Cook your book: Italian friselle and spiced tomato dip inspired by ‘Three Women’

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Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women is a read that demands attention. In it, the sexual and emotional lives of the three women whose stories are told are punctuated with poignant descriptions of setting and place. One such passage in which the details of a fruit and vegetable stand in Bologna are depicted particularly resonated with me. 

Taddeo writes of ‘a cornucopia of fresh produce’, copious with ‘plump figs, hills of horse chestnuts, sunny peaches, bright white heads of fennel, green cauliflower, tomatoes on the vine and still dusty from the ground, pyramids of deep purple eggplant, small but glorious strawberries, glistening cherries, wine grapes, persimmons – plus a random selection of grains and breads, taralli, friselle, baguettes, some copper pots for sale, bars of cooking chocolate’.

This vivid imagery took me back to Italy. The scene described unfolds on Via San Felice, a portico that I used to pass through many times as a child. The transportive nature of Taddeo’s writing prompted me to reminisce and relive the foods and flavours that she interweaves into her work. The wave of nostalgia that washed over me upon reading this extract encouraged me to bring my memories of home back to life through cooking. 

I decided to take inspiration from the ingredients that Taddeo lists, and create my own dish using them. Recollections of the seasonal produce harvested in the fields that neighboured my family home encouraged me to use the foods I was fed on when I was little as the centre of my dish. I chose to make a dip with vine tomatoes, aubergine, red peppers and capsicum. The vivid hues of red and purple reminded me of the sauces and toppings I was so used to seeing in Italian cuisine. 

The ingredients for this dish, to prepare four servings, included

  • 3 aubergines 
  • 1 large red pepper
  • 200g of cherry tomatoes 
  • 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 2 capsicums
  • 1 tablespoon of tomato purée
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of sugar 
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon of paprika
  • 1 teaspoon of chilli flakes
  • Salt, to taste 

First, I roasted the aubergine, pepper and capsicum in the oven until the flesh was blistered, soft and falling apart. I then peeled the skin off of the peppers and capsicum, removed any seeds and diced finely.

I next added the peppers and capsicum to a pan with the minced garlic, cherry tomatoes, tinned tomatoes, chilli flakes, tomato purée, sugar and salt. I cooked this for 40 minutes, stirring every 8-10 until reduced. At this point, I combined the roasted aubergine and paprika, and the dip was complete.

To go with my dip, I decided to make my own friselle, a type of bread that Taddeo mentions as part of the produce on sale in her book. I had only eaten friselle once before, when volunteering in Puglia, so I thought I would try to recreate this Southern delicacy. Not dissimilar in shape to a bagel, friselle are often eaten toasted with roasted vegetables or topped with fresh tomatoes and basil, like a kind of bruschetta. To make the dough for my bread, I used:

  • 150g plain flour
  • 350g semolina 
  • 280ml of water
  • 30ml of olive oil
  • 12g of salt
  • 5g of yeast

First, I made a Poolish using the flour, 3g of the yeast and 150ml of water. I covered this with a tea towel and proofed it in the oven for three hours. After this, I added the semolina, the remainder of the yeast and water, the salt and olive oil, and kneaded until firm. I then placed it back into the oven to proof for an additional two hours. Next, I split the dough into 80g portions and shaped it, cooking it at 230 degrees for fifteen minutes. Finally, I cut each piece of bread in half and finished toasting at 160 degrees for a further twenty minutes.  

Served together, the friselle and aubergine dip were delicious, with a perfect balance between sweet and spicy notes. At a time where I have not recently been able to return to Italy due to COVID restrictions,  Lisa Taddeo’s ‘Three Women’ and the recipe inspired by it gave me the opportunity to travel back home through taste alone.  

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