Top 5 ingredients for April in Tuscany

Raw artichoke salad recipe

Emiko Davies
April 8, 2016 - 10:05

April in Florence. The effects of the cambio di stagione are now evident at the market stalls, which are filled with mountains of green, fuzzy pods of broad beans, fresh peas and crates upon crates of artichokes. With early spring the best time of year for foraging fruit and herbs, wild strawberries are now making their brief appearance in the markets. Fresh totani, also known as European flying squid, a wonderful seasonal alternative to calamari, are in the cases of the fishmongers. Along with a recipe for artichoke salad, I offer some ideas about using these “top 5” market finds for April.

 

Celebrating the spring: raw artichoke salad - see the recipe below  Photo ©2016 Emiko Davies / The Florentine Celebrating the spring: raw artichoke salad - see the recipe below
Photo ©2016 Emiko Davies / The Florentine

 

Fragole di bosco (wild strawberries)

Whenever I see these tiny, fragrant wild strawberries in their little oval containers at the Sant’Ambrogio market, I snap them up. They have a very short season and it will be another year until they are available again. Like many wild berries, they’re very delicate and are best eaten fresh. Try them sprinkled with a spoonful of sugar and a splash of red wine, as they are served at Trattoria La Sostanza, or use them to top a blind-baked shortcrust pastry base filled with pastry cream.

 

Baccelli (fava or broad beans)

The long, fuzzy pods of fresh broad beans, also known as fava beans, are a common sight in market stalls and trattoria tables in the spring. The first time I encountered them they were served whole, on a platter, with pieces of aged pecorino cheese as part of an antipasto. The ritual of podding the small, sweet young beans and popping them into my mouth with a piece of salty cheese has since become one of my favourite spring pastimes. The slight bitterness and lip-smacking tannins of the raw broad beans go so well with a salty kick of flavour from cheese or prosciutto as a pre-meal nibble that I often snack on young favas as I’m preparing dinner, or, like in trattorie, I put them out onto the table in their pods for guests to help themselves while they wait.

 

Piselli (peas)

Being able to find podded fresh peas at the market just makes the job of eating them so much easier. Among my favourites is piselli alla fiorentina, a classic Florentine dish of stewed peas flavoured with garlic, parsley and pancetta. The key to this dish is to leave it quite brodoso, with plenty of the wonderfully sweet, delicious liquid that the peas have been stewing in to slurp up or mop up with bread. Many like to add a teaspoon of sugar towards the end of cooking to give an extra hint of sweetness to the broth. Florentine painter Guido Peyron has a lovely recipe for it, and Artusi has a couple of similar recipes for peas and ham worth trying, too.

 

Totani (baby squid)

These small squid, also known as flying squid because they will glide out of the water as an escape tactic, are in season from April to June, and wonderful for warm weather dishes. They can be treated very much like calamari, which are more common during the cold months of autumn and winter. Flash fry them and dress them in olive oil, lemon juice and chilli. Or cut them into rings, dip them in batter and deep fry them as part of a fritto misto. Or cook them with other seafood in tomato-based fish soups.

 

Carciofi empolesi (Empoli artichokes)

My favourite spring vegetable, artichokes, is one of the reasons I live in Italy. The ancient carciofi empolesi, a variety from Empoli, is found only in local markets in Tuscany. With their compact, pointed, green-to-violet heads, they are later bloomers than their cousins from Italy’s south, yet their season is longer than most, from April to June. Refreshing, raw artichoke salad is wonderful made with this particular variety, which is small and delicate.

 

RECIPE

Insalata di carciofi (raw artichoke salad)

Serves 4 as antipasto

 

4 fresh, young artichokes, preferably carciofi empolesi

1 lemon, cut in half

50 grams of shaved or thinly sliced Parmesan cheese

2–3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and pepper

 

Trim the stalks and peel off the outer leaves of the artichokes until you reach pale, delicate leaves. (More mature artichokes may have a fluffy or prickly centre; remove it with a teaspoon.) Slice artichokes finely and place in a bowl of water; squeeze into the bowl the juice of half a lemon to avoid oxidation.

 

Drain the artichokes well, pat dry with a clean tea towel and place in a salad bowl. Dress with the juice of the other lemon half and the olive oil and season with sea salt and ground pepper to taste, tossing until the artichoke slices are evenly coated. Scatter the shavings of Parmesan cheese over top and serve.

 

 

This is an edited extract from Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant Books. Order your copy of Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence here.

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