La forma dell'acqua - The Shape of Water
I was introduced to Inspector Montalbano through the telemovies. Then I discovered the books were available in English and I have read every one. At the moment we are watching the TV prequel of the Young Montalbano. I dream of Sicily.
What is loosely called "Italian" food is my favourite cuisine and I love the way Sicilian food reflects the island’s climate and history. The trouble is, this particular book doesn’t mention many meals and no dish mentioned in this book inspired me. How to solve this mystery?
"I’m not Sicilian; I was born in Grosseto and came to Montelusa when my father was made prefect here." This is how the engineer’s widow begins her explanation about the phrase which leads Inspector Montalbano to the truth about Signor Luparello’s death and gives the book its title.
Taking my lead from Signora Luparello I looked up Grosseto and discovered it is a city and province in Tuscany in the Maremma area. Like the better known Pisa, Siena and Florence, Grosseto was an independent city state in the high Middle Ages and Renaissance. Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy informs me that the culinary specialities of Grosseto are turtle soup and a lamb soup made from heart, liver and lungs with plenty of bread and onions. Where I live turtles are endangered and a major tourist attraction. I have not checked the penalty for catching and cooking a turtle in Queensland but it likely includes jail time. As for Grosseto’s second speciality, the lamb soup had way too much offal for me. Like the Inspector, I sensed I was on the right track but thwarted.
Next I consulted La Cucina: the virtual bible of Italian regional cooking. There I read that acquacotta (cooked water) is the most typical and traditional dish of central Italy. It is a soup made from simple ingredients and is based on water (acqua) rather than broth or stock. The three fundamental ingredients are dry bread, olive oil and aromatic herbs, importantly nepitella or calamint. After that the other ingredients vary with local tradition and produce availability.
I have a kitchen garden with a selection of culinary herbs. Calamint was not one of them. I had never even heard of calamint! Glad for the long lead time for this CTB challenge several phone calls and some internet work led to a parcel delivery from a specialist herb nursery. Two little seedlings were planted and have thrived.
|Nepitella or Calamint|
Some of the acquacotta recipes in La Cucina include fish but most are vegetarian with the optional addition of an egg. The recipe I chose was collected in the Maremma region. It is something Signora Luparello might have eaten in the summer holidays when she was a girl visiting her parent’s farm in the Amiata, east of Grosseto.
Heat olive oil over a low heat, add a sliced medium onion and sauté until golden. Add aromatic herbs, sliced chard leaves and a little grated pecorino. Cook 2 minutes, then add red wine, passata and water. You may need to add more water if the mixture is too thick. Simmer for 15 minutes.
Line earthenware bowls with slices of toasted bread. Break an egg per person into the broth and gently poach them for 3 minutes. Ladle into the bowls and wait several minutes for the bread to soak up the liquid. Serve with more pecorino.