In the valley below my in-laws’ house in Manfredonia, there is a sea of prickly pear cactus, and this time of year they are overburdened with multicolored fruit. They tell me at one time, the whole area was covered with them. In the mornings, I often saw older men walking through the cactus valley, picking fruit that belongs to no one, and later selling it on the streets. The first time I ever tried a fico d’India (Indian fig) was in Palermo, Sicily in 2003. Even in November, they were still selling this brightly-colored fruit on the street. In Italy, this fruit is most abundant in Sicily, but it can also be found in Calabria and Puglia.
When I dragged S down in the valley with me to take pictures, one of the men I’d seen in the mornings watched us from above.
As we neared the cactus, he leaned over the railing and yelled, “Giovanotto! (Young’in!) You’ll hurt your hands, they’re full of spines!”
We had just come back from the beach, so I was definitely tempting fate wandering down in my cover-up and flip flops, but I waved the camera at him and assured him I wouldn’t be touching anything as we picked our way through the sticky obstacle course.
Ivonne, from Cream Puffs in Venice has served as a big inspiration for me in cooking and blogging. The Festa al Fresco (hosted with Lis) 2006 was the first event that I really sat up and paid attention to, that really inspired me to get off my duff and get cooking. Last year, I made Stracchino, Pomodorini e Olive Crostini – a simple and fresh appetizer that could be made in minutes. This year, it’s no different – far from being hot comfort food that warms your insides, the Festa al Fresco reminds us of a time when eating is about fresh and fast – comforting ourselves in the kitchen is not as feasible when temperatures are high and muggy.
Fichi d’India, or Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit, are full of seeds and many people ingest the entire fruit without separating seeds from pulp. The most common use of this fruit, other than eating it fresh, is making preserves with it, and there are many recipes for marmelata di fichi d’india (prickly pear jelly) online.
Fichi d’India – Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit Vinaigrette
4 Fichi d’India, spines removed (about 1/2c. fruit juice)
1/4c. olive oil (not extra virgin) or other vegetable oil
1/4c. white wine vinegar
1 T. sugar
1 t. salt
Fresh ground pepper
- To cut and extract the fruit from the skin, cut off both ends and slice once through the fruit lengthwise. You can then peel the skin back from the fruit and extract the insides. Il Manfredoniano has an excellent video on how the local sellers clean cactus fruit in literally seconds. They keep them soaking in water beforehand.
- After you’ve extracted the fruit, mash them to extract the juice from the seeds. If you want to have a little fun, use your hands and squeeze them yourself! Strain the mixture through a fine collander/sieve, continually squishing to extract as much juice as you can.
- In a bowl or salad dressing shaker, pour the ingredients together and shake/stir vigorously.
Variations: – add oregano or lemon juice, use it on your Insalata Caprese or to spice up a bean salad. It’s pretty subtle so don’t use an extra virgin olive oil or you will overpower it. This vinaigrette also goes good on fruit as well.
Make sure you check the Festa al Fresco round-ups on Ivonne and Lis’ sites. For another idea to use Fichi D’India, Ilva from Lucullian Delights makes prickly pear juice!