Through half of spring, and all of summer and autumn, my kitchen is generally backlogged with produce waiting to be preserved. Fruit for jam, tomatoes for saucing, veggies for putting sott’olio, the pressure is there to preserve before time ruins them. One of the few good things about winter is that there really isn’t much to preserve, and I relish that freedom. Why then do I already seem to be adopting other people’s gluts to fill the gap? The other day I stopped at a roadside seller to buy some oranges and he offered me a crate of artichokes. It’s one of the few things that K doesn’t enjoy, and given the amount of work involved I need other people’s appreciation as well as my own greed to encourage me to take them on. So when I politely turned down his sale, the vendor gave me a crate anyway. There goes a happy few hours preserving artichokes “under oil”.
Yesterday we passed another roadside seller, this one with the boot door of his battered Fiat Uno up at the side of the road in the middle of Ostuni. “Cardoncelli €5.90” read the very homemade sign on a piece of cardboard. Cardoncelli are the Puglian version of Porcini mushrooms. Not quite as meaty, not quite as flavourful, but very delicious all the same. And they generally retail for €9 per kilo. Not one to pass up on funghi, or a bargain, I joined the queue, which was almost a throng. Suffice to say, I didn’t buy a kilo at €5.90, but almost 2 kilos for €10. It would have been rude not too, the lovely guys had driven all the way from Andrea, north of Bari – almost two hours away.
So, a pile of mushrooms on the deck and out come the recipes. My freezer is playing up, so although tempted that easy route wasn’t available. Drying, sott’olio, paté. And of course a breakfast accompaniment to a poached egg, and a mushroom and chestnut risotto for supper. An afternoon playing with mushrooms, and full stomachs, 100g of dried mushrooms, 2 tiny jars of mushrooms under oil and a large tub of mushroom paté to show for it. The satisfaction isn’t as great as if we’d grown them ourselves, but heart-warming nonetheless. And some wonderful antipasti to look forward to.