Picking, cooking, and eating flowers and wild herbs was once a common practice across rural Italy. From Naplesâ€™ sciurilli (deep fried courgette flowers) to Venetoâ€™s frittelle di fiori de gazia (acacia flowers doughnuts), most regions have a dish whose key ingredient is flowers. But after World War II, industrialization and urbanization led to the abandonment of this ancient tradition. Now, one woman is trying to bring it back.
Elena Rosa, whose last name literally means â€œRose,â€ is growing flowers, wild herbs, and rare vegetables in a two-hectare farm nestled between the wheat fields of rural Piedmont, about 30 miles from the snowcapped peaks of the Cottian Alps. Rosa grew up in Turin, Piedmontâ€™s main city, but spent summers with her grandparents in Ceresole Reale, a mountain village inside Gran Paradiso National Park. Thatâ€™s where she first learned about foraging.
â€œAs a kid, I loved helping my grandma picking vegetables,â€ she says. â€œI used to go out into the woods to look for wild caraway to make grappa.â€ Now, some 30 years later, sheâ€™s delivering flowers to the kitchen of a Michelin-starred restaurant. …
Common recipes included soups and frittatas made with luppolo (hop flower), jams and infusions made with rosa canina (dog rose), and dumplings filled with tarassaco (dandelion). Flowers were also a key ingredient in popular herb digestifs such as Serpui, a grappa seasoned with wild thyme, and Genepy, a spirit made with eponymous genepy herbs.
â€œWild flowers and herbs are rich in vitamins and minerals, and they were especially important during time of famine, disease, or war to provide sufficient nutrition to the population,â€ says Alessandro Di Tizio, a graduate of the University of Gastronomic Science in Pollenzo who works as a professional ethnobotanist. …
â€œAfter World War II, many young people left rural areas to look for work in cities, and were no longer interested in foraging,â€ De Tizio explains. â€œAnd those who stayed could often do without foraging thanks to newly available industrial products.â€ …
Two years ago, Rosa purchased abandoned farmland in Gemerello, a rural area at the foot of the Cottian Alps. After years of job-hopping, from sous-chef in a top restaurant to manager in a construction business, she was looking to start her own organic farm. The initial plan was to grow to grow regular crops, but her foraging sessions with â€œgrandma Irideâ€ inspired her to start what she calls an â€œancient seed farm.â€
She now grows roughly 200 different seeds, ranging from rare vegetables to wild plants and flowers including nasturtium, cornflower, and dahlias. â€œI have learned that flowers are very nutritious and can be used for a vast range of recipes,â€ Rosa says.
â€œTake bright-orange Nasturtium flowers. They are rich with Vitamin C and each of their components can be [used in different food preparations].â€ Nasturtium seeds, for example, can be ground to make pepper, blossoms marinated to make vinegar, and petals eaten raw or sautÃ©ed with butter. The velvety white leaves of begonia semperflorens are particularly interesting: They taste just like citrus fruit and can be used to season seafood dishes instead of lemon.
Flowers of Blitum virgatum, commonly known as leafy goosefoot (left), and a rare breed of calliope eggplant grown by Elena Rosa (right). Elena Rosa (left) and Vittoria Traverso (right)
But starting an ancient seed farm was not easy. Italyâ€™s byzantine bureaucracy was in the way. â€œLocal health authorities donâ€™t know how to rate flowers,â€ Rosa explains. â€œI got a mix of surprised and skeptical reactions when I explained you can actually eat them.â€
[D]espite bureaucratic obstacles, her products are slowly taking off. Last spring, Rosa brought a sample of her produce to Michelin star chef Christian Milone, who runs the family-owned restaurant Trattoria Zappatori in the nearby town of Pinerolo.
When Milone was a kid, wild flowers and herbs were a staple ingredient in his parentsâ€™ kitchen. â€œFrittatas with luppolo (hop flowers) were one of my favorite dishes,â€ he says. Tasting Rosaâ€™s sample was like re-discovering long-lost flavors.
A month later, Milone was serving dishes prepared with Rosaâ€™s herbs and flowers. One such floral creation is crostino con erba ostrica, a bread crouton topped with Mertensia maritima, a wild herb known as oyster leaf due to its oyster-like taste, and garnished with violets, daisies, and cornflower petals. â€œItâ€™s like an oyster for vegans,â€ Rosa says.
PENNE, Italy (AP) â€” Rescue workers on skis reached a four-star spa hotel buried by an avalanche in earthquake-stricken central Italy Thursday, reporting no sign of life in the building even though two survivors found outside said more than 30 people had been in it when the snow struck.
As heavy vehicles tried to reach the Hotel Rigopiano to help with the rescue, criticism mounted over the response to the four quakes, one a magnitude 5.7, and days of unusually heavy snowfall that have blanketed the region. Accounts emerged of hotel guests messaging rescuers and friends for help Wednesday, with at least one attempt at raising the alarm rebuffed for several hours.
“Help, we’re dying of cold,” one couple wrote rescuers from the hotel, according to the ANSA news agency. …
When rescuers on skis arrived in the early morning hours of Thursday, they found just two people alive: Parete and another guest, Fabio Salzetta. There were no other signs of life, according to a video of the interior shot by rescue crews.
Salzetta had also sent a message out: “Some walls were knocked down,” Corriere della Sera reported. And: “I’m outside with a maintenance worker but you can’t see anything of the hotel, there’s only a wall of snow in front of me.”
Civil protection authorities said that 30 people were missing. ANSA quoted a rescuer as saying that there were fatalities, but details weren’t immediately available. Just one body was reported removed from the hotel by late morning Thursday.
Hat tip to Baroness Dominique De Benckendorff.
Hat tip to Belacqui.
Some Italian metal detectors found a coded message inside a WWII cartridge somewhere in Southern Tuscany. Gizmodo has the story.
Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.
I don’t know if it’s true, but some people say that the Italian parliament currently passes legislation just so that its members can watch Maria Elena Boschi sign it. Maria Elena Boschi is an Italian lawyer, politician, and current Minister of Constitutional Reforms.
Pshaw! Commenter Col. Goff provides a link demonstrating that the picture is a Photoshopped humor item, which has recently gone viral.
The always-rewarding Madame Scherzo yesterday published this Tumblr image which, in the manner of Tumblr images commonly was totally unidentified.
I am afflicted with an excess of curiosity, and began searching, finding out eventually that this is a photograph of unknown source of the ruined Abbey of San Galgano. More photos here.
Galgano Guidotti was born in 1148, the son of a minor noble, and one of those punk, no-good young knights constantly looking for trouble and worldly pleasures. One day when he least expected it, Archangel Michael appeared before him and showed him the way to salvation, and kindly provided him with directions as well. Next day, Sir Galgano announced that he was going to become a hermit and took up residence in a cave. His friends and relatives ridiculed him, and Dionisia, his mother, bade him to wear his expensive nobleman’s clothes and at least pay a last visit to his fiancÃ©e. On his way there, his horse reared, throwing Galgano. Spitting road dust, he suddenly felt as if he was being lifted to his feet by an invisible force, and a seraphic voice and a will he was unable to resist led him to Monte Siepi, a rugged hill close to his home town of Chiusdino.
The voice bade him to stand still and look at the top of the hill; Galgano saw a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Apostles. The voice told him to climb the hill, and while doing so, the vision faded. When he reached the top the voice spoke again, inviting him to renounce his loose, easy living. Galgano replied that it was easier said than done, about as easy as splitting a rock with a sword. To prove his point, he drew his blade and thrust at the rocky ground. With an ease that would impress even cinderblock-splitting sword dealers at Renaissance fairs, the sword penetrated the living bedrock to the hilt. Galgano got the message, and took up permanent residence on that hill as a humble hermit. He led a life in poverty, visited by the occasional peasant looking for a blessing. He befriended wild animals, and once, when the Devil sent an assassin in the guise of a monk, the wild wolves living with Galgano attacked the killer and, according to legend, “gnawed his bones.”
Galgano Guidotti died in 1181, at the age of 33 years, and was canonized four years later. His funeral was a major event, attended by bishops and three Cistercian abbots, including one who had got lost while on his way to Rome. The next year, the Bishop of Volterra gave Monte Siepi to the Cistercian monks, aware that they would build a shrine to Galgano’s memory. They began building in 1185, erecting a round chapel that became known as the Cappella di Monte Siepi, on the hill above the main abbey, with the sword forming the centerpiece.
The Cappella offers a breathtaking view of the Abbey, the neighboring buildings and the beautiful surrounding countryside. Galgano’s body was for some reason lost after the funeral, although his head, which is said to have grown golden curls for many years following his death, was placed in one side chapel, and the chewed bones of the arms of the assassin in another. Saint Galgano’s head is preserved as a relic in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo in Siena, while the skeletal arms are still in place. The crowds of pilgrims were so numerous that the Cistercians were authorized to build another monastery named after the Saint a short distance away. It was to be one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in Italy, and one of the Cistercians’ two largest Italian foundations. The monastery soon became both powerful and respected. Monks from San Galgano were appointed to high offices throughout Tuscany. In the 14th century, a Gothic side chapel was added to the original Romanesque Cappella, and in the 18th century a rectory was added. The side chapel has the remains of some frescoes by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, including a faint picture of Galgano offering the sword in the stone to Saint Michael. The Abbey was sacked by the (in)famous English mercenary captain Sir John Hawkwood and his White Company, and by 1397 the abbot was its only inhabitant. The Abbey deteriorated over the centuries, becoming the impressive ruins seen today.
Nas = “wet — Schnee = “snow” — Lawine = “avalanche”
Hat tip to Vanderleun.
If you live in Tramin/Termino in the South Tyrol, you had better beware of falling rocks.
Gizmodo has more pictures.