It’s easy to be a great chef when you use the best in seasonal ingredients available. And, spring is one of the reasons you remember why you love Tuscany so much!
Once the rain has stopped and the sun has come out, the hills become the most beautiful green, like velvet. The wheat fields on the rolling hills are already laden with Tuscan red poppies; the olive trees are full of blossoms to become olives. Acacia perfumes the air and the yellow Scotch broom brightens the hillsides. Calendimaggio (May Day) celebrates the spring. One of my favorite festivals, the Festa del Grillo, is also in May on Ascension Sunday. The Cascine Park in Florence is filled with stands selling little handmade cricket cages complete with cricket, a good luck symbol.
The gardens (Orti), which you see created everywhere from someone’s home garden to alongside railroad tracks or riverbanks, are filled with the gifts of the seasons. So, let us celebrate spring Tuscan style!
Here is what is in season now: Artichokes, asparagus, fava beans (or bacilli in Tuscany), fresh garlic, new red onions, peas, zucchini, and strawberries.
When you shop in Italy, it is very important to create a bond between you and the vendors in the market. They will never let you be disappointed and want you to return as a regular client. You want them to steer you to buy only what is in season and the very best. Buying what is in season is cheaper, more flavorful, and you need to do less to it while cooking. Thus, it is easier for you to make fabulous dishes!
Adopt your produce guy, the fish guy, the butcher, even if it is in a chain grocery store. Make them responsible for your happiness!
Following is a nice spring recipe guideline that was created by Mimmo Baldi, who with his wife Arianna, own and operate a wine bar in Panzano called Enoteca Baldi. Be sure to purchase fresh new garlic and tiny zucchini with their spring blossoms!
Mimmo’s Pasta from the Edge of the Garden
(Pasta sull’uscio dell’orto)
- 4 thin slices of bacon or pancetta, sliced into thin strips
- 2 garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 small new zucchini with their flowers
- 1/2 cup chopped basil
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Olive oil
- Your choice of pasta
Let the bacon slowly cook with the garlic over low heat with a tiny bit of olive oil until the garlic is just cooked. Add the zucchini flowers, chopped, and when the flowers are tender, add the zucchini. Cook for 5 minutes, then add the basil. Do all this while the pasta is cooking, for a total of about 8 minutes. When the pasta is cooked, add 1/4 cup of the cooking water to the sauce, stir, add the Parmesan cheese, stir, add the drained pasta, and serve with more cheese at the table. For two persons.