“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbour:
'Winter is dead.'"
A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young
It's the first day of spring. And indeed it is a very springlike day. Which I'm not sure that you could say about Botticelli's floating masterpiece. It looks more autumnal to me, but a light and airy autumn. And I think that Venus in the middle looks pregnant, not that any critic that I saw mentioned this. Pregnancy is springlike though is it not? New birth. And the guy on the right is some kind of demi-god, chasing the lady who is changing into Flora - the other main female in the picture. There are apparently forty six different plants in the picture - so I guess that's springlike. But there is darkness there although I suppose the lightness and beauty of the figures is chasing the darkness away and there is blue sky in the background. Whatever the interpretation it is a verified masterpiece. One of the world's most famous paintings I suppose.
Primavera - I thought, literally translated, would mean first truth, which I thought was curious but one could ponder on it. However, I thought I should check and it actually means first (or before) wedding ring. Well this is actually very appropriate in the context of Botticelli as it is thought that the picture is a wedding gift or to celebrate the wedding of a Medici cousin of Lorenzo - the Medici we all know. But 'primavera' as a complete word does mean spring. Perhaps way back in history that was when all the Italians got married. Who knows. Anyway it's a lovely painting and if you can ever get to go to the Uffizi again go and see it. I haven't - the queues were too long and we hadn't been sensible enough to book in advance. But aren't we lucky - these days we can look at all the wonderful paintings of the world online.
But it is spring and this is just so appropriate for our current situation is it not? We are holding our breath and hoping - yes hoping - that soon all of the COVID19 thing will be over, or at least we shall be out of our current stage 4 lockdown. And because it is such a springlike day I did a very brief walk around our little street to take some springtime pictures. I was rewarded by wattles, and blossom and the first freesias which always mean spring to me. The freesias always remind me of the field of crocuses we used to pass on the way to school, glimpsed from the school bus. And, last but not least my neighbours playing with their little grandson, and a flower growing out of rock above our tiny pond.
“Is the spring coming?" he said. "What is it like?"...
"It is the sun shining on the rain and the rain falling on the sunshine...”
Frances Hodgson Burnett - The Secret Garden
No rain today but that's a beautiful line from one of my favourite children's books.
But this is a food blog and I should be talking about food. And now I shall.
Primavera - well there is everything Italian food wise primavera is there not? But when I found pasta primavera in Wikipedia, and also on a couple of other websites, I found that the Americans claim it as their own. In the 1970's a chef called Sirio Maccioni (an Italian American surely), invented it - a dish of pasta with spring vegetables in a sauce of butter, cream and cheese. Well actually there is another Italian American, one Ed Giobbi, who also lays claim to its invention, but the story does seem to be New York, Manhattan, the 70s.
Surely not! Surely the Italians have been making pasta and risotto, and soup and even pizza with a primavera sauce for centuries. It's one of those things you would throw together with what's in season isn't it? Those things seem to be basically green - peas, broad beans, beans, asparagus and various leafy green things. I don't think you should have tomatoes in the mix - they're an autumn fruit really. Besides, tomatoes are a relatively modern European ingredient.
So is there an 'authentic' pasta primavera recipe? Well apparently yes, and yet also no when you come to look at it. The New York Times has what it describes as the authentic original recipe from Le Cirque, the restaurant where Maccioni cooked - Spaghetti primavera from Le Cirque. Well great you think, but then Food and Wine has a slightly different version which actually gives credit to Maccioni himself. So who knows.
"Meant to be an expression of spring, the mad jumble of vegetables over pasta was mostly an expression of the death match between French and Italian cuisine (cream versus olive oil, sauce versus pasta)." Amanda Hesser - New York Times
And then I found that Ed Giobbo has quite a different version, which doesn't seem to have any green vegetables, butter or cream in it at all. It's more like a sort of Margherita pizza mix with just tomatoes, basil and parsley. But these are supposed to be the guys that invented it. Below are the versions from The New York Times and the Ed Giobbo version. The Food and Wine version did not have a picture and The New York Times version doesn't seem to have that creamy sauce, so I'm not really sure what the 'authentic' dish is supposed to look like.
But of course if you look online, everyone has a version of pasta primavera.
Even I do. But mine varies according to what I have in the fridge, because really I think this is what a pasta primavera is - a dish of pasta with springtime vegetables. And that doesn't include tomatoes if you want to be truly springlike. Yes I know you can get tomatoes all year and what's wrong with a few cherry tomatoes added to the mix? Well nothing. Just remember they are not really a spring vegetable. No peas are the thing - and asparagus.
"Peas for everyone, every pod a gamble, charged with cannonballs that burst with flavour. Will we eat them all before they get anywhere near a pan? And who cares if we do? I always have frozen to hand and love them just as much – especially in a spring risotto." Rachel Roddy - the Guardian
For yes Risotto primavera is the other main iteration of the spring vibe and Italian food. Indeed when I first just input primavera into my web search I mostly got risotto. And this risotto seems to generally include peas, broad beans and asparagus - a combination thereof or just one or two. Rachel Roddy has a pretty typical Spring risotto recipe which is a good start. She published it recently too in a sort of response to the COVID19 thing.
But why stop at risotto? There's also soup - Minestra primavera from delicious; pizza, bruschetta, frittata and stuffed chicken. Actually just about anything. Just add primavera to the title of your dish and chuck in lots of spring vegetables and you are away. I only bothered to get a recipe for the soup, but I'm sure you get the picture as to how to make all of the others.
It's the first day of spring. Cause for celebration. The cold days are disappearing. Literally. In a few days time we are promised temperatures in the mid 20s. The sun is shining and it's time to get out and about. Time to dig in the garden. Plant things. Perhaps, in the spirit of hope, a few vegetables.
“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.” Margaret Atwood, Bluebeard's Egg
Well I'm not a gardener. Today I made more marmalade, and so I smelt more like oranges.
Also in the spirit of hope - here are today's 'tourist' photos - in addition to the spring ones at the top of the page. Every day I sit at my computer, and reminisce, whilst at the same time admiring the scene outside my window. My current desktop picture was taken in the book village, Montolieu near Carcassone so it reminds me of happy holidays and La France. The little mementoes under my computer remind me of all sorts of things. I peeled a lot of oranges, and on my walk around our street took a photo of my neighbours' cars - he has three grown sons living with him and they are currently extending the house to accommodate them all - no room for the cars at the moment. But they must surely be hoping that the end of all their lengthy labours is in sight. And their lovely quirky letterbox. They live at no. 5 not 555. Postcards from Eltham.