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Ratatouia, Samfaina, Cianfotta (Culinary History)

Ratatouia, Samfaina, Cianfotta (Culinary History)
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    Post #1 - September 10th, 2004, 4:47 pm
    Post #1 - September 10th, 2004, 4:47 pm Post #1 - September 10th, 2004, 4:47 pm
    Ratatouia, Samfaina, Cianfotta:
    Some Related Summer Vegetable Dishes

    © A.F. Volcinus de Montibus

    [LTH: Please note that the following lengthy post is a draft of part of a much larger text on culinary history. Given the already considerable size of this piece and the fact that the season for making the dishes considered here will soon be past, I have decided to offer this incomplete discussion at this time. -- AVdM]

    A more complete and further developed version of this paper has been published in the volume Authenticity in the Kitchen (Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005 (Richard Hosking (ed.), Prospect Books).

    This is that time of summer -- at least for those who frequent basic farmers' markets for their purchases of fresh vegetables -- when the initial delight at the arrival of mid-summer vegetables has worn off a bit, shading perhaps slightly into a touch of boredom. Meanwhile, the start of football season is reminding us that the Day of the Dead is just around the corner.

    But it's also a time when a number of those mid-summer vegetables are still appearing in fine form, such as eggplants, peppers, and zucchini, and those most delectable fruits of the late summer, lei poumo d'amour, die Paradeiser, i pomi d'oro (1), the tomatoes, are finally reaching here in northern Illinois genuine, natural ripeness. This is the time for Provence's ratatouia, Catalonia's samfaina and southern Italy's cianfotta.


    A Brief Communal Simmer

    Of the three related dishes mentioned here, only the first one, the Provençal ratatouia, is very well known in this country, but then only by the northern and standard French form of the name, ratatouille. This southern French dish can perhaps be most succinctly defined as a mid- to late-summer vegetable stew which necessarily includes eggplants, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes and onions. So defined, this dish appears with slight variations of secondary ingredients and under different names throughout much of the south of France and the Iberian peninsula. In this latter area, south of the Pyrenees, the dish is especially associated with and celebrated in the cuisine of Catalonia, where it bears the name samfaina, and indeed, insofar as it seems reasonable to seek an area of origin for a simple dish such as this summer vegetable stew, the existing evidence would tend to point to it having first been developed in the països Catalans, the Catalan-speaking lands, at least according to some.(2)

    Details of the history of this dish in the United States are not known to me but I have a strong impression that it was in the course of the 1960's and still more so in the 1970's that this stew, under the name ratatouille, became a fairly widely known and consumed dish.(3) To my mind, its rise to prominence was linked in the first place to the increased awareness of French cooking in the broadest sense that is generally associated with and attributed to the efforts of Julia Child, among others. In the second place, ratatouille also enjoyed great favour in vegetarian circles, which had grown in size and prominence during that general period in connexion with the various other counter-culture or 'alternative' reactions to mainstream American bourgeois culture.

    I also remember quite distinctly that, in this general period when I became familiar with and fond of ratatouille, there was also afoot a movement to reform generally the treatment of vegetables in this country, a reform that involved a strong turn away from the canned and the frozen and the overcooked, from the old Anglo-American way, in preference of the fresh and the lightly cooked or steamed, an allegedly more healthy and sophisticated way of preparing vegetables. Ratatouille was naturally and, it seems to me, unreflectively taken up in this reform movement, especially since it was a dish that then was very much felt to be sophisticated and special. As I remember it, there were lots of people who felt strongly that the vegetables in ratatouille should be cooked separately, in stages, and brought together only briefly in the end, in order that each maintain as much as possible its shape and colour and a degree of textural character. Interestingly enough, it is precisely this method and result which Julia Child et al. (1966: 503) present as the preferred version of the dish in their famous book on French cooking:

    "A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately before it is arranged in the casserole to partake of a brief communal simmer. This recipe is the only one we know of which produces a ratatouille in which each vegetable retains its own shape and character. Happily a ratatouille may be cooked completely the day before it is to be served, and it seems to gain in flavor when reheated."(4)

    That the recipe presented by Child et al. would appeal to lovers of relatively lightly cooked vegetables, including the new converts to the vegetable cooking reform movement of the 1970's, is clear enough. And I concur with the opinion that ratatouille cooked in this way is a very delicious dish; I would add further that as part of a vegetarian meal in which the vegetable stew takes the position of plat principal, the maintenance of a measure of independence for the various major components, both with regard to flavour and texture, is all the more pleasing. In any event, among both vegetarians and carnivores in this country, I believe the preferred and more highly regarded approach to cooking ratatouille is the one championed by Ms. Child and her co-authors. But if one considers carefully the passage cited above, one notes that it ends with the striking statement that ratatouille "seems to gain in flavor when reheated," a statement that in a way is at odds with the spirit of cooking each component separately and bringing them together only briefly. Note too that Child et al. refer to the specific recipe they endorse as "the only one we know" which keeps all the components pleasingly distinct in the end. So then, it seems that this recipe, the one which to me seems to have triumphed here in the States, deviates in a very basic way from the others that Child et al. knew of.


    The Angels' Kitchen

    From classical times through all the Middle Ages, the països Catalans were in a number of ways more closely tied to the south of France and even Italy than to the rest of the Iberian peninsula. The close socio-historical relationship of Catalonia, in the broad sense, with southern France is directly reflected at the linguistic level. Taking all linguistic features in consideration, Catalan is clearly more closely related to the Langue d'Oc or Occitan (in the broadest sense) spoken north of the Pyrenees, from Gascony in the southwest of France to Provence in the southeast of that country than to Castilian and the other Romance varieties of the peninsula. Indeed, in the Middle Ages, in the period of the great flowering of Troubadour poetry and in the slightly later and broader literary flowering in Catalonia, there was little or no sense of linguistic separateness between the two areas and only gradually, as result of the political and cultural separation brought about by the northern French conquest and subjugation of southern France, and later also the absorption and suppression of Catalonia by a Castilian dominated Spain, did they begin to lose a sense of linguistic unity as the two regions and their dialects both fell into second rate status within their respective countries. Nevertheless, into the 20th century, the dialectal continuum that spanned both the national border and the Pyrenees remained very much intact, a point emphasised by the fact that Roussillon, on the French side of the border, is from a dialectal standpoint still more on the Catalan side of things.

    With regard to culinary culture, there is a considerable amount of variety across the areas belonging to the Catalan/Occitan dialect continuum, with the cooking of Gascony and the southwest of France, where traditionally the fat of choice is animal fat and not olive oil, standing out as being particularly distinct from the rest. Within the large area, extending around and inland from the Mediterranean from Valencia in the southwest to Nice (and beyond) in the east, in which olive oil reigns supreme, there are also some very noteworthy differences, with the països Catalans enjoying a very well developed and distinctive cuisine, replete with a good measure of its own regional diversity; this notwithstanding, there are also some common practices and dishes, of which the summer vegetable stew, however it's called locally, is one.(5)


    Almost all the major ingredients of samfaina or ratatouia are imports to the western Mediterranean area. The eggplant or aubergine is generally agreed to have its origins in India and to have made its way westward with the help of the Persians and Arabs to Italy and, probably independently, it was introduced by the Arabs to Spain, whence it likely spread to southern France. The fruit of the plant became a widely used food source in southern Europe only gradually in the course of the Middle Ages. In the case of zucchini or courgettes, received opinion is that this particular species of squash, along with some others, was introduced to Europe from the Americas by the Spanish; quite early on, the squash itself as well as its flower became a popular food in the western Mediterranean area, with the rapidity of its acceptance presumably helped along by the fact that the New World squashes were recognised as being related to Old World gourds and squashes that had long been used as food. More widely known is the fact that both tomatoes and peppers were also imports to Europe from the Americas. A variety of pepper, that is, capiscum, was brought back to Europe from the Caribbean already by Columbus and subsequently, other varieties of pepper and the tomato were diffused within the Spanish Empire from Mexico both to Spain itself and the Spanish ruled southern half of Italy. Though textual evidence is sparse, it seems clear that the cultivation and consumption of peppers in Europe spread fairly quickly. On the other hand, the adoption of the tomato appears to have proceeded quite a bit more slowly, with the fruit probably only becoming reasonably common and popular in the western Mediterranean lands in the latter 17th or 18th century, and then perhaps only subsequent to the development of new varieties in Spain and Italy.

    What then is native about samfaina or ratatouia? In one sense, beyond the olive oil and onions and garlic, not much. But in another sense, given the degree to which the imported plants were all bred and cultivated and to varying degrees transformed in southern Europe, the dish is undeniably a product of local genius, though perhaps very indirectly inspired by some of the combinations of foods observed among the Aztecs by Europeans in service of the Spanish Crown. Viewed from this perspective, I think this summer vegetable stew can reasonably be thought of as one of the fundamental or at least emblematic dishes of modern western cooking, a dish which harmonises perfectly Old and New World ingredients


    It was mentioned above that a case can be made for the Catalan samfaina being the oldest and original version of this dish, a point which is suggested but not argued at any length by Andrews (1988: 42), in part on the basis of the claims of a Catalan food writer, Nèstor Luján; more specifically, the claim is made that samfaina likely takes historical precedence over the better known but 'virtually identical' (as Andrews says) ratatouille of the Côte d'Azur and the principal city of eastern Provence, Nice. The reasoning presented there is that a) the eggplant won favour in Catalonia sooner than elsewhere; b) zucchini, peppers and tomatoes also were incorporated into local cuisine in Catalonia before they were in France; c) the Catalans had once held sway in the Côte d'Azur; d) no early documentation of ratatouille is extant that would force us to accept an early date for the dish in that part of France; e) and, what to me seems to be inferred from Luján's words, as presented by Andrews, the Catalan samfaina is not merely one of a number of vegetable dishes in Catalan cuisine but rather a basic element which is used in a number of other quintessentially Catalan recipes.

    These arguments do not all carry the same weight. It is almost certainly true that eggplant must have been used in Spain generally and Catalonia specifically before making its way to France, and the fact that the standard French name (aubergine) for the fruit looks very much to be derived in straight forward fashion from the Catalan form (alberginia) lends the argument further strength. Similarly, it seems reasonable enough to assume that the imports from New Spain found currency sooner within the Spanish Empire, and thus in Catalonia, than outside. But the argument that the Catalans 'once held sway' in Provence is rather weaker, since the claim doesn't apply for the time frame in which the New World products were being introduced to Europe.(6) The lack of early documentation of ratatouille is interesting but hardly decisive, given the general rarity of real cook books in the general period in question. Finally, the last point, that samfaina is in a sense more deeply embedded in Catalan cuisine, appearing as a sauce in many dishes as well as a vegetable dish on its own, than in Provençal cuisine is also conceivably a good supporting argument, but in and of itself, not decisive: where something finds its greatest popularity or widest application need not be the place where it came into being.

    Beyond these points, I should add that Andrews' framing of the discussion as a question of priority between Catalonia on the one hand and the Côte d'Azur and Nice on the other is an unwarranted simplification, presumably but unconvincingly suggested by the fact that it is samfaina that takes precedence in the minds of Catalonians and ratatouille which is the most famous and presumably most authentic or original version in the minds of English speakers. But the fame of ratatouille outside of France lends the version of Nice no claim to historical priority over other versions from the midi, just as the popularity and broad use of samfaina in Catalonia does not necessarily mean that it is originally a Catalan invention. Indeed, the widely consumed pisto, with the best known version being pisto manchego, another Spanish summer vegetable stew often with the same core set of major ingredients, is also used in combination with meat and fish in ways quite similar to the ways that the Catalan version is used. Should we then seek arguments in support of the dish originating in La Mancha? Perhaps, but sticking to the essentials of the issue, pisto and samfaina and their southern French analogues all depend crucially on the presence of food products introduced to Europe from the New World. Spain clearly was the primary point of arrival for these items and, unless there is strong evidence to reject the idea, we should probably be content with assuming that the dish began its development somewhere there. In support of this claim, one can call attention to a work by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, one of Spain's greatest painters, "The Angels' Kitchen." This work depicts, among other things, a group of angels preparing food and of the items to be recognised are eggplant, squash and tomatoes, three of the four essential ingredients of our summer vegetable stew and the three that are sufficient for the making of a pisto. This painting by Murillo was executed for a Franciscan convent in the artist's home town of Seville, the largest and most populated city of the Spanish Empire at the time and the central point for the regulation of trade between Spain and the New World; it's dated to 1646. It seems that to Murillo's mind these vegetables, either singly or in combination, were sufficiently divine to be used in the Angels' kitchen.(7)


    Mixed, Trampled, Crushed?

    As mentioned earlier, there is a close association in the English-speaking world of ratatouille and the Côte d'Azur and Nice, an association which appears, in point of fact, to be well-founded, for most French food writers, including those from Provence, also assume a fairly recent and, more often than not, specifically Ni�oise origin for the dish. While these claims may rankle patriotic gastronomes from Spain or from elsewhere in southern France, the privileged place of Nice need perhaps not cause dyspepsia for others who regard the summer vegetable stew as their own. The crucial point here can be seen in the two categories of recipes to which Child et al. call attention in the brief passage cited above, where the one they prefer, and which results in a dish of relatively lightly cooked vegetables brought together briefly at the end, stands overagainst others in which the vegetables are cooked together and more thoroughly to various degrees. It is the former of these approaches to the dish which the people of Nice and, perhaps more broadly, the Côte d'Azur may legitimately claim as their own and it is specifically to this dish that the name ratatouille or (in the dialects of southeastern Provence and Nice) ratatouia is most accurately applied. Indeed, the etymology of this name makes the connexion to the particular cooking method clear: the noun is a derivative, with intensifying prefix, of the verb touiller which means agiter, remuer sans soin, that is, 'agitate, move or stir without care' and is in fact used in modern French to express the notion of 'stir-frying'. Thus, ratatouia is at heart a big stir-fry and, despite sharing the same ingredients with western Mediterranean vegetable stews, is itself not really a full-fledged stew. But it is also clear that the stir-fry approach to the combination of eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes is a more recent and secondary development, a new take on an old dish, the name of which is still fairly well known and current in parts of southern France, namely boumiano, in standard French, Bohémienne, in English 'Bohemian'.

    Given the close relationship between ratatouia and boumiano and the international cachet of Nice and the Côte d'Azur and further the expanding popularity of the stir-fry approach to the combination of vegetables, it seems the two terms have come to be felt by some as equivalent, allowing boumiano to be regarded as an old-fashioned or locally bound term for a more wide-spread and original appellation of ratatouia and hastening the demise of the other. The idea that the two terms are equivalent is perhaps also due to the fact that there has surely always been a fair amount of variation in the degree to which individuals have kept the vegetables in the dish distinct. But it seems clear that boumiano tends toward the less distinct and allows even the quasi-puréed and that ratatouia became at some point a canonised move away from the stew-like and homogenous and toward the stir-fried and medley-like.

    Clearly, the old fashioned Provençal boumiano, presumably the dish out of which the Niçois developed their lightly cooked variant, is very close to the samfaina of Catalonia: the vegetables are cooked together and for a considerable length of time, in some cases to the point where they are transformed into an almost marmalade-like purée. In Catalonia, the degree of cooking seems to vary in part with the application of the dish, with the vegetables being rendered into an homogenised paste for use as a sauce to accompany a wide variety of meat and fish preparations.


    So far, we have not commented on the third of the dishes listed in our title, namely cianfotta. Cianfotta is the most widespread variant of the name, which also appears as ciambotta and ciambrotta, of the southern Italian mid to late summer vegetable stew. Just as is the case with its Spanish and French analogues, cianfotta recipes vary quite a bit from region to region and individual cook to individual cook, but always within certain limits. The essential ingredients generally include eggplant, peppers and tomatoes, almost always accompanied by garlic and onion. But whereas zucchini are a possible optional addition to the stew, cianfotta always includes potatoes and quite often string beans, another two imports from the New World, brought to Europe in the context of the Spanish Empire. In this regard, it should be noted that the regions in Italy with which this dish is traditionally associated are Campania, Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria, all of which were parts of that empire during the 'Age of Discovery'.

    Cianfotta recipes vary not only with regard to the exact inventory of ingredients used but also, just as do the Spanish and French dishes discussed here, with regard to the degree to which the vegetables are cooked and thus with regard to the textural character of the finished product. In some cases, the dish is treated more as a soupy stew, in others as a drier and thoroughly cooked stew, and in others still, as a dish comprised of mixed but still quite distinct individual elements, though this approach, as is apparently the case with ratatouille, may be a relatively recent and innovative take on a more traditional dish in which the vegetables are cooked to the point that they begin to break down. Evidence in favour of this view comes, I believe, from the etymology of the name of the dish itself, cianfotta, which almost certainly originally meant roughly 'trampled' or 'trampling'.(8 ) It should also be noted that the Catalan term samfaina and especially the dialect variant chanfaina seems to be most easily explained as an adapted –– by means of being reformed with a native Catalan nominal suffix –– borrowing from southern Italian and more specifically Neapolitan dialect. An original meaning of 'trampled' for the Italian and Catalan versions of the summer vegetable stew fit nicely with the meaning of Castilian pisto, the cognate of the 'pounded' and 'crushed' sauce of Nice, pistou, and Genoa, pesto.


    Some Tentative Conclusions

    In the interest of getting this still incomplete piece out before the season for these stews is past, I will summarise the central conclusions of this study without full elaboration and explication.

    • It seems most likely that vegetable stews which included eggplant, zucchini, peppers, and tomatoes were first made in those areas in Europe where all these originally non-European products were first brought together, namely in those parts of the Spanish Empire where the eggplant had been nativised and the American imports were first introduced and adapted and adopted. Two broad areas fit the bill, namely Spain itself and the Spanish controlled southern Italy.

    • The lack of textual evidence indicating any widespread consumption of the imported vegetables must be relativised. On the one hand, the habits of the poor and illiterate masses were largely ignored by the privileged and literate until fairly recent times and at best only sporadic, incidental and indirect mention of the spread of the new foods among the lower classes could be expected. On the other hand, quasi-learned and cultural prejudices against these foods, which clearly operated to varying degrees among the upper classes, were surely of less consequence to people living always more or less under the threat of starvation. All four of the vegetables common to these Mediterranean stews and in addition the potato, added to the Italian variant, insofar as they grew well under local conditions, were almost certainly adapted and adopted by the farming peasantry throughout the region.

    • It is impossible to say where in Spain the new vegetable stew first developed. While the Catalan samfaina is clearly an integral part of the regional cuisine, there is no compelling reason to think the stew developed first in Catalonia rather than elsewhere in Iberia. On the other hand, there are reasons to suspect that the stew may have first developed in Andalusia, given that Seville was the main point of introduction of goods from the New World to the European regions of the Spanish Empire. The evidence of Murillo's painting is a nice complement to sporadic textual evidence indicating that the essential ingredients for the stew were nativised in Spain at an early date.

    • Given the Castilian name for the stew, pisto, it seems reasonable to assume that the early versions in Castilian-speaking territory were genuine stews, with the vegetables being cooked till utterly soft. Pisto manchego refers presumably first and foremost to the use of Manchego cheese to finish the dish, a development parallel to the occasional Provençal finishing of ratatouille with gruyere, though the close association of terms forces us to allow for the possibility that the stew itself may have been developed in La Mancha.

    • At this point it remains conjecture but there are good reasons to believe that gypsies played a part in the spread of pisto outside of the proposed region of origin in Andalusia and centred on Seville. Andalusia and especially the area around Seville was frequented by and also settled by gypsies in the late Middle Ages. Gypsy communities in Catalonia, including the Catalan-speaking part of France, Roussillon, and most notably of the Camargue region of southwestern Provence (roughly the Rhône river delta) have always remained in close contact with those of Andalusia in southern Spain. Whether gypsies living in and around Seville invented the dish cannot be said, but whoever invented it, it seems reasonable to assume that it was originally poor people's food and so likely enjoyed by the Spanish gypsies, as well as by poorer Spaniards.

    • The fact that the old name of the stew in Provence, boumiano, 'Bohemian', which was formerly the common term for 'gypsy' in southern France, together with the traditional popularity of this dish in the Camargue, gives good reason to suspect that the stew may have been introduced to Provence by the gypsies who travel to and from France and regularly gather during the summer in the Camargue.

    • It therefore seems reasonable to conclude, pending the collection of further evidence, that a vegetable stew involving eggplant, zucchini, peppers and tomatoes, developed perhaps already in the 17th century somewhere in Spain, possibly in Andalusia and/or other areas in Castilian- and Catalan-speaking territory. Given that the actual vegetables probably spread to France from Spain, it is quite possible that the stew was also introduced to southern France from Spain. A possible and even likely means of the process may have been the annual migrations of gypsies between Provence and southern Spain, especially in light of the older name of the dish in Provence. It is, however, also quite possible that that name may only be the result of a secondary association of the dish with gypsies in particular and perhaps by implication the under classes more broadly.

    • The development of ratatouille is relatively recent and to be attributed to Nice and/or the Côte d'Azur; at least as a canonised methodological variant of the family of Spanish and southern French vegetable stews of the pisto/samfaina/boumiano family.

    • While the American vegetables used in the Italian cianfotta made their way to Italy in the context of the Spanish Empire, there is nothing that points to the development of cianfotta itself as being in any direct way linked to the development of summer vegetable stews in Spain. Nevertheless, since Spain and southern Italy were both integral parts of the same state during the period of introduction, it seems unimaginable that there were not cross influences in the breeding, farming methods and cooking techniques applied to the American plants.

    • The southern Italian cianfotta shows, however, an extraordinarily wide range of variants by cooking method and ingredients, as well as some not so surprising variation in dialectal variants of the name; these facts would seem to bespeak a long period of local development, rather than later development of a finished dish. In addition, the Italian name itself has a good etymology, both by sound shape and semantic relations, within the southern Italian dialects. The etymological links are also such that the term derives from an etymon that is almost certainly very old in southern Italy and moreover cannot be so in Spain.

    • The Catalan term samfaina and its variants xamfaina, chamfaina and chanfaina appear to be tied to the southern Italian term cianfotta but the exact nature and details of the connexion yet need to be worked out. Insofar as that connexion is real and historical and not coincidental, the path of transmission is almost certainly from southern Italy, especially Naples, to Catalonia. This discovery is not puzzling in a general sense for cultural developments nor even specifically in the more limited domain of culinary developments, but it is surprising given the good evidence that points to the stews of Spain being local and old developments. At the moment, the inference to be drawn from this last evidence is that Catalonia renamed its stew under Neapolitan influence but the stew itself, without potatoes, maintained its nature as a close relative of pisto and boumiano.

    Antonius Volcinus de Montibus
    Academia Novi Belgii

    August-September, 2004


    (1) Poumo d'amour is Provençal for 'tomatoes' and means literally 'apples of love'; Paradeiser, 'Paradisians', is the word commonly used in the German of Vienna and Lower Austria instead of standard German Tomate, pl. Tomaten; pomi d'oro, is the now old fashioned or even archaic plural in Italian which means literally 'apples of gold'. This phrasal appellation has been reanalysed as a single word in current Italian and is now spelt and pluralised accordingly: sg. pomodoro, pl. pomodori.
    (2) Samfaina is pronounced [sëmfáinë], with [ë] representing schwa, the colourless or neutral vowel which appears in English 'duh'; the accented diphthong is roughly equivalent to that of the English word 'eye'. Dialect variants also occur, namely xamfaina, chamfaina, chanfaina (where Catalan «x-» and «ch-» are pronounced respectively like 'sh-' and 'ch-' in English).
    (3) On this issue, Beard says (1972: 519): "Ratatouille came from Provence in the '40's. Few dishes have gained such popularity in the United States." Beard, James. 1972. James Beard's American Cookery. Boston, Toronto: Little, Brown and Company.
    (4) Child, Julia, Louisette Bertholle & Simone Beck. 1966 [1961]. Mastering the Art of French Cooking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
    (5) An excellent presentation of Catalan cookery in English is: Andrews, Colman. 1988. Catalan Cuisine. Europe's Last Great culinary Secret. New York: Atheneum. Also worthwhile is: Torres, Marimar. 1992. The Catalan Country Kitchen: Food and Wine from the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean Seacoast of Barcelona. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley.
    (6) Any Catalan 'sway' held over Provence during the late Middle Ages was certainly no longer in effect when Columbus set sail in 1492. In 1469, with the unification of the Aragonese and Castilian crowns resulting from the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella, Catalonia became a secondary part of the new Spain. Meanwhile, Provence was drawn more firmly into its satellite position vis-à-vis Paris when it was willed to the king of France in 1481. That is, of course, not to say that all contacts between Provence and Catalonia then ceased; certainly the opposite is true, given the key rôle played by Catalan merchants in trade across the western Mediterranean, but the scenario for the straightforward spread of the dish from Catalonia to the Côte d'Azur in the manner apparently envisioned by Andrews did not really exist at the relevant time. Note too that from the 14th century until 1860 and the Italian risorgimento, Nice and its immediate surroundings belonged to Savoy, which was a small but relatively independent state throughout this period, though suffering some periods of French domination.
    (7) Murillo's "Angels' Kitchen" can be seen at the following sites:
    (8 ) The etymologies of this term and the others have been by and large worked out by this writer and will be published separately in an appropriate forum with the appropriate and voluminous supporting evidence and argumentation.

    Post-site-move character problems corrected.
    Last edited by Antonius on December 7th, 2009, 12:26 pm, edited 3 times in total.
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #2 - September 10th, 2004, 8:17 pm
    Post #2 - September 10th, 2004, 8:17 pm Post #2 - September 10th, 2004, 8:17 pm
    Antonius, bro, I am speechless. What a work!

    Limiting myself to just one small facet of your diamond-bright post, I must say I prefer the Julia Child approach to ratatouille, which as you mention, involves separating the cooking of eggplant, zucchini, peppers, tomatoes, etc.. I believe Julia also suggests then layering each into a big pot for cooking together, before cooling and eating.

    I must admit I am somewhat turned off when I order ratatouille and receive a pile of thin-ish veggies, piled like slimy cordwood on the side of the plate, an indistinguishable mass of glop. I prefer when each vegetable retains its integrity, so that every bite conveys not a generalized vegetal taste, but smacks distinctly of the individual ingredient.

    I don
  • Post #3 - September 11th, 2004, 5:10 am
    Post #3 - September 11th, 2004, 5:10 am Post #3 - September 11th, 2004, 5:10 am

    Many thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed the post; it's something I've been working on for a while and desperately wanted to get out while the local tomatoes were near top form.

    With regard to the versions of the western style (Spain, France), I mentioned that I like the Niçois approach very much and especially if the dish is the focus of a vegetarian meal. I used to make such meals with considerable fequency but have done so less often in recent years.

    One reason, perhaps, is the degree to which I've grown fond of the old fashioned approach to the dish, namely, cooking the stew down ultimately to a thick paste. The fact is, if one uses good ingredients and puts the dish together well (good balance of ingredients), there is something magical, alchemical, that happens to it in its final stage. The flavours all meld into one new flavour, which is complex. I should add that, when treated in this way, I prefer it to be fairly piquant and add some fresh hot peppers into the dish at the initial frying.

    But one of the best things about ratatouia/samfaina is that, when the vegetables are in top quality and abundance, one can simply make a very large amount and enjoy it both ways or even three ways:
    1) Day 1, ratatouia à la niçoise, as first course or as main course or primary side dish of a main course. Preserve leftovers.
    2) Day 2, cook the stew further, to the point where the vegetables are all pretty soft and breaking down. Use this as a side dish or part of a lunch or light dinner with an omelet, etc. Preserve leftovers, capping them off with some added olive oil.
    3) Day 3. Cook the remaining and now slightly oily boumiano/samfaina some more, mashing the vegetables into a paste. Use this paste as a sauce-like accompaniment to roasted chicken, grilled lamb or beef, sausages, or else use it as a sauce in cooking meat or fish, as the Catalans do (pollastre amb samfaina 'chicken with samfaina', bacallà amb samfaina 'salt-cod with samfaina', etc., etc...).

    I think it worth noting too that for the Catalans, who generally cook samfaina to 'death', as it were, there is another vegetable dish, using the same basic ingredients (again, lots of variation is allowed here), which better preserves the integrity of the individual elements, namely, escalivada, which is prepared by roasting the vegetables.

    Try the thoroughly cooked, sauce-like version at home at least once; peasant dishes like boumiano/samfaina are always better executed at home than in restaurants. And again, I think a little spice-kick is especially nice when the stew is cooked down. We recently have had it that way on different occasions with roasted chicken, steak and merguez. All three combinations were really good but I especially love it as a seasonal accompaniment to a steak-frites meal.


    P.S. Gennarino, a.k.a. 'Gigi', likes samfaina cooked to a paste but his cianfotta cooked less, with the vegetables maintaining more integrity, something which he apparently has failed to do.

    Post-site-move character problems corrected.
    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.
  • Post #4 - December 10th, 2007, 3:47 pm
    Post #4 - December 10th, 2007, 3:47 pm Post #4 - December 10th, 2007, 3:47 pm
    I also prefer this dish in a fairly collapsed fashion. Something alchemical does indeed happen when the vegetables are cooked to this stage. Entirely, utterly delicious.

    I have to say I have often made this without fresh tomatoes - these being replaced with an amount of properly-made tomato sauce from tinned toms. I use some dried chilli as well; it improves the flavour no end.

    Antonius, that is some post. You deserve maximum respect.
  • Post #5 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:56 am
    Post #5 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:56 am Post #5 - August 2nd, 2008, 7:56 am

    I realise this response is a bit en retard but better late than never... Many thanks for your very kind words!

    Some other posts on this family of dishes that I've written are:
    Boumiano: viewtopic.php?p=40962#p40962
    Tumbet: viewtopic.php?p=53451#p53451

    The long post above was an early stage in the development of a paper that I presented at the Oxford Sympoisum in 2005 and which was subsequently published in the proceedings:

    Hosking, Richard (ed.). 2006. Authenticity in the Kitchen. Proceedings of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery 2005. Totnes: Prospect Books.

    Alle Nerven exzitiert von dem gewürzten Wein -- Anwandlung von Todesahndungen -- Doppeltgänger --
    - aus dem Tagebuch E.T.A. Hoffmanns, 6. Januar 1804.
    Na sir is na seachain an cath.