The countryside of central Italy comes alive in the fall with the rhythm of the olive harvest. The annual event can last for weeks depending upon the weather, and this year’s torrential rains delayed things well into our arrival in Umbria last week. This made our stay at our last farm, Malvarina, particularly special, because we were able to help out and join in the fun. On a narrow and winding street flanked on both sides by thousands of olive trees and aptly named “Via degli Ulivi (olive street), Malvarina has a large grove of trees. The entire street is lined with the cars and mopeds of the families picking their olives and the shouting and laughter of Italians at work fills the air. Large nets are spread out below the trees and air compressed clappers are used to knock the olives from the higher branches while hand rakes remove the lower lying fruit. There is a smooth and efficient system to the process that involves designated roles that has the nets being moved from tree to tree in perfect timing with one tree’s completion. As the pickers move onto the next tree, the netters gather all of the fallen olives and scoop them into large burlap sacks.
At the end of the day the sacks are collected and brought to the mill where it gets pressed for oil. It’s hard work but a great experience to be a part of and we found that our favorite part was definitely lunch. In typical Italian fashion, we would break everyday at one, and go back to the farmhouse. Everyone would sit down together at a long wooden table set with jugs of wine, baskets of bread, and bottles of neon green just pressed oil, for a four-course harvest feast. Flushed with fresh country air and the shared comradeship of the harvest, we were sad to see our time at Malvarina end. Here’s a simple country dish from one of the lunches that was one of our favorites.
Recipe: Chicken Casareccio
- 1 3 lb. chicken cut up into eight pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes lightly crushed by hand
1 sprig rosemary
- Season both sides of chicken generously with salt and pepper.
Heat the oil in a 12-inch straight-sided sauté pan over medium heat, and when shimmering place chicken parts skin side down.
When browned, about five minutes, flip over and continue to cook another three minutes and remove to a separate plate and turn heat to high.
Add wine and stir with a wooden spoon, scraping any browned bits stuck to bottom of pan. When liquid is reduced by half, add pepper flakes, tomatoes, and rosemary.
Return chicken to pan and cover and continue to cook for forty-five minutes.
Serve with plenty of crusty chewy bread.