In the springtime in Sicily a simply named dish reveals an explosion of flavor that belies its satisfying complexity. It is a dish special with spring vegetables — fava, peas, scallions and artichokes — and called frittedda (or fritedda).
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In western Sicily, where frittedda was born, it is served as a grape ‘u pitittu, a Sicilian expression that means “a mouth-opener,” a culinary concept much closer to a Middle Eastern meze than an Italian antipasto. Pino Correnti, a leading Sicilian gastronome, believes that the name of this preparation comes from the Latin frigere, because it is prepared in a large frying pan.
The young artichokes needed for this dish can be hard to find. They are very tender and have not yet developed chokes. Because this dish is affected by the age and size of the vegetables, you will have to judge for yourself the right cooking time and how much salt, pepper and nutmeg you want to use, so keep tasting. This is a good time to use a very good quality estate-bottled extra virgin olive oil from Sicily.
This is most definitely a labor-intensive preparation. However, it tastes so good and can last so long to be served successively as antipasti and side dishes that a Sicilian cook never shies away from the work. It is a time to grab a glass of wine and with a friend or lover shuck the pods of fava and peas.
Spring Vegetable Frittedda
Prep time: About 1 hour
Cook time: Between 1 hour and 1 hour, 40 minutes
Total time: About 2 hours, 45 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
1 pound fresh peas, shelled (from about 2 1/2 pounds of pods)
2 pounds fresh fava beans, shelled (from about 5 pounds of pods)
10 young artichokes, each not more than 3 inches long (if you use older artichokes, with fully developed bracts and chokes, cook them longer in Step 2)
Juice from 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 pound scallions, white part only, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg
4 large fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
4 teaspoons sugar
1. Rinse the peas and the fava beans and set aside. Trim the artichokes, quarter or halve, and leave them in cold water acidulated with the lemon juice until they are all prepared. In a large sauté pan (preferably a 14-inch sauté pan), heat the olive over medium-low heat, then cook, stirring, the scallions until soft, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes longer (15 minutes if they are fully developed globe artichokes), then add 2/3 cup hot water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peas and fava beans. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.
3. Moisten the vegetables with more hot water if they look like they are drying out. Cook another 20 to 40 minutes or until tender; keep checking. Stir the mint, vinegar and sugar together and then pour over the vegetables while still hot. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and let it reach room temperature before serving.
Fritedda with spring vegetables. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright