“It’s the best of days”, wrote the poet Catullus in the 1stcentury B.C. with regard to Saturnalia, the festival ancient Romans held on the days before the winter solstice. And it’s my opening banquet of the festive season a little ahead of December, as on these days we are never too early to shine light in our hearts and stomachs, when the sky is at its darkest and the sun at its minimum.
We conquer the sun at our table with extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, coloured berries, the sweet of honey and balsamic vinegar, the twist of sage and pungency of pepper. Then, with the aid of such aristocratic companions and no sacrifice of human or living beings (no gladiators’ or pets’ blood here), we overthrow social order and norm by placing on the throne
for the whole month to come one of the most humble peasants, the Brussels Sprout, and let it rule our dining room.
Here is our King of Saturnalia: a young veg ignorant of gentility and of the mundane world, that I leave in the oven cut in halves and coated with all the bounty mentioned before for half an hour, so that it changes its odour from stable to Capitolium. So did the Roman citizens of the Republic and the Emperors later do, by appointing a person within the people, or a slave, to give orders for a set time and be moderators of crazy days and nights. But they left this remarkable task unfinished: the seasonal kings were put back into fetters at the end of the month, where they stayed hidden and tame for the rest of the year.
I wish the Brussels Sprout was at the centre of our attention and desires always and not only on Saturn’s days, and to elevate its aesthetics and pleasantness there is one simple step to be done: it must be baked or microwaved, not boiled, then dressed in the most delicious ways. The benefits cannot be counted, as it strength can prevent all sorts of nasty things.
Some Christmas cakes, and I mention some Italian ones – Panettone from Milan, Pandoro from Verona, Crustoli from Puglia and the Neapolitan Pastiera, to say just a few in hundreds – are under the same unfair rule: they appear just before the solstice and fade away on the Twelfth night, or Epiphany day, when three biblical kings come visit with gold, incense and myrrh. I pray for them to stay and to sit at the same rank of everyone else, for no more social hierarchy all year round, as in the mythical Golden Age of Saturn.
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