All to­gether now

Com­mu­nal ovens may be a thing of the past, but the scent of this quintessen­tially Mediter­ranean cour­gette, potato and to­mato bake will bring peo­ple to­gether in any era ...

The Guardian - Cook - - A kitchen in Rome -

in­ter­est­ing: ideas about hos­pi­tal­ity and cel­e­bra­tion; the trip­tych of olive oil, grapes and wheat; the un­bri­dled use of lemons, se­same seeds and oregano; and an at­tach­ment to sim­ple, sea­sonal, every­day food. This dish is typ­i­cal. It is Greek, but also ex­actly like a Si­cil­ian dish my part­ner Vin­cenzo ate as a boy. I think it would make it­self at home any­where, es­pe­cially now when we are all en­joy­ing the sum­mer’s last sun-filled veg­eta­bles.

This dish was tra­di­tion­ally pre­pared at home, then taken to the baker to cook in the resid­ual heat of the cool­ing bread ovens, a habit that ceased as peo­ple got ovens at home. When we were in Si­cily, Vin­cenzo’s un­cle Li­bo­rio poked fun at my ide­al­ism for com­mu­nal bak­ing. He had plenty of sto­ries of how nasty life could be: burns, mis­taken dish iden­tity, the wal­lop­ing slap on the back of the head he got from his mum if he was late.

But the spirit of the dishes cooked in bread ovens per­sists when we make them at home; when we put dis­parate ingredients, sea­son­ing and enough liq­uid to­gether in one dish, then let time and heat work their alchemy.

Pre­heat your oven to 190C/375F/ gas mark 5. Wash and top and tail the cour­gettes. Cut into discs more or less the thick­ness of a pound coin. Peel the potatoes, to­ma­toes, onion and the garlic if you are us­ing it.

Put all the veg­eta­bles in a large bak­ing tin, sea­son with salt, pepper and oregano, if us­ing. Driz­zle with oil, then mix it to­gether with your hands. Pour the water into one cor­ner. Bake for 1–1½ hours, mixing ev­ery 20 min­utes or so, and mak­ing sure some potatoes come to the top for the fi­nal 20 min­utes, so they are crisp – you can raise the heat for the last 20 min­utes. Serve at room tem­per­a­ture with sheep’s cheese (feta or ri­cotta salata).

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