A recipe and a story greatly inspired by "Back to the Garden", and also by Jason Webley's interview with FoodPorn.com, about the sexiness of vegetables.
A Tale of Two Gardens
This is a love story, a play of light, warmth and rebellion born from gardens far apart and how they came to meet in my kitchen on a cold and soggy winter night to celebrate their fragrant union.
Her garden—or his—is in Sicily, a land famed for its bountifulness and the generosity of its soil, enriched with the tears of volcanoes and centuries or gardening art. She—or he—is fair and rotund, her—or his —fair flesh supple and tense under a taunt purple coat. Her—or his—name speaks of richness and oriental pleasures: Melanzana. Somehow “eggplant” or “aubergine” aren't up to the beauty of this exotic name, a solar gift from the Arabs who colonized Sicily many years ago. Melanzana's dowry is a clove of garlic and a bottle of olive oil.
His terrain—or hers—is in the Roman province, a rough patch of dirt better suited for weeds and thistle. And lo, he—or is it she?—is thorny, a whippy mess of sharp leaves hiding treasures in their fold. His—or her—name is Carciofo. In this case, “artichoke” is fairly appropriate, there is abstract art in the still sealed flower and white choke bursting from its midst, a floral version of Andy Warhol, a creature always on the war path, ready to fight, hair blowing madly about. Carciofo's has grabbed a fistful of friendly weed on the way to the place of assignment and is trying to pass “mentuccia”—“lesser calamint” to you—as a nosegay, which might take a flight of fancy although we must admit that the little invasive plant has a great scent a real joy for the nose indeed, minty but not too powerful and the plant attracts myriads of butterflies, making for a magic show to seduce a lover.
Melanzana is all for it. When they meet on my kitchen counter top love is instantaneous and Carciofo, the wild, ever the impulsive, has already started to disrobe. Out fall the outer petals, hardened by winter's harsh weather. In order not to harm his—or her—lover, the tougher part of the inner leaves is also discarded. The sacrifice is brutal—a sharp movement of he kitchen knife and the discarded greens are already strewn all over the counter. Carciofo jumps into the pool, cool water with lemon juice—another gift from Sicily—the best bath to soothe the pain.
Melanzana is shy and refuses to undress. Possibly she—he—is shocked by the lack of courting. The purple coat is so shiny so lush; why should it be discarded? Only the small and prickly green hat can go and our victim is laying there, waiting for the blade. The pale flesh is diced and rubbed in salt. Melanzana cries bitter tears but the fact is: she—or is it he?—likes it rough. After ten minutes the two lovers are reunited in the pool.
A great dish is called for, a mighty carriage for the happy couple. The vessel is covered and they are left to simmer for another ten minutes in a magical oven that works with invisible waves, a theramin of love, cooking up the most beautiful harmony. They come out tender and even more infatuated with each others.
At this point, gifts are offered and sacrificed to the garden gods: in a large pan go the olive oil and minced garlic. When the scent is pleasing the wedded pair may come in. At this point, in order to better embrace his—her—lover, Carciofo requires to be cut in eight equal pieces. A rustic white wine from the Frascati hills is offered as libation. Together they roll in the offers while I hum “Ebb Tide”, thus calling a soft rain of chopped calamint on their heads to crown the ecstasy, in the manner of Heliogabalus showering his guests with roses.
As a personal present to the couple, I present them with fresh ground pepper; some like it hot. Upon request, I even provide red pepper flakes.
This union is so felicitous that it resists the test of time: It might cool off but the delight is still there, whispering its tale of two gardens.