This blog post is part of the #DolceVitaBloggers link up from Mamma Prada, Italian at Heart and Questa Dolce Vita. Each month they pick a topic and open it up to all bloggers to join in. The topic for September is a favourite Italian recipe.
I went through a really long adjustment period during the move to Italy, starting from when we first started packing up our flat in London in September 2017 and ending sometime during the spring. I was overwhelmed by these big changes and I lost all interest in cooking and I couldn’t taste or enjoy food. It’s not that I turned anorexic and didn’t want to eat. I ate everything, but I didn’t care about eating like I normally did. I was numb.
But now things have been getting better. In April we moved to Forio, on the west side of the island, into a little yellow house with a garden. The house was furnished, but the kitchen just had the basics, so the first thing me and Marituccio did was put together the kitchen. We mounted shelves and bars to hang up our pots and pans and tools. We added a sideboard table and put a cutting board on top of the small fridge to add some more counter space.
I had a kitchen again and I started to cook. At first, I made a few simple dishes and rotated them during the week, slowly getting into it. Then in July, I went up to the Venice and got the rest of our stuff out of storage and shipped everything to Ischia. That meant our move was finally complete and home felt like home. Then I really started cooking the way I used to. Reading about food, trying new recipes and getting inspired. The days were long and hot with the cicadas booming, the door was always open with the cats coming in and out of the garden and I listened to podcasts and music while cooking. And the supermarket was down the road so I could do a daily shop picking up just what I needed for the day. And then Marituccio would come home from work and it would still be light out so we’d walk to the beach to watch the sunset. And then we’d come back and sit and eat.
I cooked and made all sorts of things this summer, trying new things and letting my mind lead me to wherever it wanted to go: A tomato tart, roasted aubergines, cantuccini, and zucchini flower pancakes. Grilled peaches with goat cheese and walnuts, red chilli compote with chillies from the garden and fish tacos. Steak pizzaiola, prosciutto and melon, gallons of gazpacho, and a spinach frittata in a cream of chickpeas. Fresh mayonnaise in tomato sandwiches, pea risotto, and roasted tomatoes. I was chewing on the heart of summer, getting the most I could out of it.
Such a different feeling from all those months feeling numb and lost craving burgers, fries and hot dogs. Reading about food and looking through cookbooks and recipes online made me feel happy and settled again and I had a kitchen full of light where I could keep my cookbooks and hang up pictures and postcards. Of course the cats coming in and brushing against my leg or threatening to jump on the counter made it fun too. And the church bells ringing Ave Maria at 8 pm every night.
One of my favourite dishes that I made this summer is a dish we ate every Christmas Eve while I was growing up. You would think that during those hot humid days I would avoid eating anything that would remind me of the winter, but this sweet and salty pasta dish made of olives, raisins and pine nuts felt like the perfect thing to eat. Growing up the dish didn’t have a name and I never saw any of my other aunts and uncles eat it, so it just seemed like it was our thing. But one day when the craving hit me, I googled the ingredients and I found Spaghetti allo Scammaro.
It’s actually a 19th century Neapolitan recipe back when Napoli was under Bourbon control. The Duke of Buonvicino, Ippolito Cavalcanti, first prepared this dish for the fasting monks during Lent and the other fasting days (called in Italian i giorni magri -skinny days). The recipe was added to his book Cucina Teorico-Pratica in 1837 and it quickly became part of the Neapolitan cucina povera. It’s nice to know that we were following an old Neapolitan tradition after all by making this on Christmas Eve.
The Neapolitan word scammaro originates from the monks in the monasteries. During Lent, the monks who were unwell and were permitted to eat meat ate their meals in their rooms (cammere in dialect) so as not to disturb the other fasting monks. So the word cammerare (to eat inside your room) became synonymous with eating heavy fatty carnivorous meals while scammerare (to eat outside of your room) meant eating light vegetarian or fish-based meals.
I guess it made sense getting this craving over the summer when it was too hot to cammerare. It’s a quick easy light dish and goes great with a glass of white wine from the fridge and a peach or fig for dessert.
Spaghetti allo Scammaro
Quick light pasta dish for your 'giorni di magro'.
- 2 tbsp raisins
- 2 tsp capers
- 20 gr pine nuts
- half handful gaeta olives
- 1 anchovy in oil
- 1 clove of garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- chopped parsley
- grated parmigiano (optional)
- 160 g spaghetti
Leave the raisins to soak in a bowl with warm water. Remove the pits from the olives and roughly chop. Toast the pine nuts in a pan over a low flame for under a minute. Watch closely and don’t let them burn. Once toasted, set aside.
Add oil to the pan. Add the anchovy and once it dissolves add a crushed garlic clove.
Add the olives, raisins and capers and cook until soft and covered in oil. Add in the toasted pine nuts. Remove from heat.
In the meantime, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. You’ll want this to be al dente so remove two minutes before the suggested cooking time on the packet. Reserve some cooking water.
Add the pasta and a ladle of cooking water to the pan with the sauce and put it on a low flame and mix until the sauce becomes rich and creamy and sticks to the pasta.
Add chopped parsley and grated parmigiano if desired.
Note: Most of the ingredients in this dish are salty so it would be easy to make this dish too salty. Play around with the measurements. I add more raisins to balance the saltiness and I put just a bit of salt in the water before I throw in the pasta.
I’ve seen some posts online where this recipe is taken to the next level in which breadcrumbs are added and it is fried so it becomes a frittata without the eggs. Crazers! The frittata could be a great vegan dish (if you leave out the anchovies and cheese) to bring to a party or picnic.