Once spring gives way to summer, it will be time to go to the Tuscan coast. But in the meantime, I find myself longing to eat more seafood and fresh green vegetables. Seppie in zimino, cuttlefish with leafy greens, is the perfect dish.
When I make seppie in zimino I think of Franco, the chef at Cantinetta Antinori in Florence, for two unforgettable reasons. First, I love the way Franco cooks this dish; he's a born expert. Second, once when eating seppie in zimino with the staff of Cantinetta Antinori before service, I ended up with seppie e pomodoro stains down the front of my dress. I had no choice but to go and do some emergency shopping before I could carry on with the rest of my day. It was the best excuse I have ever had for shopping!
Whereas Franco slow cooks his seppie, which yields wonderful results, I make a slightly lighter version of the dish. After the initial preparation, I gently simmer all the ingredients together for only 15 minutes. And I use less tomato, perhaps to save my outfits!
The term in zimino or all'inzimino (with leafy greens) has its base in Arabic, deriving from asseminu, which simply means dense salsa, referring to the thick sauce that cooking yields. Although the term in zimino has been in use since the 12th century in Italy, fish and leafy greens dishes have been a popular in Florentine restaurants since the 1800s. In Florence and Tuscany, several kinds of fish can be cooked in zimino, like salted cod, stockfish, eel, carp, cuttlefish, and squid.
Seppie in zimino, or any other dish in zimino, is not exclusive to northern Tuscan cuisine, but versions of it can be found in the kitchens of bordering regions. For example, if you find seppie in zimino on a menu in Liguria, where it also very popular, it will more likely be a soupy dish cooked with beet leaves.
Seppie in zimino Serves 4-6
600g fresh seppie
4 large bunches of spinach
2 sticks of celery
1 small carrot
A bunch of parsley
A small glass of white wine
A clove of garlic
2 ripe red tomatoes
Lashings of extra-virgin olive oil
1 small can of peeled tomatoes
Zenzero (‘peperoncino' in the Tuscan dialect; chili pepper)
Wash the 4 bunches of spinach well under cold running water, remove the leaves from the stalks. Take a large pot and fill to 2 cm water; add salt to taste. When the water is boiling, add the leaves and cover with a lid, keeping the heat high. After a couple of minutes stir the spinach and again cover. After about 3 more minutes, when all the spinach is wilted and has turned a beautiful emerald green, remove the spinach and briefly refresh under cold water, setting aside the cooking liquid. Squeeze the excess water out of the spinach and set aside.
Meanwhile clean the seppie and cut into generous chunky pieces. Finely dice the carrot, celery sticks and onion; peel the clove of garlic.
Take a heavy-based pan and heat; add lashings of olive oil and sauté the onion. Once it is soft and transparent, add the carrot and celery. Cook for a further 5 minutes. At moderate heat, add the seppie and stir well to coat with oil and cook. The seppie will almost instantly go from limp and translucent to opaque and firm. Once this has happened, add the clove of garlic and a small glass of white wine (Vermentino works well).
Add two chopped ripe tomatoes, the can of peeled tomatoes with the juices, squeezing the tomatoes in your fist to break up roughly and put into the pan. Season with salt, pepper and plenty of Tuscan zenzero.
Roughly chop the spinach and add to the pan along with the cooking liquid, add some fresh chopped parsley, cover with a lid and turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer. Continue to cook for a further 15 minutes.
Variation: When spring peas are in season, as they are now, substitute them for the spinach. Take young, small, sweet freshly shelled spring peas and blanch them in boiling water for a couple of minutes only.
Seppie in zimino can be a rather rich dish, considering the density of the seppie and the slowly cooked vegetables and tomato, and the light punch from the zenzero. Your favourite Vermentino is a great wine match, balancing the dish with young fruit, spice, freshness and just the right amount of acidity to keep it lively.