When I moved to Viterbo from the UK one of the main differences I noticed when shopping was how much more the season mattered. There are many special pastries that are sold for each festival but the real difference is to be found in the fruit and vegetables available. In the UK supermarkets everything is available all the time, and the labels proclaimed that items came from across the world. Sounds like more choice, but actually it wasn’t because there were just the same things all the time. Here the labels in the vegetable shop say ‘LOCAL’ which means from within about 10 miles of Viterbo, or they may say Tarquinia where lots of summer vegetables and melons are produced – that’s about 35 miles away so still pretty local. Apples often come from Alto Adige in the north of Italy but some are grown just outside Viterbo in the Cimini hills. On any one day probably only 2 or 3 will have travelled from abroad, bananas and pineapples are the only permanent travellers.
Very early in the morning, before 6 am, a gaggle of small trucks (often ape – the van based on a scooter engine) are outside the shop unloading their goods. Each farmer or small holder has brought his crop of whatever was ready to harvest that morning. In the end the choice is greater and it means that when something you really like is in season two things happen, 1. you don’t feel guilty about really overdosing on it because it will disappear in a few weeks, 2. the price when something is at its best, in season is always so, so much lower than something that has arrived travel worn from across the world, actually there’s a third thing that happens – you become more inventive with each crop as it arrives and is plentifully cheap.
So what makes me think it’s spring? Asparagus has arrived, both wild and cultivated, it’s still a little expensive as these are literally just the first shoots, but it won’t be long before the price comes down. Aggretti has also arrived, sorry there isn’t even a translation for this.
One way to describe it would be that it’s like very tender samphire – but not many people eat that. You boil it very quickly, drain and serve drizzled with good olive oil or you can cool it, then reheat in a little oil that has been flavoured with garlic and chilli.