15 June 2008

I'll try anything once.

OK, so you just know I had to taste the bovoletti. And yes, it turns out this is snail season. These are actually pests – they show up while the carciofi (artichokes) are growing. They must be plucked off the plants. Some brave farmer (much like M.F.K. Fisher’s first oyster-eater) figured out they are sweet and tender when gently cooked. So I guess this was a case of “When Life hands you lemons…”

If you buy bovoletti, remember to keep them in a vented container from which they cannot escape! Otherwise you’ll have snails all over your kitchen: they are slow but determined creatures (and kinda cute, which makes it hard to kill them later). According to my fishmonger, who considers himself something of an authority, this is the way to cook them:

Bring a pot of water to a near-boil. Run cold water over the bovoletti in a colander several times to get rid of all the slime. They will tuck themselves tightly into their shells. When the water almost boils, turn the flame down very low. Absolutely do not put a speck of salt in the water! This will make tough, curled snails that are impossible to remove from the shells. Add the bovoletti. Do not permit the water to boil – it should just simmer. Watch carefully. The bovoletti will float to the top like gnocchi when they’re done. Scoop them out as they pop up. Drain well. Pluck them from their shells and eat them with (what else?!) finely minced garlic and parsley warmed in good olive oil or butter or both, maybe a trace of lemon juice. No salt necessary, but cracked pepper is good.

My verdict? Tasty, yes, but a lot of fiddling around for a small payoff. About seventy bovoletti yielded only a scant half teacupful of snips of snails, and a final slurp of very good broth.