With summer almost upon us, zucchini have begun appearing at our local farmers market. Indeed, seeing them there last week brought back memories of two childhood dishes my aunt would always make throughout the summer. One of these was a zucchini salad with fresh mint and garlic dressed simply with vinegar and olive oil, which I wrote about here last year. The other was zucchini a scapece, which uses the same ingredients but a different preparation that gives the dish its name. The Italian “scapece” is a derivative from the Spanish word, “escabeche,” used for a variety of foods marinated in vinegar after cooking.
“Delicious simply” perfectly describes the pan-grilled pork chops from Mark Bittman’s best-selling tome How to Cook Everything. The recipe epitomizes simple cooking that exploits salt, fat, acid, and heat to yield some of the best pork chops I’ve ever had. Indeed, after preparing this dish, I better understand the popularity of Samin Nasrat’s award-winning Netflix series eponymously named for the same culinary elements.
Recently, I’ve been reading two mid-century cookbooks: one by Jeanne Carola Francesconi, La Cucina Napoletana (1965), considered by many to be the bible on Neapolitan cooking; the other by Elizabeth David, Italian Food (1954), one of the first English-language books to emphasize authenticity and seasonality in its exploration of the subject.
Frequent cooking at home typically yields a variety of odds and ends in the fridge: a handful of mushrooms, a small piece of cheese, a few herbs, a cup of sauce. For us, ingredients like these usually wind up in a frittata or a pasta. Such was the case the other night when, while cleaning out the fridge, I found some uncooked tomato sauce and a three-ounce piece of mozzarella left over from making a pizza a few days before.
I don’t know exactly why, but it seems that when I make a homemade pizza, everything seems OK. Maybe it’s my Neapolitan heritage, but when the simplest of ingredients come together and cook in just a matter of minutes, for me, all’s well with the word.
Let others enjoy the “gourmet,” multi-topping pizzas so popular today; for me, a plain Margherita is the only way to go.
Wine Pairing: Gragnano, Dry Lambrusco
In a house with a kitchen dominated by two women, one Sicilian (my mother), the other Neapolitan (my aunt), it was rare that my father took to the stove. Born around Naples and coming to the States when he was around 10 years old, he only cooked twice that I remember. And only once did he share a recipe with me. (I can’t remember why but no one else was at home.) It was a recipe so simple that he must have leaned it as a child back in his home town, Cappacio, in the province of Salerno.
After numerous requests from my husband for stuffed cabbage, I set out to make the dish. The recipe is from a now cancelled series on the Cooking Channel that featured Laura Calder, a Canadian chef who focused on French cuisine. In fact, I had made this dish with some success about five years ago; however, last night’s attempt was an epic failure.
Some of the responsibility for my culinary mega flop is mine. Rather than buying the savoy cabbage called for by the recipe, I mistakenly purchased a Napa, or Chinese, cabbage since it was marked “Savoy” on the shelf.
Failing to go shopping on Sunday left us with limited choices for supper. Sure, we had plenty of pasta and cheese on hand, but I had served pasta the night before. There were also a few dishes we had in the freezer, but defrosting would take too long. A search through the fridge yielded a fresh supply of eggs that eventually led me to prepare a long-time favorite: Uova in Purgatorio, or Eggs in Purgatory.
Serendipity triggered this post. A few weeks ago, a loyal reader in a comment recommended Mario Batali’s 2005 cookbook, Molto Italiano, averring it to be his best ever. I ordered a used copy of it online, and on the day it arrived in the mail, my supermarket had a half-price sale on pork that made a 4.3 perfectly butchered shoulder roast irresistible. This confluence of events ultimately led me to a recipe in Batali’s book for “Braised Pork Black Rooster.” The barnyard moniker derives from the Gallo Nero, Italian for “black rooster,” the emblem of the consortium for Chianti Classico, the wine called for in the recipe. Given my predilection for Chianti, I simply had to make this dish.
A frittata, an Italian omelet, was one of my family’s go-to dishes for Friday suppers or Lenten meals, when as devout Catholics, we needed to abstain from meat. I remember how my aunt hovered over the frying pan in which she had just sauteed the fritatta’s filling, which ranged from onions and peppers to left-over spaghetti to potatoes, to even a hunk of fresh ricotta. Using a wooden spoon, she would gently push the setting eggs towards the center of the pan, allowing the uncooked portion to take their place.