The tomato sauce passata is made for the year, a variety of tomatoes procured already sun-dried from Puglia, Calabria and Sicily, some in oil with garlic and herbs, others halved and dried ready to be reconstituted in boiling water, and chillies in the pantry that are sun-dried then fried in olive oil to be eaten as a snack. The garlic has been braided, some even cold-smoked, the olives are soon to be ready for picking for the spremitura di olio nuovo. It is the end of a glorious summer, with a full pantry for the months to come.
Indeed, as the nights are getting a little cooler and dusk is falling earlier, I find myself looking forward to some comfort-food dinners. Not the hearty feasts of winter-stews such as peposo, or pappardelle al cingiale-but simple, vibrant grains and autumn harvest produce.
So to the market I go. The colours in the food markets are changing, signalling that the beginning of autumn is upon us. The mounds of barbabietole rosse (beetroot), the leeks, the pumpkins, cauliflower, the untouchable trays of porcini mushrooms-all so different from the colours and textures of summer produce and abundance of stone fruit.
The Mercato di Sant'Ambrogio is still my favourite market for shopping, being entertained and learning from the producers and the suppliers. The tall man who sells plants gives me advice about when in the lunar cycle to plant my tomatoes, how to pick them and which seeds to save for the following year's plantings. The lady who always wears a small backpack sells at her little stall what she has produced herself: a handful of cabbages, a few bunches of bietola(chard), some fresh herbs, and not much else. Across from her is sometimes an older man who sells fresh eggs and honey. He is also a truffle hunter. He won't tell me where he hunts, of course: he has his secrets and a dog with a sharp nose for truffles. Then there is the man from whom I get my porcini and ovoli mushrooms as well as much of my seasonal produce. This is Maurizio, usually with a cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth and his standard affirmative reply for most of my questions: porca miseria (pigs' misery). It means a good thing, apparently-at least the way he says it! And inside the market there is Umberto, who sells every fresh cheese as if his sister made it herself, and who gives you tastes of his salty Tuscan prosciutto, cheeses and salami piccanti.
I love the taste and rich autumn colour of pumpkin and the nutty texture of farro, so it is time to make a risotto. I make this dish as a piatto unico and finish it with a local pecorino cheese. Buon appetito!
Risotto di farro e zucca gialla
(Spelt and pumpkin risotto)
350g farro perlato (spelt)
Extra virgin olive oil
2 white onions
3 cloves garlic
One fresh foglia di alloro (bay leaf)
1 small carrot
300g zucca gialla (orange pumpkin; we say ‘orange,' they say ‘yellow,' but it is the same thing)
Salt, pepper quanto basta (as much salt, pepper as required)
60g pecorino stagionato (aged pecorino)
Soak the farro perlato in tepid water for around half an hour. While the farro is soaking, prepare a vegetable stock:
Take one of the onions, the half leek, trimmed and washed, and the carrot, peeled and topped. Slice these three vegetables into a rough dice, not too large as the stock will take the flavour from the vegetables for 20 minutes only. Place one litre of cold water in a pot on top of the cut vegetables, add a sprig of parsley with the stalks on, 6 peppercorns and a fresh bay leaf; bring to the boil then turn down to a simmer. Skim the stock as scum rises, simmer for 20 minutes then strain, keeping the liquid stock and discarding the vegetables. Taste at this stage and add salt to flavour.
Now begin the risotto: Peel, core and finely dice the remaining onion. In a heavy-based pan sauté the onion in extra-virgin olive oil until translucent, about 3-5 minutes. Crush the garlic cloves with their skins still on, aglio in camicia and add them to the pan.
Drain the farro well and add to the onions and garlic, stirring for 5 minutes. Meanwhile peel and grate the pumpkin and add to the pan, now begin to add the vegetable stock, about a cup at a time. With each addition of stock, let the dish soak up the liquid before adding more. This should take about 20 minutes, and the farro should still be a little firm to the bite and nutty.
Leave the mix a little wet, remove from the heat and pick out the garlic cloves then mantecare: beat in with a wooden spoon the 30g soft butter and 60g of grated pecorino cheese. Check seasoning and add some freshly ground black pepper and a little more salt, if needed.
I really enjoy the Bramito del Cervo 2010 from Castello della Sala, from just across the border in Umbria. It is a soft, fruity, fine chardonnay with a long finish and just a hint of barrel. It stands up well to the bit of sharpness the aged pecorino gives to this humble yet tasty dish.