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San Martino: Traditions and Flavors of November in Italy

November 11th marks a special day on the calendar this year in the US and every year in Italy.  While we celebrate and thank our Veterans here at home, people in Italy are celebrating San Martino (St. Martin in English).

Similar to our “Indian Summer”, Italians celebrate “Estate di San Martino”, the Summer of St. Martin which is said to last just a few days.  It is typically thought of as the last warm spell before winter sets in.  They celebrate it on November 11th to commemorate the day San Martino was buried. 

Legend has it that San Martino, a Roman Soldier, came across a poor man one night who was freezing and had nothing to keep him warm.  Martino (not yet a Saint) cut his own cloak in half and gave half of it to comfort the freezing man.  A couple of versions of the legend tell the next part differently.  One says that as he slept that night, Martino had a dream of Christ wearing the other half of his cloak.  Another says he had this dream and then awoke to find his cloak completely intact.

Either way, as the rest of the story goes, the sun came out the very next day, warming the land so that Martino would not have to suffer the cold. Heaven’s sign of gratitude for his charity and compassion.  This event led him to proclaim his Christian faith, become baptized, and eventually be declared a Saint.

Interestingly, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, our word for chapel, as well as the Italian, cappella, derived from the Old French and Medieval Latin words meaning “little cape”, referencing this story.

Italy loves and honors the Saints, and Festa di San Martino is celebrated in different ways all throughout Italy.  Generally, it also coincides with the time to try new wine and the peak of chestnut season.  In many of the celebrations, you will find chestnuts and wine.  Sounds like a good time, doesn’t it? 

Italy has several proverbs surrounding Estate di San Martino and involving the season of Autumn, harvest, chestnuts, and wine.  I love this one, “Per San Martino castagne e buon vino” “Chestnuts and good wine for St. Martin’s day”.  You’re sure to find both everywhere, and one taste of each can take you back to Italy if only in your mind. 

Another says: “L’estate di San Martino dura tre giorni e un pochinino.”  “St. Martin’s Summer lasts three days and a very little bit.” Reminding us to enjoy these bright, sunny days when we get them.

If you go to Rome, almost any time of year, you will find a man with a cart selling roasted chestnuts.  For just a few Euros, you can buy some and wander the beautiful piazza and nearby shopping streets with a delicious treat.  Not far from this area is a building of nice suites with the friendliest of owners. 

Reading the story of San Martino this morning reminded me of them.  Every time I write for a quote or to check on something for a client, owner Loris replies back, “Have a sunny day!” Usually there’s a smiley face afterwards.  Whatever stressful situation I may have, his wishes always bring a smile to my face.

A few months ago, I was working at the computer and it had rained most of the day.  When I opened my message from Loris and read his words, “Have a super sunny day!”, the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful sunny afternoon.  Amazing how a few kind words can brighten your day, sometimes quite literally!  A ray of sunshine sent from Rome, thank you, Loris!

So, this time of year, wherever we are in the world when the sun comes peeking through the clouds, may we thank God for brightening our day and giving us a ray of sunshine. May our hearts be warmed by kindness like that of San Martino giving his cloak to warm a stranger.  May he inspire us to have that same compassion day to day, whether we’re giving a coat, a smile, or a warm, delicious meal. 

I just love these Italian festivals that celebrate great people, great products, and keep traditions alive!

Did we have you at chestnuts and wine?  Try this recipe!

Tagliatelle Pasta with Porcini Mushrooms, white wine, and chestnuts

Ingredients:

1 box of Mia Emilia’s La Pasta di Aldo Tagliatelle Egg Pasta

1 package of dried Porcini Mushrooms

1 clove of garlic (more if you love the flavor)

A good drizzle of Mia Emilia’s Dievole Chianti Classico Extra Virgin Olive Oil DOP   

Water to soak the mushrooms and make your stock

A splash of white wine or dry vermouth

1 bag of chestnuts ready to eat (or you can roast your own if you can find them)

Italian Parsley

Salt and pepper

Parmesan or Pecorino cheese  

Directions:

Soak the mushrooms in water, you can use warm water to do it quickly, or room temperature earlier in the day.  I like to use a large water glass to easily reserve the liquid.

Start by frying the garlic in the EVOO for a few minutes until it starts to brown.  Add a splash of white wine and the mushrooms and cook for a while.  Add the chestnuts too if you’ve roasted your own, if you’re using the ones in a bag, I like to add them later, so they retain their flavor.

Cook the mushrooms in the olive oil and wine for a few minutes until the wine has evaporated and then begin pouring in the stock.  You can add some butter if you want it creamier.   

Cook the pasta for just a few minutes.  Pull it out of the pan before it’s done to finish in the mushroom stock.

Add in the chestnuts.

Keep adding the stock until you’ve reached a nice coating on all the noodles. 

Salt and pepper to taste.

Top with Italian Parsley, another good drizzle of Mia Emilia’s EVOO and grated Parmesan or Pecorino (whichever you like best).

Enjoy with a good Italian Red Wine!