I spent New Year in Sicily; mostly for pleasure, but Italy is always a good place for vegetable-based inspiration. As things turned out I got snowed in up a mountain, but not before going a little crazy at the markets in the narrow streets of Palermo. While waiting for two foot of snow to melt, I amused myself by cooking endless dishes with cardoons, fennel, artichokes, wild asparagus, escarole, wild fennel and cima di rapa, along with mozzarella and pecorino.
No-one comes close to the southern Italians when it comes to skill with, and appreciation of, vegetables. OK, they are blessed with a fantastic climate, but more significant is their cooking culture and enthusiasm to embrace a range of flavours and not immediately reject anything bitter; their willingness to occasionally chew also helps. With the exception of some wonderful prosciutto, the meat was boring. This is no bad thing as, according to chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, livestock production contributes up to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions – more than every single car, train, and plane on the planet. It’s a truly staggering statistic if even close to being true and adds fervour to our veg crusade and makes me feel a little better about my flight, but questions localism and food miles. More on this next week.
We get most of our oranges from Ginés in Andalucía, a grower who we’ve worked with for many years, alongside a co-op of Italian growers based around Mount Etna in Sicily. The Sicilians invariably grow the best blood oranges (something to do with the volcanic soil, they claim); they are fantastic juiced, in a salad with thinly sliced fennel or on their own; the season is short but they should be available for the next six to eight weeks. This year Ginés has a poor crop so we will buy more from Sicily, but our Seville oranges will as always come from Ave Maria Farm located just south of Seville, whose organic groves are tended to by a delightfully eccentric family. The first fruits have just arrived and will be at their best for the next month, so get your preserving pans out.