Updated: Aug 14
It's August. The month of the year that Italians are ready to seriously celebrate summer. Ferragosto refers to both the public holiday on August 15th and the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the traditional end of the summer harvest. The last weeks of summer when Italians take an extended holiday and the whole country takes time off and heads to the beach towns, picturesque mountains and lakesides with an endless flow of regional wines, cooling summertime dishes, fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, seafood, picnics and homemade gelato to beat the summer heat.
The name ferragosto comes from the Latin ferie augusti, a day of rest decreed by Emperor Augustus in 18 BC that granted laborers time off and increased the popularity of the ruler. Today Ferragosto, as a state-supported holiday, continues much like the one Augustus had envisioned. One of Italy's most popular celebrations, Ferragosto is one of the most important holidays in Italy next to Christmas, Easter and New Year’s Eve.
Here is my idea of the perfect way to celebrate ferragosto with a picnic in the Italian countryside in your classic Fiat 500 or ______. Just fill in the blank and your picnic basket with salumi, salame and a crusty loaf of bread. My choice would be a rustic Tuscan pane and a selection of Italian cold cuts like mortadella, capocollo and finocchiona (if I could get it). Finoccchiona is a salame from Florence and the Chianti region made from finely ground pork, flavored with black peppercorns, garlic, wine and fennel seeds. Traditionally wild fennel is used and gives this salame the aroma of the Tuscan countryside. Add a few bruschetta toppings , a selection of mostarda and some fruit and formaggi (my choice would be a truffled pecorino from Pienza). For dessert, watermelon or a Tuscan melon with prosciutto and some biscotti to dip into my flask of Vin Santo. Speaking of wine, no self–respecting Italian meal would be complete without vino. So bring along a bottle of wine and to quench your thirst include aqua minerale bottled water (San Pelligrino or Panna ) and Italian soda. Of course you’ll need a cutting board, corkscrew, cheese knife, a nice cloth and plates. Although there is no reliable etymological translation for the world picnic in Italian, an outdoor meal eaten al fuori (outdoors) in the countryside or a garden is widely described in Italian literature and a well-laid table was encouraged to heighten the experience.
This is a picture of our Italian family circa summer 1919 in the countryside near Vicenza. To me it represents the idyllic Italian lifestyle and the pleasures of villegiatura, leaving the life of the city for a villa in the countryside. Although our Italian family were not relaxing at their villa along the Brenta they still enjoyed picnics in the countryside.
Traveling in Italy and staying with our Italian family and friends has led me to believe that Italians seem to know how to balance work and relaxation better than we do and ferragosto is a perfect example of this. An Italian inspired picnic in the park is my way of bringing Italy home and capturing a small slice of “la dolce vita”.
Here are a few ideas for a summertime panino to serve at your Italian inspired picnic.
Mortadella di bologna, emmental, rucola, senape
Bologna mortadella, emmenthaler cheese, arugula, mustard
Prosciutto crudo di parma, mozzarella di bufala, pomodoro, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Prosciutto from Parma, buffalo mozzarella, tomato, extra virgin olive oil
Salame, provolone, rucola, rafano, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Salami, provolone cheese, arugula, horseradish, extra virgin olive oil
Mozzarella di bufala, pomodoro, basilico, olio extra vergine d’oliva
Buffalo mozzarella, tomato, basil, extra virgin olive oil
If you're looking for more substantial typical, traditional ferragosto dishes include an insalata di riso ferragosto (rice salad), eggplant parmigiana, pasta frittata, and of course the “grigliata”, or Italian barbecue. One more ferragosto food is watermelon (anguria). We like it made into a watermelon and mint salad with ricotta salata.
Insalata di Anguria, Menta e Ricotta Salata
In a large bowl mix together pieces of watermelon, peeled and cut into bite size pieces and a small handful (15 leaves) of fresh mint, roughly chopped. Combine 1 T honey, 2 T extra virgin olive oil, 1 T fresh lemon or lime juice and a pinch of coarse sea salt. Drizzle a generous amount of dressing over watermelon/mint then crumble one-half cup of ricotta salata on top.