Sep 29, 2009

Scapece di Vasto recipe

Funny how it happens. Saffron, being that orange-yellow flavoring, food coloring, and dye made from the dried stigmas of a crocus, is required in enormous numbers of flowers to produce a small quantity of the large red stigmas used for the spice. The fragrant zafferano is native to Abruzzo, but oddly enough, it is hardly ever used in the region's local cuisine. The highly prized quality saffron–with its incredibly distinct flavor–is produced in the province of Aquila but is mostly exported to be processed and mixed with other types of a lesser quality elsewhere, because the are no local Abruzzi saffron refineries. Huh.

And so the unique goods growing on the slopes of the Abruzzi mountains end up being used for flavoring creamy Milanese risottos, delicious Spanish paellas and redolent French bouillabaisses.

The only local dish in which saffron is employed in Abruzzo, is the traditional "scapece" from Vasto, in the Chieti province.

The Vastesi are a gentle breed. You can be so bold as to tell them their brodetto fish stew is not the world's best (they'll smile feigning aloofness), but don't mess with their scapece, calling it bland. The dignified citizens of Vasto are very proud of their bold scapece. And rightly so.

Palates would have to be irreversibly tainted by fast– and processed foods not to notice this extraordinary dish. A triumph of flavors and redolent perfumes of the Mediterranean Sea fused into one terrific gran finale. A true taste bud surprise for even the most demanding and expert gourmand.

The traditional Vasto recipe is commonly handed down in families from generation to generation. And since I am now working here in the heart of Abruzzo, I thought I could share the recipe for scapece di Vasto.

1 Kg (2.2 lbs) white fish (possibly thornback ray or smooth hound)
500 g (1.1 lbs) mixed mollusks and crustaceans
1 good pinch of saffron stigmas
1 cup fine quality white wine vinegar
1 small white onion, finely chopped
2 fistfuls of all-purpose flour
Olive oil for frying
A chilled bottle of Trebbiano d'Abruzzo

Clean and gut the fish and then cut it into small chunks. Trim and clean the octopus and other mollusks, and remove the carapace from the shrimp. Cut these in small pieces too and roll it all in the flour, fry in a skillet for about 3 minutes, and then park briefly on a paper towel to absorb excess grease.

Warm the vinegar over a mild flame, remove the pot from the stove just before it boils, and break the saffron filaments into it.

Sweat the chopped onion in some olive oil, and set aside when translucent.

Make layers of the fried mixed fish chunks in a high rimmed container (preferably glass) dousing them with the warm aromatic vinegar, drench each layer with a splash of Trebbiano and some sautéed onions. Marinade for 8 days, at least, and then serve like the Vasto fisherman would, with crusty bread, a seaside view and good conversation. Don't forget the leftover Trebbiano...

Buon appetito.


  1. A friend of mine gave me a large container of saffron threads. They were given to her by a patient as a thank you gift but my friend doesn't cook. Lucky me.

  2. Oh what a delightful blog you have! wonderful photos and some very good looking recipes that I think I will be trying! I came via Carol's blog Not Only in Thailand.
    Thank you for sharing, will surely be back!

  3. The mention of saffron never fails to evoke memories of mom's cooking. Sigh!

    Hope you are going well, Lola.

  4. Every time I buy saffron and then remember I have some, search it out and go to use it - it is always out of date. I must get some more and use it on the day of purchase

  5. Oh, Lord, I just love almost any sort of mixed fish dish. Frutti Di Mare, Bouillabaisse, any sort of fish stew or ragout. This sounds scrumptious!

  6. sounds wonderful...wonder could we import some of your cooking across the pond? smiles.

  7. Finally! i've learned to eat first and then visit here, my usual way is later in the evening, which is a big mistake because I always end up hungry again!
    I've never used saffron, what should I look for? and you want us to clean and do what to the fish? take the guts out? Lola (i'm whining now) i can't do this! can i please just come over and watch you?
    I'll bring dessert. ☺

  8. mm..Lori Ann's is a good idea!
    Even though I'd never make this recipe, I enjoyed reading the post.
    AND, I called in to tell you that I made another of your recipes last weekend, and what a success- No-bake Raspberry Tart.
    My family are only adventurous with sweet things, and they loved this. BTW I uesed dark choc digestives for the base- worked very well.
    Hope you're doing ok on the film set.

  9. Oooohhh I would love to give this a go but hubby is not a fish fan!! Hmmm, perhaps I could send him off to the pub (he'd like that) and have a girly night in...

    C x

  10. Now I understand why they call it Scapece. But didn't till I saw the vinegar ingredient.
    I love saffron too.

  11. My dearest Lola, dear friend, it is okay. I understand that you were working.

    I miss him a lot. We all do.

    Love you sweet Lola.

    Love Renee xoxo

  12. Yum!!! Your blog is always so delicious!!!! Thanks for taking time to pass this recipe along despite your busy work schedule! You are amazing, and never fail to describe the food you present in terms that inspire me to experiment in my kitchen! ~Janine XO

  13. Oh Lord, Lola, one night, my feet tucked up on your couch. I swear, I'd balance my plate and only make a bit of a mess! Looks so amazing.

  14. Delicious. All I need now is the seaside view! Lola, you are simply the best of the very best - thank you SO much for sharing that snippet of deliciousity with us even though you're so busy right now. Big squishy hugs from me. xxx

  15. Nice to catch up on your blog after being adsl challenged for the past month! I highly doubt you are wearing fleece jackets in Sulmona right's still so hot! We are having mosquito invasions down here in the south! Hope you are well!

  16. Amazing! Always something mouthwatering and interesting here. Loved the South African menu by Tessa, too!

  17. This is so a wonderful recipe !! I love saffron and i take it with milk daily !!Unseen Rajasthan

  18. Great picture of saffron threads. would love to try this dish.
    And Vasto is beautiful (vasto vecchio, that is)