HOLIDAY FOOD – A Christmas at Sea

14 Dec 2001

Fishermen develop a sense of community on the sea – a deep bond derived from their experiences on board ship – that carries over to their choice of relationships and situations on land. The fisherman and the prisoner have a few things in common in this sense (paradoxically since the environment in question is enforced in one case and practically unlimited in the other), in that they have relationships with silence and the words of others which brings them together. Despite this sense of isolation, or perhaps because of it, they often develop strong communities – like in the case of the San Benedetto del Tronto navy (one of the most important on the Adriatic coast for the last 300 years) by Giancarlo Fusco, who presented a nicely efficient (if indirect) illustration of this characteristic in his book Duri a Marsiglia: 1st November 1933, All Saint’s Day, was a Tuesday. The fishermen of San Benedetto del Tronto (many of whom at that time were from Marseille) had lined up thousands of oil lamps along the walls of the Vieux Port, on the Place de Lenche side. The wind buffeted them and every now and again blew one out. In those days, on board boats with otter trawls (which were about 15m long, 4 or 5m wide with a rounded hull and typical tall mast, as high as the ship was long) tasks were meted out according to a strict hierarchic division. Eating customs too were divided by class: these boats usually took on about 300 vicciate, ring-shaped stale bread ship’s biscuits. At the beginning of his apprenticeship the moré – a teenager who occupied the lowest position in the hierarchy on board – did not have the right to be included in the division of these biscuits and had to bring his own bread from home. As time passed (if he worked well) he could take part in this symbolic but material division of food. Different portions were attributed according to the hierarchy, beginning with the parò (the boss, basically), and then in decreasing order, to the sottoparò, the giovanotto, the more, the sbarzucche(crew hand) and zautte, assistant to the sbarzucche The last catch before the Christmas break was a moment of fraternal sharing, when with symbolic and seasonal meaning the men doled out the cazòle – cod’s eggs, large or small depending on the size of the fish. This food had a clear link with the nativity, and like monkfish innards (trippe di rospo), was a cult meal for the fisherman of this part of the Adriatic coast, between Marche and Abruzzo. This tradition has survived. Once the cod’s eggs and monkfish innards were jealously conserved by the fishermen in a bag hanging from the boat so that the seawater would keep them fresh until they reached dry land; today, the health and hygiene regulations (according to which fish must be cleaned as soon as they are caught) favor the unusual nature of this “underground” seafaring cult food. One piece of advice for those wishing to try it: order it from your fishmonger a few days in advance.
Cazòle were cooked in the simplest way possible: boiled and dressed with oil and lemon; baked; or in the frying pan with onion and perhaps a little tomato. A real delicacy sometimes found in the restaurants of San Benedetto is pasta with so-called quinto quarto sauce: cod’s eggs, monkfish tripe and liver.
The recipe below, with the addition of squid, could provide an alternative to the classic spaghetti di magro with tuna for Christmas Eve dinner (if you can find cod’s eggs, of course).

Spaghetti with cod’s eggs

Ingredients for 4

300g squid
150g cod’s eggs
400g spaghetti
one onion
2 spoons extravirgin olive oil
Cooking time: 10 minutes for preparation, 20 for cooking

Clean the squid well. Pour the oil into a pan and soften the finely chopped onion for a few minutes. Add the cod’s eggs, squid, and salt, and cook for about ten minutes. Meanwhile boil the spaghetti until al dente and mix them into the sauce in the pan.

Antonio Attorre, a food and wine journalist, lives in the Marche region of Italy and collaborates with Slow Food Editore

Photo: a paranza boat

Translated by Ailsa Wood

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