Festa dei Noantri
July 16th, the feast day of La Madonna del Carmine, is celebrated throughout Italy, but in the Trastevere district of Rome the day has a special significance. Since around 1920, the festival there has been called Festa dei Noantri or La Madonna de Noantri, our own Madonna, because, legend has it that in 1535 a group of Roman fishermen pulled a wooden case from the Tiber that contained a statue of the Madonna. This revered Madonna became the protector of all Trasteverini. Today that same statue resides in the Church of St. Agatha. Every summer on the Saturday before July 16th, La Madonna dei Noantri is carried, in an elaborate procession, from her home in St. Agatha’s through the streets of the Trastevere to the church of St. Crisogono, several blocks away, where she spends the eight days while the festival is in full swing. At the conclusion of the festival, the Madonna is placed on a boat for a short ride on the Tiber to Ponte S. Angelo. Crowds line up on bridges to watch and cheer as she takes her symbolic sail. The procession then continues on land, taking the Madonna through the streets once more, back to her home at St. Agatha.
During the eight days of this jubilant festival, restaurants and shops set up food stands on the streets of the Trastevere. Wine from the Castelli Romani area, just south of Rome, is drunk in large quantities. Stalls selling thick slices of porchetta, a slow cooked pork loin seasoned with garlic and rosemary, are everywhere. You can buy skewers of grilled lamb or chicken, or plates of bucatini carbonara or spaghetti tossed with spicy tomato sauce and pecorino Romano. Sweet Ricotta cakes are also a tradition. Everyone strolls around the piazza under strings of lights, drinking, dancing, and singing. And since it’s high summer many places offer bruschetta, toasted Roman bread, topped with summer vegetables of all types. Here are two you might want to try for your own celebration.
(Both recipes serve eight)
Bruschetta with Broccoli Rabe, Summer Garlic, and Pecorino Romano
2 bunches of broccoli rabe, well stemmed
Extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of fresh summer garlic, thinly sliced
1 small fresh red chili, minced (seeded if you like less heat)
A generous pinch of ground fennel seed
A squeeze of fresh lemon juice
8 good sized sliced of crusty Italian bread
A chunk of pecorino Romano
Set up a big pot of water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Add the broccoli rabe and blanch it for 3 minutes. Drain it into a colander and run cold water over it to stop the cooking and to bring up its green color. Squeeze as much water as possible from the broccoli rabe. Now give it a rough chop.
In a large skillet, heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and the fresh chili and sauté a minute just to release their flavors. Add the broccoli rabe, seasoning it with salt and the ground fennel seed. Sauté until it’s well coated with flavor and tender, about 3 minutes. Add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Grill or broil the bread slices on both sides. Brush them on one side with olive oil. Spoon some of the broccoli rabe onto each slice and then shave a few big slices of pecorino Romano over each brushcetta. Serve hot.
Bruschetta with Grape Tomatoes, Mint, and Capers
Extra virgin olive oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced, using some of the tender green
2 summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 anchovy fillets, minced
2 pints grape tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper
A splash of dry white wine
A palmful of capers, rinsed and dried
About 10 large sprigs of mint, leaves lightly chopped
8 good sized slices of crusty Italian bread
In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add the scallions, garlic, anchovies, and the tomatoes. Season with salt and black pepper and sauté until the tomatoes start to burst and give off some juice, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add a splash of white wine and let it boil for a few seconds. Add the capers. Turn off the heat and add the mint.
Broil or grill the bread slices on both sides. Spoon some of the tomato mixture with some of its skillet juices onto each bruschetta. Give each one a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Serve hot.
Erica De Mane is a cookbook writer and chef specializing in Italian cooking. She has an Italian food blog at http://www.ericademane.com