After moving house (twice!!) last year and having to sort through, amongst many other things, all of the books I’d accumulated over the years, I swore to myself that I would never buy another book. I’d only make an exception for children’s books for Turin Toddler (TT). If I wanted a book, I would check if it was available in eBook format first. No more clutter and superfluous things!
Needless to say, I haven’t kept my promise. There are just too many interesting cookbooks and books about food history that I’ve found myself buying recently. Of these, one in particular combines these two favoured genres of mine extremely well, The Medieval Kitchen: Recipes from France and Italy by Odile Redon, Francoise Sabban and Silvano Serventi. In this book, the recipes are accompanied by the historical background necessary to understanding what cookery was like in this period. They also explain the appeal of the foods and condiments used in medieval recipes. For example, the French and Italian aristocracy at the time prized spices and sugar. These exotic and expensive condiments were therefore added liberally to meat, game and fish dishes (yes, even sugar! At the time there was no distinction made between sweet and sour/savoury like there is today). It was basically a way for them to demonstrate their wealth and power.
Anyway, one of the recipes in this book, scapece da taverna, struck me immediately. It was clearly the ancestor of one of my favourite summer dishes, zucchine in carpione. The medieval recipe involved frying fish and onions and then leaving them to marinate in vinegar, wine, cloves, pepper and saffron. These days, in landlocked Piedmont, meat or chicken (optional!), zucchinis, onion, bay leaf and sage are fried and marinated instead. In the Middle Ages, this wouldn’t have been a recipe or dish in the strict sense of those words. It was a method of preservation. This preparation, born out of necessity, nevertheless appears to have appealed to many peoples’ tastebuds and lives on in Venetian saor, Ligurian scabeccio, Piedmontese carpione and southern Italian scapece.
I’m lucky enough to have a local macellaio di fiducia (literally, ‘trusted butcher’), Paolo (and his mother and aunt working alongside him), who love nothing more than keeping TT amused and dispensing cooking advice. They’re always curious about what I’m planning to make and last week, I told them about my intentions to make chicken with a side of zucchine in carpione. Naturally, they couldn’t resist sharing their method (remember, it’s not a strict recipe!) for making it.
- zucchinis (I used about 600 g but if you want to use more, that’s fine!)
- 1 onion
- 1 clove garlic
- 1 sprig sage leaves
- white wine vinegar
- white wine (N.B. to remove alcohol from wine, you’ll need to boil it)
- olive oil, for frying
- salt, to taste
- Chop onion in half and slice into smiles.
- Finely slice zucchinis lengthways.
- Fill large and deep frying pan with olive oil until about two centimetres high. Put frying pan on low to medium heat.
- When oil is hot add garlic and let it simmer until nice and golden. Remove from pan.
- Add a handful of zucchinis to pan (try not to overcrowd pan), a pinch of salt and cook until nice and golden. Transfer to plate lined with paper towels. (Repeat procedure until all zucchinis, onions and sprig of sage have been fried).
- Place zucchinis, onions and sprig of sage in a container. Pour vinegar and white wine until zucchinis, onions and sage are completely covered. (N.B. If you prefer the acidic taste of vinegar, use more vinegar. If you want a sweet hint to the marinade, use more white wine).
- Cover container with lid and leave to marinate in refrigerator for at least 5 hours before serving. (N.B. it’s actually better if you leave it for a day before serving)
- Serve cold, as an antipasto or as accompaniment to a main course dish.
N.B. Photos in this post updated on 22.07.2016. Recipe also published on Italy Magazine at this link.