Snow in Italy, Spring in Maine & fresh anchovies

Unnecessary & Too early!

I just got back from Italy. My parents lived there for 18 years and my sister and I go back as frequently as we can. We have great friends who know the secret places to eat. However, this year I was thwarted. Unnecessary! My friend had arranged some “one on one” cooking lessons for me with an Inn owner in the mountains of northern Tuscany and a farmer in the mountains of Liguria. Well, thanks to record breaking snow and bitter cold the second week of March, my lessons were canceled due to closed roads and inaccessibility.

Too Early. Then, I get back to Maine and everyone is talking about the record breaking warm spring like weather I missed. I strolled though my garden yesterday and couldn’t believe what was emerging. The cornelian cherries were beyond bud and into pre flower. The early tulips were up 3”, the large leaf sorrel was small leaf but big enough to pick, the tree peonies’ buds had color, the lovage was making a heroic effort to break through the ground and there were identifiable angelica leaves. And it is only March 20th. Plus on the lake near my house, it was the earliest “ice out” in 100 years.

Despite the cold there were still some memorable in season taste treats in Italy for me.

1. The fresh asparagus. In Italy they seem to eat it and prefer the stalks thick. Thumb thickness. I did not see any pencil asparagus in the markets. The preparations I had were all simple and thrilling. The tagliatelle with fresh asparagus was memorable because they let the asparagus carry the dish solo. It was not paired with anything to dilute the flavor.

2. The fresh artichokes. Fried; shaved raw w. pecorino; in pasta; marinated w. lemon and olive oil. Rewarding however they were prepared.

3. The fresh anchovies. I saw them on a menu on Friday and had the pasta with fresh alici. I was told that alici is the Italian word for fresh anchovies. and acciughe is the Italian word for the salted, marinated and/or canned anchovies. Again the pasta dish was simply prepared. The alici had no flavor hogs to compete with its own wonderful fresh fish taste. The next day, Saturday, I had pasta with fresh alici again but in a different restaurant. The flavor was still fabulous but the Saturday restaurant did not remove the little bones. And that was it. Much to my culinary disappointment, I never saw the fresh alici in Italy the rest of my trip. Even near Genoa.