Reading Buttermilk Graffiti1 by Edward Lee, the current selection of the Cook the Books club, was a pleasure from the first to the last page. Lee is a great storyteller: he brings the readers with him in his travels, inside every eating establishment he visits, next to every person he talks to. Together with the more factual details of his 16 stories, each centered around a place with specific food traditions, he shares doses of personal opinions, memories, experiences.
Each chapter of the book ends with a few recipes and some of them now are on my to-try list. Yet, as I was reading the book I knew I would make something that would represent my own move: from Italy to California, from a defined set of traditions tied to local food products, to a place where foods I had until taken for granted were not available or quite different, while foods unknown to me were waiting for me to discover them and incorporate them into my diet.
Last month I was in Italy: artichoke season was in full swing and fava beans were also in every grocery store. The artichokes I purchased in Perugia, my hometown, were purple (viola), unlike the ones I find in California. I am happy I can buy artichokes in both places, happy too that in my adoptive country I can purchase them directly from the farmers who grow them. Similarly fava beans, which were my father's favorite spring vegetable, were hard to find when I first moved to California, then they became available at the farmers' markets where I shop and now they are plentiful.
One day during my visit, I was talking with my sister-in-law and she mentioned a dish of artichokes, fava beans and shelling peas (carciofi, fave e piselli). It is a spring vegetable combination with various names around Italy (e.g., vignarola). I brought the idea back with me to Northern California.
Shelling pea season being still early when I returned, I focused on artichokes and fava beans and added sausage meat to make a complete dish that can be eaten as is, used to dress some pasta, or topped with an egg (my favorite variation). Pork meat (carne di maiale), fresh or cured, is a staple in central Italy, where I grew up. Meeting Northern California farmers who raise pigs properly and artisans who prepare their meat with care has prompted me to try different types of sausages, some closer to those available in my home country (mild or hot Italian), others quite different (leek and white wine, or blueberry).
Like dishes Lee describes in his book, this recipe tells the story of an Italian dish transported by an immigrant to her adoptive country and prepared there with local ingredients, for which she is grateful. It is a pleasure to eat, which, in this case, is the most important thing.
- 1 pound / 450 g fresh fava beans in their pods
- 8 ounces / 225 g (2-3) small artichokes, possibly organic
- 1 teaspoon / 5 ml fresh lemon juice
- 2 ounces / 55 g sausage meat (like mild Italian)
- 1 tablespoon / 15 ml extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved (hopefully from the new crop)
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or to taste
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Shell the fava beans and blanch them for one minute, drain them and plunge them into a bowl of ice cold water. Drain them again, then remove the skin from the beans to bring their bright green core to light. Set aside.
Prepare a bowl with about 4 cups / 1 liter of water and the lemon juice.
For each artichoke: Detach and discard 3 rows of leaves, until you see the light green heart at the base. Cut off the stem and peel it to reveal the light green center and cut that into pieces. Toss them into the lemony water.
With a paring knife, peel away a thin ribbon around the base where the 3 rows of leaves attached. Cut off the top 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm of the artichoke and discard that top portion. Place the artichoke cut top down and slice off 1/2 inch / 1.25 cm all around at an angle (i.e., slice off the top portion of the external 2-3 layers of leaves).
Quarter the artichoke, carve out the hairy center (choke), if any (small artichokes may not yet have it) then quickly cut each quarter into thin slices (no thicker than 1/4-inch / 6-mm) and immediately toss them into the lemony water.
Warm up 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, add the sausage meat broken into small pieces and cook on gentle heat for a couple of minutes. Move it to a small bowl, leaving behind the rendered fat.
Add the rest of the olive oil to the skillet, warm it up, add the garlic and stir. After a minute, drain the artichokes, add them to the skillet and stir well. Arrange the artichokes into a single layer, cover and cook on gentle heat for 15 minutes, stirring every now and then. If needed, add a bit of water, to prevent artichokes from sticking to the pan.
Add the fava beans, stir well, cover again and cook on gentle heat for 10 minutes, stirring every now and then.
Transfer the sausage meat into the skillet, stir well, cover again and cook on gentle heat until the artichokes are tender, stirring every now and then, 5 minutes or so.
Sprinkle the sea salt, black pepper and fresh parsley on top, stir well and remove the skillet from the heat.
Serves 3-4 as appetizer.
As I started reading the book, I realized I had met the author in person at the LongHouse Food Revival, September 2014. The day before the event, I rode in a car with him and Carlos Gaytan, chef of the restaurant Mexique in Chicago3 I remember Lee as soft-spoken and smiling, a memory that matches his persona in the book, someone who enters an eatery, restaurant or bar, sits quietly for a while, then strikes up a conversation with other patrons, someone who listens and elicits stories from the people he meets.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the carciofi, fave e salsiccia audio file [mp3].
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FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.