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Nettuno Colatura.
Essence of anchovy in a bottle.

If you like anchovies (and who reading my site doesn’t?), you’ll love the elegant, stinky syrup called colatura. It’s made from the runoff from the anchovy salting process, which I guess doesn’t sound particularly elegant, but believe me this stuff is suave. When anchovies are salted for curing, they’re layered in wooden barrels, pressed, and weighted from the top to get rid of air and make a tight package. A little hole is made at the base of the barrel for the briney liquid that’s released to gradually drip out; this is colatura ( which actually means dripping or trickling in Italian). The little bottle I now have in my kitchen was produced in Cetara, a coastal village in Campania, by a company call Nettuno, which also, as you’d expect, turn out salted anchovies, very excellent ones too.

To my palate colatura tastes less fishy than anchovies. I can’t imagine why, but this clear, amber liquid, which resembles a light maple syrup, in looks only, has a very clean fish taste, not as fermented as Nuoc Mam, the Vietnamese equivalent, which is made from pickled fish, giving it that extra funkiness. Possibly colatura is closer to garum, the ancient Roman fish sauce that flavored so much of the food of antiquity, which is something I’ve always had a perverse romantic fascination with.

Colatura is often given as a gift at Christmastime in Southern Italy, families often making their own. And it makes a good participant in the traditional Southern Italian Christmas Eve fish dinner, being, as I discovered, an especially excellent ingredient in a fish-based pasta sauce, providing that extra jolt of flavor that makes certain dishes memorable. Last night I tossed up a pound of spaghetti with garlic, olive oil, and fresh hot chilies, adding a tablespoon of colatura and a handful of parsley leaves at the last minute. I’m sure you could toss in shrimp or calamari as well. On another evening, a few drops stirred into melted butter and drizzled over a grilled steak was absolutely delicious, and surprisingly unfishy as well; it just intensified the meatiness of the meat. I have yet to try it as a sauce for fish, but can imagine mixing a few drops with olive oil and herbs and lemon and drizzling it over scallop crudo. I’ve just started playing with this stuff and will no doubt come up with other interesting ways to work it into my cooking, but anywhere you’d be tempted to include anchovy (a Caesar salad for instance), you could try a hit of colatura instead. The aroma alone will be your guide to how much you should reasonably use, but just as an example, mixing two tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil with about a teaspoon of colatura gave me a delicious, not too heady dressing for a simple salad . I’m very happy with my bottle, and soon I’ll order another one.

Nettuno colatura can be ordered from www.gustiamo.com.

Radicchio and Frisée Salad with Colatura and Toasted Almonds

(Serves 4)

1 medium head frisée lettuce, torn into small bits
1 small head round radicchio, cored and ripped into pieces
A handful of basil leaves, left whole
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, left whole
A palmful of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
10 good-sized shavings grana padano cheese
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon colatura
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the frisée and radicchio in a wooden salad bowl. Add the basil and parsley and almonds. Shave on the grana padano.

In a small bowl, stir together the garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, and colatura. Grind a generous amount of black pepper over the salad, and drizzle on the dressing. Toss gently, and serve right away.

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Lasagna.
A lost lasagna revived.

Recipe:

Sweet Christmas Eve Lasagna

Dear Erica,

My father was born in Barile, Provincia di Potenza, Basilicata. His father was from Bari. My grandmother and my mother always made their lasagna with eggs mixed in the ricotta, and with sugar and cinnamon. We ate this with the meatballs layered in between, and with tomato sauce. I never liked this lasagna, and when I married I started making it without the sugar and cinnamon. I married a man from Naples who doesn’t like my family’s way of cooking.

I was wondering if this was a recipe that was brought over from Italy. My mother seems to think that my grandmother mistook nutmeg for cinnamon, and that we just carried it on. But why the sugar? I love trying to find out Italian customs. Thanks for any info.

Sincerely,

Rita (more…)

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<i>Seasons of Sicily</i>.

I had the good fortune to be able visit Natalia Ravidà and several generations of her family several years ago when I took a trip to Sicily. I was a huge fan of her family’s estate-bottled extra-virgin olive oil. The exquisite, lush oil had been produced on the family estate, in Menfi, in southwestern Sicily, for hundreds of years, and for most of that time was used only by her family. Natalia started promoting the family oil in l991, and it is now available worldwide. I first picked up a bottle at a Williams-Sonoma store in Manhattan. Ravidà oil has gone on to win numerous awards.

Natalia has now gathered her family recipes and stories in a beautiful new book called Seasons of Sicily: Recipes from the South of Sicily (New Holland Publishers, 208 pages, $29.95). From it you’ll learn the history of La Gurra, the family’s ancestral estate and olive grove, and you’ll enjoy recipes for Sicilian classics such as pasta con zucchini e fiori di zucca (with zucchini blossoms); spaghetti con pesto di mandorle fresche (fresh almond pesto); frittella, a springtime stew of favas, artichokes, and peas; shrimp sautéed in the island’s famous Marsala wine; and gelo di melone, a chilled watermelon pudding flavored with pistachios, cinnamon, and jasmine flowers, all legacies of Sicily’s Arab past. All the recipes are both traditional and personal, with little family touches that have a history of their own but impart a contemporary, fresh feel. And the book is loaded with gorgeous photos of the Ravidà estate and olive trees, and of course the food. If you love Sicilian food (and I know you do, since you’re visiting my website), you’ll find this book to be a real treasure.

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Cavicionetti.
Cavicionetti all’Abruzzese.

Recipe:

Cavicionetti all’Abruzzese

Dear Erica,

I am a big fan of your books, and having discovered your wonderful “Lost Recipes Found” feature, I decided to see if you could help me out. I spent a few years in Abruzzo about 14 years ago. Around Christmas, I recall, a friend of my host mother made wonderful little pastries stuffed with a spicy (clove, cinnamon) and orange-flavored (maybe) dried-fruit filling (prune for sure). The pastry was a bit like pâte brisée in texture. However, maybe my memory is twisting the reality a bit. Have you ever encountered anything like this either in your travels or among your books? It would be great if you could help me out.

Thank you very much in advance!

Best regards,

Victoria (more…)

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Cardoons.

Fresh cardoons for Felice’s lost recipe.

Recipes:

Pumpkin Agro Dolce with Vinegar and Mint
Batter Fried Cardoons with Anchovy Tomato Salsa

Hi Erica,

I am second-generation Italian, my maternal grandparents coming from the hills of San Fratello in Sicily and my paternal ones from the mainland around Naples. My mom’s mother (I’m her namesake) was the only grandparent I met, and I recall two recipes from when I was small that I wish I could reconstruct.

She passed away when I was a teenager, and of course during the 1970s being Italian, or eating Italian regionalized foods, wasn’t cool, so I never paid much attention to how things were prepared. I was, however, a closet Italian-food eater, and I absolutely loved the foods grandma made . . . just not in front of my more American friends!

There are two recipes that I wish I could reconstruct, since I have very fond memories of them. Unfortunately, in those days, everything was done without measuring and was committed to memory, not paper. Anyway, here goes: (more…)

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Trippa.

Trippa alla Romana at Il Posto Accanto.

Recipe:

Tripe with Rosemary and Cacio di Roma

I love tripe Italian-style, with wine, tomatoes, herbs, and a topping of pecorino cheese. I love the taste of tripe in general; it’s really unlike any other food, in looks, for sure, but also in flavor. To me it makes the most tender, full-bodied, delicious stew, soaking up all the wine and herbs and onion and garlic it can, so by the time you’ve finished simmering it, you’ve got something really special in the pot. I know many people in this country don’t feel this way, not even in New York, where people will eat just about anything in the name of rustic trendiness. I guess tripe has not yet had its day, or possibly it tried having its day about six years ago but most people just couldn’t deal with it (it did seem to be on more trattoria menus a few years back; I guess many chefs just gave up trying to convert people). (more…)

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Orange and herring salad with almonds and frisée.

Recipe:

Orange and Herring Salad with Almonds and Frisée

I recently came across a reference to a recipe called “Mackerel, Almond, Orange, and Fennel.” The combination sounds great, but I can’t find an actual recipe. Do you have one?

Herbert D.

When I first read this intriguing but vague request from one of my readers, I immediately thought of a hot dish of mackerel roasted with fennel and orange zest and then garnished with toasted almonds. Delicious. But then I remembered that this flavor combo was familiar to me in another incarnation. About eight years ago, on my first trip to Sicily, I ate dinner at a place in Palermo that specialized in traditional Sicilian dishes (most places in Palermo specialize in traditional Sicilian dishes, but this one seemed to do so in an especially antiquated and formal way). I unfortunately can’t remember the name of the place, but I recall an interesting dessert, a watermelon gelatina, poured into a pastry shell and decorated with fresh jasmine blossoms. The gelatin itself was flavored with cinnamon and rosewater, and dusted with cocoa, a strange but delicious combination with obvious Arab lineage. Another dish I ate that evening was an antipasto, a salad of smoked fish, which may have been sardines, herring, or mackerel-something strong-with orange slices and toasted almonds. The taste was startling, in a not altogether good way. Something about the fish and orange mingled to produce the aroma of low tide. But I thought about that dish when I got home and somehow felt the combination had potential. (more…)

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