I won’t be the first to acknowledge how powerful smells can be, extraordinary anchors to a universe of past memories. Every season, every place, even every house has a set of smells which make you travel through space and time. There are three unique smells that bring me immediately to my childhood summer holidays with my parents, among pine trees and endless hours on the beach, carefree days in Maremma far away in time.
The first and most evocative one is the smell of sun toasted towels which your mother would wave from afar to summon you on the beach when swim time was over, a hot brackish hug anticipating a piece of focaccia and a fruit juice.
A close second is the smell of paper and ink of a book, with warped salty pages sprinkled with sand, a passport for more adventures.
The third one is a smell that tickles your appetite, a symphony of garlic, parsley and sea, the smell of spaghetti allo scoglio, a classic Italian dish of seafood spaghetti, where scoglio means literally a sea rock. During summer evenings, this appetizing aroma lingers around every pizzeria, trattoria, beach establishment or restaurant, it gets into your nostrils as you pass by and tickles your appetite once more.
A few days ago I was lying on a towel in the garden reading a book, the closest form of vacation I could get on a normal day without leaving home. The first two smells magically came together, leaving me with a strong urge to experience again the smell of seafood spaghetti out of my box of memories.
Instead of making a single bowl of spaghetti, I went to the fishmonger at the market full of expectations and bought everything I needed to cook a whole menu, a classic fish menu of the Italian summer, with three dishes that symbolically trace three moments of past summers. You just add a bottle of crisp white wine.
(Blog post written for Lagostina)
Tiny squid salad
A salad of butter tiny squids opens the meal. It is essential in the choice of ingredients, in my mind it is linked to this summer that still gives us sunny days and blue skies and that we are going to leave soon with some regret, although I’m already dreaming about crisp Autumn mornings.
The cooking classes followed one another without a break in the last months, ignoring the stifling heat and the scorching sun. Market classes have been the most requested, turning me into a loyal client of the fishmongers, where I can proudly show my guests the best catch of our sea. We often opted for shimmering local mackerels, fresh anchovies and squids so delicate and buttery that you could easily eat them raw.
If you have the chance to find those gracious tiny squids, you won’t need to cook them for a long time as they are already so tender: just clean the squids and plunge them in a pot of boiling water. Turn off the flame. After five minutes drain the squids, cut them into strips, drizzle with your best extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with salt and chopped parsley. If you want, scatter the salad with a handful of yellow and red plum tomatoes, sliced in a half, to add a slightly acidic note and a touch of colour.
- 800 g 1,7 lb of small squid
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bunch of parsley
- Clean the squids (follow this method), rinse and keep aside. Fill up a saucepan with water and bring to the boil, then plunge the squids into the water along with the tentacles. Cover the saucepan and turn off the heat. Let the squids in boiling water for at least five minutes, or until soft.
- Drain the squids, slice the mantle and let the tentacles whole. Collect the squids in a bowl.
- Finely chop the parsley and sprinkle over the squids, season with salt, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and toss te salad. Serve warm as an appetizer.
Spaghetti allo scoglio – Seafood spaghetti
We used to rent a house in the pine forest of Riva del Sole. In the evening, after dinner, the whole family would ride rusty noisy bikes to Castiglione della Pescaia along the bike path. There, waiting for us, there was an ice cream in a cone, a walk along the main street to admire the shop windows glistening in the artificial lights or a stroll along the harbor, to spy yachts, sailing boats and faded fishing boats, all equally rocked by waves.
Those few kilometers were a never-ending string of smells: some were slaps in your face, especially when you would pass too close to the trash bins that had been sitting all day in the sun, other smells so evocative that still retain their own space in my olfactory memory.
The smell of wet grass that came from behind the hedges of luxurious villas, the mosquito repellent mixed with fresh aloe vera after-sun, when the houses were crowded with large families and lots of children, and then the smell of spaghetti with seafood, which appeared every time at every sign of pizzeria, beach establishment and restaurant.
The seafood spaghetti, the first choice from a menu, is a dish which is often taken for granted, yet it still manages to leave a mark if well executed and made with fresh fish and high quality pasta.
- 1 clove of garlic
- 1 bunch of fresh parsley
- Chili pepper
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 200 g 7,05 oz of mussels, already clean
- 300 g 10,5 oz of shrimps, cleaned
- 200 g 7,05 oz of squids, cleaned
- 100 g 3,52 oz of dogfish, already cleaned
- 100 g 3,52 oz of tub gurnard fillets, already cleaned
- 350 g 0,77 lb of spaghetti
- Finely chopped the parsley and the garlic and collect them in a pan with a tablespoon of olive oil and chilli pepper to taste. Stir fry the garlic for two minutes over low heat, then add the mussels, cover the pan with a lid and cook for about five minutes on medium heat until the mussels are open.
- Now add the shrimps, the squid cut into strips, the dogfish and the tub gurnard. Cook for about five minutes until the fish is cooked through. Season with salt.
- Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water and drain them five minutes before the exact cooking time, keeping a few ladles of pasta water aside.
- Pour the spaghetti in the pan and add a ladle of water. Toss the pasta and cook until it has absorbed all the water. This cooking method, known as pasta risottata, grants a creamy and starchy dressing for your pasta, even without adding cream or butter.
- When the spaghetti are al dente and the sauce is thick, sprinkle with the finely chopped parsley and serve the spaghetti, trying to be as correct as possible in sharing the fish among your friends: do not keep all of it for you!
Salt grilled mackerels
Summer 2015. It has been the hottest summer in living memory. I could feel it sticking to my skin and suffocating every single breath while Tommaso and I were driving through Tuscany far and wide, from the mountains to the sea, doing research for the new book.
That July day was scorching and unbearable in the sun, but we eventually found shelter and refreshment on the boat of a fisherman on the pier of Viareggio.
Intrigued by our questions, he invited us for lunch. We spent the next two hours in a state of blissfulness, lulled by the rolling waves and cooled by the sea breeze. We stared at him as kids in front of a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat. Although the boat was equipped with just the tiniest kitchenette, he managed to bring on the table a pan of spaghetti alla trabaccolara and a bunch of freshly caught fishes, cooked on a grill with coarse sea salt.
Since that day, I have prepared the sea salt grilled fish many times: it is light and fast. Moreover, the salt preserves the flavour of the fish, leaving it moist inside and extra crisp on the outside. I can put on a fight for the slightly charred and smoked skin.
If the fish is too big, ask the fishmonger to open it as a book to to grant an even cooking.
Salt grilled mackerel
- 2 mackerels, about 300 g (10,5 oz) each
- Coarse sea salt
- Cover with coarse salt a non stick grill pan, heat it for a few minutes and then lay over the mackerels, skin side down.
- Cook the mackerels for about five minutes on medium heat, then gently turn them and finish to cook the fish on the other side, just a few more minutes.
- The cooking time will change significantly depending on the size of the fish, so check them constantly: you won't want a raw or dry fish.
- Move the mackerels from the grill pan onto a dish, remove bones, skin and excess salt and serve the fillets with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
- An insightful post from Dine&Dish about the resurgence of the Slow blogging movement. I can so relate to this perspective in blogging. The goal is less time in front of the computer, more time living, therefore giving us richer life experiences to share. It’s a different kind of blogging and one I’m attempting to return to.
- My favourite pasta al pomodoro in hot summer days, raw tomato pasta by Emiko Davies.
- Two of my favourite food writers, Rachel Roddy and Nicole Gulotta, in one post: Italian stuffed tomatoes on Eat this poem.
- Cherry brandy, the first step towards winter, by Regula Yesewijn. It is never too late to start thinking about Christmas.