28 October 2011

Pesce e Patatine

Anyone who’s spoken to me in the past 3 months or so knows that I am kind of sick of Italian food.  I am sick of pasta and pizza, of panini and porchetta, of olive oil, garlic, bistecca, and scottadito.  I long for sushi and Indian food, cheeseburgers and burritos.

Yesterday afternoon, we headed out for a walk thru town, looking for dinner ideas.  We headed past the 3 butchers, with their pig parts and hanging sausages and remembered we had fish in the freezer.  I’m not sure what kind, maybe merluzzo (I have no idea what that equates to in English….maybe it’s an Italian fish, existing only here).  We also had a potato.  Fish and chips!

We stopped in at the Tutti Frutti, a tiny shop on the Corso owned by a Romanian woman. Or maybe she’s Croatian. Or Polish.  I don’t know.   Our friend F., who lived in Poland for years, insists you can tell the Polish by the fact that the backs of their heads are flat, but I’ve never gotten behind Slavica so I don’t know.  I do know that that is her name, finally.  I’d taken to calling her “Slovenia”, “Slavitzia”, “Slovakia”.  I knew it was “Sla-something” but could never remember.  Quite the handicap in the land of personalized greetings: “Ciao, Nancy!”, “Ciao, Francesco!”, “Ciaooo…..”.   Yesterday I saw the license hanging up in her shop---Ciao, Slavica!

Tutti Frutti, Corso G. Schiavi
Slavica sits in this shop all day from 10a-1p and from 4p-8p, in a space of approximately two and a half square meters.  Outside, there are crates of fruits and little baskets hanging on nails that you can use to bring your selections inside.  Inside, there are bins of vegetables and a small counter with a scale and a cash register, behind which she sits and cleans and cuts some of them into little packages of salads and soup starters for people to purchase.  She’s one of the locals who likes to learn some English from us and is delighted when I get a word or phrase right in Italian.

I picked out a couple small potatoes and a few bunches of what looked like dandelion leaves but which I’m pretty sure was chicory.  Slavica was busy with some other customers so I didn’t get to find out what it was and how she’d suggest we cook it, but I got a resounding, “Brava!” when I handed over the exact
amount due (ninety cents, for the curious).

We got home and I set about finding a batter recipe we could use with ingredients we had in the house while Vin took out the fish to defrost and got to work cleaning the weeds—er, vegetable.

Our potential batter ingredients were limited and it being Thursday afternoon, the small Tigre supermarket across the street was closed.  No cornstarch.  I thought maybe baking powder, which has cornstarch, would suffice. No beer.  Maybe some water.  Maybe I’d need baking soda to help fluff it up.

I came across one recipe that had what I had:
1 c flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder (imported from the US. woe is me when we run out.)
½ c milk
½ c water

Mix the dry ingredients together (we added black pepper and cayenne, too).
Slowly add the milk and water, beating ‘til smooth

For the chicory (or whatever it was), we hacked off the ends, washed ‘em, stuck ‘em in a pan with aglio, olio e peperoncino and covered them.  Yeah, yeah, I know, olive oil, garlic….but really, what else do you do with rangy-looking, bitter, weed-like vegetables?

The potatoes were washed, skins left on, cut, rinsed in cold water, dried and then fried.

When the fish were defrosted, we patted ‘em dry, dunked ‘em in the batter and into the oil and what came out was fluffy, crunchy, perfectly cooked.  Best batter ever.   Maybe merluzzo is haddock.  I don’t know, and I forgot to take pictures of it all, but believe me: these were chip shop-worthy slabs of crunchy, fishy goodness.

Now if I could just find some cheddar cheese nearby, I could make a burrito.  I’m relatively confident I can make a tortilla.  I just have to figure out how to buy lard…….

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