Category Archives: Food misc

Mamoosh pittas and the question of artisan food

Real pittas from Mamoosh

When making food by hand to sell direct to the public, one thing you will almost certainly argue about with yourself – and possibly with friends and family too – is pricing. Despite Britain being a place where we idolise chefs, buy recipe books in bulk, sit glued to food-themed TV, and like to fantasise about the artisan food producer life, most people still buy most of their food from supermarkets. And supermarkets are very much a product of the post-World War 2, post-rationing hunger for cheapness and plenty, quantity over quality.

Any artisan food producer has to compete with this.

Einat Chalmers of Mamoosh rolling pittas

Einat Chalmers runs Mamoosh1 out of small bakery within an industrial in Newhaven, on the East Sussex coast. Her main product is pitta2 bread. She sells four for £2. This seems like a bargain to me, but then I’m a middle-class stereotype who tries to eschew industrial food. People, even friends, criticised my prices when I sold Italian biscuits on the market, but my margins were very narrow, and the time it takes to handmake real food is a world away from the time it takes for a factory to spit out industrial food.

Scaling brioche buns by hand

Einat has some professional kit but is essentially making her pitta by hand: dividing the dough, shaping the balls, feeding a small dough roller, laying them on trays to prove, then dropping them onto her new addition: a proper pitta oven. Then removing them by hand too. With a supermarket’s pitta, the dough is almost certainly not touched by hand at all as it moves through an automated production process in a factory, not a bakery.

And frankly supermarket pitta tastes like cardboard; a conclusion I reached years ago and one that’s affirmed every time I eat Einat’s bread. Never mind that many will find the result indigestible; not because they can’t eat wheat, but because industrial bread doughs simply aren’t proved for long enough.

Mamoosh brioche buns

Einat, who grew up in the north of Israel close to Lebanon, sells her delicious pitta on the markets in Lewes. They’re a key part of my family’s diet these days. My fussy son calls it “pocket bread” and it’s a good way to get him to eat something filling. Einat also makes brioche buns to supply The Pig and Jacket, who do pulled pork and hog roast, and croissants and Danish, which she sells at the smaller market in Newhaven. She says she turns out up to around 250 brioche buns and 900 pitta a week but is gradually expanding. The latter production is helped by that pitta oven.

Mamoosh croissants, pain au chocolate and Danish pastries proving

I’ve never seen one before but it’s a great bit of kit, gas elements heat a large rotating disc of cast iron from below, while other flames brown the pittas from above. Einat says she was encouraged to invest in one by her restaurateur father in Israel, and when I visited the bakery I got a great sense of its efficacy. It heats to about 450-500C (a temperature similar to that found in a wood-fired pizza oven) in about 10 minutes. About a dozen pittas can fit on the disc and the rotation takes about a minute. The results are great: pocketed but puffy and tender, an entirely different animal to the abovementioned cardboard pittas more familiar to British supermarket shoppers. They may cost about 50p for six, but to my mind that’s a false economy: not only are they poor quality in terms of ingredients and production process, they’re also barely edible for anyone who’s even vaguely discerning about the bread they eat.

Pitta oven

Einat, who trained as a chef at the French Culinary Institute and interned in bakeries in New York in the late 1990s, taught herself sourdough and pitta at home. She’s lived in Sussex with her Scottish husband for about 15 years and worked on and off for Brighton’s Real Patisserie before starting her pitta business. I think she’s really onto something. I urge anyone who’s in Lewes for the food markets to check out her pitta, they’re one of those foods that very tellingly highlights the difference between real, handmade products and industrial crap. One of those products that, in a mouthful, qualifies and justifies the price differences3.

Mamoosh pittas are available at the Friday morning food market, in the Lewes Market Tower, from Talicious falafel stall, or you can get them straight from Einat’s Mamoosh stall at the Lewes farmers market on the first and third Saturday of every month. I’m eating some now with some of my hummus as I hit “Publish”.

Pittas baking

Mamoosh pittas and other products are available (as of April 2017):
At the Lewes Farmers Market, morning of first and third Saturday of the month, the Precinct, High Street, Lewes BN7 2AN, where Einat has a stall.
At the Lewes Food Market, every Friday morning at the Market Tower, BN7 2NB.
At the Hillcrest Country Market, every Thursday morning, the Hillcrest Centre, Newhaven BN9 9LH.

Footnotes
1 Einat explains the name thus: “Mamoosh comes from the word mummy (mother), probably introduced by the Polish Jews and become part of the Hebrew slang. “e use it mainly as a slang for sweetie, darling, honey, dear.”

2 In English pitta or pita is borrowed from the modern Greek πίτα. As it’s a transliteration, presumably there are arguments for both spellings. Indeed, the Greek word can also be translated as pie or cake. Older etymology of the word is contested so can’t help.

3 This is a tangent but just to preemptively respond to any criticism that I’m writing simply from a naive middle-class position, here’s a little more food for thought. Many people say that only the better-off can eat what I call real foods, and the poorer are dependent on cheap industrial produce, often frozen or in the form of ready meals, from budget supermarkets etc. This is obviously a complex issue but a story I read in the i newspaper on 2 March seemed to confirm something I’ve long thought – if you base your diet on fresh veg, grains, pulses, don’t expect red meat with every meal and don’t throw away food (itself an enormous issue, and one of the things that will bring about the downfall of our society), you can eat more affordably.

The article quotes from a report by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), “the UK’s original free-market think-tank”, and its author says, “A diet of muesli, rice, white meat, fruit and vegetables is much cheaper than a diet of Coco Pops, ready meals, red meat, sugary drinks and fast food. The idea that poor nutrition is caused by the high cost of healthy food is simply wrong.” The IEA is not a body I know well, and it’s of neoliberal disposition and I’ve not read the original report, so I’m slightly wary of quoting from it.

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Filed under Bakeries, Breads, Discussion, Food misc

Italian names for fish and seafood

Since I moved to Rome in August 2011, I’ve been keeping a list of the names for fish and seafood I encounter on market stalls and restaurant menus. Then I try to learn the English name for said fish. It’s a challenge though. As not only do common names change from region to region in Italy, but the same names are often applied to different species, most notably merluzzo, which, according to Italian Wikipedia, can refer to 15 species.

Basically, I’ve been utilising both the English and Italian versions of Alan Davidson’s ‘Mediterranean Seafood’ (aka ‘Il Mare in Pentola’), the classic book that comprehensively tackles of the subject of seafood nomenclature. (Although I do occasionally carry ‘Il Mare in Pentola’ with me at the market, it’s not very convenient when I’m out and about and end up in a restaurant: this list, on the other hand, I can access through my phone.)

I’ve also been cross-referencing both the English and Italian language versions of Wikipedia. Say what you like about Wikipedia, but it is constantly peer-reviewed by a vast number of contributors, so it can’t be all wrong – plus Davidson’s first did his work in the 1960s and even with later imprints, the updating process just isn’t as dynamic as that on Wikipedia. I’m also using other sources, both online and offline (like a poster I bought of seasonal fish species).

Please note though, I’m doing this more for linguistic and bloody-minded reasons. I’m not doing it as an overt exercise in seafood ethics. That said, many of these species are not sustainable, and shouldn’t really be eaten these days. Seafood sustainability is an issue there just wasn’t much awareness of when Davidson first wrote his book in the 1960s, and it still doesn’t really get a look-in even in the 2002 English or 2005 Italian editions that I have.

Greenpeace produces a Red List of fish to avoid. It’s handy as it simply lists the fish. They are also US and NZ specific versions, among others. A more comprehensive Red List is produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It’s not as user-friendly for consumers as you have to search by specific name (preferably a Latin, scientific name). Their database does however provide very detailed information; look, for example, at the entry for Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus.

Back to practicalities: I’m doing fish (including some of the fresh water varieties I encounter), crustaceans and cephalopods together alphabetically, not in any separate categories. And I’m not going to list all the regional, dialect names Davidson mentions, though if you search here they may well be included alongside the standard Italian name. I’m also including a few bits of terminology, just cos.

Italian names are given in the singular form. Though (very) generally in Italian masculine nous ending in –o are pluralised –i, and feminine nouns ending in –a are pluralised with –e, there are exceptions, so I’ve included some for clarity. Note, for example, pesce (“fish”) is masculine, and becomes pesci in the plural.

Caveat: This whole undertaking is a minefield, linguistically and ethically. This list isn’t comprehensive, expert or entirely accurate. It’s just me trying to learn the names of fish I see used in Rome, and relate them to common English names. I’m British, so I’m talking about relating them to British English common names (which are more standardised than Italian common names, though not entirely standardised). But I’m also giving the principle scientific name for species, which can then be utilised to find common names in say, American English.

Please do comment or contact me though if you see something that you really don’t agree with. This is an ongoing project and I plan to keep revising it and honing it.

A
acciuga (plural acciughe) – European achovy. See alice.
acqua dolce – “sweet water”, that is freshwater. So freshwater fish are called pesce d’acqua dolce.
alice (plural alici) – the European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus). Some of the regional names are more similar to the English word anchovy or our more generic word for small, oily forage fish sardine, such as the Veneto’s anchiò and sardon, though this is an area of potential confusion as Engraulis encrasicolus isn’t considered a sardine species.
alalunga – see tonno alalunga.
alletterato – see tonno alletterato.
allevato in un vivaio – bred in a hatcher, fish farm
aluzzo – European/Mediterranean barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena) aka luccio marino, luccio di mare, luzzo.
anguilla – eel, or more specifically the European eel (Anguilla anguilla – gotta love those tautonyms). Saw a big tub of these, alive, on the market just the other day.
aragosta – spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas). Also know as aligusta, aliusta (Lazio, Marche, abruzzo); agosta, langusta, grillo de mar (Veneto); ravosta, rausta (Campania); arausta, ariusta, laustra (Sicilia).
argentina – argentine (Argentina sphyraena).
aringa (plural aringhe) – herring, or more specifically Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Not a Mediterranean fish, but here in Rome there are smoked (affumicata) herring fillets available in the supermarket and I’ve even seen kipper-like affairs in specialist food shops or on the market in certain seasons.
astice – European lobster, common lobster (Homarus gammarus). Also known commonly as elefante di mare, longobardo (Liguria); grillo de mar (“sea cricket”, as in grasshopper, not the daft/dull English game involving balls and sticks; Venezia Giulia); lupicante, lupocantero, lupo di mare (another “sea wolf”; Toscania).
azzurro, pesce – see pesce azzurro.

B
barracuda ­– barracuda. Refers to the Mediterranean barracuda or barracouta (Sphyraena viridensis), though possibly also the European barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena), which is also found in the Med. See aluzzo.
barracuda boccagialla – Mediterranean barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis).
baccalà – salt cod, that is dried salted Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). See also stoccafisso. Note, Atlantic cod is categorised as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Which is a problem for me, as traditional Roman trattorie frequently only have baccalà as the only alternative to red meat and offal. And I don’t much like red meat and offal.
bondella – see coregone.
boga – bogue, a type of seabream with one of the best tautonyms ever: Boops boops. It has a variety of cute regional names: buga, bacello, boba, boma, vopa, vova, vop, vopa, opa, uopa… you get the picture.
bottarga – related to fish roe, but I believe this is actually a product made from dried, compressed fish gonads, particularly from mullet (grey and red) and northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). Used a kind of condiment, grated on certain pasta dishes.
bronzino – see spigola.
bianchetti – the young (fry) of certain oily fish; fish just past the larval stage. This name, and gianchetti, is more from the northwest, Liguria. Called neonata and muccu in Siciliano. Neonata means newborn. I’ve eaten polpette di neonate (the fishing of which is strictly seasonal) in a Sicilian restaurant and they were very much like whitebait fritters I ate in New Zealand.

C
calamaro (plural calamari) – European squid (Loligo vulgaris). According to Davidson, it’s also called totano in Liguria and Venezia-Giulia, but if you scroll down to totano, that’s primarily the name for Europoean flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus).
cannochia, cannocchia – a freaky looking mantis shrimp (Squilla mantis). I’ll let Italian Wikipedia provide the regional dialect names: “panocchia, pannocchia (Abruzzo); spernocchia, sparnocchia (Campania); canocia, canoccia (Friuli-Venezia Giulia); cicala di mare (Lazio); balestrin, sigà de maa (Liguria); cannocia, pannocchia (Marche); cannocchiella, cecala (Puglia); càmbara de fangu, solegianu de mari (Sardegna); astrea, cegala de mari (Sicilia); canocchia, cicala di mare (Toscana); canocia, canoccia (Veneto).” Though I’ve never personally seen cicala di mare (“sea cicada”) used in Rome.
cappasanta – scallop, pilgrim scallop (Pecten jacobaeus). See conchiglia.
conchiglia del pellegrino, or di San Giacomo, or di San Jacopo – scallop (Pecten jacobaeus). Has a lot of local names. I’ve seen cappasanta used here in Rome, and there are other variables on that and the general religious name (pellegrino = “pilgrim”) according to Davidson, such as: capa santa, santarela (Veneto); pellegrine (Liguria); cappa pellegrina (Marche), etc. Interesting story about scallops, and dubious fishing practices, here.
capone coccio – red or east Atlantic gurnard (Chelidonichthys cuculus). Coccio means “earthenware”, a reference to the red colour presumabloy. It’s a species I see a lot on the market, and also used to buy from the market back in England. I’ve seen it called the rather complimentary occhiobello (“beautiful eye”) in a restaurant in Toscana/Tuscany. According to Davidson, capone coccio is also used in Lazio for another member of the gurnard family: the piper (Trgila lyra).
capone gallinella – tub gurnard (Chelidonichthys lucerna / Trigla lucerna). Gallinella means “chick” (as in young chicken) and is also a Roman name for the salad crop lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta). You know, just to add to the confusion. Also called cappone.
cappone – see capone gallinella.
cecinella – according to Norman Lewis in his superb account his wartime experiences in Italy, Naples ʼ44, this “tiny sand eels” eaten “fried in batter”.
cefalo – grey mullet (Mugli cephalus). In Lazio also known as mattarello, which also means “rolling pin”. Also muggine.
cefalopodo – cephalopod, ie those delicious molluscs in the Cephalopoda (“head-feet”) class that includes squid, cuttlefish and octopuses. I’m very sorry cephalopod populations but you provide some of my favourite seafood dishes.
cerino – literally “match”, “taper”, but also a name for a type of mullet. I’m not 100% sure, but possibly cefalo, grey mullet. Davidson says it’s also called cirinu in Sicilia, which is similar, and I think I’ve heard the pescivendolo use cerino and cefalo interchangeably at the market.
cernia – grouper, grouper family (Epinephelinae).
cernia bruna – dusky grouper (Epinephelus guaza). Also zerola (Lazio), according to Davidson, but again, I’ve only encountered cernia in Rome.
coccio – see capone coccio.
coda di rospo – what a great name. It literally means “tail of the toad” or “toad’s tail”. The other common name for this fish is rana pescatrice, “frog fisherwoman”. Slightly more prosaically, we call this type of monkfish “anglerfish” (Lophius piscatorius), though other English names are frog-themed. Some more colourful Italian names are: diavolo de mar (“sea-devil”, also a name used in English apparently), rospo di fango (“mud-toad”), pisatrice nera, etc. Novel names aside though, the angler is really one of the core species to not eat, and it’s been on the Greenpeace Red List since 2010.  Even the UK Marine Conservation society rates it as 4 (with 5 the worst).
coregone – name used for several species of freshwater fish, notably the bondella or coregone bianco (Coregonus macrophthalmus, which occurs in Lake Constance in the Alps). We encountered this word on a menu in a restaurant at Lake Bracciano, north of Rome, so it may also refer to other small lake fish.
cozza – mussel, or more specificalloy the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Cozze (plural) is apparently the Lazio name. The more standard Italian name is mitilo,though of course there are numerous regional names including variations likes cozzica, cozzeca, cozzela, or peocio, peocchia and similar in northeast , etc.

D
dentice – generic name for the Dentex, but most commonly used to refer to the common dentex (Dentex dentex). The dentex family (Sparidae), is referred to as the seabream or porgy family and includes the sargus/sargo genus.

E
elefante di mare – see astice.

F
fasulari – another one from Norman Lewis’s Naples ʼ44, which he says are “bean-shaped bivalves” and a local speciality at Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples.
fragolino – see pagello fragolino.
fellone – a name we encountered in Naples for a kind of crab; it turns out to be Eriphia verrucosa. Davidson says the full Campania name is rancio-fellone, while the standard Italian name is favallo.

G
gallinella – see capone gallinella.
gambarello – common prawn (Palaemon serratus). Presumably the serratus in the Latin name is related to the English word serrated, and another name for this one is gambero sega – where sega (politely) means “saw”.
gambero – prawn, shrimp. Can refer to several species, including the three below.
gamebero imperiale – see mazzancolla.
gambero rosa – red Mediterranean prawn (Parapenaeus longirostris). Rosa means “rose” or “pink”. It’s also called the gambero bianco, “white prawn”. This and the below don’t seem to have even vaguely specific English names (or at least nothing I’d use), but I suppose I’d use the French name, after eating a lot of them while on holidays in Brittany: crevettes.
gambero rosso chiaro – “red-clear shrimp” (Aristeus antennatus). Another one with confused colour-related naming, presumably on account of how it changes when cooked, it’s also called gambero viola (“violet shrimp”) in Italian.
ghiozzo paganello – goby, rock goby (Gobius paganellus).
gianchetti – see bianchetti.
granchio – crab; generic name but also used to refer to common shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Too many different regional names to mention them all, but some are: granso (Veneto), rancio (Campania), vranzi (Sicilia).

L
lanterna – see pesce prete (Uranoscopus scaber).
lanzardo – or sgombro cavalla is the Atlantic chub mackerel (Scomber colias). Also known as macarello (Lazio), a name it shares with Atlantic mackerel.
latte di pesce – “fish milk” literally, but referring to soft roe, milt. I bought some fish from our pescivondolo one day and, when gutting it, he told me how lucky I was to get the milt. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but for some people it’s a delicacy.
latterino – small fish from the order Atheriniformes, silversides or sand-smelt. If memory serves, I’ve seen small ones served deepfried in Rome (the Romans do love to deepfry).
leccia stella – doesn’t appear to have a British English name, but in American English is apprently (according to Davidson) the pompano (Trachinotus ovatus). In the English version of Mediterranean Seafood Davidson also mentions an older BE name: derbio. I’m sure I’ve heard them referred to here in Rome as simply “stelle”, but Davidson says they’re called leccia bastarda (Liguria), lissa (Veneto), pesce stella (“star fish”, Toscana), ricciola (Campania, just to confuse things with Seriola dumerili), sdofereo, cionare (Sicilia) etc etc.
luccio – pike, northern pike (Esox lucius). Traditionally eaten at Lake Bracciano,  north of Rome but it was a pretty sorry affair when I tried it, small and most unlike the formidable predator freshwater fish of lore. Presumably fished too young.
luccio marino – “pike of the sea”, see aluzzo.
lupino – small bivalve, described to us as in a restaurant as a “small vongole”, where vongole really is just a generic word for members of the Veneridae (Venus clam) family. Specifically Dosinia exoleta and similar.

M
maccarello – see scombro/sgombro and lanzardo.
marmora – striped bream (Lithognathus mormyrus). Also mormua, mormora, marmarozza, marmolo, mirmora and other names that, helpfully, don’t sound at all similiar.
mazzancolla – a type of king prawn (Melicertus kerathurus), also commonly known as Gambero imperiale (“imperial prawn”), spannocchio. Davidson says mazzancolla is the Lazio name, though it’s also used on Italian Wikipedia.
mazzone – see ghiozzo paganello.
melù – blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou). Davidson says it’s called stocco and stoccafisso in Tuscany, so perhaps this cod relative has a history of being used for “saltcod”. English Wikipedia says “The fish is usually not marketed fresh, but processed into fish meal and oil. However, in Russia and in southern Europe, blue whiting are sometimes sold as food fish.”
merluzzo – boy oh boy. This one is the one that’s quite possibly the trickiest. Just look at Italian Wikipedia and it says this generic word used to refer to 15 different species. Most commonly, it seems to refer to Atlantic cod, but also other cod, and other members of the wider cod family like hake (Merluccius merluccius; commonly called nasello in Italian) and also pollack (Pollachius pollachius; which isn’t common in the Med so is just legally known as pollack in Italy).
mitilo – mussel. See cozza.
moscardino – another type of octopus. It’s generally small when it’s sold or served, though my research seems to say it’s Eledone moschata ­–  a pretty large species (growing up to 74cm, compared to 24cm for the common octopus). So this is either wrong, or they get it when it’s young.
motella – shore rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus). Davidson calls it the three-bearded rockling, but according to Wikipedia that’s a different species (Gaidropsarus vulgaris). It also says they’re “often confused.” Also known as mosella, moustella, mostella, musdea e’ funnale. Hence potential confusion with musdea.
muggine – see cefalo.
musdea, musdea bianca – forkbeard, greater forkbeard (Phycis blennoides). Some of its regional names are mostella, mustella gianca, mustia – which sound like motella and some of its regional names. The two species are in the same order (Gadiformes) and family (Gadidae; the true cod family) but not the same genus. My guess is that they live in similar rocky environments, so were, in days of yore, caught together and discussed together by twinkly eyed, rough-handed fishermen.

N
nasello – hake (Merluccius merluccius). One of the fish commonly called merluzzo, but has numerous dialect names, such as pesce lupo (“wolf fish”; Marche), mazzone, mazzune, nuzz (Puglia), mbarluzzu, milluzzu, miruzzu (Sicilia) etc etc.
neonata – see bianchetti.
novellame – a generic word for young fish, just past larval stage. Although it’s on Italian Wikipedia, I’ve run it past several Italians and they looked kinda blank, so it can’t be that common. See bianchetti.

orata – Sparus aurata, gilt-head bream

O
occhialone – see rovello.
occhi di canna – literally “eyes on stalks”, I saw this in a restaurant in Rome and it refers to small, young octopus, smaller than moscardini. Then I saw them on the market (pic below).Occhi di canna
ombrina – doesn’t have a British English name as far as I can see (presumably because it’s a Med fish, not one from the seas around the UK) but seems to be called the Shi Drum (Umbrina cirrosa) in various places online.
orata – gilt-head (sea) bream (Sparus aurata). In this picture, it says they’re pescate, meaning fished (in the wild) not farmed.
ostrica (plural ostriche) – oyster, European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis). Although the (Latin-derived) Italian word is not unlike the English word, it also sounds like ostrich. In Italian an ostrich is the entirely dissimilar struzzu. Clear? Good.

P
paganello – see ghiozzo paganello.
pagello fragolino – common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus), which is in the same family as sea bream (Sparidae). It’s a cute name though as fragola means “strawberry”, and fragolino is means little strawberry, or wild strawberry. It’s presumably named for its red-pink skin.
pannochia, pannocchia – see canocchia.
palamita – Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda), from the Scombridae family, that is related to mackerel and tuna. Despite the Latin name, not to be confused with sardines.
paranza – small fish such as ling and others. It literally means fishing boat, trawler. So small fish that’s trawled up and served up before its time.
palombo – a kind of houndshark, which Davison calls the Smooth hound. He says this can refer to the Mustelus asterias and Mustelus mustelus. The former is called the Starry smooth-hound on Wikipedia, the latter the Common smooth-hound. I often see fillets of palombo on the market, though have never tried it. Which is probably a good thing, as Mustelus mustelus is “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  Such is the tragic irony of many species with “common” in the name.
passera – European flounder (Platichthys flesus).
pelagico – pelagic. Not a fish, but a word commonly used to describe oceanic species that shoal near the surface, such as mackerel. Handily it’s basically the same in English and Italian.
pesce azzurro –  a generic Italian term for the smaller species of marine oily fish, from anchovies to mackerel. But also used to refer specifically to pesce serra (Pomatomus saltatrix).
persico – generic name for perch, also used to refer specifically to the European perch. See persico reale, below.
persico reale – European perch (Perca fluviatilis).
pesce castagna – Atlantic pomfret or Ray’s bream (Brama brama).
pesce persico – see persico, persioc reale.
pesci piatti (plural) – “plate fishes”, generic name for flat fish.
pesce prete – literally “priest fish”. This is the Atlantic stargazer (Uranoscopus scaber). This is the fish that started me on this mission. I’d asked the pescivendolo for something to make a stew and he sold me these ugly buggers. Some posting of pictures on Facebook led to long discussions, with ultimately the more helpful identification input coming from the Sicilian friend of a friend and from a British friend who’s an experienced diver, and drew on his diving community’s knowledge. I’ve seen them also called pesce lanterna and Davidson says regional names include pesce lucerna and lumera, though even in English “lanternfish” is very generic. A few other nice regional names from Davidson: bocca in cielo from Abruzzo and Campania, boca in cao from the Veneto, and pappacocciula, which I’d hazard mean the same thing: “mouth in the sky” (cielo means “sky” or heaven in “standard Italian”).
pesce sciabola – see spatola.
pesce serra – bluefish, blue fish (Pomatomus saltatrix). Had this in a restaurant in Sorrento. The waiter said it was also known as bandira, though Davidson doesn’t mention this name.
pesce spada – swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Spada does indeed mean “sword”, despite how much it might sound like “spade”. Greenpeace includes swordfish on the Red List, sayingSwordfish stocks… are fully fished in the Mediterranean.”
The IUCN Re List also says, “Globally, this species has shown a 28% decline over three generation lengths (20 years). The only stock that is not considered to be well-managed is the Mediterranean”.   So really, the Med fisheries particularly need to pull their fingers out.
pezzogna – red (sea) bream or blackspot sea bream (Pagellus bogaraveo). Also known as rovello (see below).
platessa – this name, handily, directly relates to the Latin name Pleuronectes platessa, which is European plaice. Davidson says it is “not really a Mediterranean fish” and Italian Wikipedia says ” È rara nel Mediterraneo” (“it’s rare in the Mediterranean”) though I’ve seen it offered in restaurants here in Rome. Presumably not freshly caught. Or trawled to be specific: it’s also on the Greenpeace Red List, for the damaging bottom trawling, though the IUCN says ” A widespread species which is vulnerable to overfishing in the sea, but this is not currently thought to be causing a decline great enough  to qualify the species as threatened.”
polpessa – this octopus seems to have a lot of names in English too: Atlantic white-spotted octopus, white-spotted octopus, grass octopus or grass scuttle. Its Latin name is great: Octopus macropus. Other regional Italian regional names include vurpessa, pruppessa, vurpàscele etc.
polpo, polpo commune – common octopus (Octopus vulgaris). Also polipo, piovra, folpo, tolbo, tulbo, fulbo, fulpo, vurpe, pruppu….
potassolo – see melù.

R
razza – ray.
razza bianca – bottlenose skate, white skate (Raja alba/Rostroraja alba). The IUCN Red List categorises it as “Endangered”.
razza chiodata – thornback ray (Raja clavata). Davidson says it’s called Arzilla pietrosa in Lazio, but on my local market’s fish stall in Rome, ray is just ray, razza, they don’t make distinctions. This species is categorised as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List.
ricciola – greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili). Our first year in Italy, we asked the pescivondolo for something for Christmas Eve, when fish is traditionally eaten in Italy. They offered us a substantial ricciola, though we had no idea what it was. A white, very meaty fish it made a serious meal.
rombo – turbot; generic name for several species of flat fish (pesci piatti) not just Scophthalmus maximus; see below.
rombo liscio – “smooth turbot”, or brill (Scophthalmus rhombus). Also known as soarzo/soazo, rombo minore (Veneto); rombetto (Marche, Abruzzo); rombo d’arena, rombo piccolo (Lazio); linguata mascula (Sicilia).
rombo chiodato – “spiked turbot” (chiodo means “nail”, “spike”) turbot (Scophthalmus maximus, also Psetta maxima). Also known as rombo maggiore, rombo gigante, and several regional names like rombo di pietra (Lazio); rombo di sasso (Veneto); rummo petruso (Campania); romolo, rummulu pitrusu (Sicilia) and various names evoking stones and rocks (sasso, pietra, pitrusu etc). If it’s line or trap caught, it’s possibly okay to eaet, but frankly most vendors and restaurants won’t want to or be able to provide provenance information, and it’s likely it’ll be trawled. Trawling is not good.
rombo giallo – megrim, whiff (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis).
rombo di rena –wide-eyed flounder (Bothus podas). Among the regional names are the delightful rumbo bastardo (Liguria) and quattr’occhio (Toscana). Inevitiably, variations on these names are used for different species in different regions.
rombo quattrocchi – “four-eyed turbot”, or four-spot megrim in English (Lepidorhombus boscii). Also known as suace, suacia etc.
rovello – another member of Sparidae (seabream, porgy) family: Pagellus bogaraveo, which seems to be known as red sea bream and blackspot sea bream (according to Wikipedia) and blue-spotted bream in English (according to Davidson). Also known as occhino, besugo, bezugo, mupo, mupa, occhialone, pampuni, pampini, pezzogna etc etc (Davidson gives many others). Even Italian Wikipedia concedes “anche se i vari nomi locali possono creare confusione tra le diverse specie di pagelli che si pescano nel mediterraneo” – that is, “the various local names can create confusion between the diverse species of the pagellus (genus) that are fished in the Mediterranean.”

S
salmone – salmon, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). These days, most of the salmon you eat will be farmed. I avoid it, as although fish farming has its place, it can be dubious, particularly when it involves carnivorous species (like salmon and bass) that have to be fed with other fish, at an inefficient rate of exchange. So for example, for 1kg of salmon you have to process 4kg of wild fish.  Personally, I’d rather eat the wild sardines, anchovies etc than the salmon. Again, it’s a question of sense and sustainability.
sarago – generic name for Diplodus genus. Most commonly refers to Diplodus sargus, the white seabream or sargo, aka sargo maggiore.
sarago sparaglione – annular bream (Diplodus annularis). Here’s one where a  lot of the regional dialect names at least sound similar (ish): saragu, spareddu, saraghetto, sparleto, sparlotto, sbaro, sparinole, sparo etc etc.
sardina – sardine (smaller, younger), pilchard (larger, adult). As in English, a generic word for small oily fish, but also used to refer specifically to the European pilchard(Sardina pilchardus). Most European langauges call it some variation on “sardine”, and there are also many Italian dialect names like sardon, saraghina, sarducola, but there are also plenty that are completely different sounding, like palassiol, renga, falloppe, biancomangiare, sfiggiata, nunnata. The later is Sicilian and sounds like neonata (see bianchetti).
sargo maggiore – white seabream or sargo (Diplodus sargus). Among the many regional names are: cappuccino (“hooded”; Abruzzo, Marche); saricu monica (Calabria); saricu tunnu (Sicilia).
scampo (plural scampi) – the prawn family member most commonly cooked up and known as scampi in the UK (though monkfish tail has, illegally, also been served up as scampi). This is the Dublin bay prawn, langoustine or Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus). Italian regional names include: arancio, arganello, astracio, scampolo.
scombro/sgombro – mackerel, Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). Also maccarello (Lazio; I see both names in Rome), lacerto (Liguria).
scombro cavallo – see lanzardo.
scorfano – scorpion fish. Refers to seveal species. I wrote my first investigations prompted by buying scorfano.
scorfano rosso – red scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa). Also called cappone in Toscana; cappone means “capon”, ie a castrated cockerel, but in the fishy world is also used for capone gallinella (tub gurnard).
seppia – cuttlefish or common European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Regional names include sepa, seccia, siccia, purpo siccia, pruppusiccia, so at least there’s a pattern. Though Davidson says it’s also called a scarpetta in Puglia. A scarpetta is a ballet shoe or trainer, and one nice Italian expression for when you mop up the sauce in your plate with a piece of bread is “fare la scarpetta” – make the ballet shoe – just to confuse things.
sciabola – see spatola.
seppioline – little cuttlefish.
serra – see pesce serra.
soace – see suacia.
sogliola – sole, or more specifically the common sole (Solea solea). Italians do catch other species, but this is the main variety, and one Brits will know as Dover sole. Another problematic species due to beam-trawling.
spigola – bass, European seabass, Mediterranean seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax). Also known as bronzino (Liguria); ragno (Veneto, Toscana); lupasso (Davidson says this is the Lazio name, but I’ve only ever seen spigola in Rome); lupu de mari (Sicilian); and pesce lupo, though frankly variations on the latter names (“wolf fish”) seems to pop up for various species, including Anarhichas lupus. These days, it’s commonly reared in fish-farms, something I’ve got very mixed feelings about (see salmone).
spatola – silver scabbard fish, frostfish, beltfish (Lepidopus caudatus). Pesce bandiera (Lazio).
squalo – generic noun for shark.
stella – see leccia stella.
stoccafisso, stoccofisso – like baccalà, dried salted cod, Gadus morhua. The difference between the two seems to be a matter of argument, but It’s possibly a question of where the Gadus morhua is sourced: baccalà being Atlantic, stoccafisso being Norwegian/Arctic. It’s also a question of a different salting process.
suacia – Mediterranean scaldfish (Arnoglossus laterna), a flatfish related to flounder. A lot of the northern Italian names seem to be variations on petrèe, petrale, pataracia, peteracchia, but in the south things just spread out and have no apparent similarities. Also commonly known as zanchetta. My poster also lists it as soacia, though I can’t find any reference to that name in Davidson or online.
sugarello – Atlantic horse mackerel, scad, jack mackerel (Trachurus trachurus). Confusingly, the fish that’s literally called “horse mackerel” in Italian, Sgombro cavallo, is a different species – see lanzardo. (Note, mackerel is one of those vague terms that doesn’t exclusively include members of the same family of fish. So while the true mackerel, Scomber scombrus, and the chub mackerel,  Scomber colias, are members of the Scombridae family, this one is instead a member of the Carangidae family. They’re all, however, oily fish or pesce azzurro that have certain cosmetic similarities, notably the sheeny-shiny skins.) Scad isn’t generally eaten in the UK.
suro – see sugarello.

T
tellina – wedge shell, a type of bivalve (Donax trunculus). Apparently also known as fasiola and trilatera in Lazio, though in her book The Food of Rome and Lazio, Oretta Zanini de Vita just uses tellina, while Italian Wikipedia says they’re also called arsella. I had them in a pasta dish very much like spaghetti alle vongole, except that they’re small so it takes a lot longer to get the meat out of the shells. Tellina is also the French name. Strangely, Donax trunculus isn’t in the Tellina genus of bivalves – I can only assume it was scientifically reclassified after the Latin name became commonly used (via Vulgar Latin) for various edible bivalves.
tilapia – tilapia. Farmed tilapia is found in Italy, such as in my local DOC supermarket where they have it in packets, smoked. Unlike the aquaculture of salmon, which requires wild fish for feed, tilapia can be fed on a less unsustainable food source: algae. But they are also fed maize, a controversial crop (intensive monoculture, GM etc etc). Never mind the questions of hormones and chemicals. It’s a tricky one. I would say “try to buy organically reared tilapida” but a) you may not be able to get the relevant info and b) people will moan about it being pricier. You know what you – saving human civilisation in the face of environmental meltdown requires us to recalibrate their food consumptions habits. Anyway, back to tilapia in Italy. The farmed species found here are Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and Mozambique tilapia(Oreochromis mossambicus).
tonnetto – see tonno alletterato.
tonno, tonno rosso – tuna, specifically northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). I’ve tried not to eat this perenially popular fish, well, for most of my adult life really as it’s the poster boy of over-exploited marine life. Indeed, most tuna species are firmly Red Listed these days, despite what supermarkets may sell you about line-fishing or even “ranches”, which are fish farms that don’t raise tuna from eggs, but instead still deplete natural stocks by taking young fish from the wild. Insanely, “Ranching also uses high amounts of other wild fish as feed – about 20kg of wild fish to produce just 1kg of tuna.” (from Greenpeace, here). Here is it too on the IUCN Red List.
tonno alalunga – albacore, longfin tunny (Thunnus alalunga). It’s on my poster of seasonal fish, but even the albacore is on the Greenpeace Red List these days, while the IUCN Red List categorises it as “Near Threatened“, having undergone an estimated 37% decline in the past 20 years.
tonno alletterato – little tunny, little tuna, false albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus). This one’s not on the Red List (at the time of writing, Feb 2013), and Wikipedia gives its status as “least concern”. Also known in Italy with other diminutives like tonnetto, tunnella, tonnello, plus loads more dialect names like sanguinaccio in Tuscany (this also happens to be the name of a blood sausage and a chocolate pudding made with blood); ‘nzirru (Campania); alittratu, littrata, culuritu (Sicilia) etc.
totano, totano commune – European flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus). Totano may also be used for the southern shortfin squid (Illex coindetii), notably in Sicily. See discussion in comments, below.
tracina –general name for fish from the Trachinidae family, weevers.
tracina drago – greater weever (Trachinus draco). Also (Davidson): agno, aragno, dragena, ragna, ragno, varagno, tracena, parasaula, antracina, tracchio, ragnas, aragnas. Although drago means “dragon”, a lot of these names are related to ragno, standard Italian for “spider”. It would also seem to indicates a lot of interchangeable nomencleature with the tracina ragno (Trachinus araneus), below. Unless Davidson was getting in a muddle too.
tracina ragno – literally “spider weever” in both Italian and Latin (Trachinus araneus), though in English it’s called the spotted weever.
triglia – generic name for red mullets, goatfish.
triglia di fango“mud mullet”, in English one of the two fish called red mullet (Mullus barbatus).
triglia di scoglio – “rock mullet” or “cliff mullet”, also known as red mullet in English but  a different species to the above (Mullus surmuletus).
trota – trout, brown trout (Salmo trutta).

U
Uova di pesce – “fish eggs”, meaning roe, or specifically hard roe. For soft roe, milk, see “latte”.

V
vongola – clam, generic name for various members of the Veneridae (Venus clam) family. In Italy, for dishes like spaghetti alle vongole, it usually refers to to Venerupis decussata, in English the carpet shell, or cross-cut carpet shell. Davidson also gives Italian names vongola nera (black clam), vongola verace (true clam), and says it’s call capa incrocicchiata and archello in Lazio, though I’ve not seen or heard this.

Z
zanchetta – see suacia.
zerro –  picarel, blotched picarel (Spicara smaris/Spicara maena). I’ve never actually seen this one, or heard of it before now, so I’m not even going to go there with the dozens of regional dialect names Davidson lists. Life’s too short.

Coda: If, like me, you enjoy eating seafood, but want to see stocks managed and fished sustainably, I’d urge you to get involved with organisations that campaign for changes to policies and law. In the UK, for example, there’s Fish Fight.

I’d also recommending  watching the film The End of The Line, which has a global swep, and checking out the related charity, the Blue Marine Foundation.

If you’re based in the UK, another notable body is the Marine Conservation Society, which tries to provide consumer information via FishOnline and its Good Fish Guide.

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Chocolate cake with dark double-malt beer

Chocolate cake made with "birra scura doppio malto" (dark, double-malted beer)

One of my favourite breweries here in Italy is Mastri Birrai Umbri. They currently do three beers, one of which is Cotta 74, a doppio malto scura – a dark double-malt beer. A “birra doppio malto” is an Italian legal classification, explained here, but this specific beer is made with a well-roasted malt as is not unlike a porter or stout. It’s got a warm, deep flavour, with a slight burnt caramel taste and hints of chocolate. So, thought I, why not try and use it in a chocolate cake recipe?

Mastri Birrai Umbri’s beers, developed by master brewer Michele Sensidoni,  also all use a unique ingredient, something distinctly Umbrian. In the case of Cotta 74, that ingredient is lentils, which are a traditional crop in Umbria. I believe they give the beer a slight nuttiness and earthiness. Also good for a chocolate cake, thunk I.

Anyway, available here is a recipe for a chocolate cake made with Guinness. It’s a Nigella Lawson recipe. I never had good results from her cake recipes, I found them unpredicable and unreliable. And nor do I like Guinness (it’s tastes too much like iron and mud, it’s too creamy). But the recipe proved a good foundation for a cake made with Cotta 74.

Of course this is a versatile recipe, so use whatever stout or porter you have to hand. Though I would recommend something good quality from a small brewery. Large scale industrial beer is never as nice.

(Note – I do liquids in grams. It’s more accurate, and perfectly easy if you’re using bowls and electronic scales. If you’re unconvinced, just use the liquid measures in ml.)

250g scura doppio malto, stout or porter
250g unsalted butter
100g cocoa
340g caster sugar
140g mascarpone
20g yogurt
2 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
270g plain flour
1.5 teaspoons bicarbonate of soda
1 teaspoon baking power

Preheat oven to 180C.
Grease and line a 23cm tin. (Springform is easier but not essential.)

In a pan, melt the butter in the beer.
Pour into a large mixing bowl.
Beat the cocoa and sugar into the beer/butter mix.
Allow this mixture to cool slightly.

Beat together the mascarpone, yogurt, eggs and vanilla essence.
When the main mix is cool enough, beat in the mascarpone mixture. (If it’s too hot, you’ll scramble the egg content.)

Sieve together the flour and raising agents.
Add this to the mixture and beat well.

Pour the mixture into the tin.

Bake for around 1 around, until it’s well risen and no longer too wobbly.

Leave to cool completely in the tin, on a wire rack.

Make a topping with
100g mascarpone
150g icing sugar

Sieve the icing sugar into the mascarpone and mix.
If it’s too sloppy, add more sieved icing sugar.

Enjoy!

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Rocket pesto – non si fa!

Pesto di rugula con spaghetti

If you’re here for a recipe for rocket pesto – scroll down! If you’re happy to sit through a little theorising and food history – read on!

Here’s a theory. It’s probably not an original one. Britain, being an island nation, has always existed as place of immigration and trade. As such, British society has been always been informed by integrating new ideas, new tastes, new cuisine. It’s intrinsically mutable and always has been, despite what certain more conservative types might believe. Just think of how the chicken tikka massala – which isn’t Indian, but certainly didn’t have its origins in Britain – has become a British national dish.

Italy, on the other hand, is a mountain nation, with the spine of Appennines, the Alps in the north, broken only by the Po Valley. The Ancient Romans might have imposed themselves on much of the known world, and they certainly integrated foreign ideas (such as the cult of Mithras say), but by and large it was a more stringent process of integration: people became Roman, Rome didn’t change. It was the Eternal City. It still is.

The rest of Italy, meanwhile, even during the Ancient Roman period, was a place of villages and rustic poverty. It largely remained so over the centuries. People were born and died in the same village, in the same valley, eating the same food, for generations. And there’s only one way that food was made – the way nonna did it, and the way mama did it, and the way figlie then learned to do it.

Although Italy has of course opened up, especially since il boom of the 1950s, it remains a place where traditional and convention rule supreme. And those traditions and conventions remain very regional (after all, Italy has only been a nation just over a century and a half). Radio and TV early in the 20th century, then motorways and corporate chains of supermarkets and junk-food outlets later on, may have destroyed most comparable regional variation in Britain, but not so here. They do have corporate supermarkets here, for example, but Italians are holding out better against the insidious neutralisation of regional variation we’ve seen in the UK. Mussolini might have tried to force a specific linguistic culture, for example, on Italians using new media in the 1930s, but it didin’t work. The people we buy some of our meat and dairy products from on the farmers’ market say their dialect is different to that of their closest village. They say they even argue with people from the neighbouring village about how things should be done, how certain dishes should be made.  Regions – even individual villages – are enormously proud of their traditions and their regional foods, and rightly so. Campanilismo, it’s called – an association with all things within sight of your town or village’s belltower (campanile).

There’s a classic utterance in Italian: non si fa, which literally means “that’s not how one does it,” but it’s probably closer to “it’s not the done thing”. If people from neighbouring villages bat that expression back and forth between them, just think how foreigners cooking nominally Italian food are looked upon.

So I knew I was risking a non si fa when, looking in the fridge and trying to decide what to have for lunch, I hit upon using up some slightly sad looking rocket by making pesto. As pesto is made with basil. Not rocket (aka rucola, rugula and Eruca sativa).Never rocket. There are regional variations of pesto of course. But they all use basil. The classic form we know in the UK is pesto alla genovese (Genoa pesto), made with basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano. Pesto alla siciliana (Sicilian pesto) includes tomato and almonds instead of pine nuts. Pesto alla calabrese is made with red peppers.

Internationally we’ve varied it in many ways. I’ve made it with nettles (Urtica dioica or similar varieties like Urtica urens) before. Nettles are a great free food, and very nutritional. It’s a good use of wild garlic (Ramsons, Allium ursinum) too, if you’re lucky enough to happen upon some. And, heck, I’m sure I’d heard of rocket pesto before. Though I suspect it must have been a recipe from back home. Jamie Oliver does mention using rocket for pesto here, calling it “slightly more American”. Though I’m not sure why rocket is any more US than UK in terms of adapting Italian cuisine. (I say adapting. An Italian would probably saying messing up, or violating, or ruining. Or would simply not recognise it as in any way related to real Italian food.) Either way, the US is an immigrant nation too, so like Britain historically has cuisine that’s had to adapt and evolve.

Anyway, rocket. Rocket is an interesting crop. I remember when it first started popping up in British supermarkets in the 1990s. It was dead trendy, right posh. Did we really not eat it before the 1990s? No, apparently not. My wife keeps telling me it was popularised as food crop by a colleague of hers, Dr Stefano Padulosi. Dottore Padulosi is an ethnobotanist who garnered the name of the “Rocket Man”. Why? Because when he worked for the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute he noticed rocket growing among the ruins of Pompeii – so the story goes. How apocryphal it is, I don’t know – and initiated a program to encourage its consumption. (IPGRI is now Bioversity. Part of its remit is to encourage the use of food crops marginalised by the increased intensification of agriculture through the 20th century.)

The Ancient Romans (them again) had eaten its leaves and seed, the latter being considered good for the production of, er, male seed. Though the same source mentions how the early Catholic Church tried to suppress its cultivation because of its dirty, dirty aphrodisiac association. So apparently, by the late 20th century it was one of those marginalised food crops. Outside Italy it was basically unknown. So we have Dottore Padulosi and his colleagues and their work to thank for introducing us to this plant, for popularising it internationally. Rocket is not only delicious in its pepperiness, it’s easy to grow and it’s also nutritionally rich. It’s a great source of vitamins A and C, folates, calcium and iron, among other goodies.

So the idea of making pesto out of rocket seems like a good idea – it’s tasty, it’s inexpensive, it munges up nicely in a blender.

Here’s my recipe. It’s flexible.

3 good handfuls of rocket/rugula/rucola/roquette (you could also use wild rocket, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, a similar species but from a different genus)
1 clove of garlic
80g (approx) pine nuts, lightly toasted
60g (approx) pecorino (You should probably use Parmigiano-Reggiano, but hey, it’s not like this is an authentic recipe. Use whichever you prefer or have in your fridge! I liked the idea of the sweeter pecorino in tandem with the pepperiness)
2-3 good slugs of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whizz the whole lot up in a food processor. Add oil to get a thick but not runny consistency. Season to taste.

If you’re old school, you could use a (large) mortar and pestle, with the cheese pre-grated and the leaves coarsely chopped.

Making it with a pestle would have a nice poetry to it, as the word pestle has its roots in the Latin pistillum, which is from pistus, the past participle of pīnsere, the verb to pound, crush. The word pesto itself comes from the Italian verb pestare – also to pound, to crush, from the same roots.

So get pounding and crushing! Unless of course you consider it non si fa.

Addedum, 19 October 2012:
Last night a Sicilian friend said her mother used to make pesto with rocket, and it was perfectly si fa.

Addendum 2, 11 January 2013:
My ignorance increasingly shines through when I look back at my old posts; but that’s ok. Blogging is a process of self-education as much as anything else.
Anyway, I’ve just read John Dickie’s excellent history of Italy and its food, Delizia. It has a lot of interesting stuff about pesto and what it can contain. “Genovese pesto today is a pulp of basil, leaves, cheese, garlic, pine nuts and olive oil. But according to the earliest dictionary definition, which was published in 1844, pesto was a condiment made fom a pounded mixture of garlic, oil, cheese and either basil or parsley or marjoram. Pine nuts were not mentioned. Neither was pasta. In 1844, it seems, pesto was a flavouring most often used in soup.” [Note the closely related southern French pistou still is a flavouring most used in soup.] The book has loads of other interesting things to say about how pesto alla genovese has evolved and how the version that’s deemed most “traditional” – with local Genovese basil, pine nuts etc – has only really been codified relatively recently.

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Penny buns and doughnuts

The end of the summer and the start of Autumn. The best time of year for fresh produce. September in Italy has been fairly mixed weather-wise – which is good, as a bit of rain encourages the fungi. The market stalls here have lovely displays of porcini (Boletus edulis, also knowns as ceps. Though I like the traditional British name: penny bun. As, you know, they look like little buns) and galletti (Cantharellus cibarius, chanterelles).

Both of which are lovely with pasta. I’ve cooked with porcini for years, but in Britain we more typically just get the dried ones. It’s not that penny buns don’t grow in the UK,  it’s just that we’re a bit crap at taking advantage of our wild fungi varieties. When I asked the girl on our fruit and veg stall about how best to cook these mushrooms, she basically just shrugged amiably and said “aglio, olio e prezzemolo”: garlic, olive oil and parsley. Your classic, basic Italian flavourings. If in doubt, aglio, olio…

So here are the constituent parts of lunch the other day, with fresh fettucine from another stall on the market.

Penny bun, parsley, fettucine

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The same day, we managed to work out how to watch The Great British Bake-off on iPlayer. Yay. In the episode we watched they were making doughnuts (or donuts). Which, inevitably, set off a craving. Your standard British jam-filled doughnut is something I’ve never seen in Rome. Which is fine and dandy – I wouldn’t expect or need to see it here. Instead, some local goodies hit the spot. Specifically some frittatine di mele, “little fried things with apple”, like mini apple doughnuts, purchased from Pasticceria Nonna Nani. This is a pasticceria that opened earlier this year, and is owned by the same people as Da Simone, an excellent pizza a taglio (pizza by the slice) place across the street. The street in question being Via Giacinto Carini in Monteverde Vecchio. The nonna (grandmother) in question, Nani, being conspicuous by her absence.

Apple "doughnuts"(Sorry, rubbish pic. I really ought to use my wife’s DSLR not my phone.)

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Chicory international

A favourite vegetable dish here in Rome is cicoria, which of course means chicory. When the guy on our fruit and veg stall on the market said it was good, I bought a bunch last week, and decided to cook it up. Raw, in salads, it’s very bitter and not unlike dandelion leaves, a classic of free foraged food. It looks similar too.

One classic, basic way it’s served here in Rome ripassata – cooked down in olive oil, with some garlic and a little chili. Reading up on preparation methods got me thinking, and led me down an interesting path of leafy revelations.

So, the cicoria I bought was leaf chicory, or common chicory. To clarify slightly considering the various international names, in Latin it’s Cichorium intybus. To run with the Latin name for a mo, its genus is Cichorium, the family is Asteraceae – yep, that’s the Aster, daisy family – which includes Bellis perennis, the common daisy found in a million British garden lawns, as well as such popular domestic flowers as Leucanthemum vulgare, the oxeye daisy. And, yes, Taraxacum officinale – the common dandelion. (Which, incidentally, gets its English name from “dent-de-lion”, French for “tooth of the lion”, and is basically the same in Italian – dente di leone. The funnier French name, meanwhile, is “pissenlit” – “piss-the-bed”).

So yeah, no wonder raw common chicory leaves taste like dandelion leaves. The similarity is particularly marked if you get cicoria del campo, aka cicoria selvatica – the wild variety of Cichorium intybus, where the leaves – and flavour – are fairly indistinguishable from dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) leaves. In the US, the leaves of Taraxacum officinale are eaten and known as “dandelion greens”, though I’ve also heard this term used for chicory, especially wild Cichorium intybus. Taxanomically, chicory, dandelion, lettuce and even salsify are not only all members of the Asteraceae family, but are also members of the Cichorieae Tribe.

Perhaps more interesting, however (if you’re a food obsessive with a passing interest in taxonomy that is), is the fact that both endive (ie Belgian endive, aka witlof or witloof) and radicchio (aka red chicory), are are cultivated varietals of Cichorium intybus. Which they bear no resemblance to, at least not in the forms you see them on the market. Though the taste is so similar – basically bitter – that the relationship becomes clear.

Also, what is commonly known as endive in some Anglophone countries, is also another chicory, another member of the Asteraceae family: Cichorium endivia.

It’s cultivated in two main forms, the first of which I’ve always known as frisée, or frisée lettuce in the UK, when it’s not a lettuce (genus: Lactuca) it’s a chicory (Cichorium). The French call it chicorée frisée, in the US curly endive, while here in Italy it’s called scarola riccia (“curly”). Cichorium endivia crispum.

The other version is Cichorium endivia latifolia – broad-leaved, which is also known as escarole (French) or indivia scarola here in Italy. I don’t even know what we call it in the UK. Probably just “that lettuce”, pointing or picking. We’re sophisticated like that.

Here in Rome (and other parts of Italy), another popular seasonal vegetable is puntarelle. You will see curly strips of this green in markets and restaurants for a long season from autumn through the winter. It’s also chicory: Cicoria di catalogna (Catalan chicory) or cicoria asparago. Though the common Italian name is cuter – puntarelle means “little points”, or “little tips”. I’m not 100% sure on this one, but I believe it’s just another cultivated varietal of Cichorium intybus.

Also, the coffee substitute made with chicory root also uses a variety of Cichorium intybus: Cichorium intybus var. sativum. It has long white roots that look not unlike fellow Cichorieae Tribe member black salsify, Scorzonera hispanica.

Addendum
A few months later (1 Oct 2012 to be exact). Here’s another lovely variety of radicchio that they’re selling on the market. It’s like a lovely little pink-flecked lettuce. But it’s not a lettuce! I can’t remember the Italian name for its just now, but will add it when someone reminds me.

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Things I miss from home. And the question of beer.

In no particular order:
Kippers.
A good pub* (preferably in the company of old friends).
Interstate in Covent Garden, so I can buy some new jeans. Been buying my jeans (as well as sundry satchels and undies) there for about 12 years or more. [Edit: Internstate closed down while we were in Roma! End of an era]
Vaguely reliable, functional postal services.
Cinema. There are plenty of cinemas here, but unlike in Paris say, it’s hard to see English-language films in versione originale. And I’m damned if I’ll watch a dubbed film, especially in a language I don’t understand very well. I detest dubbing. There is one cinema here that shows films in VO, but for some reason they had The Iron Lady on there for three long effin’ months. I adore the big screen, indeed it was central to my job for a decade or so, so this dearth of big screen action is a difficulty for me.
Simple brand products – soap, roll-on etc that’s not perfumed, not coloured, just kind.

Things I don’t miss:
Chavs.
The sheer chavviness of Britain and British culture.
The unfailing uniformity of British shopping streets (mobile phone shops, Boots, Tesco Metro, generic coffee franchises etc).
The grotesque ubiquity of CCTV. I remember my feelings of shock and discomfort when I first became aware of CCTV cameras, such as outside a bar in Radford in Nottingham, c1992, where dealers congregated. Thanks to Blair and co, we’re all treated like potential now criminals in the UK. So much for valuing our freedoms. Never mind the Olympics factor.
The lack of lizards.

By no means a complete list. And is it prejudiced and classist? Who knows. Me ne frego.

* I don’t necessarily have a painful longing for British beer. As much as I love a pint of proper British ale, there’s no shortage of decent beer here in Italy, thanks to what I understand to be a fairly recent growth of artigianale (artisan, or traditional) beer production.

In Rome, we just need to go to Ma Che Sieta Venuti a Fa’ or Open Baladin, or other birrerie (beer bars), or specialist beer shops. We can even get great ales from the supermarket. Last year, the boyfriend of a friend launched a new beer in Italy, and after being unable to source it in the specialist shops, I spied it in our local supermarket. And very nice it is too: Mastri Birrai Umbri.

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Food ethics and seafood caveats

In my previous post, I talked about my enthusiasm for seafood, did a recipe for a Sicilian fish stew and talked about how useful I’m finding Alan Davidson’s book Mediterranean Seafood as I not only try to improve my seafood cookery, but also learn at least a few of the innumerable Italian names for fish etc. The recipe was very nearly accompanied by a caveat and some discussion of the ethics of eating seafood, but the entry would have just become too unwieldy.

So I’m doing it here instead.

My personal dietary inclinations are more towards fish and some seafood (love prawns and cephapods; not so keen on bivalves) over red meat, for example. For a while I was a vegetarian, a conversion that came as a result of living for five months at Newton Livery, a decidedly idiosyncratic small farm in New Zealand, learning that hey, eating without meat really isn’t that hard, and then coming home to the UK and pretty much immediately seeing a documentary on TV about the vile barbarism of intensive pig farming.

The imagery of a sow and her litter, struggling on a metal grill floor, in a dirty, confined space, brought about a minor epiphany. Mankind does not need to mistreat beasts through such husbandry when there are alternatives. And especially not animals like pigs, which are intelligent as dogs – an animal that people in the UK and here in Italy sentimentalise and anthropomorphise like there’s no tomorrow. Sheep – considerably more stupid – at least get to live outside.

I saw that documentary, and went vegetarian, in 1989, when the worst of the post-war intensification of food production in the UK was in no way balanced for the consumer by the option of free range and organic (or biologico as it’s know here in Italy), then the purview of a limited population of hippies and industry outsiders. Of course, I was fairly ignorant – I still ate dairy, blithe about the fact that its production is part and parcel of meat production, but at least I’d made an ethical step. Our obsession with meat consumption remains questionable, even in an era of less unethical alternatives like free range and organic for the simple fact of the calorific equation. To feed up beef cattle, for example, for the most part involves giving them considerably more calories in maize and other crops than the resulting meat gives the consumer in calories. And the more calories we use to produce food, the more extreme the environmental downsides – for example, in the fossil fuels used to transport those feed crops.

It’s an equation that most people, even the nominally ethical consumers, are oblivious to. It’s a particular problem in the early 21st century when developing world nations – China, India, etc– are rapidly embracing the kind of untenable red meat-based diets favoured by many Europeans and North Americans, hence the advent of the kind monstrously factory-style meat production exemplified by feed lots and Concentrated Animal Feed Operations (CAFOs), something that they are currently trying to popularise in the UK. Ethical issues aside, mega-ranch style farming just does not suit a small nation like the UK, where we’ve already seen biodiversity reduced markedly through the tearing out of traditional field boundaries, notably in places like East Anglia where the flatter landscape enables ranch-style farming. (And unlike in places like Devon, where the hillier terrain is at least preserving some aspects of Britain’s traditional plagioclimax environments, shaped by centuries of human intervention.)

There’s also the issue of methane – a natural gas produced in decomposition and in flatulence that’s also a potent greenhouse gas. Hence it’s a no brainer that the bigger our herds of cattle, the more the farting, the bigger the problem.

If you can’t face reading about such issues, I would recommend watching the feature documentary Food, Inc., which, in unsensationalist terms, evaluates the problems of these types of meat production, in both health and environmental terms.

Now I’m still a culprit, as a decade plus with my red-meat obsessive wife has re-calibrated both our diets somewhat – she eats less meat, I eat some – but I’d like to think we pursue a diet that’s at least nominally less unsustainable in planetary terms, eating locally produced food as much as possible, relying on pulses and grains – directly, rather than feeding them to animals to fatten them for meat. And only eating meat or fish a few times a week. While we have now been able to source some less unethical meat (locally bred, smaller scale, some free range or organic) in Rome via the two big weekend farmers’ markets at the Circo Massimo and in the Testaccio Ex Mattatoio, it’s hard to get a sense of how sustainably sourced any of the fish on the market or in restaurants is. Not very, I suspect.

Although I agonise (clearly) over food ethics, the question of seafood is something that has long confused me to boot. In contrast to animal husbandry, where an animal is bread specifically and living a life controlled by man, there are very different ethical issues at play in our consumption of the majority of seafood still. Notably for the simple fact that we are pillaging the oceans for food, exploiting a natural resource. (I don’t want to go into fish farming here, but suffice to say it’s not an easy solution – it’s potentially polluting, and like meat production involves a ridiculous calorific equation, where to produce say 1kg of salmon, at least 2.5kg of so-called forage fish, anchovies, herring, sardines etc, are required. Personally, I’d rather eat the sardines direct.)

Such exploitation was fine, arguably, prior to the human population explosion that accompanied the industrial revolution in Western nations and the comparable transition being undergone now by developing world nations. But today, everything we do is on such an vast scale it becomes untenable. It’s would be untenable for everyone on the planet to have a large personal vehicle and large air-conditioned house; but if one nation can live like that, who’s to say another cannot? Likewise it would be untenable for everyone – all seven-plus billion of us – to have eggs or bacon for breakfast and a steak for dinner. And likewise, if one nation eats an endangered tuna and insists it’s a traditional diet, who is anyone else to suggest they don’t, you know, fish it to extinction. Us Brits, for example, really really cannot get our heads around the fact that cod is anything other than readily available, always and forever. But there are major concerns over Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua), but it’s long been on Greenpeace’s Red List.

So to get to the point I was thinking about when I started this, as much as I like Davidson’s book, it’s very out of date, and oblivious to questions of sustainability. He even suggests tracking down dried dolphin meat at one point, in the form of a Genoese delicacy called musciame, dried dolphin meat. Now, if a marine creature is killed as bycatch, I’d rather it was actually eaten than thrown back dead, something that’s admirably being forced into the spotlight by the Fish Fight campaign, but I still find it difficult to consider eating dolphins, having grown up in the era of Save the Wale, knowing that dolphins are considerably smarter than fish (though does that mean they have any more or less right to life?), and having enjoying watching them in the wild, in NZ’s Bay of Islands.

Anyway, again to try and get to the soddin’ point: if, like me, you like eating fish and seafood, and live somewhere where there’s information about fish stocks, please check first before you choose what to use. The beast on the slab might be dead already, but if you change your habits, that’s one way of getting the message across the fisheries industries, by way of your fishmonger. If you have such a thing; if you only shop in supermarkets, look for the labelling, or indeed re-consider which supermarket you shop from, after looking at Greenpeace’s league table (though this version is in need of updating I’d imagine).

Greenpeace also produces its Red List of threatened marine species. While in the UK, the Marine Stewardship Council produces a buyer’s guideto sustainable seafood. Also, if you live in the UK, Fish 2 Fork rates restaurants for the sustainability of the fish they use.

I’m finding it hard to find information about sustainable fish here in Italy though. I’ve only lived here seven months, so I don’t want to display too much ignorance on this matter, but the country as a whole, despite being the home of the Slow Food movement, sadly doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of sustainability in, for example, meat production and fisheries. My Italian isn’t great, but it doesn’t look like Greenpeace Italiahas a Red List or equivalent for Mediterranean fisheries. Broadly, the Med is notorious for the extreme exploitation it suffers.

As a general rule of thumb, I don’t eat any tuna or swordfish and haven’t for years, a principle solidified by watching the documentary The End of the Line. Here’s a review I believe I wrote for Film4.com when it came out. (Wish they’d not removed our bloody bylines from the reviews; it’s insulting and counterintuitive.) But I probably should go further than that. It’s a difficult challenge: balancing my enthusiasm for cooking and eating seafood with approaching food with at least a modicum of ethical consideration.

Quick edition 17 April

A friend posted this article on Facebook. It’s very pertinent, not just because Britain is experiencing a drought but also because of the wider value of water – and how it’s squandered in meat production. Eg “It takes, on average, 15,500 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef. To put this in context, that is the equivalent of 50 baths of water to produce one steak – 15 times more water than is needed to produce one kilogram of wheat. To produce the diet of a typical meat-eater takes the equivalent of 5,000 litres of water per day…”

I would like such pieces to have links to sources, as the writer is the manager of the PETA Foundation so obviously have a very specific and very ardent agenda, but it’s still noteworthy. (Really, the argument that ‘everyone should turn vegan to save the world’ just isn’t going to wash. Instead, the message should be one of providing sufficient information and education to chivvy people in the direction of more ethical choices, and a more holistic understanding of the repecussions of everyday decisions.)

 

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Sicilian fish stew with couscous / Pesce Stufato alla Siciliana con couscous

Our local market –  in the parallel street, six days a week – has a great fish stall, and during Lent it’s become even bigger, for obvious, traditional Christian diet-related reasons.

I love eating fish, but although I cook all the time, I’ve been fairly timid over my lifetime really embracing buying fresh fish and cooking it myself. The fish stall round the corner, however, is really motivating me, to try and cook more fish, to experiment, and to try and learn some of the innumerable Italian names for fish, both standard and dialect.

There are plenty of familiar species on the market, such as mackerel (sgombro), which offers one of the marginally less unethical choices in our era of overfishing. But there are also plenty of weird and wonderful species we don’t get in the UK, such as the stargazer (Uranoscopus scaber; pesce prete – priest fish).

I bought some stargazer without having a clue what it was, on the advice of the fishmonger (pescivendolo), and, through the miracle of Facebook, was able to use the groupmind to identify it.

When we bought some fish called cerino on the market, via Facebook again we were able to identify it as the slightly less exotic grey mullet. Cerino must be another dialect term, as the standard Italian term for grey mullet is cefalo, while another Lazio dialect name is mattarello.

Such is my confusion that a friend of a friend on Facebook recommended I buy Alan Davidson’s book Mediterranean Seafood – in both English and Italian (called instead Il mare in pentola – The sea in a saucepan). The latter helpfully lists a lot of the Italian regional dialect names. Though not cerino.

Anyway, thank you very much photographer Mimi Mollica, a Sicilian who recommended to the book and also gave us a recipe for fish stew and cous cous. Which I finally made today.

I’m going to try and blog the recipe in both English and Italian, which I’m learning, very slowly. Hence the Italian will probably be fairly crude for Italian speakers. Apologies in advance.

Proverò a mettere nel blog la ricetta del Pesce Stufato alla Siciliana in inglese e in italiano, che sto apprendendo molto lentamente. Il mio italiano sarà molto brutto per gli italiani e per le persone che parlano bene in italiano. Mi scuso in anticipo.

REVISIONE: La mia insegnante l’ha corretto. Grazie Clelia!

Anyway, Mimi recommends using firmer flesh, flavoursome fish like:
Comunque, Mimi suggerisce di usare un pesce con una polpa un po’ più dura e gustosa come:

English / Inglese Italian / Italiano Italian dialect / dialetto* Latin / Latino
Scorpion (red) Scorfano rosso Cappone (Toscano) Scorpaena rossa
Scorpion (black) Scorfano nero Scorpaena nero
Scorpion (small) Scorfanotto Scorpaena notata / ustulata
Weever (greater) Tracina drago Trachinus draco
Grouper (dusky) Cernia Zerola (Lazio) Epinephelus guaza / Serranus gigas
Gurnard (tub, tub fish) Capone gallinella Capone panaricolo (Lazio) Triglia hirundo / lucerna
Guarnard (red) Capone coccio Cappone imperiale (Lazio) Aspitriglia cuculus / Triglia pini
Gurnard (grey) Capone gurno Gallinella (Tuscano) Eutriglia gurnardus / Triglia malvus

* Just a few, too many to mention!
Solo qualche, ce ne sono tanti!

And other fish, preferably sustainable varieties.
E altre pesce, preferibilmente di tipo sostenibile.

The recipe, in English

This isn’t a precise recipe – use your instincts with quantities.
Ask your fishmonger for enough fish for however many people you’re feeding.
I made it as a (large) meal for two, so I used:

Sauce
2 small-medium red scorpion fish
extra virgin olive oil
1 large white onion, coarsely chopped
2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled but left whole
White wine
500g fresh tomatoes, peeled (cut a cross in the skin, drop them in boiling water for about a minute, remove, peel) then coarsely chopped, or OR a tin of tomatoes
2-3 red chilies (depending on heat and your taste), de-seeded and chopped
salted capers, about a tablespoon, or more if you particularly like them
salt and pepper (freshly ground, naturally)

Soften the onions in a pan.
Add the garlic, and soften slightly.
Add the fish.
Increase the heat slightly and cook the fish, for about 4 minute each side.
Add a glass of white wine.
Increase the heat more, and cook off some of the alcohol.
Add the tomatoes, chilies, capers, more wine and water, to almost cover the fish.


Simmer until the fish is cooked, the flesh coming away from the bone.
Remove the fish.
Take the flesh off the fish.
Put the fish spine back in the sauce.
Simmer the sauce to thicken.
Remove the fish spine.
Put the fish flesh back in the sauce.
Season to taste.

Meanwhile, make the couscous.

200g ish couscous
1 small red onion, in thick slices
2 bay leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh parsley, coarsely chopped

Put the couscous in a bowl with a few bay leaves, the red onion, and some salt.
Pour over boiling water and a slosh of olive oil and cover.
Stand for 10 minutes, then check it’s softened enough. If not, pour over some more boiling water, and stir in. If it is, stir to break up any lumps.

Serve the couscous with the fish stew, sprinkled with parsley.

I expect my version isn’t exactly authentic (I’ve never even been to Sicilian, never mind actually eaten the real thing), but it was very tasty.

La ricetta in Italiano

Questa non è una ricetta preciso – usa i tuoi istinti con la quantità!
Chiedi al tuo pescivendolo per abbastanza pesce per le persone a tavola.
Ho fatto un pasto (grande) per due, con:

Stufato
2 scorfani piccola-medi, puliti
olio d’oliva extravergine
2-3 spicchi aglio, intero e puliti
1 cipolla bianca, grande, tritata grossa
Vino bianco
500gr pomodori, pelati, o una scatoletta di pomodori pelati
2-3 peperoncini (come si preferisce), senza semi, tritati
capperi salati, un cucchiaio da tavola o più
sale & pepe nero (macinato fresco)

Soffriggi la cipolla in una pentola.
Aggiungi gli spicchi di aglio, e soffrigi un po’.
Aggiungi i pesci.
Aumenti la fiamma un po’ e cuoci i pesci, per circa 4 minuti ogni lato.
Aggiungi un bicchiere di vino bianco.
Aumenta la fiamma, e stufa un po’ di più.
Aggiungi i pomodori, peperoncino, capperi, e abbastanza vino e acqua fino quasi a coprire i pesci.
Stufa a fuoco lento fino a quando la polpa dei pesci è morbida e sollevata delle lische.
Prendi i pesce.
Togli la polpa dei pesci.
Rimetti le lische più grande (spine) nel stufato.
Cuoci a fuoco lento per addensare.
Insaporisci con sale e pepe.

Nel frattempo, fai il couscous.

200gr (circa) couscous
1 cipolla rossa, piccola, affettata grossa
2 foglie d’alloro
olio d’oliva extravergine
sale & pepe nero (maccinato fresco)
prezzemolo, tritato grosso

Metti le fette di cipolla, le foglie d’alloro e un po’ di sale in una ciotola.
Copri tutto con acqua bollente, aggiungi un po’ d’olio d’oliva e coprila.
Lasciala per 10 minuti, poi verifica se il couscous è abbanstanza morbido. Se non lo è, aggiungi un po’ d’acqua bollente e mescola. Quando è pronto, mescola di nuovo per rompere qualche pezzo.

Servi il couscous con il stufato, cospargere con il prezzemolo.

Penso che la mia versione non è proprio autentica (non ho visitato la Sicilia mai, ne ho mangiato mai il vero stufato Siciliano di pesce), ma era molto buono.

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Scones – cream first or jam first?

We’re big fans of scones in our household. My wife, Fran, is from Devon and I’ve got strong connections with this county in the southwest of England that, along with its neighbour Cornwall, is the homeland of the cream tea: scones with clotted cream and jam, washed down with (milky black) tea.

(Some say the scone comes from Scotland – does it? Are Scots and West Country scones the same thing? Or are they different types of “quick bread” with the same name? Some serious historical investigation needs to be done on that front before I’m persuaded either way. The word itself may derive from the Dutch “schoonbrot”, meaning fine bread or white bread, though that clarifies nothing.)

I’ve been making scones since childhood, presumably having fallen in love with them after childhood holidays in Devon and Cornwall.

Anyway, every time we eat them, the same two issues arise.
First, is it pronounced skon-ryhmes-with-John or skown-rhymes-with-own? (Seriously – there’s no either/or; as with many words, it varies, with the former pronunciation most common in Britain, especially in Scotland. See point 3.11 in this 1998 University College London British English pronunciation survey.)
And second, does one split the scone then spread it with clotted cream first, or jam first? I doubt UCL has done a survey on that, and among my friends things seem to be fairly evenly split. Fran is adamant is has to be jam first, then a blob of cream like a garnish, I’ve always spread the clotted cream first, like a kind of glorified (oh the glory!) butter.

Now, before I proceed, for any impoverished soul who hasn’t had the pleasure of eating clotted cream, let me tell you what you’re missing. Clotted cream – which most certainly is traditionally, and originally, from the West Country – is a very rich, delicious and generally delightful dairy product made using the cream of cow’s milk.

In days of yore it would have been made using the rich milk of local West Country cattle, like the charming Devon Reds, a breed that’s been making a comeback recently. (I’m lucky enough to be aquainted with recently retired champion bull “Freddie” Yeomadon Ferdinand, whose offspring are used for beef; apparently it’s not viable to female Devon Reds for dairy these days so I’ve never tried any Devon Red milk or dairy products.) These days, clotted cream is mostly made using milk from Guernsey and Jersey cows, the breeds now most associated with rich, fatty milk.

Clotted cream is traditionally made by heating rich creamy milk over a low heat, possibly in a bain-marie type arrangement, reducing its water content, and encouraging the creation of thick creamy clots, which are skimmed off. I’ve made cheese, butter and yogurt but never clotted cream. They demonstrated this traditional production method in episode 9 of BBC’2 Edwardian Farm series. It looked painstaking and protracted so I don’t think I’m likely to try and reproduce it any time soon. (Read the Wikipedia entry if you’re interested in learning more about the modern, industrial production methods.)

On a recent visit to Devon, I bought some clotted cream from Langage Farm, a Devon brand that uses the milk of Guernsey and Jersey cows. Clotted cream is something I crave, and one of the international delicacies I’ve not been able to source in my current city-of-residence, Rome. So this pot travelled all the way home with me. Ridiculous food miles for a treat I know.

After making a batch of scones yesterday (see below for my basic recipe), we had a cream tea – something that presumably doesn’t happen very often in Rome, even at vintage tea room Babington’s, whose version of a “cream tea”, according to their online menu, consists of “A Scottish scone with butter and strawberry jam”. With whipped cream. That’s just plain wrong.

My friend and sometime catering collaborator Mr Dominic Rogers raised the above-mentioned cream-or-jam first question, and we discussed them being “tasty either way”, but not necessarily “tasting the same”. This is an interesting point, and one I had to address in more detail. So I did a taste test.

As illustrated by this photo, it wasn’t entirely scientific: I didn’t weight out the amounts of cream and jam (in this case fragole, strawberry) used to make sure they were identical in both cases, and I only used one scone, which meant one piece had the top crust and the other the bottom crust, which have slightly different textures. However, the results were interesting (well, interesting for scone obsessives). They are all pretty obvious if you think about it, but I still feel it’s worth recording, considering the perennial nature of the argument.

1 As you bite the jam-on-cream arrangement, your first flavour hit is of jam, which is tart, sugary-sweet and fruity.
1b Do you enjoy the sensation of thick cream as it potentially touches your top lip?
2 As you bite the cream-on-jam arrangement, your initial flavour hit is of clotted cream, which is of course, smooth, gloopy and dairy-sweet.
2b Do you enjoy the sensation of sticky jam as it potentially touches your top lip?
3 As you continue to bite down through the scone, this initially flavour hit is prolonged, being dragged down through the crumb of the scone by your upper incisors and of course moving onto your palette and tongue.
4 Your choice of jam-on-cream or cream-on-jam defines the opening flavour notes, and initial mouth-feel and flavour, before mastication results in more even mixing of flavours and textures.

Conclusion
So, arguably, you have a choice based on whether you prefer the taste of cream or jam, or prefer those as the initial taste.
Either, frankly, is bloody delicious.

Here’s my basic plain scone recipe. Some people use buttermilk; I don’t, as it’s not always easy to source, and I’m not convinced it makes a better plain scone.

450g self-raising flour (or use plain flour with about 4% baking powder, ie 435g plain flour sifted together with 15g baking powder)
80g unsalted butter, at room temperature
35g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
300g milk

1. Pre-heat the oven to 220C.
2. Grease two baking sheets.
3. Sieve the flour (and BP, if using plain flour) into a bowl, then rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
4. Stir in the sugar and salt.
5. Blend in the milk little by little using a knife.
6. Bring together as a rough dough but do not knead or otherwise handle too much.
7. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and roll out to around 22mm thick.
8. Create rounds using a pastry cutter, or simply cut into squares.
9. Repeat with any off-cuts.
10. Place on the baking sheets, dust with a little extra flour and bake for 12-15 minutes until starting to brown.
11. Serve just slightly warm – ideally with clotted cream and jam!

Scones are always best on the day they’re made.

If you’re feeling adventurous, here are a couple of other scone recipes, though I would say for a cream tea, keep it plain!

Ginger beer scones, an excellent Dan Lepard recipe.
Maple syrup scones, from the Rose Bakery cookbook.

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