Region: Italy, Sicily
Category: Antipasto, Meze, Tapas, and Hors d'Oeuvres
Difficulty: Labor Intensive
This dish is found in Sicily, although its roots might lie with the Arab kharshūf wa'l-fūl, the artichoke and fava bean preparation served as a meze in Syria. Whether that connection is modern or rooted in the Arab-Sicilian era is too hard to know. In western Sicily, where fritedda was born, it is served as a grape 'u pitittu, an expression meaning something like "opener of the mouth," or tidbit or snack, that is more philosophically related to a Middle Eastern meze than an Italian antipasto. Pino Correnti, a leading Sicilian food researcher, believes that the name comes from the Latin frigere, because it is prepared in a large frying pan. Although none of the Sicilian authorities I've read make the claim that fritedda is a part of cucina arabo-sicula, the folkloric cuisine of Sicily thought to have some roots from the Arab influence, I believe there is circumstantial evidence for the Arab roots of this dish including the way it is served as a kind of meze. The Arabs introduced the artichoke and the scallion to Sicily. In fact the word "scallion" (in Sicilian and in English) comes from the Palestinian Arabic for the name of the town most famous for scallions, Ascalon. Scallions were once known as "onions of Ascalon." Fritedda has the sweet and sour trademark that so many Arab-influenced dishes have and finally it comes from western Sicily where so many Arab-influenced dishes found their home. The young artichokes needed for this dish are very tender and have not yet developed chokes. Since this dish is affected by the age and size of the vegetables you will have to judge for yourself the right cooking time and how much salt, pepper and nutmeg you want to use--so keep tasting. This beautiful preparation is typically made in the late spring and your guests will appreciate the work and love you put into it.
[photo: Clifford A. Wright]
Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings
Preparation Time: 2 hours
1. Rinse the peas and the fava beans and set aside. Trim the artichokes, quarter or halve, and leave them in cold water acidulated with the lemon juice until they are all prepared. In a large skillet, heat at the olive over medium-low heat, then cook the scallions until soft, about 3 minutes, stirring.
2. Add the artichokes and cook for 5 minutes longer (15 minutes if they are fully developed globe artichokes), then add 2/3 cup of hot water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peas and fava beans. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Moisten the vegetables with more hot water if they look like they are drying out. Cook another 20 to 40 minutes or until tender; keep checking. Stir the mint, vinegar, and sugar together and then pour over the vegetables while still hot. Transfer to a serving platter or bowl and let it reach room temperature before serving.