This is another within the series of posts which, quite frankly, is not for everyone, not even the intrepid tourist to the left. Truth be told, snails weren’t exactly popular among members of my generation at the old two-flat either. (If you wish to exit, you may do so HERE.) I am probably the only one to have eaten lumache back then and certainly am the only one willing to go back to that well again today. Still, if I’m going to record the family’s recipes for Posterity, I’m not about to start filtering them. Besides, the look on Zia’s face when I unveiled the lumache and announced my plans for dinner was priceless. This blog delights in ways I never dreamt possible!
As I recall, lumache, or babbaluci as they are known in Sicily, was not at all a common dish at our dinner table nor, for that matter, at Zia’s. I only remember them being served 2, maybe 3, times. That’s probably because of the amount of work involved in preparing them for the table. They had to be soaked to rouse them from dormancy, scrubbed, boiled, scrubbed again, and either removed from their shells or left intact for further cooking. As you can imagine, this was no 1 day job. Mom would put water, vinegar, and the dormant lumache into her largest pot; place a colander atop the pot, weighted with a heavy book or pan; and, set it aside to let the lumache come out of their shells. As they came to life, they would leave the water and head up into the colander — hence the reason for the weight. Unfortunately, that weight wasn’t heavy enough to prevent me from snatching a pet when I was about 6 years old. It was, however, too heavy for me to replace properly before I returned to bed, my new pet snail in a water glass at my bedside. Mom was just a tad upset when she woke me the next morning. Her kitchen cupboards and counters were covered with lumache on the lam. Even my pet (the little tattle-trail!) was well on its way to my bedroom’s ceiling by that time. Funny thing. I don’t recall ever having a pet snail after that.
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I’ve chosen to share this recipe today because of Mario Batali. On a recent rebroadcast of Molto Mario, he mentioned that lumache was one of several dishes that the people of Le Marche (the Marchigiani) prepare on All Souls Day. Well, with the Bartolinis being Marchigiani and today being All Soul’s Day, what choice do I have? So, the recipe I’m going to share is the very recipe the Bartolini Girls cooked those many years ago — with 1 exception. There was no way on Earth that I was going to start with dormant lumache. With Max in the house, that is surely a disaster waiting to happen. I can just see him running around my home, trying to lure me into a game of keep-away with some unlucky snail in his mouth, while I’m on a ladder retrieving the rest off of my kitchen’s walls. No, no, no! So, I did a little googling — and it paid off. On Amazon (of course!), I found canned lumache that were cleaned, shelled, trimmed, and ready for stewing. What was once a multi-day, very messy affair suddenly became as easy as preparing a tomato sauce. I ordered them and, once delivered, I packed them up and brought them to Zia for one most memorable dinner.
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Lumache alla Bartolini Recipe
- 1 can (15 oz, 48 count) very large size lumache
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 garlic cloves, diced
- 1 can (14 oz) crushed tomatoes
- 1 can (14 oz) diced tomatoes
- 4 oz dry white wine
- 3 tbsp parsley
- 1 tsp marjoram
- salt & pepper, to taste
- Heat olive oil in medium-sized sauce pan over med-high heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes. Season lightly with salt & pepper.
- Add garlic and sauté for another minute before adding the tomatoes, wine, marjoram, and parsley.
- Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and continue cooking for about 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are cooked and the sauce has darkened.
- Add the lumache with the canning liquid and continue to simmer for about 30 minutes more. The sauce should be dark and thick.
- Season with salt & pepper, to taste, and serve.
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When she cooked lumache in their shells, Mom served them in deep soup bowls with a chunk of crusty bread on the side. When removed from their shells, lumache may, also, be served as a dressing for pasta or atop polenta.
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Back in the days preceding Vatican Council II, when eating meat was forbidden on Fridays and other “days of abstinence,” Catholics were allowed to eat lumache because they were considered seafood. Well, in classic Italian cuisine, cheese is very rarely used in a dish featuring seafood and if the Church labels something as seafood, who are we to argue? The use of cheese, therefore, in a dish with lumache is frowned upon. On the other hand, what you serve in your own home is your own business. (Was that thunder?)
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