While I'm a pretty strident atheist, I've always had a huge fascination with catholic saints - the strange and mystical powers so many claimed to have, the gruesome deaths, the veneration of relics from pieces of cloth to pieces of foreskin that are housed in tremendously elaborate, beautiful, and mystifying shrines. I just love these guys and what better way to put that love to use than resurrecting the centuries-old tradition of the catholic feast days.
Essentially, every saint has a specific day where those who follow them feast in their remembrance. Most days have more than one saint to venerate, but I'm just choosing the most personally interesting to me. For each of these feast days I will be featuring a recipe that ties in to the saint's story and history - learn some cool cocktail party quips about some fascinating dead people, make some yummy food in their honor, and eat! That's really what all this is about, anyway.
So, Saintly Feasts feature the first: May 18, Saint Venantius of Camerino
Patron of: Camerino, Umbria, Italy
usually portrayed: hanging upside down with smoke/flames coming from his head
In 250 CE at the age of 15 after being accused of the crime of preaching, Saint Venantius was whipped within an inch of his life, his head was set on fire, he was tossed into a pit of lions, tossed off a cliff, beaten so that all his teeth fell from his head, and was then beheaded. At some point he died and a basilica was built outside of Camerino, Umbria where he was buried. Waters from a spring near this basilica could supposedly cure lepers. Which is cool, but not really as cool as this simple, raw Umbrian anchovy sauce or salsa d'acciughe which takes 5 seconds to throw together, turns into the prettiest pale yellow color, and can be used it for nearly anything - use it as a marinade, a baste for some grilled summer vegetables, or toss it with some pasta (this should cover about half a pound) and top with peccorino cheese. I added a roasted tomato to mine for a litlte extra umph. This recipe is adapted from Mary Ann Esposito's Ciao Italia in Umbria.
Salsa d'Ancciughe, Umbrian Anchovy Sauce (makes about 2/3 of a cup)
4 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil, drained
1 tablespoon capers in salt, rinsed and dried
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
2/3 extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1 large lemon
4 mint leaves
sea salt to taste
freshly ground black pepper to taste
Food-process this stuff up (not too much - you don't want to obliterare everything, just process a few seconds to mix and get everything minced) and then let it sit at room temperature for a few hours to marinate.
Now eat it up and don't forget to think of poor Saint Venantius' burning head while doing so!