Sunday, November 15, 2009


Following a recipe in Italy has nothing to do with measuring cups and spoons. There aren't any measuring cups and spoons as I discovered when I asked some Roman chefs, friends, and other members of the general population. They don't use them and, in fact, find the concept odd.

The only form of measurement used in Italian kitchens is quanto basta which means "as much as you need". And they always seem to know how much that is. It's an inherent ability, a genetically determined form of creativity that the rest of us can only struggle to learn.
Fine tuning the art of quanto basta is essential to replicating the dishes you fall in love with at the table in Italy (asking a chef for a recipe usually gets you a patronizing smile and a list of primary ingredients).

So it was in this spirit that I attempted to create at home an antipasto from Ristorante La Rocca in Fumone, "my" medieval town south of Rome. The main ingredients are zucchini, smoked provola, and salmon. Here's where it got challenging: I can't find smoked provola where I live and of the 3 or more times I'd eaten this dish, sometimes the salmon was
fresh and other times it was smoked.

With blazing determination, I made some wild and risky decisions, putting blind faith in my ability to know when quanto basta was enough.

Here's what I did:
*Slice zucchini in 1/3 inch rounds, place on lightly greased cookie sheet in 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes. Zucchini should be slightly soft but still firm.
*Arrange each portion like this: create a flower-like shape by over-lapping zucchini rounds, top with smoked mozzarella (unless you can find smoked provola), top that with salmon, either fresh or smoked (I used smoked).
*Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and finely chopped parsley.
*Place under broiler - not too close - for about 5 minutes, or until cheese melts and slightly browns.
*You can top with a sliced cherry tomato or not. I prefer more parsley.
And that's it!

This is more of a guide than a recipe, so please do your own riff on what I've done and let me know. Try your own hand at quanto basta, and free yourself from a dependency on those measuring cups and spoons.

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