Saturday 16 February 2013

The Cat's Mother Guest Blogs - Cook the Books: La forma dell’acqua

La forma dell'acqua - The Shape of Water
I was introduced to Inspector Montalbano through the telemovies. Then I discovered the books were available in English and I have read every one. At the moment we are watching the TV prequel of the Young Montalbano. I dream of Sicily.
What is loosely called "Italian" food is my favourite cuisine and I love the way Sicilian food reflects the island’s climate and history. The trouble is, this particular book doesn’t mention many meals and no dish mentioned in this book inspired me. How to solve this mystery?
"I’m not Sicilian; I was born in Grosseto and came to Montelusa when my father was made prefect here." This is how the engineer’s widow begins her explanation about the phrase which leads Inspector Montalbano to the truth about Signor Luparello’s death and gives the book its title.
Taking my lead from Signora Luparello I looked up Grosseto and discovered it is a city and province in Tuscany in the Maremma area. Like the better known Pisa, Siena and Florence, Grosseto was an independent city state in the high Middle Ages and Renaissance. Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy informs me that the culinary specialities of Grosseto are turtle soup and a lamb soup made from heart, liver and lungs with plenty of bread and onions. Where I live turtles are endangered and a major tourist attraction. I have not checked the penalty for catching and cooking a turtle in Queensland but it likely includes jail time. As for Grosseto’s second speciality, the lamb soup had way too much offal for me. Like the Inspector, I sensed I was on the right track but thwarted.
Next I consulted La Cucina: the virtual bible of Italian regional cooking. There I read that acquacotta (cooked water) is the most typical and traditional dish of central Italy. It is a soup made from simple ingredients and is based on water (acqua) rather than broth or stock. The three fundamental ingredients are dry bread, olive oil and aromatic herbs, importantly nepitella or calamint. After that the other ingredients vary with local tradition and produce availability.
I have a kitchen garden with a selection of culinary herbs. Calamint was not one of them. I had never even heard of calamint! Glad for the long lead time for this CTB challenge several phone calls and some internet work led to a parcel delivery from a specialist herb nursery. Two little seedlings were planted and have thrived. 
Nepitella or Calamint
Some of the acquacotta recipes in La Cucina include fish but most are vegetarian with the optional addition of an egg. The recipe I chose was collected in the Maremma region. It is something Signora Luparello might have eaten in the summer holidays when she was a girl visiting her parent’s farm in the Amiata, east of Grosseto.
Acquacotta Maremmana
Heat olive oil over a low heat, add a sliced medium onion and sauté until golden. Add aromatic herbs, sliced chard leaves and a little grated pecorino. Cook 2 minutes, then add red wine, passata and water. You may need to add more water if the mixture is too thick. Simmer for 15 minutes. 
Line earthenware bowls with slices of toasted bread. Break an egg per person into the broth and gently poach them for 3 minutes. Ladle into the bowls and wait several minutes for the bread to soak up the liquid. Serve with more pecorino.
Acquacotta Maremmana
Readers of Foodycat’s blog will not be surprised to read that I had to improvise a little (I don’t claim all credit for her culinary talent, but she did learn something from her mother). I did not have a bottle of red wine open so, for a Sicilian touch, used Marsala instead. 

The final dish was flavoursome and filling. Bill pronounced it “good” but added some chilli – a Sicilian improvement. I seasoned mine Tuscan style with olive oil and some extra cheese.
So for Inspector Montalbano and The Shape of Water I give you Acquacotta Maremmana – salute!


Bettina Douglas said...

thank you!

Joanne said...

Marsala gives such great flavor to whatever it touches! This looks delicious!

Barbara said...

Certainly a misnomer to refer to that beautiful soup as cooked water! Looks fabulous!
Am not familiar with Inspector Montalbano books...will look it up.

Mary Bergfeld said...

This sounds good enough to eat :-). The book has caught my interest as well. I hope your weekend is off to a good start. Have a great day. Blessings...Mary

Faux Fuchsia said...

looks delicious and I luff marsala in slow cooked things too x

Yasmeen said...

Oh, how that marsala sounds incredible right now. I love your additions - it's what makes this recipe your own :)

Angie's Recipes said...

I just saw them in the supermarket here and was wondering what kind of mint is that! Acquacotta Maremmana looks super!

Bettina Douglas said...

Joanne, FF and Yasmeen - I find dry Italian marsala an essential pantry item. Useful in so many dishes.

Barbara - I enjoy the various Italian detectives but a friend found it a bit *adult* so be warned!

Angie - calamint or nepitella has more of a marjoram or oregano flavour than mint.

Mary - thank you for your kind words and greetings from Brisbane!

Simona Carini said...

What a nice contribution to the current edition of CtB! Thank you so much. I totally understand being hooked on Montalbano: I have been for years. It was very interesting to read how you got inspired for your dish. The Signora is such a strong character. I love when she confesses of having faked a fainting spell. I hope your nepitella grows strong.

Claudia said...

Great herbal research on the calamint, I love that kind of thing. And, what a delicious dish to go with the book.

Ana said...

Brilliant choice. And a very healthy one too. I think the inspector will reserve a special bow for your your culinary ingenuity.

Debra Eliotseats said...

I love how you drew inspiration from this book---that is almost a story to follow in itself! :) I haven't heard of calamint either but it looks like a chocolate mint I have in the green house. (I would beware of it spreading uncontrollably if it is a true mint!)

Truly fantastic post!

Rachel said...

Your acquacotta looks marvelous. Thanks for joining in the fun with our little book club.

Deb in Hawaii said...

Foodycat's Mother: I love the review and how much passion you have for the series. This is my first introduction to calamint. ;-) Your soup looks so comforting and delicious and who can argue with a healthy layer of pecorino. Great job!

Can't Believe We Ate said...

This looks simply wonderful!! I love the idea of hunting down, and growing obscure herbs! What a great idea!! I'm inspired to go see what my garden grows! I know the chard is beautiful!


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