The Feast of John the Baptist, June 24th
Lumache di Vigna di San Giovanni
Snails Braised in Tomatoes, Anchovies, Herbs, and Chilies
In many parts of Italy snails are gathered—usually from the vineyards—and eaten on St. John’s Day, probably because snails’ horns make them resemble the devil, and eating them will ward away the witches, devils, and vampires that are believed to congregate on the night of the Summer solstice. This recipe is how they’re prepared in Rome.
I find imported French snails in 7-ounce cans in my market. They are medium-size and perfect for this dish. If you can find only the really large ones, the kind served in ramekins with butter and garlic, cut them in half. Canned snails are already cooked, so they need only a short simmering over low heat to warm through and soak up all the flavorings from the sauce.
A white from the Castelli Romani region outside of Rome is the classic wine to serve with this dish. The region encompasses Castel Gandolfo, where the Pope has his summer residence.
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 fresh red peperoncino, seeded and thinly sliced
3 anchovy fillets, minced
A generous pinch of sugar
A pinch of salt
2 7-ounce cans of snails, drained. See note
A splash of brandy
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 35-ounce can of Italian plum tomatoes, well chopped, with juice
1 large sprig rosemary, the leaves well chopped
4 thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped
In a skillet large enough to hold all the snails, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the garlic, peperoncino, and anchovies. Sauté until the garlic is very lightly colored and everything is fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the snails, and season them with the sugar and a little salt (not too much, since the anchovies are salty). Sauté a minute to coat the snails with all the flavors. Add the brandy, and let it boil away. Pour on the white wine, and let it bubble for about a minute. Add the tomatoes with all their juice, the rosemary, and thyme, and turn the heat to low. Let everything cook, uncovered, at a gentle simmer for 20 minutes. By this time the sauce will be very lightly thickened and the snails will be tender. Serve hot in soup bowls, with plenty of good Italian bread to soak up all the sauce.
Fregola di Bosca
Wild Strawberries with Honey and Mascarpone
The Virgin Mary is said to accompany children who pick strawberries on St. John’s Day, so I had to include a recipe for the little wild variety in this menu. I’ve dressed them with honey, a nod to St. John’s diet, which is said to have consisted of honey and locusts. (I thought the honey part sounded more appealing.)
If you can gather your own wild strawberries, that will be ideal, but it may be impractical. In June and July I find small, sweet strawberries called Tri Star at my city farmers’ market. They’re cultivated from a wild variety and taste much like the little fregole di bosca (wood strawberries) found in Italy in early summer, but any fragrant summer strawberry will be delicious for this. If you can only find large ones, cut them in half.
2 pints summer strawberries, hulled
1/4 cup wildflower honey (acacia honey is nice with this)
3/4 cup mascarpone, at room temperature
Basil sprigs for garnish
Spoon the strawberries into four bowls.
Pour the honey into a small saucepan, and warm it very gently over a low heat. Spoon the mascarpone into a small bowl, and drizzle in the honey, whisking until it’s well blended. Spoon a large dollop on each serving of strawberries, and garnish with a basil sprig.
‘Dining With the Saints’ is written by chef Erica Demane visit her website at EricaDemane.com