No, before you ask, I am not a paid-up employee of the Tuna Marketing Board. Yes, I know, I posted a tuna recipe only last week, but that’s just a coincidence. Admittedly, with my love for tuna, let’s just say it was a coincidence waiting to happen. However, fishy coincidences aside, I’m sure you’re all wondering just what mosciame is. Quite a few Sicilians from this side of the island don’t know either, so you’re in good company. I will reveal all: mosciame is salted and dried tuna belly, from the cut known as surra in Sicilian. This kind of product is indicative of the way tuna is viewed here, as reflected in one of its nicknames, “il maiale del mare”, “the pig of the sea”; as with pork, it is transformed into a wide range of fresh and preserved foods, with wastage kept to an absolute minimum. Seeing the cut used and the production process, I suppose that makes mosciame the tuna equivalent of dry-cured streaky bacon, although its texture (and colour) is more like that of serrano ham, with which it also shares a gamy richness of flavour. This is, quite simply, as good as tuna gets.
You may of course say, that yes, that’s all very well, but how am I supposed to get hold of mosciame? I don’t remember seeing it on special offer the last time I was in Tesco’s. To be honest, you’re not even likely to have seen it the last time you were in Italy, let alone down your local supermarket. Production and consumption is pretty much limited to parts of Sicily, Sardinia and Liguria. But this is where the lovely people at Campisi, on the south-eastern tip of Sicily come into the picture. Thanks to their online shop, you can get the good stuff shipped to you anywhere in the world (along with other delights like smoked tuna and bottarga, pasta sauces, swordfish in oil, Sicilian vegetable conserves…). The mosciame page is here. And no, since you ask, I’m not getting any kickbacks from Campisi either!
If you have a look around on the net, you’ll see that according to accepted wisdom, mosciame is best served thinly sliced, au naturel, or if you want to get fancy, with a drizzle of olive oil on crostini. I was led to take a different approach, mainly by necessity (how can I transform this piece of mosciame, which is all I have in the fridge, into a meal for four?). Having said that, I’m surprised no one hit on the idea before, although that could just be because most people get round to doing the shopping before their fridge is empty. Anyway, as you’ll have gathered, the following recipe is not actually traditional Sicilian, but it could be, in the sense that all its ingredients definitely are. Like any dish that depends solely on the excellence of the raw materials, it’s beautifully stress-free, but does mean that apart from your mosciame, you’ll need the best olive oil and lemons you can get. This is of course the ideal time of year, with lemons in season here. Last thing – I’ve provided a quick version and one that requires some slight planning ahead. Both are great, but if you’ve got the patience, the “long” variation is well worth the wait.
- 400g spaghetti
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 150 g mosciame, diced small
- Juice and zest of two unwaxed lemons
- 4 cloves of garlic, gently crushed
- A good pinch of dried chilli flakes (optional)
- While the pasta is cooking, lightly fry the garlic in the oil until it starts to turn golden. Discard the garlic and remove the oil from the heat. When it has cooled down slightly, mix the oil with all the other “sauce” ingredients, leaving aside a few strands of lemon zest for the garnish.
- When the pasta is al dente, drain it and mix with the mosciame “sauce”. Sprinkle over a few strands of lemon zest.
Variation: put the diced mosciame to marinate, covered, in the fridge for a few hours (or even better, overnight) with the juice of two lemons and three tablespoons of olive oil, stirring occasionally. Discard the marinade and proceed as above, using only half the amount of lemon juice (but the same amount of zest).
This can handle something with a bit of structure, such as a barrel-aged Chardonnay. I drank some vintage Italian bubbly with mine, and it was perfect.