In honor of Thanksgiving Dinner and it’s customary casserole of luscious sweet potatoes, I want to share with you a story that just may give this traditional side dish new status at your table (on a footed pedestal, perhaps?)
In October we traveled to Padua, Italy. I’d heard of the town; it’s just outside of Venice and the setting for Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew. But it’s even more.
Padua is known as a major center of learning in Europe. The University of Padua has a long list of incredible alumni: Galileo (the telescope guy), Casanova (the ultimate wooer of women), Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in all of Europe), and Gabriele Falloppio (yes, the man for whom the fallopian-tube is named ) to mention a few.
My husband’s research brought us to Padua for a two-week visit. We were warmly greeted and treated, and then came the excitement of a major invitation. Our host called saying, “I was able to get tickets for you to the AMERICAN SWEET POTATO FESTIVAL!”
Sweet potatoes? In Italy? A festival? We found that our friend was a sommelier, and he had been asked to pair the wines with the seven-course dinner planned for the evening. Each course was created around sweet potatoes. Needless to say, we were delighted and curious. Sweet potatoes?
So how did it happen that Padua celebrates the Sweet Potato? Well, the commune Anguillara Veneta is a very special place. Located in the Province of Padua in the Italian region Veneto, Anguillara Veneta is the confluence of two mighty rivers. The resulting land offers the ideal terrain for growing sweet potatoes; and thanks to the passion of the men who cultivate according to ancient traditions, these potatoes are known as some of the best and have been given a designation of DOP (protected origin denomination).
The Patata Americana Bianca Festival (American White Potato Festival) was held in an elegant old villa with 250 people in attendance. There were more than seven courses with beautiful presentations that each included the guest of honor, the sweet potato!
By the way, the Italian sweet potato is white! These pictures are a ‘tasting’ of the evening’s delight created by a local caterer, and it was truly a wonderful experience. Each course was unique and delicious, and it made me want to have my own party to pay homage to our beloved American version.
So whether you like yours mashed, whipped, with a marshmallow topping or pecans, take a moment as you take a bite to realize that the Sweet Potato is revered and loved around the world – especially in Italy! Be grateful you can easily have it at your dinner, and then serve it on a pedestal. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!