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Mid-August lunch: traditional dishes make Italy the country with the best food in the world

Untangle yourself among the regional delicacies

By Gianfranco Gatta

Perhaps not everyone knows that Ferragosto (from feriae augusti), the current feast dedicated to the Madonna, was introduced by the emperor Augustus in 18 BC. (rest of Augustus). It was in 1950 that Pius XII, making use of papal infallibility, proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption of Mary, making it coincide with the feast of August 15.

It is customary on television to repeat the same services at each party, year after year, on the gifts to be given, on the holiday preferences and last but not the least on the cuisine suitable for the occasion. The mid-August lunch is a must of these services, so-called “evergreen”.

“Personally, I repeated it for twelve consecutive seasons, thanks to the continuous approval of the public at home”.

The risk is to run into regional jealousies, when local recipes are not taken into consideration, almost always considered exclusive and better than others; in reality many of them look alike and have been chasing each other for centuries, just think of the fish soup, some call it “Cacciucco” (Livorno), some “Brodetto” (Marche), some “Buridda” (Liguria) and more “Cassola sarda” but at the end of the Fair it is almost always the same soup.

The dispute extends throughout the Mediterranean between the various “Bouillabaisse”, “Bisque” and so on.

 
 
 
 
 
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Restaurants aside, the substantial difference between mid-August lunches is the location: by the sea on the beach or at home, perhaps in the garden, in the company of friends and relatives.

In the first case, rice salads, cold pasta and stuffed tomatoes are preferred, with the inevitable regional variations of all kinds.

In the second case, traditional dishes are preferred such as chicken with peppers, typically Roman or swordfish, declined for most of the regional recipes of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Browsing here and there among the typical dishes of the various regions, nine are the “first” while most can be defined as “second”.

Almost all the recipes respect the regional tradition par excellence but Sicily, as we will see later, is surprising for its exceptionality.

Continuing to browse, it turns out that in Liguria, the “Capponadda” is the host instead of the “Trofie with pesto”; it is nothing more than a seafood salad accompanied by biscuits.

If the etymology of the word is of uncertain origin, even more so is the original recipe, invented by fishermen during their long fishing trips. It is known that originally there was the use of the “mosciame”, generically called the dried fish fillet; in reality it was dolphin fillet, now strictly prohibited.

Followed by the inevitable “Grilled swordfish” seasoned with a tasty vinaigrette.

Continuing through the Regions and their traditional dishes, we come across the “Roasted Goose” of the Marche. It is traced back to the Marche peasant tradition, since the early twentieth century, but there remains the doubt of a strong contamination with the Judeo-Roman cuisine, since for many centuries the Marches have been the tax collectors of the Papacy. Superb recipe.

How not to mention the “Orecchiette with turnip tops” born in Puglia and a recipe that is repeated every time at home gives rise to the eternal dilemma: “But does Parmesan go there?”. This is followed by the inevitable phone call to friends to ask for comfort and instead you receive the usual irritating: “As much as you want!”.

The rustic duel between Sicily and Calabria closes the curtain to the sound of “Swordfish rolls and skewers”, where both winners come out with open-stage applause.

 
 
 
 
 
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Another must of the Ferragosto banquet is the grilled, both meat and fish and even if it seems a simple thing in reality the embers are a kitchen full of pitfalls that often turns into a culinary disaster. A tip for fish, such as sea bream and sea bass: use aluminum foil.

The lowest common denominator of all, but precisely all the lunches of August, from North to South is the grand finale based on watermelon; beach or house, the large shapes of watermelon dominate the tables or stalls, especially in Sicily (here is the exceptionality) where “Melon ice cream”, as they have called watermelon since ancient Trinarkria, makes children explode with joy!

 
 
 
 
 
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Untangling the regions through soups, roasts, meat sauce, focaccia and pigeons would require a separate tome; it is true that all together the dishes of the regional tradition make Italy the country where you eat best in the world.