Aug 15, 2009

Ferragosto!

Mid-summer night dreams (and dessert)
The way we Italians honor any sort of festivity, activity or event celebrating a special occasion is through the glorification of food. Cooking and gathering for a meal, however sumptuous or modest, is the final solemnization of a series of acts duly performed for religious or ceremonial reasons. The triumph of opulence over poverty, sacrifice and abstinence. An offering, an act of gratitude, of praise. Greek mythology sums it up in one single spilling cornucopia, the symbol of plenty consisting of a goat’s horn endlessly overflowing with flowers, fruit, and grains.


It's Ferragosto today: big time eating holiday. Originally, it was the day marking the middle of summer and the end of hard harvesting labor in the fields. In time, the Church adopted this date to commemorate the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body into the heavens.
Before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence, however, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honor the gods, in particular lunar Diana (the Roman equivalent of the Greek Artemis) and the cycle of fertility and ripening.

Typical Ferragosto food revolves around fresh, raw vegetables and fruit to ward off the heat. Cold beverages, fruit salads, cold pasta and Pomodori al Riso are almost always on the menu.
Roadside stands selling whole watermelons and/or chilled slices of the fruit are a summer feature throughout Italy. The hand painted signs on country roadside stalls may read the word "anguria," but the dialectal term cocomero is watermelon’s name in Rome and its vicinities.

Ferraugustine tradition imposes mammoth consumption of the everpresent cocomero, usually kept cold bobbing in a nearby marble fountain in absence of portable coolers.


My stepfather Sergio likes to engage in pre-purchase cocomero appraisal, a complex activity that includes bargaining and the cutting of a small wedge, called tassello, for the definitive quality assurance evaluation. Cocomero and Panzanella are more classic Ferragosto food items on our summer outings. Since panzanella has olive oil among its ingredients, which inevitably ends up dribbling everywhere, including one’s hands and face, cocomero in that context works also as a refreshing cleanser. Hence the memorable Roman slogan "Cocomero: Magni, bevi e te lavi ‘a faccia," which translates to “watermelon: with it you eat, drink and wash your face all in one go”.


Today we make dessert, fresh and lovely Gelo di Cocomero
Like many other Sicilian fruit "geli," this chilled delight is typical of Palermo's culinary tradition of cornstarch-based desserts. Its best application is - in my humble opinion - with watermelon as it's fresh base.
  • 1 liter (4 cups) ripe watermelon pulp
  • 80 gr (1/3 cups) sugar
  • 5 tablespoons of cornstarch
  • 100 gr (1/2 cup) Pistachio nuts, finely ground
  • 50 gr (1/4 cup) dark chocolate, finely ground
  • Jasmine flowers
  • A pinch of cinnamon
Whir the watermelon in the blender and remove excess liquid, by passing the puree through a sieve. Mix all the ingredients - save for the jasmine, chocolate and cinnamon - placing them in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat.

As the elements simmer, the cornstarch will begin to thicken the sauce. Remove from the stove and allow it to cool once well blended and quite thick.

Pour the creamy watermelon mixture in Martini glasses or muffin molds. Dust the top with powdered pistachio, a dash of cinnamon and garnish with chocolate shavings and the jasmine flower. Serve chilled and prepare for the applause.

26 comments:

  1. Hope you're having a wonderful Ferragosto. The watermelon treat looks so refreshing

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  2. Oh my god! I salivate every time I come here! You are so delicious, I mean your blog is so delicious. I use mico pigment ink for my black and white drawings to enable me to create fine lines. I use the smallest tip too, probably why I am developing carpal tunnel syndrome. Yes, drawing the cyclonic waves was very relaxing and therapeutic. I drew that image to express my sorrow for Bella Sinclair's loss.

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  3. On a hot summer day, this new to me refreshing desert. So inviting.. How smooth, fresh and enlivening, and I might add tasty! :) xx

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  4. I could eat watermelon, cocomero, morning, noon and night. Nothing quenches my thirst like it can.

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  5. Wow... I think I'd so fat eating at your house! : )
    When I was a little girl I'd eat the watermelon and the rind I loved it so much...

    Yes the same here a friend of Renee is a friend of mine also...

    I'm going to try the pommarola ~ wish me luck I've only canned once before...

    My main blog is
    www.odd-dolls.blogspot.com

    I love following you`
    Pattee

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  6. ha. love that description of watermelon. too many fun memories...hope you are having a great weekend!

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  7. This concoction is a new one for me. It seems easy to prepare.

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  8. We love watermelon in my house. I make it into juice...now I have an even better plan thanks to you! What a great recipe.

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  9. That sounds like so much fun! And the dessert looks delicious.

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  10. What fabulous pictures. The first proper holiday I can remember my parents drove from the UK to the Continent. One abiding memory is sitting by the roadside on the way to Florence where my mother and I ate watermelon from a stall whilst my father tried to sort out why the car was over-heating.

    We never did get to Firenze.

    x

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  11. Ferragosto was the day we arrived in a deserted Rome, back in 1981. Claudia and Joana wondering about this ghost city museum. We finally found an open restaurant in Isola Tiberina and had a wonderful meal, our first of many.
    Lovely entry, Lola, I must try to make the Gelo de Cocomero, it looks so refreshing and appealing.

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  12. Hmmmmm very tasty indeed must be soooo refreshing in the heat :-)

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  13. hmmm... you say all ingredients except the cinnamon and the jasmin get simmered... but the chocolate? Is it also simmered or just for garnish? Looks lovely, and we're sure to try it. Gorgeous mouth-watering photos. This year we've gotten a teeny little round watermelon - sort of the hand melon of watermelons... have been promised it's good, but didn't ask for a taste as your stepfather did - so smart of him.

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  14. Right and now I need Gelo di Cocomero - and of course, there's none in the house! How can you do this to me, Lola!!!
    ;-) xx

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  15. This little concoction sounds like it could be quite heavenly. Though, as you mention, there's nothing quite like enjoying a slice of fresh watermelon with the juice running down one's arms. When I was a kid I preferred eating watermelon in my bathing suit, then it didn't matter how sticky I got.

    My "Maxim of the Week" over on my Arteologie blog goes hand in hand with your cocomero post if you'd like a little chuckle...
    http://arteologie.blogspot.com/

    Ciao ciao!

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  16. I always associate water melon with hot and lazy days. Unfortunately we don't get many of them up here in Northumberland, but coming here has brought back some lovely memories.

    CJ xx

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  17. Thanks for he dinner idea--Pomodori al Riso will work perfectly. And always love learning how the Catholic holy days tie into the past. It always deepens their meaning for me, being a pagan at heart:>)

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  18. Fern~ thanks for pointing out the mistake, I have corrected it!
    Ciao!

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  19. Have you tried watermelon granita? I have a simple recipe for that using just watermelon, sugar, water and lemon. Hmmm, maybe a post idea!

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  20. Melon is so refreshing especially in this heat here in Andalucia! (Pushing 30C - Ugh!)

    Lovely post as always off now to try the recipe!

    xxLOL LOLA:)
    btw due to yet another Blogger bug, my most recent post isn't appearing on all followers' reading lists/blogrolls - grrhh! xx

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  21. mmmmmm...your blog makes me hungry!!!

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  22. Great Post.I have got a gift for you .Do visit my profile to collect it.

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  23. Cocomero! how marvellous.. and it's so true about eating, drinking and washing one's face! I just love all the details and photos that you share with us - always a work of art, each post! :)

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  24. I love watermelon. Nothing in this world is quite so delightful as an ice-cold watermelon after a sweaty day. So refreshing and sweet!

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  25. My mouth is dripping... used to love to wash my face in watermelon as a kid, then go jump in the pool to wash off... makes me think of the watermelon flavored hard candies that used to be around, haven't seen one in ages, but they were yummy too...

    And to echo your piece I just posted a picture of watermelons at the local market here in Brittany the other day... Your blog is TOO much fun ! :-D

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  26. Variante, according to my grandma: "Ce mangi, ce bevi e te ce lavi er grugno." Welcome back Lola.

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