The Blob, since the Spring, we hear about Malta and Sicily because that's where our boys in blue in L.É. Eithne and L.É. Niamh have been landing the dusky people they pluck from the wine-dark sea. We've also had an earful about Kos Κως because it is so close to Asia. I guess the press in Italy are delivering a slightly different story with other Italian islands taking a more central role. Among those must be Lampedusa, the largest of the Pelagie archipelago which is currently flying an Italian flag. The Telegraph had a photoshoot down there recently. Here's a boat-full of undocumented migrants arriving at Lampedusa: it looks like a sex-ratio of 99M:?1?F and an average age of 25. If I was ISIS head-office, I'd endeavour to have some of my best people aboard such a boat. Lampedusa is nearer to Africa than Malta although much smaller [20sq.km v 300sq.km] and less well serviced. Any [EU] port in a storm, I guess. Lampedusa has a rich history in the sweeps of Mediterranean migration having been settled and raided by Berbers, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines, Spaniards and Italians in succession. That's all I have to say about migratory matters today - I've already said too much. Between Thanksgiving & Christmas we might use Lampedusa as an excuse for a gulp of gluttony.
In Roman times, Lampedusa served as the site for a famous garum factory, the main ingredient of which is fish and a tiny island surrounded by water is convenient for such an enterprise. Garum didn't use the fillets of fish but rather the wobbly-bits inside which were gathered up and dumped into vats. Generous salting and exposure to the sun promoted the growth of salt-tolerant lactic acid bacteria which grew and multiplied to out-compete other common environmental bacteria like coliforms and Pseudomonas spp. But it's also likely that digestive enzymes from the fish itself (or indeed its intestinal flora) played a part in the process. It's not a million miles from the manufacture of soy sauce, or indeed my sourdough bread. Both of those products require particular fungi in the mix but neither is a monoculture. Soy sauce has rather strong flavours and is not everyone's cup of tea, and the acid after-bite of my sourdough tastes 'off' to people brought up on industrial sliced white bread. A brew of fermented fish-giblets must also have been an acquired taste. Every so often a fine-woven basket was pushed into the vat to strain off the seething fish-bits and the liquid was drawn off and bottled. The smell about the factory must have been 'distinctive'. Because the microbial community was complex, the flavour was complex and you may be sure that each manufactory had its fans both locally and in Rome itself. Amphorae full of the stuff have been found in Pompeii and in numerous ancient ship-wrecks in the Mediterranean.
I think we're on solider ground for finding approval for another Lampedusa linked dish. Il Gattopardo The Leopard by Guiseppe di Lampedusa is rolling roiling historical novel set in Sicily during the Risorgimento of the mid-to-late 19thC. Visconti's film of the book starred Burt Lancaster. The writer was a full-blood prince whose family took its name from the little island but held estates on the mainland and lived in a palace in Palermo. In one memorable scene he describes a dish which reads like poetry in Italian:
"L'oro brunito dell'involucro, la fraganza di zucchero e di cannella che ne emanava, non era che il preludio della sensazione di delizia che si sprigionava dall'interno quando il coltello squarciava la crosta: ne erompeva dapprima un fumo carico di aromi e si scorgevano poi i fegatini di pollo, le ovette dure, le sfilettature di prosciutto, di pollo e di tartufi nella massa untuosa, caldissima dei maccheroni corti, cui l'estratto di carne conferiva un prezioso color camoscio." Everything in Italian sounds sexy and appealing but the dish is scarcely less mouth-watering in prosy old English:
The burnished gold of the crusts, the fragrance of sugar and cinnamon they exuded, were but preludes to the delights released from the interior when the knife broke the crust; first came a mist laden with aromas, then chicken livers, hard-boiled eggs, sliced ham, chicken, and truffles in masses of piping hot, glistening macaroni, to which the meat juice gave an exquisite hue of suède.
Yes, yes, very nice I'm sure, but have you a bottle of fish-sauce handy . . . to spice it up a bit, like.