Some days it is almost spring-like. Others are so freakin’ cold that I want to stay under the covers. On those winsome warm October days, I have been walking and weeping over all those fresh garden herbs that are now just sticks of their former selves. It seems like only a moment ago, I was savoring something unique – fried basil!
One hot summer day, as she often does Zia Victoria arrived with a plate of fried something or other. (We are blessed to live on a working farm next door to a contadina who is a great cook and likes to share.). I guessed that it was probably zucchini or eggplant or zucchini flowers or even just little savory bits of fried dough. She looked at me, I looked at her and we both looked at the plate. Steam was still rising off these narrow lightly battered yummies. Wait – why is green peaking out? What is this stuff? She wouldn’t answer and told me to taste it. Wow, it was something so much better than I expected. Fried basil leaves – who knew you could do this. Never in a million years would I have ever thought of frying giant leaves of basil! When basil overruns the garden most of us pick the leaves, toss them in a Cuisinart with oil, garlic and some type of nut. The resulting pesto gets popped in the freezer for a hint of summer in the winter. Well that’s a great activity. But during the summer when the plants are creeping skyward full of leaves, why not just eat the leaves? Fresh basil has its own interesting taste a little sweet, a little bitey, a little perfect. When it’s married with a very fine coating of a simple batter – she told me it was just flour, eggs and milk – it becomes something wonderful. I tried it with GIANT basil leaves – small ones turn to mush -seltzer and flour – kind of like a tempora – and that worked too. The oil was really hot and they were done in a second.
Zia Vittoria, my nonna and most of the elders in Pontelandolfo use everything they grow. No part of an edible plant or animal gets tossed. (Remember my story on pig parts and weeds?) As I was scoffing down this great snack or appetizer, the crunchy unique taste sent me back in time to 1950s Flagtown. Growing up – nothing was wasted. Before anyone was allowed to cut the lawn, we had to scavenge for young dandelions. Tossed in a salad, sautéed with onion or eaten with cheese and chunky bread the green was something to forage and enjoy. Wild herbs like camomile and fennel were found in the nearby woods and hung to dry. As a kid, I hated this stoop labor. Cripes, I wanted to be rich enough to just go buy the freakin’ stuff. In my artsy hippy dippy days, I baked my own bread, foraged and thought how I was an earth mamma. I don’t know when it happened but one day, I found myself throwing out unopened food that had rotted in my refrigerator and not giving it a second thought. As I worked more and more, this careless tossing became a regular thing. I would casually toss out clothes that no longer fit or I felt fugly in. Next thing I knew, I was one of those conspicuous consumption folks who had to have….
Here we are in our second – or is it third – act and I’ve come full circle. I’m living on a working farm, eating animal parts that most people stick up their noses at and realizing that the Nonnas and the Zias of the world have the right idea. Don’t waste a thing. Share when you have an abundance and don’t race around buying what you don’t bloody well need.
Damn, how could all that come from tasting a simple dish like a fried basil leaf?
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