It is Monday and the Saffron and Chick Pea feast is over. But just for this year. The Earthquake and the threat of rain (just a few drops) kept a few people away, but throngs of people came for the Palio degli Asini (a donkey race created as a send-up of the famous Palio di Siena horse race in that beautiful Tuscan hill-town), and, of course, for the saffron and chick pea based dishes.
This year I stuck to the saffron-based foods, having had a summer full of chick pea based dishes at my mother-in-law’s. The saffron supplì, fried balls of saffron rice, were tasty. The risotto alla milanese (rice dish made by cooking in broth and saffron) was a bit paler and more liquid than previous years.
But despite being cooked in a festival camp the Penne allo Zafferano was amazing. Once again the true Italian cooking secrets of simplicity and access to amazing ingredients won out against the adversity of mass-production. Pennette, short straight pasta similar to maccheroni were covered with a blend of fresh local ricotta cheese and saffron and simmered pancetta (similar to bacon, salt-cured but not smoked).
On a side note, my niece daughter was in the Palio degli Asini, the donkey race that rivals the saffron as an attraction. Six teams, each with a donkey, a rider and a page (each one a boy-girl team) raced four times around a track traced out more by the crowds of laughing spectators than the plastic tape. Her donkey broke away from the pack in the last lap, only to stop a yard before the finish line and not budge. Then another did the same, stopping next to theirs, then a third, this time wandering over the finish line.
My niece’s ass came in second. And wee all won. Especially those of us who had the penne allo zafferano.
Mark your calendar for the first full weekend after the Ferragosto holiday (August 15th). See you there.
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