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Saturday, November 29, 2008

Valentina Harris

The recipe I always use to sell people on the cookbooks of the incomparable Valentina Harris is this one, from Southern Italian Cooking;

Zucca Gialla alla Calabrese
Yellow Pumpkin with Mint and Capers

750g orange or yellow pumpkin [actually, what other colours of pumpkin are there?]
4 tablespoons coarse sea salt
500 ml (2 cups) sunflower oil [I generally use olive]
10 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons salted capers, well rinsed, dried, and finely chopped [but capers from a jar also work]
5 cloves garlic, chopped into slivers
5 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
8 tablespoons fine dry breadcrumbs

Arrange the pumpkin in a colander, sprinkled with salt. Put a weight on top and leave it to drain for an hour. [You can skip this bit, at a pinch]

Rinse and pat dry the pumpkin slices. Heat the oil till a small piece of bread dropped into it sizzles instantly. Fry the pumpkin for about four minutes on both sides, working with batches if necessary, then drain well on kitchen paper (paper towels).

Mix the olive oil and the vinegar with the capers, garlic, mint, and half the breadcrumbs. Arrange half the pumpkin in a dish and cover with half the dressing. Cover with another layer of pumpkin then cover with the remaining dressing. Press down firmly with your hands and cover with the remaining breadcrumbs. Leave to stand for a hour before serving.

This is classic Valentina because
1) it's reasonably easy;
2) it's very forgiving;
3) it's not something you would have thought off yourself, in a fit;
4) people are impressed by the improbability factor;
5) everybody likes it.

The strong flavours merge and blend till you can hardly pick them individually.

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