Fruit and Vegetables
It is enough to pay a brief visit to the Roman market of Campo dei Fiori, in the heart of the mediaeval part of Rome, to get an idea of the richness and the abundance of the vegetables and fruit which the region of Lazio offers. The stalls are full of products almost exclusively from the market gardens around Rome and from the farms distributed in the other provinces of Lazio. From the very well known artichokes to the white ‘Marino’ onions, from the delicate peas from Frosinone to the sweet peppers, to the beans of the Lake of Bracciano, all these vegetables take turns for their place in the numerous vegetarian dishes of Roman cuisine. Vegetables are also particularly important in the Jewish cuisine, which is a fundamental part of Roman gastronomy. One product above all is typical and impossible to find elsewhere: and that is the tips of chicory.
THE ‘ROMANESCO’ ARTICHOKE
The geographic description should not mislead: the definition ‘romanesco’ is relevant to the variety of the artichoke which is also widely diffused in other Italian regions. It is a very popular ingredient in cookery, where it can be used in many delicious recipes, including those described as being ‘Roman style’ (‘alla romana’) or ‘giudia style’ ("alla giudia"), which are particularly typical to the capital city.
In Lazio, the areas better organised for the production of this vegetable are those of Cerveteri-Ladispoli, to the north of the Urbe (the city of Rome) and that of Sezze-Priverno-Sermoneta, to the south. The prevailing varieties are, in fact, the "romanesco" variety, and that known as the "Castellammare" variety, with frequent hybrids. The artichoke fields have an average life of two to three years. The harvest usually begins in February and continues until June: in the foothills area of Sezze this will sometimes be brought forward to January. Both Sezze and Ladispoli celebrate the festival of the artichoke between the last week of April and the first week of May.
SWEET CHESTNUTS – ‘castagna’ and ‘marrone’ types
The region of the Cimini mountains has always been a land of ‘castagna’ chestnuts: the inhabitants of Vallerano, Canepina, Ronciglione, Caprarola, Soriano in the Cimino area, Carbognano, Vetralla and of Viterbo itself have been collecting and eating them from time immemorial, even exporting them in good quantities.
The ‘castagna’ chestnut of the Cimini mountains is somewhat large, a shiny brown colour and has a decidedly sweet flavour.
At the moment from fifty to sixty thousand quintals (one hundred to one hundred and twenty hundred weights) of them are produced. Notwithstanding the fact that they have substantial affinities between them, the ‘castagna’ chestnuts and ‘marrone’ chestnuts of the Tolfa area, and the ‘marrone’ chestnuts of Antrodoco possess their own, recognisable characteristics. The Tolfa is the mountainous area between Rome and Civitavecchia and Androco is on the border between Lazio and Abruzzo. The ‘marrone’ chestnut is larger and heavier than the ‘castagna’ chestnut: the ‘marroni’ we are talking about are rounded and sweet, and easily peeled.
As early as the Nineteen Thirties, part of the production of ‘castagna’ sweet chestnuts was shipped to the United States. For the people of the Apennines, the ‘castagna’ chestnut was a fundamental food in the centuries of poverty and toil. In the period of the ‘economic miracle', the harvest was neglected. It is only in the last years that this antique resource has returned to its glory, on the wave of the rediscovery of the rules and the abstinence of one time. Above all, new formulas have been found of co-operation and for the commercialisation of the product: a company from Vallerano, which is a kind of capital of the chestnut woods, has put on the market tempting packages of roast and frozen ‘castagna’ chestnuts.
LENTILS FROM ONANO
Onano, Grotte di Castro and San Lorenzo Nuovo are the municipalities (‘comuni’) in the province of Viterbo where a type of lentil is cultivated which is praised for its excellent flavour and delicate skin. Its colour ranges from dark leaden-grey to a pinky ash-grey. A very good quality of lentils also comes from the Pontine Islands, in particular from the little island of Ventotene.
HAZELNUTS FROM THE CIMINI MOUNTAINS
Amongst the products which keep the gastronomical prestige of the region of Lazio high is the hazelnut, which plays an important part. In the last fifty years, the production of this popular dried fruit has increased considerably: between 1950 and today, the area dedicated to the cultivation of hazelnuts in the province of Viterbo has gone from two thousand to twenty thousand hectares (eight hundred to eight thousand acres) . The municipalities (‘comuni’) included in the area of the Cimini mountains (Nepi, Ronciglione, Soriano nel Cimino, Capranica and so on) have adapted themselves to this type of cultivation.
Experts attribute to the hazelnuts from Viterbo a content of less fat compared to that of hazelnuts coming from the Orient; the Viterbo hazelnuts are rounded in shape and belong to the “tonda gentile romana” variety. In the Viterbo region, the production of the harvesting machines has grown alongside the development of the hazelnut production: farmers have long since delegated this task to efficient, turbo-suction or gathering machines.
STRAWBERRIES FROM NEMI
Strawberries, or rather little wild strawberries, are the pride of Nemi, the ancient little town which gives its name to the lake which, in its time, was crossed by the triremes of ancient Rome. The people of Nemi always harvest and sell them together with the violets, another resource for which Nemi is famous. Naturally, of the wild strawberries (translated literally, ‘little wood strawberries’) only a small part comes from the woods: the producers, who also deal in strawberries of larger dimensions, assure that the distant origins of wild strawberries is certainly from the woodlands. They are harvested, outside or in greenhouses, most of the year round, from May to Christmas. The festival dedicated to strawberries at Nemi lasts almost two months and is punctuated by a long series of promotions organised by the committee in charge. But the true and decisive moment of the long celebrations coincides with the first Sunday in June, when dozens of strawberry pickers cross the town in their ancient and colourful costumes, offering baskets of strawberries to the visitors and to their fellow inhabitants. This distribution is generous: in order to cover this particular commitment, the town administration purchases about eight quintals (sixteen hundred weights) of strawberries from the producers. To honour the occasion, a whole town quarter is decked out in flowers, as if to highlight the twofold vocation of the town where, still today, the activity of the nurseries is a source of prestige and of employment. This festival is born from the initiative of an industrious inhabitant of Nemi, Rinaldo Lombi, created immediately after the First World War.
TRUFFLES FROM THE CICOLANO AREA
The area of the Cicolano is a corner of the province of Rieti which is particularly important for connoisseurs: in the towns of Borgorose, Concerviano, Petrella, Salto, Pescorocchiano, Varco Sabino and other nearby towns, the collecting of truffles has been going on from times immemorial. In the local libraries, there are documents dating back to the Twelve Hundreds which tell of the truffles collected around San Martino. Apart from the white and black truffles, the Cicolano truffle-seekers also collect significant quantities of "scorzone", which is a less valued variety of the greatly renowned fungus. The ‘scorzone’, recognisable by its rounded shape and tart flavour, costs relatively little. It has become a resource, fairly recently, also for the economy of some of the municipalities (‘comuni’) in the province of Viterbo, like Biera, Monte Romano, Tarquinia and Vetralla.
The pride of the people of Rome today and in times past, ‘puntarelle’ are nothing more than a variety of chicory, the one known as "Catalogna chicory", described by the botanical term Cichorium intybus.
The presentation on the table serves to characterise the dish known well to the Romans and to the visitors to Rome, and this is entrusted to the greengrocer even before being entrusted to the cook. The thin strips taken from the centre of the leaves are put to soak in cold water: this results in the typical curly effect.
They are dressed with garlic, anchovy fillets, vinegar and oil, previously mixed together into a pulp.