excerpts from my yet unpublished book of recipes “Secrets of Mediteranean Cooking”
The belly rules the mind. ~Spanish Proverb
The greatest revolution that is happening in this moment in the world – is happening in the kitchens. I truly believe that the way we eat, and the way we prepare, understand and consume our food, is changed more then any other thing in our everyday lives. And we are what we eat, like Feuerbach said. Each day we hear more and more about good or bad food, food that kills you almost instantaneously or food that makes you live and plow the fields until you are 120. More than any other thing our conversation topics are diets, healthy foods, vitamins, recipes, restaurants… Cooking. We have food television, we have cooks that are stars, we have ten times more magazines about food then sports or hobbies or almost anything except sex.
And it is a good thing. Contrary to other revolutions that are a product of globalization, of new technologies or need – like for example the “going Online” revolution – the Cooking revolution is aimed only to pleasure and health.
When I was younger I wanted to write a new bible one day and change the humanity. I am much more realistic now, I wrote a cookbook with a twist and, by changing its meals, I am changing a person at a time.
This is a cookbook, I swear. But I believe that no food can be understood and enjoyed without the story. I don’t mean a story on the news that is flashing and throbbing from your kitchen TV. I mean the history of a meal ingredients, the drama of their interactions, the heat and the action of the processes in the cooking pot or on the kitchen board. But, most importantly, the story of the creation, of the meal itself. For example, it is not enough to tell that the secret to a good roasted meat is to put it in salted and seasoned water for few hours before preparing; you already know that, your guests at the table already know that.
You want to tell them that brining was first used to preserve food (of course, everything was firstly used to preserve food before the freezer, from cooking itself to more exotic methods including ground burial, damp salted charcoal burial or snow freezing with urine). Brining or pickling began as a way to preserve food for long journeys, especially by sea. Salt pork and salt beef were common staples for sailors before the days of steam engines. Pickling may also improve the nutritious value of food by introducing B vitamins produced by bacteria. Some cheeses are periodically washed in brine during their ripening. Not only does the brine carry flavors into the cheese (it might be seasoned with spices or wine), but the salty environment may nurture the growth of the “smear bacteria”, which can impart a very pronounced odor (Limburger) and interesting flavor. The same bacteria can also have some impact on cheeses that are simply ripened in humid conditions, like Camembert. Large populations of these bacteria show up as a sticky orange-red layer on some brine-washed cheeses.
This is the kind of story you need with your food. When you order a 100 $ bottle of wine at the restaurant you don’t want the waiter to just open it and leave it there. You want him to do the ceremonial dance and tasting and afterward tell you why is it the perfect solution for this meal, from which vineyard the bottle came and a funny story about how much of his wine was the count Rohoncije sending to each European court in order not to insult anybody.
And last but not least, you want to hear how the food you are eating was eaten by a Sardinian who kept plowing his field until 120. I don’t know why anybody would want to work in fields till they are 120, but people seem always so interested.
And this book is about the Mediterranean. Why? Because I lived there all of my life; because I learned its secrets and beauty. And because it has, truly, the best combination of healthy and flavorful diet known to western man – and it has the longest history to take interesting stories from.
I also needed to get far from home to fully understand how great and special it is. It is necessary to move away from your humble origins, from your hometown, to be able to idolize its beauty and poetry.
I was born in a small fisherman village in the middle of the Mediterranean Basin, In Istria. My first memories are tangled with sea, the beach, the smell of the fisherman nets drying in the sun, the fish scales in the wind, on the rock paved streets. Everything was about fish in this town. The air, the ground, and the food. We all ate so much fish… Even the mother milk smelled of fish.
What is the Mediterranean? Mediterranean has the similar etymology like the English term Middle-earth. We all know that Middle-earth refers to the fictional lands where most of the stories of author J. R. R. Tolkien take place, but it was not invented by Tolkien. It has much ancient roots in old English and Germanic term middangeard, all with the same meaning. In the middle, in the center, in the beginning…
The term Mediterranean derives from the Latin word mediterraneus, meaning “in the middle of earth”, most probably simply because it was the center of the known world. Some say it has its name from the Mediteranean sea – the sea in the midle of the earth or terra, but the sea was not named like that – the Romans commonly called it Mare Nostrum – “Our Sea”, Greeks called it Mesogeios, meaning “inland, interior”, Turks “The White Sea”, Arabs “The Roman Sea”. Biblically, it has been called the “Hinder Sea”, due to its location on the west coast of the Holy Land, and therefore behind a person facing the east, as referenced in the Old Testament, and sometimes translated as “Western Sea”. However, primarily it was known as the “Great Sea” or simply “The Sea”.
As a rule of thumb, Wikipedia says, the Mediterranean is the Old World region where olive trees grow.
As a child my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it. ~Buddy Hackett
I am writing this book holding my old shoe box of photography’s. I have here one from the island of Mykonos, one of the Aegean islands, on the east end of the Mediterranean, posing at the stand full of sea animal creatures all sizes, colors, shapes and drying stages – and another one on Cape Roca , just near Lisbon, standing on the 140 m tall cliff and looking towards Americas from the furthest west point of Europe. I have seen most of the Mediterranean traveling for 15 years from one side to the other, some of it as a tourist, but mostly while working. So many restaurants, hotels, bars…
I traveled it all to learn that I could see the whole Mediterranean in my small village no one has ever heard of. I could have tested all the sea dishes I ever tried or prepared just in a handful of sea snails and rocks from the beach just in front of my house.
The taste which we praise so much today, the flavor of the sea, the Umami flavour of the seaweed – can be derived from almost any sea animal, even better a sea plant, but the best taste I ever took from the sea was in the soup made from sea rocks.
I don’t suggest you do that. The recipe would sound something like: Take a plain, take a car , then take a small boat and get to some of the few totally unpolluted parts of the Mediterranean sea, southern Adriatic sea, for example…
I am starting this book with few simple, forgotten Mediterranean recipes of the old days. The way my grandmother used to do it, the way they are not done any more. Don’t get me wrong, I love what has happened to the cooking, I love the new combinations; I love the new techniques, the creativity, the marvelous splendor of the modern meals. I don’t suggest you take the fish you can by today and try to cook it in the simple way my grandmother used to do it. I tried, and it doesn’t work. It is not the same fish. It is not the same clam; even the cheese and meat are not the same, nor are garlic and tomatoes. Nowadays you just have to enhance the flavor with right spices, to combine it all in a spectacle for eyes and taste buds.
But some things remain (almost) as good as in the old times. Olive oil is the same, if paid the right price. Small sea animals, unspoiled by the mass production: like periwinkles, cuttlefish, crabs, smelt,
Periwinkles are small sea snails which live suctioned against sea rocks. . It is usually a drab olive color though it can range from brownish-yellow to gray to black. It has a whorled (spiraled) shell and grows up to 2.5 cm (1inch) in size. Here, you can find them in New England clinging to the seaweed, or in the Gulf in protected salt marshes. In Mediterranean sea they can be collected all year round along the coast, especially on the rocky islands and particularly at low tide. Make sure that you choose the largest ones!
Ingredients for 4 persons:
2 kg periwinkles
olive oil 2
After washing them, put the periwinkles into boiling water and cook for 5-8 minutes. They are extracted from the shell with a needle. After that, spice them with olive oil, salt and pepper.
Ingredients for 4 persons:
1,5 kg fresh cuttlefish
200 ml olive oil
1 table spoon of Modena vinegar
2 cloves garlic
Cook the cuttlefish in salted water with few bay leaves. Once they are soft (depending of the size – from 40 to 90 min), drain, clean and cut them into pieces. Place them into a large bowl, add salt, pepper, finely chopped garlic and aromatized olive oil