Saint Rita of Cascia
Saint Rita of Cascia was born in the 14th century in the beautiful, hilly countryside of Umbria in Central Italy. Some years ago when I visited the neighboring town of Norcia, I noticed a lovely statue dedicated to her in the town square. In Cascia itself, a huge shrine to the Saint was built in the early 20th century, and you can still visit the house where she was born. Her feast day is celebrated on May 22.
Saint Rita came to be associated with roses and with fresh figs, both of which are placed on altars to celebrate her Saint’s day. Evidently near the end of her life, when Saint Rita was bedridden in the convent, a cousin visited her and asked if she desired anything from her old home. Saint Rita said she would like to have a rose and a fresh fig from the garden. Since it was January her cousin didn’t expect to find either. However when her cousin went to the house she discovered, in the little snow covered garden, a single blooming rose as well as a fully ripened, edible fig, both of which she brought back to Saint Rita.
Coincidently fresh figs come into the market right around May 22 (and in California their season extends into January, so possibly this story is not unfeasible). I thought a great way to celebrate St. Rita’s feast day would be by preparing this salad which incorporates some of May’s most fragrant and beautiful produce; fresh figs, chives, mint, and watercress.
Green Fig Salad with Watercress, Chives, and Mint
1 large bunch of watercress, thick stems removed
5 fresh green figs (or use the black skinned variety if you wish), cut in half
About 10 chives, chopped (with blossoms if available)
1 small shallot, very thinly sliced
A dozen fresh mint leaves
The grated zest and juice from ½ a lemon
A pinch of sugar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A small chunk of Parmigiano Regggiano
Place the watercress in a medium salad bowl. Add the figs, the chives (and blossoms if you have them), shallot, and mint leaves.
In a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice and zest, sugar, a little salt, and the olive oil.
Grind some black pepper over the salad and the pour on the dressing. Toss gently. Shave some thin slices of Parmigiano over the top and serve.
Dining with the Saints is written by Erica De Mane. Her food blog can be found at http://www.ericademane.com