Dear Noelle, I don't make homemade manicotti shells. I buy my shells imported from Italy at an Italian store. But,…
One of the biggest cultural differences between the U.S. and Italy is the month of August. While Americans take their children back to school, college students move into dorms and we’re at work, Italians shut down their offices – some for the whole month! During that time, they head to the beach, mountains, or other places around Italy to relax and unplug from everyday stress. Recovering from the pandemic has meant that some Italians still work in their offices in August; however, August 15th – the national Ferragosto holiday – remains sacred.
Along with the Catholic Church’s tradition celebrating the Assumption of the Virgin, Vanity Fair Italia has shared that the origins of this Italian national holiday go back to Roman times, when Emperor Augustus instituted Feriae Augusti as a period of rest after agricultural activities over the summer. Hence, the Italian term Ferragosto’s origins in Latin (my son Guido, who just finished a summer Latin course in preparation for his PhD studies at Harvard is sure to appreciate these linguistic observations by his mother!). The cultural nuances of Ferragosto are on display in a few classic Italian films including Il Sorpasso (1962) and the more recent Pranzo di Ferragosto [Mid-August Lunch] (2008).
My memories of Ferragosto in Italy involve hot beaches, sunbathing under a scorching sun, hearing the sound of “Cocco!” from vendors walking the beach selling coconut. The silent sounds of the sand, wind, and water being punctured only by the voices of my children asking me for a gelato after lunch. While most of our family celebrations of Ferragosto took place at Forte dei Marmi, I also have memories in Sicily which hold a special place in my heart given my Sicilian origins. In my second cookbook This is Sunday Dinner, I celebrate the beloved regionality of Italy by spotlighting Summer in Sicily. Here is one of my favorite menus from that section, which you can use to celebrate Ferragosto all summer long!
Pranzo di Ferragosto Course : 1
Torta di Bietola – Swiss Chard Pie
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds Swiss chard, cut into 3-inch pieces
- 16 ounces ricotta
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1 teaspoon Sicilian sea salt, fine
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Spread 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a round casserole dish or a deep-dish pie pan.
- Place the remaining olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the Swiss chard to the pan and sauté until the chard is tender, 5-7 minutes.
- In a large bowl, beat the ricotta with a fork, breaking up all the bumps to make the texture smooth. Beat in the eggs. Add salt and pepper to the ricotta-egg mixture. Drain the Swiss chard from the frying pan to eliminate any excess water and extra olive oil. Add the chard to the ricotta mixture and transfer it to the prepared baking dish. Bake the mixture for 10 minutes in the preheated oven.
Pranzo di Ferragosto Course : 2
Peperoni Arrostiti con Uova in Carozza / Egg in a Basket with Roasted Peppers
- 8 slices rustic Italian bread, at least 4 inches in diameter, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
- 8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pads
- 8 eggs
- 2 teaspoons Sicilian sea salt, fine
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black paper
- 6 roasted peppers
- Cut a hole in the center of each slide of bread with a cookie cutter or a glass that is approximately 3 inches in diameter. Discard the cut-out pieces of bread (or save them for another use).
- Place 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 pad of the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Allow the butter to melt. Put 2 slices of bread in the frying pan at a time and brown them on both sides until they’re crispy and golden.
- When you are browning the second side of the bread, gently crack an egg into the hole in the middle of the slice. Keep browning the bread until the white of the egg is hard, but the yoke is still runny.
- With a wide spatula, remove the egg in its “basket” of bread to a platter. Repeat this process with each of the eggs. When all the eggs in a basket are on the platter, sprinkle each of the yolks with the salt and pepper.
- Slice each roasted pepper into 4 pieces lengthwise. Place 3-4 slices of roasted pepper on top of each egg in the basket. To keep any leftover peppers, place them in a small casserole, and cover them completely with the rest of the extra virgin olive oil. The roasted peppers keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.
Pranzo di Ferragosto Course : 3
Salsiccia Grilliata, Finocchio e Erbe Fresche / Grilled Sausage, Fennel, and Fresh Herbs
- 6 bulbs fresh fennel, quartered
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon Sicilian sea salt, fine
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 teaspoon fresh (or dried) oregano
- 2 pounds sweet Italian sausage (in the casing, not loose)
- 2 pounds hot Italian sausage (in the casing, not loose)
- In a large bowl, combine the fennel, olive oil, rosemary, basil, salt, pepper, crushed red pepper flakes, and oregano, and toss well. Set the mixture aside.
- Cook the sausage on a grill, over a medium flame, for 30 minutes.
- Remove the fennel from the bowl and cook it on the grill over direct medium heat for 12-15 minutes. Place the sausages on a platter and arrange the fennel around the sausages.
Quite a few years ago I purchased a vegetable basket for my grill, and it was a wonderful decision. I use it constantly in the summer, especially for vegetables like fennel, which can easily fall through the grates of the grill. If you’d like to give the fennel and sausage an extra added kick try using my Vegetable Primavera Sauce or my Vodka Sauce as a compliment, pouring it over the fennel and sausage after you’ve grilled, or using them as a dipping sauce!
Pranzo di Ferragosto Course : 4
Insalata di Pomodori Piccanti / Spicy Tomato Salad
- 8 anchovies, finely chopped
- 4 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
- 3 large garlic cloves, chopped
- 2 tablespoons crushed red pepper
- 1 red onion, chopped
- 1 cup chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 6 tablespoons red wine vinegar, excellent quality, preferably imported from Italy
- Combine all the ingredients in a large salad bowl. Do not refrigerate the salad- serve it at room temperature.
Pranzo di Ferragosto Course : 5
Granita di Limone e Menta / Lemon and Mint Italian Ice
- 7 cups bottled water (still, not mineral or sparkling water)
- 2 ounces fresh mint leaves, plus more for garnish
- 1 ¼ cups granulated white sugar
- 1 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Fill a large soup pot with water. Add the mint leaves to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the sugar to the boiling water and stir until the sugar dissolves. Take the pot off the stove.
- Remove and discard the mint leaves from the water.
- Stir in the lemon juice inside the pot and allow it to cool.
- Pour the mint and lemon water into a 9 x 12- inch cold-resistant glass casserole dish. Place the dish in the freezer.
- Every 10 minutes, take the dish out and stir the ice crystals with a fork. Repeat this process for 2 hours.
- Keep the granita in the freezer until ready to use. Serve the granita in small bowls or wineglasses, then garnish with a fresh mint leaf.
I use bottled water for my granita recipes because it gives the dessert a cleaner, fresher taste. Also, depending on where you live in the United States, the tap water may be quite high in minerals, which can give Italian ice a metallic taste. Using bottled water eliminates that risk.