Italian author Andrea Camilleri died on 17 July, 2019, aged 931. The novels he wrote narrating the adventures of detective Salvo Montalbano are one of the main reasons Novel Food came to exist and it is therefore fitting to dedicate to il maestro (the master), as he was respectfully called in Italy, this post.
In the archive of briciole there are several posts dedicated to Montalbano and dishes from his (and Camilleri's) native Sicily2. Montalbano likes to eat well, though he is not a cook, so he relies on his housekeeper Adelina, the chefs of his favorite restaurants and a small number of friends, to delight his palate. He hates to talk while eating and prefers to eat alone. After having lunch in his favorite trattoria, to help the digestive process he walks down the pier to a special rock, where he spends quiet time considering the various elements of the case at hand and sometimes talks to a crab.
In The Terracotta Dog, the second novel of the series3, Montalbano, while dealing with a modern crime, discovers a 50-year-old one: in a cave, he finds two skeletons guarded by a terracotta dog. The mystery of the burial pulls Montalbano and he can't let go until he solves it, in quite a creative way. The story behind the two dead people allows Camilleri to describe a page of Sicilian history, around the time of the Allied invasion of the island (1943). I don't want to divulge more of the story: it is quite fascinating and you can read the book then watch the TV movie based on it4.
During the investigation, Montalbano is invited to dinner by headmaster Burgio, whose wife Angelina cooks a traditional Sicilian vegetable: tinnirume (also called tenerumi):
The soft vegetables, which consisted of the leaves and flowers of Sicilian zucchini — the long, smooth kind, which are white, lightly speckled with green — had come out so tender, so delicate, that Montalbano actually felt deeply moved. With each bite he could feel his stomach purifying itself, turning clean and shiny.
The vegetable reappears in The Voice of the Violin5 (the fourth novel of the series), where its original name is kept in the English translation, and where it is said to "cheer the stomach and intestines."
I tasted pasta with tenerumi when I first visited Sicily many years ago. Besides prepared as a side dish the way signora Angelina did, tenerumi are also used to make soup. When I saw tenerumi at the Berkeley farmers market a recent Saturday, I could not believe my eyes. I felt I had been tele-transported to Sicily. The zucchina lunga (Lagenaria siceraria) called cucuzza in dialect, does not belong to the same species as other zucchini6:
Lagenaria siceraria (Cucuzza longa, Bottlegourd, Calabash gourd) is an ancient cucurbit... The plant has white flowers and fruit size and shape can be very variable... There are two common types: a short necked ornamental type, var. a fiasco, and a long edible type, var. longissima. The long fruits harvested at immature green stage were a popular vegetable in antiquity (cucuzza longa), but they were replaced by various immature fruits of Cucurbita pepo from the New World where various types are known as zucchini. However, the cucuzza longa is still a common vegetable in Sicily... The shoots, called tenerumi, are very appreciated in Sicily and they are very popular in summer season in local markets.
The specimens of cucuzza sold at the Berkeley farmers market7 are shorter than to the ones I saw in Palermo, at the famous Vucciria market, some years ago. That was fine with me as I ride my bike to the market and it would have been awkward to pedal with a yard of cucuzza sticking out of my backpack. I bagged a bunch of tenerumi and two short cucuzze and rode home.
The leaves, flowers, blossoms and tender stems are edible and are eaten, an example of efficiency in the use of available food resources. The raw leaves have a distinctive consistency: they feel like fabric. In fact in dialect they are referred to as pezzi or pezze (meaning, pieces of fabric).
I cooked cucuzza e tenerumi simply, with sweet onion and some fresh Early Girl tomatoes from the same farmer. I can confirm the vegetable's cleansing properties extolled by Montalbano.
- 12 ounces / 340 g Sicilian long zucchini (cucuzza)
- A bunch of tenerumi, Sicilian long zucchini greens (8 ounces / 225 g clean weight)
- 6 ounces / 170 g small Early Girl tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons / 1/4 cup / 60 ml extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces / 170 g onion sweet onion (like Walla Walla or cipollini), finely diced
- 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
- A pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Trim the zucchini top and bottom, quarter each lengthwise, then cut crosswise into slices 1/8 inch / 3 mm thick.
Wash the tenerumi, discard the thickest stems and tendrils. Cut the leaves in 1-inch / 2.5 cm ribbons and the tender stems into short lengths.
Halve the tomatoes and cut each half into 3-4 slices, depending on size.
Warm up the olive oil in a large skillet or deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, stir to coat and let cook on medium-low heat for 5 minutes, stirring often.
Add the zucchini and tenerumi and stir well. Turn up the heat to medium-low and cook for a couple of minutes, then cover the skillet and turn the heat to low. After 5 minutes, add the tomatoes and stir well. Cover and cook gently until the zucchini and tenerumi are tender, stirring every now and then. The last 5 minutes or so, cook uncovered to let the extra water evaporate.
Remove from the heat and serve immediately.
Serves 4-5 as a side dish. (The photos do not show the whole yield.)
A couple of way to enrich the simple side dish: sprinkle some grated cheese on top (in Sicily I would have used caciocavallo, but at home I used some sheep milk cheese) and/or make a nest with it and cook an egg on top.
1 Andrea Camilleri's obituary in The Guardian
2 From briciole's archive, posts that mantion Montalbano: caponata di melanzane, cipollata, four kinds of bread, reginelle (sesame seed cookies)
3 The book's page on the publisher's website
4 Alberto Sironi, the director of the Montalbano TV series (some 34 movies!), died 3 weeks after Camilleri: this obituary includes also an interview (with subtitles) of Luca Zingaretti, the actor protagonist of the series.
5 The book's page on the publisher's website
6 Traditional vegetables of Sicily by Ferndiando Branca and Giuseppe La Malfa
7 Thanks to La Tercera farm in Bolinas for growing special produce
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the cucuzza e tenerumi al pomodoro audio file [mp3].
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This is my contribution to the 37th edition of Novel Food, the literary/culinary event that Lisa of Champaign Taste and I started 12 years ago and that I continue to host.
FTC disclosure: I have received the table linen free of charge from the manufacturer (la FABBRICA del LINO). I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting it on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.