The Rain Chaser: Mandarino-glazed Olive Oil Cake with Yogurt
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♪ These are a Few of My Favorite Things ♩ ♬

This time of year, "my favorite things" have nothing to do with Christmas (well, with one exception), but with the seasonal products that we can only find NOW!

-1Who is better than Babbo Natale?  The Orange Man!  As soon as the temperatures start dipping, I keeps my eyes peeled, waiting patiently for his truck to appear one day on the side of the road.  My particular orange man comes up from Sicily a few times a week, loaded with the sweetest oranges, mandarins and lemons.  Just take a look at this picture - the mandarin is the one on the left - it is as big as a baseball!  You won't find those in the supermarket!

0f7c0af249d611e2aee522000a9f15b9_5Oranges make me think of one thing:  head cheese or coppa di testaLocally produced coppa is usually only made in the winter, hence the orange zest which is a fundamental ingredient.  Pigs were traditionally butchered this time of year to make salumi (which would then be ready for Easter) - the coppa is instead a fresh product, all the bits from the head boiled and pressed instead of being cured.  When I first moved to Umbria, I could only eat this sliced microscopically thin and laid over hot bruschetta so everything would pretty much just melt away.... but I've graduated  - now I request thick cut slabs!

-2From boiled pigs head, we move on to the hunchbacks, or cardoons, known as gobbi.  Here they are massive - this one came in at 85 cm - that's almost 3 feet long!  They are called hunchbacks because as they grow, their leaves are folded (hunched) over to blanch the stalks - this keeps them tender.  Parmigiana di Gobbo (cardoon parmigiana) is a staple on most families' Christmas menus - it is an arduous labor of love and I will post the recipe later.

-4Next on my list of favorites, is really 2 things:  The persimmon tree and it's fruit.  I love persimmon or cachi trees - they kind of remind me of a Charlie Brown Christmas tree - barren and leafless with a few random ornaments hanging off... But instead of Christmas balls, they are a wonderful fruit... a fruit which is not ready to eat (according to Italian standards) until it is splitting open with ooze and looks almost rotten with the beginnings of fruit flies - appetizing, huh?  but, yes, worth the wait of the ripening process!

-3Finally.  They have arrived straight from Milan.  Carefully wrapped in golden paper - just taunting me - forcing me to wait anxious like a child for Christmas morning:  Panettone.  I didn't really get what the big deal about panettone was until I had one from an artisan Milanese producer.  Panettone needs butter, and even the best Umbrian panettoni can't compete with those from Milan (trust me, I've tried them all and I know these Umbrians are sneaking olive oil into theirs, or just not using enough butter!).  Just 6 days left until I can sink my teeth into that fluffy, airy, buttery, citrus scented wonderfulness!

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