Lucca, June 2022 . London, August 2022. This has been the best, most rewarding recipe of this summer. Just love it
I am a bread collector. All those stale loaf-ends (apparently called “the heels”) that cannot be eaten but cannot be turned into breadcrumbs either, I put aside – “I will make a bread pudding or a pancotto, an Italian bread soup”, I solemnly declare. P and Lucia roll their eyes, because they know their chickens: often these grand plans are not acted upon and, after weeks of ignoring it, I bin my bread, with a bad conscience.
This time, I looked at my collection of odd ends of bread and I decided to make polpette di pane, bread polpette and what an inspired decision that was. Over the last month I have cooked them a few times, actually buying and collecting bread with this purpose in mind.
Update: summer 2022, Lucca: with top Italian pomodorini this dish is even more spectacular. I noticed they improve after a good rest, i.e. the day after they were even better.
It is now summer, or at least this is what the calendar says; it has been raining for days here in London and the sky is grey, an elegant pearly shade of grey, but grey nonetheless. Not fun. To raise my endorphins, I decided to make this Apulian tomato sauce, pomodorini scattarisciati, literally crackling tomatoes (in the local dialect) — vibrant, intensely tomatoey and uplifting.
In Italian cookery terms, when you cook something “in fricassea”, it means that you add egg yolks that you have already mixed with lemon juice to a hot, cooked dish, at the very end, generally off the heat. The yolks thicken and become a velvety, lemony sauce that enrobe the other ingredients. The trick, obviously, is not to scramble them.It is a Northern Italian cookery technique that always delivers a subtle elegance to the final dish. Typically, it is rabbit, veal, chicken and lamb, that are cooked “in fricassea” , the meat first being braised “in bianco”, without tomatoes. Some vegetables too can be cooked “in fricassea”: artichokes, peas, mushrooms, carrots, courgettes, broad beans and asparagus.
Update May 2022: it is that time of the year again – courgette bonanza. Time to make scarpaccia, both as a dessert and as a savoury tart.
It took a leap of faith and my avid curiosity to try this cake: could a basic sweet batter and some grated courgettes make a good cake? No nuts, no sultanas, no spices…really? A resolute “yes!” is the answer.
This is a most unusual and excellent cake come dessert: delicate, plain and light, but not at all boring, with a delicious custardy quality. Burnished golden outside, yellow with specks of green inside, it is also pretty. Scarpaccia means “nasty/old shoe” and no one really knows why such an uninspiring name; it is possibly something to do with the appearance of this dessert: a genuine scarpaccia should be a fairly thin and crusty affair – like an old, over-worn shoe. It is the contrast between the sugary and crusty exterior (due to a good drizzle of olive oil) and the custardy, vanilla scented interior that make this unposessing looking dessert sing.
A savoury pie typical of Garfagnana and Lunigiana, those mountainous areas in between North Tuscany, South Liguria and west Emilia Romagna, sparsely populated, traditionally poor (hence their rather sombre style of cooking), thickly covered in chestnut tree woods (hence the many dishes based on chestnuts, once called “the bread of the poor”, because they were free and highly nutritious) and where mushrooms and wild boars are still abundant. It is farro, however, or emmer (Triticum dicoccum), a type of wheat, that is perhaps the most celebrated produce of this part of Italy.