A friend asked once: “Are you one of those people who makes his own breadcrumbs?”
No, I’m not.
I had just pulled a sheet of roasted tomatoes out of the oven. Topped with seasoned breadcrumbs, they perfumed the house, then ravished the palate.
Bread usually doesn’t get old in our house. And for our daily bread we tend more toward multigrain. What would those crumbs be like? Multi-grainy, I’m guessing. Definitely different, and probably good. Still, I prefer a white-bread breadcrumb, from a baguette or Italian loaf. I buy plain white breadcrumbs from a store nearby called Johnny Pomodoro, 3-4 bags at a time. Unfortunate name for a store. Great crumbs. I don’t want to run out.
A cup of plain crumbs and a clove of garlic, a handful of parsley and tablespoon of olive oil. In and out of the food processor. Good for roasted tomatoes and zucchini. I like to have a breadcrumb mix ready in the fridge. Friday nights during Lent we bake fillets of wild caught whitefish. Heat the oven to 500 F, lightly spread the mix over the fillets. Fifteen minutes is, as Steely Dan used to sing, a countdown to ecstasy.
My wife recalls when she was a little girl going with her grandmother into the fields in Italy and coming back at noon to find huge platters of fresh vegetables roasted “alla gratinata” in wood-burning ovens. Those vegetables are a staple of home cooking in the Romagnola and Marchigiana tradition. Casalinghe cooking. The way your mother or your grandmother did it.
Le cucinavano sempre le nostre nonne, cuocendole anche nei forni delle stufe a legna. Le verdure gratinate sono genuine, semplici ed economiche tuttavia, tra preparazione e cottura, richiedono almeno un’ora di tempo quindi le si acquista spesso già pronte in gastronomia, anche il sapore ne risente. (from Rimini.com)
I learned this stuff over the years from my mother-in-law, at her table and in her kitchen. Also from my wife’s cousins, at their amazing restaurant, Trattoria Delinda, in Spadarolo, just outside of Rimini. One afternoon, between lunch and dinner hours, I stood at the edge of the kitchen and watched Antonella prepare the gratinate. So that’s how she does it, I thought.
A few days ago we were supposed to leave for San Marino and Italy, but didn’t.
Life gets in the way. It’s only been a few days and I’m already feeling not-away-from-home sick.
To compensate I’m reading another Marco Vichi novel. This one is called Perche Dollari. The genre is what they “giallo” in Italian. Yellow books, crime novels. In Vichi’s novels a world weary inspector, Commissario Bordelli, gets to the bottom of crime in Florence. There are other writers and their protagonists– Manzini (Rocco Schiavone in Aosta), Carofiglio (Guido Guerierri in Bari), Camilleri (Montalbano in Vigata)–who call to mind Elmore Leonard and Carl Hiaasen, and Ross MacDonald and Stephen Dobyns, novels with worn-down, eccentric, intensely likeable main characters.
Vichi’s novels are written in straightforward Italian, meaning without a lot of local dialect (easier for the language learner), with lots of dialogue and humor.
Early in Perche Dollari Vichi’s Bordelli is called to a palazzo in Florence, on top of which someone is shooting a shotgun. It’s not Las Vegas, it’s not Sandy Hook, it’s not American carnage. He’s not shooting at anyone. He’s just blasting. Bordelli takes the stairs to the rooftop and, engaging the shooter, recognizes him as a two-bit thief he has arrested multiple times. Like Bordelli, the thief is feeling the wear and tear of the years.
To lure him off the roof, Bordelli asks him to come and please break into his apartment; his keys are locked inside. It’s a lie, but it works. They go. They make illegal entry and then once inside share a few glasses of cognac. “Could you teach me to pick locks?” Bordelli asks. And learns the art of breaking and entering. Important for what happens next in the story.
To really compensate for not-away-from home sickness, I’m also visiting Youtube and listening to Laura talk about her recipes. Laura is from Igea Marina, an Adriatic beach town up the coast from Rimini. She has her own Youtube channel and takes you through her recipes and food preparation in her Romagnolo accent.
Yesterday I watched her prepare eggplant gratinata. After scoring the surface of eggplant slices, she mixed her breadcrumbs and parsley and garlic scented oil by hand. “It’s good to feel your hands in the work,” she says. She made me want to do that.
More than anything, the cadence and music of her language takes me to her kitchen, makes me want to be there.
The zucchini gratinati I made yesterday were excellent. Fortunately I made too many. We’ll reheat them and have them in sandwiches today. Over by Johnny Pomodoro there’s an Iraqi market that sells samoon, hollow flat breads, for 25 cents each. In San Marino or Rimini or Igea Marina we would make sandwiches with piada. Samoon will do nicely. And like many things you cook, the zucchini will be as good or better than they were yesterday.