Lumache have been eaten in various European regions since prehistoric times and were highly regarded by the cultures of classic antiquity. Ancient Romans were known to cultivate special vineyards in which the snails could feast and fatten. They’ve also been eaten in the Orient since times immemorial. Despite their popularity in both Italy and China, they seldom, if ever, turn up on Chinese or Italian restaurant menus in America, perhaps because Americans tend to associate snails with French gastronomy.
The widely known varieties today include the petit-gris. Fresh snails are available year round and can be found in specialty markets. If you cannot find fresh snails, other sea critters such as whelks or even conch work well in recipes. In a pinch, you can always use canned snails.
In Pianello, Marche, they celebrate the Sagra della Lumaca, which features an outdoor snail eating festival, complete with music and dancing.
You can purchase live snails at Wild Edibles in New York City. Make sure to call beforehand as they take a couple of days to arrive after ordering.
To prepare live snails for use, sprinkle bread crumbs over the bottom of a cardboard box or tightly woven basket (both should be tightly covered– despite their reputation for being painfully slow moving, snails can actually cover more ground than you would think). Place the snails in the box and let them rest for 24 hours, during which time they will begin to cleanse their digestive tracks. Next, wash them well in cold running water and then thoroughly drain them. Clean out the basket or box, sprinkle again with break crumbs and allow the snails to purge themselves over an additional five day period, cleaning and sprinkling the container with fresh breadcrumbs daily.
Rinse the snails well and then follow the instructions for our spaghetti with snails.