Zucchine alla scapece – this traditional Neapolitan dish of fried courgettes marinated in a vinegar solution, where fat slices of garlic and roughly torn mint leaves were added – remains my favourite way to eat courgettes to date.
When in Campania, I always order it when I see it on a restaurant menu, and I have even tried to reproduce it in my tiny apartment. It admittedly took me a little while to gather the guts to do it, but the first good occasion presented itself on an unusually chilly day in June, in the form of many small, crisp, lightly ridged Roman courgettes. Since then, though, frying courgettes have become some sort of celebratory ritual in our home. It is something we save for the odd rainy summer day when the breeze is fresh and flows freely, sweeping away the dreaded cooking odors.
My favourite chicken recipe of all times. It’s an riff on a recipe from A Book of Mediterranean Food by Elizabeth David: Pollo in Padella con Peperoni.
In her recipe David uses a whole chicken cut into pieces, while I tend to use just thighs, drumsticks, and sometimes wings. The dark meat of these cuts adds an extra dimension to the dish. It also helps balancing the sweetness of the sauce, to which a splash of white Vermouth is added (my call). In addition to the thyme and basil that the original recipe calls for, I included a few tarragon leaves: used sparingly, they really give freshness to the dish without covering the other flavours.
For years June marked the end of the school year and the beginning of a time that seemed to stretch infinitely. Long, sleepy days were filled with lots of reading and plenty of boredom – I now struggle to remember what that felt like.
June also stated the beginning of the procession to Grandma’s house to pick vegetables from her garden. As soon as the humid heat of the Venetian countryside had settled in for the following three months, the garden started to go bonkers in all possible good ways. Tomatoes and courgettes were popping up by the minute, and required daily watering and harvesting. Green and runner beans could grow too big and stringy in a couple of hours, and the lettuce would turn tough and inedible if not cut promptly.
The cucumbers, as long as my arm and almost as large, were also pretty needy, and the aubergines and peppers would become all wrinkly under the burning midday sun in a matter of minutes. In a mad rush against time, I was there almost every day, right before sunset or as soon as the temperature of the soil had decreased to a simmer rather than a boil. Each time, I was getting enough produce to make a side dish or salad for our family’s evening meal, as well as for lunch the following day. Usually more. We certainly ate way beyond the five-a-day.
The decadence and totally over-the-top nature of this pasta are what makes it so very good. I don’t say this lightheartedly: usually, Italian recipes are very much about the ‘less is more’ approach, and this is what I love about them the most. Yet, sometimes, piling it all up high is just the right thing to do. In the case of this recipe, for example, it works.
The base is a Roman-inspired spring concoction called vignarola. This is a dish made of fresh peas, broad beans, artichokes, sometimes lettuce, sometimes fresh herbs, others bits of guanciale for extra flavour – all braised in oil and white wine until tender and utterly flavoursome. Vignarola is often served on bread, which has the double purpose of carrier and sponge for absorbing the delightful juices left at the end. You can sometimes find vignarola served alongside some fresh ricotta, but mostly, it can hold the stage on its own.
We entered the deli in via Marmorata, in the bustling Roman neighbourhood of Testaccio, short after noon. A well-nourished crowd of locals was populating the tiny space, raising their voices to make themselves heard by the people serving behind the counter. All were waiting, more or less impatiently, to be served their daily dose of pecorino, guanciale, ricotta, and pizza bianca. We joined the crowd, famished after an early rise and a long train journey.
Testaccio is a great place to be for food, as good traditional trattorias, street food branches, delis, markets and bars aren’t short in the neighbourhood. From our previous Roman trip, we vaguely remembered there was a good deli on the main road linking the river to the Pyramid. Our well-seasoned plan was to just walk until we stumbled upon it. We eventually did and recognised it immediately for the bountiful displays of preserves, hams and whole cheeses in the window. And so, we joined the not-so-orderly queue and started to think about what we wanted for lunch.