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Pane Caliatu, a fishy version


Pane caliatu
A tasty and healthy summer dish, served with home-made flatbread (stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes) and a rosato from the Langhe

Pane Caliatu is a simple summer salad that I first came across many years ago in the book ‘Two Greedy Italians’ by Gennaro Contaldo and the late Antonio Carluccio, both of whom are much better known in England than in Italy having left their native land in their early twenties well before they became famous chefs and television personalities.


Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo on the cover of their book
Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo on the cover of their book

Pane caliatu is from the volcanic Aeolian Islands north-west of the Strait of Messina. Though the recipe is somewhat flexible, reflecting seasonally available ingredients, Gennaro's version is the simple one that he remembered from a trip to Lipari where some of the best capers in Italy are grown, as well as cherry tomatoes and olives that are the other essential components of this dish.


This is just one of many Italian dishes that find a use for leftover bread. Personally I’ve never found Tuscan bread particularly interesting or flavorful by itself (except for Schiacciata) though it is very well suited to cleaning up the remaining sauce on your plate, ie per fare la scarpetta as Italians say, or as an essential ingredient in panzanella, ribollita or pappa al pomodoro.


Italian flour however is the best in the world in my opinion with a huge variety available and so for many years I have baked my own bread and wondered why Italian bakers can’t do a better job with their flour than I can. Perhaps because the Italian housewife has never been prepared to pay more than the absolute minimum for her daily loaf and a soft crumb has never been a traditional characteristic of most types of Italian bread.


In this recipe the role of leftover bread is as croutons, old bread with crusts removed and baked in the oven or pan fried and then softened by olive oil and the juice from very ripe tomatoes. Pane caliatu is a summer dish because it requires ripe, flavorful tomatoes and, though we are partial to the Lucca Canestrino, for this dish the Pisanello (or Costoluto Fiorentino) or the more common Sicilian Datterino are juicier and perhaps more suitable for softening the croutons because I'd rather not drizzle hot water over them as Gennaro suggests.

Although signori Contaldo and Carluccio simply add capers and olives to this dish, I can’t help thinking that if you were actually on the island of Lipari you would be tempted to throw in some anchovies or shrimp to add some protein, some complementary flavors and to make it more of a meal than a simple contorno.


Cleaning fresh anchovies
Preparing fresh anchovies is a messy business but in fact quite simple and quick

As Pane Caliatu is often the centerpiece of a weekend summer lunch and is a cold dish, grilling the fish creates a hot component so I prefer the ceviche approach with fresh anchovies and/or shrimp by marinating them for a few hours in a mixture of lemon and lime juice with a touch of orange also.

However a strong word of caution is necessary because as the Italian fishmonger will be quick to point out, and as in fact is displayed above the supermarket fish counter in Italy, all fresh fish must be cleaned and frozen for a minimum of 4 days before eating them by any method that does not involve actual cooking with heat. This is also an Italian law and is to ensure that any parasites in raw fresh fish are properly killed, something that the ceviche method by itself will not necessarily accomplish. It makes me wonder whether in fact sushi restaurants freeze their fish first - I don't eat sushi but who knows?


At least in Italy shrimp always seems to be available to buy already cleaned and previously frozen (decongelato) but much less so with anchovies, so a few days of planning ahead are required but it's a worthwhile exercise because the taste of fresh (though previously frozen) anchovies that have been cured ceviche style is nothing remotely like the stronger flavor of anchovies in a jar that many people find unpleasant.


Ingredients for 4 people:

450 grams leftover country bread

450 grams cherry tomatoes on the vine

3 tablespoons of large capers

Handful of large green olives

Fresh anchovies and/or shrimp previously frozen

Lemon, 2 limes and an orange

Small red onion finely chopped

Extra virgin Italian olive oil

Salt and a pinch of oregano


Directions:

1. Prior to freezing, clean the fresh anchovies by removing the head and spine in one movement and rinse well. If the shrimp are fresh, remove head and tail and devein and rinse before freezing.

2. After at least 4 days in the freezer, remove and allow to thaw out

3. Mix together lemon juice, lime juice and orange juice (optional) and add some vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. Submerge the anchovies and shrimp in the liquid, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours

4. Prepare one inch cubed croutons from the leftover bread after eliminating the crust and bake gently or pan fry in a dry pan until firm

5. Roughly chop the tomatoes, discarding most of the seeds but retaining the juice, using a sieve if necessary, and mix well with the bread

6. Add capers (large ones are better), olives and red onion (pre-soaked in a vinegar and water mixture to soften the flavor) and dress generously with good olive oil and a dash of vinegar and season with salt and pepper.

7. About 30 minutes before serving add the marinated anchovies and shrimp together with a little of the liquid to the pane caliatu to allow the flavors to combine.

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