Caroline may try them in gelato next.
Thank you so much, Patricia. Now more than ever I am dying to go to Italy....literally ;-))