TThis month, my parents and their friends in central Italy are busy singing popular songs with other May singers called maggerini. Traditionally, workers would gather on May 1, Labor Day, and sing at local farms in exchange for agricultural products: salami, cheese, vegetables, eggs, ricotta, poultry, nuts, dried fruit, a reward for all. . In the post-war period he became associated with the partisans and the resistance to fascism. To this day, the maggerini rewrite verses to update popular songs with current themes – you can imagine what the themes are this year.
Today, a week later, is La Ribotta, when the singers get together and eat what they were given the week before. It’s a spectacular holiday and the recipes below are a tribute to that celebration. When I went, it was a bit like living in an Asterix comic. I think the Abruzzese dish, Le Virtu, demonstrates the Italian reverence for seasonal produce: each vegetable is the center of attention in careful cooking. We will take the trouble and enjoy celebrating the simple things this season.
Salami, broad beans and pecorino
If I had small, fresh, crunchy fava beans, I’d be tempted to eat them raw. It’s worth the wait though, and the breadcrumbs will provide the crunch you lose when cooking them. for 4 people
bread 2 slices
Garlic ½ clove
dried chili 1
Fresh beans 300g (weight without shell)
salami 1, small
Preheat oven to 180C/gas mark 4. Crush bread to crumbs, drizzle with olive oil and roast for 5 minutes, or until crisp. Set aside on a paper towel until needed.
Cut the garlic as fine as possible. Put in a small saucepan with 4 generous tablespoons of olive oil and the dried chilli, and fry cold over medium heat. Once the garlic starts to get sticky, turn off the heat and set aside.
Bring a small pot with the vinegar and about 4 times as much water to a boil. Boil the broad beans for 3 minutes, before removing them with a slotted spoon to the garlic and oil. Season well with salt and pepper.
Serve the chopped salami with pieces of cheese and broad beans sprinkled with breadcrumbs.
Le Virtu (The Virtues)
This is a vegetarian version of Le Virtu that comes from the Abruzzo region of central Italy. It uses the end of the dry winter beans and marries them with the first fresh vegetables. It’s comforting, yet vibrant. I usually try to keep the pot to a minimum, but this one is worth it. It’s simple food, just with many, many components. As always, you can use pre-cooked beans and you don’t necessarily need all of them. Serves 8-10
For the beans:
dried borlotti beans 100g (or 200g cooked)
dried cannellini beans 100g (or 200g cooked)
dried chickpeas 100g (or 200g cooked)
brown lentils 50 grams
Garlic 3 nails
wise 1 bunch
For the fresh egg pasta:
flour ’00’ 200g, plus extra for sprinkling
For the starch:
dry pasta 250g, preferably a mix of shapes for texture, broken into pieces
For the ‘virtues’ of spring:
celery 1 head
Red onion 1
Garlic 4 nails
parsley 1 bunch
bay leaves two
fennel seeds 1 tsp
rosemary leaves 1 tablespoon, chopped
canned plum tomatoes 4, drained juices
fresh peas and/or beans 200 g (weight without shell)
young courgettes 2 (200 g), thickly sliced
Swiss chard or spinach leaves 200g
Parmesan 100 grams
Soak dried beans and chickpeas in individual bowls of cold water overnight. It is not necessary to soak the lentils. Cook the beans, chickpeas and lentils in fresh water to cover them by 5 cm, again in individual pots (since they all have different cooking times) with a clove of garlic and a few sage leaves in each. Try cooking from 40 minutes, adding more water when necessary. Once the beans are cooked, transfer them to a large soup bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Make fresh egg pasta using your fingers as rakes. Mix the flour and eggs in a bowl. Once it’s shaggy and mostly mixed, knead to make a dough. Knead the dough on the bench for 5-10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
To roll the dough, divide the dough in 2, keeping the other half that you are not using covered. Lightly dust the table with flour, flatten the dough a little and roll it out with a wooden rolling pin. Lift the pasta and rotate it 90° frequently to prevent it from sticking to the table. Apply light powder when necessary. When the paste is very thin, no more than a couple of millimeters, it is cut into short strips several centimeters wide. Set aside, don’t bunch up or it will stick, and repeat with the other piece of dough. Instead, you can use a pasta sheeter, if you have one, or even cut fresh store-bought pasta.
Place a large pot over medium-low heat. Chop the celery, onion, garlic, a handful of parsley and sauté in 3 tablespoons of olive oil with the bay, fennel seeds and chopped rosemary. When tender and sweet, add the tomatoes and cook for a moment more. Power off, then add all the pulses.
Boil another large pot of salted water and blanch the broad beans or peas, then the courgettes and finally the chard and the rest of the parsley, removing them with a slotted spoon when they are al dente in the pot with the other vegetables.
Top up the water if necessary before cooking the dry pasta. Relight the other pot over medium heat. Three minutes before the pasta is ready, add the fresh pasta. When cooked, drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water. In the other pot add a small cup of water, add everything together with the cheese and stir gently to amalgamate for a few minutes, before serving with a soup ladle and plenty of extra olive oil and more grated cheese.
Rustic Baked Frittata
More vegetables than eggs, this is a dish bristling with herbs and spring vitality. Add the best of what you have. for 6
Red onion 1
Garlic 1 tooth
Leek 100 grams
canned plum tomatoes 2, drained juices
basil or mint a few twigs
parsley 1 small bunch
potatoes 200g, grated
chickpea flour 20g (or wheat flour)
green peas 50g (weight without shell)
pecorino either Parmesan 100g, grated
sausages 4 (450g), good quality pork
wise 8 sheets
Heat oven to 180°C/gas mark 4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash all the vegetables. Snap or cut off the tough ends of the asparagus. Cut the courgettes as thin as possible. Cut the onion and garlic. Cut the leek in 2, lengthwise, and then again into strips. Thinly slice the tomatoes. Collect the herb leaves.
Grate the potato in a large bowl and add all the eggs, 2 tablespoons of chickpea flour, half the cheese and a good pinch of salt. Beat well. Add the peas, courgettes and aromatic herbs.
Remove the skin and crumble the sausages and begin to fry the meat over medium heat in several tablespoons of oil. Add the onions, quickly followed by the garlic and sage. Once the onion is translucent and the sausage meat has started to release its juices, add the asparagus and stir. When hot, add the leek. Season with pepper.
Add the contents of the pan to the eggs and mix very well.
Fill the baking tray with the mixture, adjust it a little and bake for about 15 minutes, covering with the remaining cheese and a little more oil halfway through cooking.
Let rest before serving. This is still a fork and knife affair: you’ll definitely want to eat it sitting down at a table, preferably with a piece of bread to gather the asparagus leaves or leek ribbons.
sweet ricotta cake
A great complement to black coffee and good for breakfast. for 6
butter 115 g, plus extra for greasing
shelled almonds 80g, with skin
demerara sugar 60g
wholemeal flour 150g
gold powdered sugar 80g
plain flour 2 tablespoons
single cream 150ml
Dice the butter. Process the almonds in a blender with a pinch of salt and the demerara sugar until smooth, but not a paste. Add the flour and butter and pulse quickly until just like breadcrumbs. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons cold water and pulse again until dough forms. Add an extra tablespoon of water only if necessary. Finish joining by hand and reserve in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into pieces, flatten them in a buttered cake pan with a removable base to make a shell (mine is 18cm wide and 7cm high). Place in the freezer, while heating the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta with the powdered sugar until light and fluffy. Then add the eggs, one at a time, beating all the time. Finally add the cream, flour and a pinch of salt.
Fill the puff pastry and bake for 30 minutes. The cake will have risen slightly and the top should be slightly charred. Cool completely before serving.
Joe Trivelli is Assistant Chef at the River Café