La cicoria d’autunno is not the most tender, Peppa explained to me as we gathered wild chicory today in our field up behind the donkey pen. “Quella di maggio e’ la migliore”, she affirmed as she cut the roots off a chicory bunch.
[lcaption]No chicory for the donkeys, though![/lcaption]
In the years we worked the land, la cicoria became a main staple for us as I mimicked my farmwomen neighbors in everything, learning from them, loving the snips of wisdom which came along with the snipping of wild greens out on the fields together in the afternoon.
“La cicoria fa bene per la circolazione, purifica il fegato, fa bene contro colistirolo alto, aiuta a digerire e riempie la pancia”. ” Chicory helps circulation, purifies the liver, keeps down cholesterol, and fills the stomach”. I always thought those farmwomen had more practical medical wisdom than il medico: doing a google search recently on “chicory”, it seems they do!
After Peppa and I picked the chicory, we cleaned it, then gave it the required three washes in lots of cold water.
[lcaption]Peppa washes the chicory[/lcaption]
I’d put a large pot of water on the stove to boil: as the chicory has a bitter tang, it has to be cooked in abundant amounts of water. (Healthy “steaming” will not do for this vegetable!).
After draining the chicory when still al dente, i slid it into a frying pan covered with our olive oil where three finely-chopped chopped garlic cloves and a good-sized piece of chili pepper simmered. I stirred la cicoria lightly, then turned off the gas.
“Quando c’era la miseria” (literally, “when there was misery”, ie, poverty), for many of our farm neighbors, dinner was dry bread toasted and then moistened with olive oil (now a gourmet dish, called “bruschetta”!) and as much chicory as they could eat on the side.
On a good night, Mamma made la torta, an Umbrian flatbread, to split open and fill with a forkful of la cicoria – and a roasted sausage or a slice of pecorino. Che bonta’!
Yes, the best of Umbria’s cucina povera.
Click here to read about Gina, another enthusiastic chicory – hunter
Read more about Peppa here
Read about Peppa’s wine-making
Read about Peppa’s wine lore
Click for more on Peppa’s wine and a sacred rural tradition
Read about Peppa’s bread salad
Read about Peppa’s celebration of her new olive oil
Read about Peppa celebrating chestnuts, new wine and new olive oil
Read about learning to make a traditional bread with Peppa
Read about how Peppa can take off the evil eye!
Click here to read about Peppa and her legumes
Click here to read about Peppa’s Easter cheese breads
Read about Peppa and the rural rite of veglia
Read about the joy of feasting with Peppa
Read more on wild field greens and a Spello festival on the theme