Food for Ferragosto

Ferragosto – the Italian national holiday that takes place on 15 August – celebrates the peak of summer. The name is derived from the Latin Feriae Augusti, which translates to ‘holiday of Emperor Augustus’. Feriae Augusti followed the Roman tradition of Consualia; a festival celebrating the end of the agricultural work for the year and worshipping Consus, the god of grain.

Nowadays, Ferragosto is typically celebrated by escaping the city heat to go to the beach or countryside, spending time with loved ones, watching fireworks, and, of course, enjoying seasonal food. What is eaten for Ferragosto varies from region to region in Italy. In Tuscany, roast pigeon and panzanella; in Lazio, chicken with peppers; in Liguria, fish; in Puglia, orecchiette alle cime di rapa; in Basilicata, lamb. Tomatoes stuffed with rice (for which you can find my recipe here) are also popular. However, the one consistent that is eaten across Italy during Ferragosto, and the month of August, is watermelon.

Refreshing and in season, watermelon is a welcome treat during the peak summer heat in Italy. The Roman phrase “magni, bevi e te lavi ‘a facia” – meaning that when enjoying a slice of watermelon, you are simultaneously eating, drinking, and washing your face – seems all the more accurate during this time of year.

The following recipes celebrate the best of watermelon season, and are a wonderful addition to a summer feast, a picnic, or simply to bring a taste of Italian sunshine to you at home.  Buon appetito e buon Ferragosto a tutti!

Watermelon jelly (Gelo di anguria)

In Sicily, gelo di anguria is a very typical dessert eaten during Ferragosto. The use of cinnamon, rose water, pistachios and dark chocolate in this dish is an example of the significant Arab influence on Sicilian dishes. Unlike a traditional jelly, there is no gelatine used in this dish – instead, it is set using the cornflour. The dark chocolate represents the watermelon seeds and the jewel-like pistachios contrast beautifully against the vibrant watermelon.

Ingredients (serves 8):

  • 1kg watermelon, puréed in a food processor or using a stick blender;
  • 70g caster sugar;
  • 35g cornflour (cornstarch);
  • 1 teaspoon rose water;
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon;
  • 35g dark chocolate, finely chopped;
  • 35g pistachios, finely chopped;
  • Jasmine flowers (optional)

Method:

  • Purée the watermelon and add to a saucepan.
  • Mix the caster sugar and cornflour in a small bowl, then add in the rose water and a couple spoonfuls of watermelon. Mix until it forms a smooth paste.
  • Add the paste to the rest of the watermelon, and gently bring it to the boil, by which point the mixture should have thickened.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the cinnamon.
  • Pour the mixture into one big mould, or individual dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (or, ideally, overnight).
  • When it is ready to serve, garnish with the dark chocolate and pistachios (and jasmine flowers if you are using these). Buon appetito!

Watermelon, ricotta salata and mint salad (Insalata di anguria, ricotta salata e menta)

food for Ferragosto - watermelon salad with ricotta and min
Watermelon, ricotta salata, and mint salad | © Natalia Bell

Like a margherita pizza or caprese salad, this dish represents the colours of the Italian flag; the red watermelon, the white ricotta salata (salted ricotta) cheese, and the green mint. The sweetness of the watermelon, saltiness of the ricotta salata, and the freshness of the mint is the perfect balance of flavours. This salad can be enjoyed on its own, but it would also complement grilled meat or fish.

Ingredients (serves 4 to 6):

  • 1kg watermelon, sliced into cubes;
  • 150g ricotta salata cheese;
  • A small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped;
  • Extra virgin olive oil

Method:

  • Add the watermelon and mint to a large bowl, and crumble the ricotta salata on top. Drizzle a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil and stir everything together. Buon appetito!
Natalia Bell

Contributing Food Editor

Natalia is a lawyer who lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. In her spare time, she enjoys cooking for and enjoying food with the people she loves, and travelling. She has a particular interest in Italian cuisine and culture, having been fortunate enough to travel there every year whilst growing up. She speaks Italian, but is continually trying to improve her skills to a fully proficient level. She would love to live in Italy one day - but, in the meantime, she posts about food and Italy on her Instagram @buonappetitotutti

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