It is nice to be here. I am thrilled to be writing for The Guardian, the newspaper I have read all my reading life. But writing here feels like coming home after a long day somewhere unfamiliar: walking in the door (the day the cleaner has been), yanking off shoes and the short jumper you have been tugging at all day, then pulling on the most comfortable thing you own. I have you all to thank for this.
As promised, I am here to link to the column, Kitchen Sink Tales installment three. I also want to elaborate a recipe I mention, zucca alla scapece, marinated pumpkin. It is a recipe from Flavio, the owner of a trattoria called Flavio al Velavevodetto, which means something along the lines of Flavio of I told you so, a name retort to someone who thought Flavio would never open a trattoria. Which he did, a good one, burrowed into the base of Monte dei Cocci, Rome’s extraordinary manmade hill constructed in antiquity entirely from bits of broken terra-cotta amphorae, or cocci, that once contained olive oil. The Monte is moments from our flat, so the trattoria one of our locals. I called by a week or so ago, a mild October morning, and sat at an outside table looking up at the Monte covered with the grass and shrubs of centuries until Flavio arrived, and – never at a loss for words – told me about his morning (a blood test) and recipe.
Alla scapece comes from the spanish word escabeche, which means sousing something, usually vegetables or fish, in an acidic mixture before serving. In summer Flavio marinates fried coins of courgettes in olive oil, vinegar, garlic, chili and musty and fragrant Roman mint. In autumn, when blazing orange zucca is abundant he treats it similarly for a delicious sweet and sour antipasti. It is even more delicious when sharing a plate with another of Rome’s autumn treasures: puntarelle, chicory cut and crisped in iced water until it looks like Shirley Temple’s hair and then dressed with an opinionated anchovy, lemon and garlic dressing – it is part of the pleasure that the curls misbehave and you have a chin glistening with anchovy olive oil. I also like zucca alla scapece sitting on top of a pile of hot, peppery rocket.
For his Trattoria scapece Flavio deep-fries the zucca in oil. For a home cook, with a small, badly ventilated kitchen, he suggests oven roasting with olive oil, which is something I do often in autumn and winter, for risotto and soup. I am a big fan of cooking up things that provide the basis for two or three meals, so two trays of wrinkly roasted pumpkin it was. Some for risotto, the leftovers of which was rolled into arancini, the rest for scapece.
As with so many such dishes, and me, zucca alla scapece is better after a rest, a whole night even. Just remember to bring it back to room temperature and nudge the chunks in the dressing before you serve, with bread and a glass of wine that can hold its own.
Zucca alla scapece – Roasted sweet and sour pumpkin with garlic, chilli and mint
- 600 g pumpkin or squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into 15mm wedges.
- olive oil
for the dressing
- a big, fat clove of garlic
- a small dried chilli
- a small fistful of mint (ideally the small-leaved calamint/nepitella)
- 120 ml olive oil
- 1 – 2 generous tablespoons of red wine vinegar (depending on your taste)
Put the wedges of Pumpkin or squash in a baking tray, sprinkle with salt and zigzag over some olive oil. If you like, use your hands to rub the olive oil in. Roast at 200° for 30 – 40 minutes or until the wedges are tender and golden at the edges. Leave in the tin to cool.
Peel and very finely chop the garlic and chill, and tear the mint into little pieces with your fingers. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, chili, mint and a pinch of salt. Lay the pumpkin on a lipped plate, cutting larger pieces in two, even three, pour over the dressing and then use two spoons, or your hands to gently turn the wedges until they all glisten. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes, ideally an hour, turning a couple of times.
Zucca alla scapece is even better the next day, cover with clingfilm and keep in the fridge, but remember to pull it out at least 30 minutes before you want to eat it.
After all that, here is the link for this week’s Kitchen Sink Tales.
Also the link to Flavio al Velavevodetto. If you do decide to go, remember to book, and in the winter ask for a table in the main dining room which is burrowed into the Monte where glass panels allow you to see the astonishing layers of broken pot. Monte di Cocci is closed to the public, but there are tours, which means you can walk, clink by astonishing clink, up and over shards of broken amphorae and then take in mighty views of classical and, equally fascinating, industrial Rome. Katie Parla and Irene Ranaldi both lead excellent tours.