Fruits of the sea­son

Gio­vanna Eusebi cre­ates a de­li­ciously au­tum­nal fig salad

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Food And Drink -

For my mother grow­ing up in ru­ral Italy 70 years ago, prepa­ra­tions for the au­tumn and win­ter months started long be­fore they ar­rived. While fresh fruit and vegeta­bles may have been in abun­dance dur­ing the sum­mer, peo­ple were al­ways think­ing ahead and never waste­ful with in­gre­di­ents. Any­thing that wasn’t used in the sum­mer was care­fully pre­served for times when fresh fruit wasn’t an op­tion.

My mother’s child­hood home had no fridge or freezer and not even a cooker. The ma­jor­ity of the cook­ing was done out­doors or by the hearth, with tree branches pro­vid­ing fuel for the fire. The trees also pro­vided fuel for the fam­ily in the form of chest­nuts. My grand­mother cooked some of them on the fire, then boiled the re­main­der in their skins and threaded them onto gar­lands to be en­joyed later in the depths of win­ter.

Noth­ing was bought, ev­ery­thing was grown and reared by the com­mu­nity on their land. Peo­ple were healthy and lived with­out any con­ven­tional medicine. The food was pure. Ma­te­rial wealth had no rel­e­vance to liv­ing well in their world. What wer highly val­ued were skills and ex­pe­ri­ence gained from years of liv­ing on the land and un­der­stand­ing ex­actly what and when na­ture would pro­vide. Food was shared with fam­i­lies and loved ones with­out any worry. It may have been scarce, but this sim­ply meant that each meal was truly savoured and en­joyed to­gether.

The big­gest ex­trav­a­gance in the colder months was the yearly killing of a pig. Ev­ery part of the an­i­mal was used. Its hind legs were pre­served in salt and

pressed. Its lean meat and fat were cut into tiny pieces by hand then flavoured with crushed co­rian­der seeds and chilli be­fore be­ing made into sausages. The sausage skins were made from the an­i­mal’s in­testines. The sausage was hung, dried and pre­served in fat. The fat of the an­i­mal was heated, ren­dered down and then poured into ter­ra­cotta jugs to be used for the year ahead. The fat was also spread onto bread, al­most like but­ter. This would of­ten be eaten with olives, which had been crushed by hand when freshly picked, us­ing a stone, then cov­ered in salt for four days and washed be­fore be­ing stored in jars. The “sof­frito” – heart, lungs and kidney – would be chopped and cooked with onion and bot­tled toma­toes saved from the sum­mer har­vest.

There were no super­mar­kets where in­gre­di­ents could be bought, and no stor­age fa­cil­i­ties such as freez­ers. My grand­mother and great grand­mother were con­stantly think­ing ahead about how to best pre­serve food to see them through harder times. At our restau­rant, Eusebi, we change the menu to re­flect the sea­sons, as we want to re­spect the food that na­ture gives us through­out the year. In sum­mer, I love noth­ing bet­ter than a fresh tomato salad us­ing in­cred­i­ble lo­cally grown toma­toes with some sim­ple sea salt and olive oil. In win­ter, it’s about warm­ing rich dishes such as slow­cooked beans, which fill your belly and stick to your ribs.

Noth­ing de­fines what you eat like the sea­sons.

Au­tum­nal Fig, Fen­nel & Or­ange Salad

This is a su­per-easy recipe but as with all cook­ing, it re­lies on us­ing the very best in­gre­di­ents. Use the soft­est, ripest figs and the sweet­est lit­tle or­anges you can get your hands on. To make this dish ve­gan-friendly, just sub­sti­tute a lit­tle sugar for the honey.

Serves 4 In­gre­di­ents

For the or­ange blos­som dress­ing: 1 or­ange, zest and juice

5-10ml or­ange blos­som wa­ter 30ml ex­tra-vir­gin olive oil

10g honey (sub­sti­tute with sugar for a ve­gan-friendly recipe)

5ml white vine­gar

Method

For the salad: 8 fresh ripe figs, quar­tered 1 bulb of fen­nel, cut finely (prefer­ably on a man­dolin)

1 or­ange, seg­mented ½ radic­chio let­tuce, leaves washed and roughly chopped ½ chicory let­tuce, leaves washed and roughly chopped

To gar­nish:

Pis­ta­chios, crushed and edi­ble flow­ers

1. First, make the dress­ing. Add all the salad dress­ing in­gre­di­ents to a glass jar and shake un­til emul­si­fied. Add 5ml of the or­ange blos­som wa­ter to start with to al­low you to ad­just it to your own pref­er­ence. Taste the dress­ing and then add a lit­tle more un­til you can just taste a hint of or­ange blos­som in the dress­ing. 2. To as­sem­ble the salad, there is no ex­act sci­ence. Ar­range the fen­nel, let­tuce leaves, figs and or­ange seg­ments in a large bowl or on four in­di­vid­ual plates. Pour over the dress­ing just be­fore serv­ing and dress with the crushed pis­ta­chio or edi­ble flow­ers.

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