Violet Artichokes of Perinaldo
Carciofo di Pernaldo
Gastronomy and astronomy alike thrive in Perinaldo [MAP] it would seem. This is the birth place of the noted astronomer Giovanni Cassini, but I wouldn’t have known that if it weren’t for the artichokes and olives that attracted me there in the first place. Yet another small, hilltop town, this time in Liguria, and a must see if you ever feel like a drive down by the Italian Riviera.
Only a few miles away from the French border and the coastal towns of Ventimiglia and Menton, these hills are absolutely rural and sit at about 600metres above the Mediterranean Sea level, which it has a direct view of. This area has been home to the Taggiasca olives, which Ligurians claim as their own, for several centuries but the legend recalls of Napoleon himself, introducing these violet artichokes to Perinaldo from the neighbouring area of Provence. A local grower told me that it was more likely to have been some of his [Napoleon’s] soldiers who imported this artichoke to Perinaldo when they were posted there and found the area bare of their familiar artichoke.
It is a prized artichoke, which is a joy to work with and prepare as it has no spines, is more tender than most other varieties and best of all, has no hairy inner choke. This makes them ideal for a wide range of uses from raw to stewed and especially, preserved. Of course, this artichoke can only grow in this area because Perinaldo has its own micro climate and topographical peculiarities. The local growers have gathered to form a consortium and have their artichoke listed as a Slowfood Presidium.
The harvesting season is very brief in May and June and with that obviously comes the annual celebration or sagra, which is usually held on the second Sunday of May and the town puts on a very welcoming event. This town is so inviting, in fact, that over the years a few older German folk have decided it’d be a great place for a sea change. They now are as proud and possessive of Perinaldo as any native local, selling their own home grown artichokes preserved under their own olive oil.
One massive outdoor and open communal kitchen works from the early hours on the day of the sagra and somehow efficiently is able to serve several hundred people who visit especially for this one day of artichokes. Every artichoke sagra I’ve been to is run on a volunteer basis and brings out the best in people who just want to share what they know and do best. In Perinaldo, the setting of the kitchen and dining areas are in an ideal place for visitors to appreciate the most attractive aspects of the surrounding hills and valleys.
The menu was also pretty extensive with plenty of special deals as the day went on. The most typical local dishes are all served up in generous portion sizes and the local wine flows happily throughout the afternoon and into the early evening.
Perinaldo is on the road to somewhere special.