A few weeks after the first autumn rains have fallen on Sicily’s sun-parched fields, the season of wild things begins.
Ragusa’s countryside has gone from arid to gloriously green with splashes of bright wildflowers, and is dotted with sharp-eyed Sicilians armed with plastic bags and knives, bent over and rummaging, intent on picking wild things. If you ask someone what they are picking, you might get an incomprehensible answer like “agghiti.” When you ask to kindly repeat that, you’ll be met with a shrug and a simpler answer. “Verdura” – greens.
The season of foraging for wild greens in Sicily is roughly from November to April, and begins with wild chard (“agghiti” in Ragusa’s dialect), then continues with borage, crunchy cardoons, jagged-leafed “matalufo,” sweet asphodel, bitter chicory, mustard tops, feathery fennel, wild asparagus, and prickly nettles. Most of these greens are eaten simply steamed and dressed with olive oil. For a heartier dish, chard is mixed with other ingredients, then stuffed into a plump envelope of dough and baked, becoming Ragusa’s version of focaccia.
Each cook will have a slightly different version of these stuffed “scacce.” Some add raisins to the chard, others insist on olives, potatoes or bits of sausage. All agree that the filling should be heavily doused in olive oil.
The rest of the year the Sicilian foragers focus on picking wild herbs to be dried, like thyme, mint and oregano, they stock up on fennel seeds and tiny wild onions, and finally, capers that will be preserved in salt. By then the fields have been parched by the fierce August sun, and foragers are kept busy with the grape harvest, while waiting for the season of wild things to begin once again.