Trevi’s October “Black” Celery Festival
Throughout October, the picturesque Umbrian hilltown of Trevi celebrates its renowned sedano nero (“black celery”) in a month-long array of cultural events. Celery is justly celebrated in Trevi: after all, celery is a key ingredient in many Umbrian recipes (and one follows at the end!). A stalk of celery, a carrot, an onion, a handful of parsley are called “odori“ (best to translate as “the flavorers”), those essential ingredients which season many an Umbrian recipe. Throughout Italy, the vegetable and fruit vendors at the outdoor markets add odori to shopping bags at no cost, so essential are they in any Italian kitchen.
Trevi’s celery is not just any celery. This tiny Umbrian hilltown celebrates a dark celery variety cultivated here only. Grown here for centuries (and nowadays by fewer and fewer farmers), the so-called “black celery” has recently been designated one of the fifteen or so IGP products of Umbria (Indicazione Geografica Protetta is a term which indicates that the product may be grown ONLY in a specifically restricted area). So limited is the black celery production that virtually all of the annual cultivation is sold in Trevi during the “Sagra del Sedano Nero e Salsiccia”, the yearly “celery and sausage festival”. As very late autumn is traditionally the period of the pig-slaughtering here in Umbria, sausage is partnered with the celery at this October festival.
Last October, a group of us just joined in the Trevi Sagra del Sedano Nero e Salsiccia, arriving just in time for the grilled sausage sandwiches (the sausages are roasted over open fires in the main piazza), local vino rosso and tastes of all sorts of Umbrian delicacies: varieties of pecorino (sheep’s milk cheese), newly-pressed olive oils, wild boar salami, celery patÃ©s, and sweets made with freshly-pressed grape juice. The “locals” crowded the celery vendors lining the main piazza, ready to purchase the traditional three bunches of celery (that number three, so sacred in so many cultures and as I write, myriads of associations in Italian folklore and cultural traditions come to mind).
The band played and grandparents swayed to the music, grandchildren in their arms while all munched on sausage panini. After a walk through the curvy medieval backstreets of Trevi, many head to the medieval taverne as night crept in. The three terzieri (or neighborhoods) of Trevi compete seriously during October: in a gastronmical contest. Which terziere offers the tastiest food? Matigge has been my favorite for years and pre-bookings are necessary to feast here. The Matigge taverna was overflowing with jubilant groups of friends and families, dining on varieties of celery dishes and other autumn specialties in this stone-vaulted medieval cellar, once an olive oil mill. We squeezed together onto the benches lining our table and set to the “banquet”, accompanied by local vino rosso.
Favorite dishes? The celery bruschetta, lamb with black truffles, pork shin with sweet-and-sour vegetables, the polenta with wild boar – and of course, the terziere Matigge’s specialty: il parmigiano di sedano nero. As a friend once said after the Trevi festival, “Only the Italians can make celery a such an incredible celebration of both taste and friendship. How very special to share this experience!”
– ah, yes, yet another example of Itailan passione…
Read more on Italian passione
Read about Trevi’s olive oil celebrations
Click here for recipes (and one follows)
A RECIPE WITH CELERY:
Umbrian Lentil Soup
Ingredients (for about 6 persons):
1 lb lentils
1 carrot, finely-chopped
1 medium-sized stalk of celery, finely-chopped
1 small white or yellow onion, finely-chopped
1 handful parsley, finely-chopped
Extra-virgin olive oil – to taste, as needed
Optional additions: hot red pepper, sprig of fresh rosemary, or near the end of cooking a generous bunch of Swiss chard chopped or torn into small pieces.
Soak the lentils overnight in cold water. (Try to buy small, tender lentils!)
Rural version: my farm neighbors would start with a soffritto (or “gentle fry”), that is, by covering the bottom of the saucepan with olive oil.
Procedure: heat olive oil but do not burn and put all vegetables in oil, stirring with wooden spoon (only! never use stainless steel with legumes, I have been told). Stir until vegetables are golden. Add lentils and about 1 quart water. Add generous handful of finely-chopped parsley near the end of cooking. Simmer until lentils are tender. Drizzle with olive oil when serving, if desired.