I couldn’t believe that such a humble and bushy vegetable had attracted such a large crowd!
The huge tents were heaving. There was music, there was food and there were whole families – from babies to octogenarians – out in full force to pay their respects to the broccolo fiolaro.
I had heard a lot about the Italian food festivals. Called sagra, they highlight a particular foodstuff – from truffles through pumpkins to cod – and are an opportunity to celebrate a product which is traditional and/or unique to the respective region, area or village.
This was my first sagra, though, and it was not at all what I had expected!
Somehow, I had had visions of a long line of food stalls with people standing in groups talking quietly whilst delicately sampling the distinguished local delight. Instead, as soon as we walked in, we found ourselves in the midst of a huge party. Long tables stretched from one end of the tents to the other. Kids were running around with colourful balloons in hand. The queue to order food was curving and bending, getting longer and thicker by the minute. It was noisy, it was merry and I felt like I belonged.
There was a buzz in the air, with people chatting animatedly and hungrily tucking into their food.
We were in Creazzo – a small town just outside of Vicenza. The soil of the hills that surround it is especially suitable for the cultivation of a rare veg with the rather poetic name of ‘broccolo fiolaro‘. No, it doesn’t look like a conventional broccoli at all. Instead it’s leafy and resembles a little bush.
We had seen it in our local supermarket and had bought one not really having the slightest idea what to do with it.
Now we were in the right place to learn all about it.
The broccolo fiolaro was first cultivated by the Romans, who recognised its medicinal properties. Later on the German poet and philosopher Goethe tasted it on his Grand Tour of Italy and was impressed. Unfortunately (and as has happened only too often in our ever shrinking world), imported varieties of broccoli slowly but surely shoved the traditional broccolo fiolaro from the table of vicentini, so that from 150 thousand plants cultivated in the 19th century nowadays there are only a few farms left where the leafy veg is grown.
Efforts are now being made to re-establish its local authority. As such, each January, Creazzo holds a ten days long sagra celebrating and promoting the broccolo fiolaro and its culinary delights.
Always eager to experience the authentic Italy, we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. In fact we were so excited about it that we visited the sagra twice. Once, on its inaugural night, when rock bands took to the stage. And then again on the first week-end of the festival, when we were enveloped by the merry atmosphere of a town celebrating as one.
We stopped for a chat at the produce stall, where everything sold incorporated broccolo fiolaro in one form or another.
The lady running the stall told us that seeds for this typical Creazzo veg were sent to Michele Obama when she started her organic vegetable garden at the White House. We were impressed!
Then she picked a broccolo fiolaro from its crate, showed it to us…
… and quickly explained how it is chopped in order to be used in these thick fat sausages.
What really caught our eye though was the broccolo fiolaro cake!
Of course, we bought one and had it a few days after the sagra with a strong cup of Yorkshire tea at home.
It was beautifully moist and so satisfying that a little piece went a long way. Naturally, it was so tasty that I couldn’t resist helping myself to a rather large slice.
The cake was green inside, evidence that it really was made with broccolo fiolaro! As for the taste; no, it didn’t taste of veg, but of almonds which were the other major ingredient in the mix.
Needless to say, the cake didn’t last long! And we had such a wonderful experience at the sagra that we are looking forward to visiting many more.
Broccolo fiolaro, you truly brocced!