Burmese Mermaid

Burmese Mermaid

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Le Lumacche

Snails! They're what's for dinner.

My dear little land locked sea-bent creatures, my heart breaks for you at the thought of hungry Italians yearning for your tender flesh!

My Roman friend Nicoletta told me of how, after a spring rain, she and her Nonna Rosa would often go out into the suburban lots and country lanes to collect snails in metal pails. The tiny snails clung in clusters on low hanging branches, so it was very easy to run a hand along the branch and plonk, plonk, plonk, collect the falling snails in the pails. It was easy work. Within 20 minutes, the two of them could fill two good sized industrial pails.

At home, Nonna laid out lettuce and other juicy edible greens in a layer in a low, large plastic bin.  Here, the snails were lovingly put to rest on the blanket of lettuce, and left to do their thing, which is nibble.  They would inch their way around the bin and nibble and excrete, nibble and excrete.  Snail heaven. Little did they know what awaited them.

After 24 hours of gorging and purging, the delicate creatures would be transferred to the kitchen sink and gently tossed with sea salt and allowed to rest for a few minutes. They were then vigorously rinsed in copious amounts of cold tap water.

The snails, now drained in the sink and squeaky clean, were placed in a large soup kettle with a generous splash of white wine. The lid was placed tightly on top of the pot, the heat was put on low,  and the snails lulled gently into a blissful eternal sleep. If the heat is low enough, each and every snail will stick out its head before oblivion comes calling.

Nonna Rosa had earlier collected some wild fennel, just a handful of the tender tops, growing in the scrubby lot down the road.  Now she set a large stainless steel pot on the gas stove. Over medium low heat, she sauteed garlic and hot crushed red pepper in extra-virgin olive oil. Next, a manciata of the chopped wild fennel tops was added to the pot and stirred with a wooden spoon. Then was added canned San Marzano tomatoes, crushed in Nonna's able fist, without the liquid in the can, and some salt. The sleeping snails would then be folded into this sauce, allowed to cook only until they were thoroughly enveloped in the elixir. The heat would be extinguished and the whole thing allowed to rest.

Served in soup plates with good bread on the side, snails cooked in this manner are exquisite, I can assure you.  With their little heads doing you the favor of sticking out of the shell, all you need to do is give a little slurp. Buon appetito, cara umana!

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