In Italy, merenda is a nourishing “Small Bite” in it’s simplest form defined by the season, varies from region to region and is based on a respect for natural ingredients. Merenda (like so many things) was born out of necessity. The men who worked the fields and pastures spent long and tiring hours away from home but needed food to sustain them. Unable to return home for their afternoon meal, they took “small bites” with them.
In those days merenda was simply a thick slice of crusty country bread with whatever mother nature provided. A chunk of hard cheese, a handful of home-cured olives, a bite of sopressata (salame) and a fresh ripe fig or two just picked from the tree.
Whether this repast was taken in the fields, in the pastures or on a tree-shaded hilltop, there was abundant homemade wine (Enzo in the vineyard). Renato Bergonzini, an expert in regional foods of Italy, says, “at Merende time, the soul is free”. This simple food and drink offers a connection to all that Italians hold dear … Food, Family and Faith.
This month I will offer some traditional merende (plural) recipes, such as Bruschetta, Panelle (chickpea fritters), Frittata con Zucchini, Golden Polenta with Prosciutto, Carciofi alle Brace (char-grilled artichokes), Prosciutto Wrapped Asparagus, Fettunta Toscana (grilled country bread with fresh tomatoes), frittelle alla melanzane (eggplant fritters), Crostata di Pesca (fresh peach pie), Sicilian Arancini (rice balls), to name a few.
And of course I’ll have my own version of small bites, such as Roasted Crunchy Cece (chickpeas/garbanzo beans), Panzanella Portabello, Watermelon Gorgonzola & Balsamic Drizzle, Un Raviolo, Nutella Ghiacciolo, Grilled Peaches with Cannoli Cream, Limoncello Chicken Skewers, Gorgonzola e Pera, Baked Ricotta with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Bruschetta with Ricotta Fresca & Balsamic Drizzle, Portabello Pizzette (individual pizza), Cauliflower Tart, Mini Orzo-stuffed Peppers, Caprese Bite, as well as others.
Every day life seems to be filled with a whole lot of “busy” and modern technology and overly processed food makes it increasingly difficult to hang on to our ancestors customs. It is with an unspoken desire that I wish to preserve my Sicilian heritage for my own family and future generations.
Merenda is a way of remembering who we are and where we’ve come from. Each of these recipes are satisfying in themselves or put a few together for a light meal or antipasti platter. Whichever way you decide to enjoy them, may they bring the warmth of Italy into your home.