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 ...
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).