4.07.2018

Rules Are {Sometimes} Made to Be Broken

There is a rule in Italy. No cheese on fish or seafood dishes.

One dark and rainy afternoon, when we were seated in the upstairs dining room of the Taverna San Trovaso in Venice, our attention was piqued by the French couple next to us. The husband had just requested cheese for his wife’s lunch.

You see, he had ordered pasta with a meat sauce, and she a pasta with clams. We were on tenterhooks waiting to see what would happen.

The server looked at the man’s meat sauce, and said he would be back “pronto.”

The server placed the cheese by the husband’s dinner plate. The husband picked up the cheese and started to pass it to his wife. After all, it was she who wanted cheese.

The server reached down with the alacrity of an eagle snatching its prey, seized the man’s wrist, and guided the cheese back down next to his plate. “No!”

The husband tried to argue that they were customers and the customer is always right. That got him nowhere. In the end, the server took the cheese away, for fear it would be used inappropriately. The rule is hard and fast: no cheese with fish or seafood.

I know that rule, and I have never broken it. Not until this past weekend, when I was seeking an appetizer to serve with a beautiful rosé - Fleur de l’Amaurigue. I came across a recipe for tuna-stuffed zucchini rolls and just sensed they would pair well with the rosé. You can read about it in the Provence WineZine.

Today’s recipe is from Il Cucchiaio d’Argento, one of the most trusted sources of traditional Italian cuisine. I was astonished to find that there was Parmigiano-Reggiano both in and on top of the tuna rolls. Honestly, I felt like I was cheating on Italy.

After some research I learned the ironclad rule may be broken when the fish concerned is canned tuna, baccalà (salt cod), cured sardines, and tinned anchovies. I felt much better. I would not have to turn myself in at the Italian Consulate.

The reason for the original rule? Italian cooks believe the milky saltiness of the cheese will overpower the delicate fish or seafood. If you are in Italy and are in the least bit unsure whether or not cheese is appropriate for any dish, just ask. You will avoid an international incident or becoming an embarrassment to your friends.

The narrow exception to this rule is a relief, as these zucchini rolls are wonderful!

~ David

Zucchine Ripieni di Tonno
from Il Cucchiaio d'Argento

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon snipped chives
1 whole anchovy in oil
salt
pepper
1 5-ounce can oil-packed tuna (drained weight about 4 ounces)
1 egg
1 heaping tablespoon ground almonds
1 tablespoon of capers
2 ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, divided
6 tablespoons dried breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped mint


Preheat oven to 375°F.

Cut off the ends of the zucchini. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise and, with a mandoline at the thinnest setting, make thin and regular slices from the central parts. You should get 6 slices from each half for a total of 36. Keep the leftover pieces of zucchini and chop them well with a knife.

In a non-stick pan, melt the anchovy in the tablespoon of olive oil with the chives. Add the chopped zucchini bits and cook for 5 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat and let to cool. Transfer the zucchini mixture to the bowl of a food processor along with the drained tuna, capers, almonds, Parmigiano-Reggiano (reserve 3 tablespoons), egg, mint, parsley, and breadcrumbs and process to obtain a soft, but not too moist mixture. Season with salt and pepper. Add more breadcrumbs if too wet.

Place a walnut-sized piece of the filling at one end of a zucchini ribbon and roll up to form a small cylinder. Proceed in this way until the ingredients are used up and place them inside an 8-inch pan lined with parchment. Drizzle all over with olive oil and sprinkle with the reserved Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 36.


32 comments:

  1. Great story. Wonderful recipe! I just know that no cuisine police will be knocking at my kitchen door no matter what I make! But when in Rome...

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    1. I’m not sure, Mimi! The Cuisine Police are everywhere! :)

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  2. I love that story, too....although I know you are known to experiment in the kitchen, I know you are a traditionalist at heart which makes me suspect that, like the waiter, you might have removed the offending cheese, too, but much more graciously! I look forward to trying these rolls! I already know I love the l'Amaurigue rosé!

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    1. That is true, Susan, I do experiment but there are some things that are sacred... until I find the loopholes, anyway!

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  3. Just goes to show you how steadfast and serious Italians are about their food! OMG, too funny about the customer is always right: not in Bella Italia!! haha!

    My dad adds grated cheese to his spaghetti with anchovies, so he's off the hook now, too! I don't know if I will tell him or not! ;)

    Lovely recipe as usual and not surprised as I LOVE that cookbook! :) Happy weekend!

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    1. Isn’t it nice to know there is a “loophole” for some things? Such a relief! :) Still, like you, I love the staunch traditions and appreciate the thought behind them!

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  4. I've broken that 'no cheese' rule many times, but it usually only involves a light dusting over pasta with tomatoes, shellfish, squid and prawns from the Maltese restaurant up the road from us. Personally I think a little cheese enhances the flavour.

    Although, I perform my criminal act when the floor staff are nowhere to be seen. Never have I done it in Italy. That is just asking for trouble!

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    1. Very wise, John! There are times it isn’t worth the fight,

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  5. The server was right. Cheese spaghetti alla vongole is an abomination! But this, on the other hand... looks lovely. Hope you had a great Easter!

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    1. Thanks, Frank - we had a great (and incredibly non-traditional) Easter. We both enjoyed looking at your pastiera and said, “Next Easter!”

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  6. Interesting story David! And your dish is perfect for upcoming zucchini season!

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  7. I've heard of this rule before, but never dreamed it would be actively enforced in person! I definitely break this rule all the time, but if I ever visit Italy I will be sure to pay attention! :) I couldn't wait to come get this recipe after I saw your picture posted on Saturday. This dish looks scrumptious!!

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    1. I love that Italy is so traditional and I obey the rules - and I am glad that I didn't actually break any rules here! :)

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  8. I am terribly, terribly sorry but good on the chef who served a dish HIS way :) ! There are many places to enjoy a meal!! Meanwhile I love zucchini and tuna and cheese . . . and I am the chef in my kitchen . . .

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    1. I am completely with you, Eha - we should respect the artistry. But, in our kitchens, we are the artists, right?

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  9. I love that story! And rules are definitely made to be broken as these look delicious.

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  10. This was so entertaining, David. Loved it. The exceptions to the Italian rule seem to make good culinary sense. And of course your zucchini rolls sound delicious. A side note: I LOVE the beautifully painted ceramic dish. So pretty -- especially the handles. Cheers!

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    1. I have two of these dishes, Valentina - I wish I had more! Thanks for enjoying this post - it was fun being back in Venice for a few minutes as I wrote! :)

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  11. You write such wonderful stories and your stuffed zucchini looks divine.

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  12. Like " Mr. Silver Spoon " ideas and like the story; the couple definitely had an Guardian Angel that saved them :-)

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  13. David, that is one food rule I definitely believe in. Just as I was thinking how my one exception is canned tuna, well, there you were! I love that the server took the cheese away - what a hoot!

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    1. I obey the rule, too, Jean - I really enjoy the Italian passion fro tradition. Howe ver, with this I was glad to find there is an exception!

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  14. As soon as I had oyster dip (loaded with cream cheese) in New Orleans I knew that the cheese and seafood rule was not for me. I'm glad to see so deliciously break this tradition in this recipe too. GREG

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    1. That dip sounds amazing, Greg - will have to do some searching for the recipe. (Maybe start with Sippity Sup?)

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  15. I never knew that rule, even though I have visited Italy many times. Luckily I have never made that faux pas! Great dish David :D

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    1. I love all the food rules in Italy - it just shows how passionate they are about their cuisine!

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