10 Ways to Celebrate Spring Like a Sicilian

10 Ways to Celebrate Spring Like a Sicilian

Echo Thomas
Mar 21, 2016
(Image credit: Elke Talbot)

Sometime in late February, almond trees bloom in succession across Sicily's green hills, like popcorn popping in slow motion. These white puffs are the harbingers of spring, a season overflowing with delicious food and rich traditions.

The Feast of San Giuseppe on March 19 officially announces the season in small towns across the island. Villagers create altars and offer huge amounts of food to the Gods to recognize good fortune and invoke a bountiful harvest. Fancifully shaped bread, a vast array of fried things, wild greens, and legume soups make up the bulk of the feast.

Persephone returns from the underworld, as the myth goes, bringing out the wildflowers, and, more importantly, artichokes, fava beans, and wild fennel. Ricotta takes on new aromas as sheep pasture on fresh herbs. These ingredients start appearing in pasta dishes, and life becomes a little brighter. Women begin to stock up on marzipan lambs from local pastry shops in preparation for Easter, and tuna and swordfish preparations are at their best.

Any way you look at it, Sicilians know how to enjoy the season, and you'd be wise to follow their example. Here are 10 ways.

1. Make room for the season's fresh arrivals.

In order to take advantage of spring's newcomers, you probably need to clean out your pantry. A soup of lentils, chickpeas, and beans is traditional and a perfect way to use up your winter dried goods.

Read More: Beans, Lentils, Chickpeas & More: 10 Hearty Soups Made with Beans & Legumes

2. Make fava everything.

Maccu, a thick, nourishing soup made from fava beans, should probably be your new go-to. It's simple enough to prepare on a weeknight and elegant enough to serve to guests.

Read More: 5 Fantastic Ways to Cook Fava Beans

3. Just add fennel.

Pasta con le sarde — or bucatini with sardines, fennel, breadcrumbs, pine nuts, currants — is a typical Sicilian dish, but there are a million ways to use this uniquely flavored spring vegetable.

Read More: The Vegetable Butcher Really Wants You to Give Fennel a Chance

(Image credit: Elke Talbot)

4. Shape whimsical bread.

Women make enormous loaves of bread in symbolic shapes, such as Saint Joseph's beard and roosters (representing Jesus), for the feast day. You don't have to get quite that ambitious; start with shapes typical in Sicily year-round. Try turning your brioche into a large "S" or into provocative breast-like buns topped with smaller rounds. As a symbol of life and fertility, bread is a crucial feature of all spring celebrations.

Read More: 3 Stunning Ways to Shape Brioche

5. Embrace the bitter.

Flavor, that is. We typically overlook it in favor of salty or sweet, but Sicilians prize bitterness. Grandpas forage for wild greens and prepare them simply by blanching and sautéing them in garlic. Naturally detoxing, bitter greens (arugula, chard, mustard greens) are perfect for spring cleansing. Cocktails made with Campari or Aperol may also be in order.

Read More: Tips for Cooking Bitter Greens

6. Swap vanilla for almond.

Speaking of bitter, did you know that the distinct flavor of almond extract comes from bitter almond oil? Eaten in large doses, bitter almonds are poisonous, but in small amounts they add an alluring quality to desserts, like biancomangiare, a lovely spring pudding.

Read More: Five Uses for Almond Extract

7. Seek out local honey.

In Sicily, this is traditionally the time to drown fried things in honey. Locals enjoy cudduruni (fried bread dough with honey) and mountains of sfince di San Giuseppe (fried pâte à choux with honey). There's a big movement to restore the bee population in Sicily, and you can support biodiversity (and your immune system) by seeking out raw honey from your area.

8. Preserve the season.

Although most people think of summer as the time for preserving, Sicilians start in the spring. You can blanch and freeze fava beans and peas for use year-round, and if you're feeling ambitious, consider canning tuna and artichokes in olive oil.

(Image credit: Elke Talbot)

9. Be grateful.

During the Feast of San Giuseppe, people acknowledge their dependence on all levels of society and the greater powers. But this doesn't have to be a religious or spiritual act: Invent your own way of communing with the larger system that supports you, and channel gratitude for the return of hospitable living conditions (even if this winter wasn't particularly harsh).

Read More: Weekend Meditation: Expressing Gratitude for Things That Did Not Happen

10. Remember: Spring is a mindset.

The main thing is to get excited about what's coming out of the earth and ocean (and into your local markets). How can you turn those into something delicious that elevates this delicate moment of the year?

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