Summer has come late to the Tuscan Maremma. In actual fact, it hasn’t arrived.
It’s a pain for the tourists and the tourism industry. Last week, it rained every day and this week, ominous dark clouds have been threatening to ruin trips to the beach or the hot springs.
Like any good Italian, I’ve been consoling myself in food. But the lacklustre summer sun has played havoc with my orto or vegetable garden. I should be swimming in cherries and strawberries, peaches and apricots. Instead all I see are unripe tomatoes.
In the Maremma, we are ruled by the seasons. Greenhouse growing is frowned upon, so if we don’t get the summer temperatures then we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of summer, literally.
Still, I’m no pessimist, so this season’s top tastes from Tuscany’s favourite new holiday destination is an ode to good things to come and some much sought after warm weather.
Saturnia peaches or doughnut peaches are one of my most incredible discoveries. I didn’t even know they existed before I moved to Italy.
They look like they’ve been sat on, but they are the most beautiful colour – peach on the outside and cream on the inside. When they’re ripe, they taste like peach ice tea. It’s amazing.
I can’t eat other type of peach any more!
Oh, don’t look at me like that! Snails are surprisingly tasty.
My father-in-law and I collect them from the ‘wild’ in his backyard after it rains, and it has been raining at lot of late. Babbo doesn’t use pesticides, so his snails are safe to eat, but if you don’t feel like foraging than you can pick them up from the fishmongers over here.
There is quite a market for farmed snails. From what I’ve heard though, they are very difficult to prepare. You have to wash them out thoroughly, then boil them and then prepare them as you will.
In Poggio Murella, near Saturnia, which is famous for having one of Italy’s oldest food festivals, the Sagra della Lumaca, held in May and June, they serve them in an unctuous tomato sauce with chunks of pancetta and mentuccia or calamint.
There is nothing slimy about them. They’re actually really meaty and rich, but not overpowering, so you can still taste the sauce. They’re very similar to clams or mussels.
My new favourite wine is nicknamed straw wine or raisin wine. It’s palate pleasingly sweet and made from grapes that are hung on rafters to dry.
The raisins, hence the name, are then aged in barrels for a nutty taste and golden colour. It’s the perfect wine to serve with biscuits or desserts.
Tuscany’s most famous passito is the Vin Santo, but in the Maremma, I recommend an Aleatico passito, which has notes of roses, lychees and berry fruits, and a high alcohol content.
Unfortunately it’s quite a labour intensive process, so the bottle will set you back more than most other wines.
Not a summer speciality, but an extremely popular choice here in the Maremma as the weather heats up.
I know nothing about fish. Literally can’t tell the difference between one white-flesh fish and another. That is hubby’s forte and I’m convinced he’s making it up.
But he insists rombo is the best white-flesh fish out there. It’s tender, moist and flakes beautifully. It’s not too fishy, but delicate and goes well with all the usual suspects of Italian cooking – tomatoes, olive oil, lemon and garlic.
It’s light and perfect for a summer’s dinner when it’s too hot to try something heavy.
You can buy monkfish from any fishmonger and cook it at home. Hubby suggests oven roasting it with finely sliced potatoes underneath.