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Making a Case for Recipes With Roots

November 03, 1994|GIULIANO BUGIALLI

What determines an authentic or classic recipe? One approach, used by some cookbook authors, is to tally and edit recipes solicited from restaurants throughout Italy. Although this may seem logical, these recipes are often either watered-down versions that have been redesigned to fit an individual restaurant's needs, or altogether misleading--restaurateurs may deliberately omit ingredients so as not to give away their secrets.

When I research the origin and evolution of a dish, one source is not enough. I compare documented recipes (as early as the 14th Century) with the many oral versions handed down from one generation to the next within a region's long-native families. Through this process, I believe the essence of a particular dish--its ingredients and preparation--is most fully revealed.

For me, it is important to use authentic ingredients and to eschew "creative" changes which bastardize the dish.


This may make recipes that seem difficult for cooks to follow outside of Italy, but most Italian ingredients are now available abroad, although it sometimes requires a little effort to obtain them. Occasionally, I will list an ingredient which is truly hard to find, but in such cases I do offer a second choice. My experience over some 20 years has been that many ingredients that were not imported when my first books were published are now easily available. It is really worth it not to take the easy way out; the reward is a more delicious dish, in which the flavor comes from its historical roots.


3 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour

1 ounce (2 cakes) compressed fresh yeast or 2 packages (4 teaspoons) active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups lukewarm or hot water (depending on yeast used)

2 1/2 pounds red wine grapes (not Concord) or 2 1/2 pounds seedless ruby red grapes

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil

Dash salt

Scant 1/2 cup lukewarm water

Prepare sponge by placing 1 cup flour in bowl and making well in center. Dissolve yeast in 3/4 cup water, then pour into well. Use wooden spoon to gradually incorporate flour into dissolved yeast. Sprinkle on another 1 tablespoon flour. Cover bowl with cotton dish towel. Let stand, in warm place away from drafts, until sponge has doubled in size, about 1 hour. (Two signs that sponge has doubled in size are disappearance of tablespoon of flour and formation of large cracks on top.)

Meanwhile, remove grape stems and carefully wash grapes in cold water. Pat dry with paper towels. Place grapes in large crockery or glass bowl and add sugar and fennel seeds. Mix with wooden spoon so that grapes are well coated with sugar. Let stand until needed.

Prepare bread dough by placing remaining 2 1/2 cups flour in mound on board and making well in center. Pour sponge into well along with olive oil, salt and water. Use wooden spoon to mix together all ingredients in well. Then start mixing with hands, incorporating flour little by little from inside rim of well. Keep mixing until all but about 5 tablespoons flour are incorporated.

Knead dough with palm of hand, incorporating remaining flour in folding motion until dough is homogeneous and smooth, about 2 minutes.

Divide dough in half. Roll out each half with rolling pin into round about 16 inches in diameter. Place 1 round of dough on bottom of oiled 14-inch pizza pan. Distribute half of sugared grapes over layer of dough. Cover with other round of dough. Seal edges together all around by pressing together.

Distribute remaining grapes on top of second layer. Cover pan with cotton dish towel. Let stand until almost doubled in size, about 1 hour. Remove towel. Bake at 375 degrees 1 hour. Remove from oven and let cool completely, about 1 hour. Serve from pan or on board to preserve rustic character, slicing like pizza. Makes 8 to 10 servings.


3 pounds swordfish with bone, cut into 3 (1/2-inch-thick) slices

1/4 cup olive oil


2 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped

3 heaping tablespoons capers in wine vinegar, drained and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup very fine unseasoned bread crumbs, preferably homemade, lightly toasted

Juice 1/2 lemon

Freshly ground pepper

3 large ripe, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

2 lemons, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

Lemon wedges

18 sprigs Italian parsley, leaves only

Cut each slice of fish crosswise into 2 pieces, removing bone in center. Place 6 pieces of fish in bowl and add olive oil. Season to taste with salt. Mix to coat evenly. Let stand 30 minutes, turning pieces over 2 or 3 times.

Begin stuffing by combining garlic and capers in small bowl. Add bread crumbs, lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Mix together with wooden spoon.

Remove fish slices from bowl and place on platter. Place 1/6 of stuffing in center of each slice. Fold fish to make small package.

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