Rachel Roddy Tales from an Ital­ian kitchen

The Guardian - Feast - - Feast -

Cour­gettes with mint and gar­lic

For the past 10 years, my best cook­book pur­chases have been from Ox­fam on Lon­don’s Maryle­bone High Street and the Mer­catino dell’Usato in Mon­teverde in Rome. I visit both as of­ten as pos­si­ble, al­ways feel­ing the same high on book-buy­ing en­dor­phins as I make a bee­line for the cook­ery shelves.

Ox­fam is small: you have only to walk a few steps, pass­ing mostly women’s coats and Fair­trade choco­late, to get to the cook­book sec­tion. It’s harder at the Mer­catino, which is a ware­house of an­tiques and junk. My cook­book en­dor­phin, though, is stronger than the one for Apu­lian plates and man­nequins. Will the shelves be the same as the last time, or will there be new arrivals? Has that first edi­tion of A Feast of Floyd been bought?

While new books smell crisp and inky, sec­ond­hand books smell like old wardrobes and vanilla, and come with a his­tory: the im­me­di­ately ob­vi­ous one, a name in­scribed in­side the cover, scrib­bles in the mar­gin or a fringe of Pos­tit notes; but also the clues that make you feel like a de­tec­tive – the folds and creases, a smudge of sauce or oily print. Pa­tri­cia Wells’ Bistro Cook­ing (one of a five-book haul from Ox­fam) be­longed to Siob­han in 1993: there are Post-its mark­ing bagna cauda, tartelettes aux pommes and mon gateau au cho­co­lat which, ac­cord­ing to the mar­gin notes, is “v good”, “needs 35 mins” and to “see Gary Rhodes page 233”. The mark in a €1 copy of La Cucina Napo­le­tana by Jeanne Caròla Francesconi is both less and more ob­vi­ous – it sim­ply fell open on page 196, at a recipe for zuc­chine a “scapece”.

Alla scapece, like saor in Venice and car­pi­one in the north of Italy, is a tech­nique of cook­ing fish or veg­eta­bles by first fry­ing and then cov­er­ing them in a mari­nade of vine­gar, aro­mat­ics and herbs. The ori­gin of the word is Span­ish

– es­cabeche – a re­minder of the Span­ish in­flu­ence in Ital­ian cook­ing, and dishes cooked alla scapece are of­ten typ­i­cal of port towns in which this in­flu­ence first ar­rived with hun­gry mer­chant sailors.

The zuc­chine a scapece of Naples is pretty much the recipe I learned in Rome. Fry 3mm rounds of cour­gette in a cou­ple of inches of hot oil un­til lightly golden – olive oil, if you can, as it tastes bet­ter, oth­er­wise veg­etable oil – blot, then cover with mari­nade. The new thing, for me, with this recipe is the way you make the mari­nade: you boil vine­gar (say 150ml for 1kg of cour­gettes) with the same amount of wa­ter, two peeled sliced cloves of gar­lic and a crum­bled red chilli for five min­utes, be­fore pour­ing it, while still hot, along with some of the fry­ing oil, over the cour­gettes lay­ered with lots of mint and a lit­tle salt. Like the stuffed cour­gettes I wrote about a cou­ple of weeks ago, the mint is vi­tal, like a breath of fresh air up against the soft, oily cour­gette, vine­gar rasp and heat of the chilli. With bread, salami, olives and cheese, zuc­chine a scapece are one of the great­est an­tipasti, but also ex­cel­lent with fish or stuffed into a sand­wich. The book sug­gests a 24-hour wait, but a few hours will do, and I have noted that in the mar­gin of my copy.

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