There is a recipe for courgettes that we all think hails from the Naples area called “zucchine alla scapece”. I say ‘think’ because when I went to look into the meaning of ‘scapece’, I was quickly engulfed by the misty quagmire of etymology and derivation.
I. THE THEORY BEHIND A COOK’S NAME
Renato de Falco, for instance, a Neapolitan philologist (http://www.renatodefalco.it) seems to think that Apicius had something to do with it.
For those of you who might not know who Apicius was:
Marcus Gavius Apicius was the name of an extravagant Roman who loved expensive food and luxury. His liking for food was famous and eventually the name of Apicius was eventually thought appropriate for a collection of Ancient Roman recipes which at first was commonly known as known as Apicius. In the earliest printed editions of this ancient book of Roman recipes it was given the overall title ‘De re coquinaria’ which means “On the Subject of Cooking”. The Roman food recipes contained in this cookery book includes fish, meat, dessert, vegetable and soup recipes. (www.roman-colosseum.info/roman-life/ancient-roman-recipes)
Now, it would appear that the Latin word “esca” meant dish or food. Our friend Apicius got sick of using the ketchup of his time, i.e. same ol’ same ol’ garum sauce (made from fermented fish intestines), and decided to use vinegar instead on his zucchine. The dish was dubbed “esca Apicii” — i.e. Apicius’s dish … and that evolved into ‘scapece’ in Italian and ‘escabeche’ in Spanish!
Now if you’ll believe that, you’ll believe anything! but who knows?
II. THE ARABIC SICKBAG THEORY
Wikipedia says: “The origin of the name of the dish is also disputed…. Another hypothesis, supported by the Royal Spanish Academy, is that the name might derive from the Spanish-Arabic word assukkabáǧ, which itself derives from the Arabic word sakbāj (سكباج meaning: meat cooked in vinegar). Further hypotheses base the origin of the term on escabeche, Spanish for pickle.” So much for Wikipedia in English.
The Italian Wikipedia says that, according to the Etymological Dictionary Pascual Corominas, the Spanish word “escabeche” derives from the Arabic “sikbâg”, and refers to a meat suace containing vinegar as well as other ingredients; it was a dish typically found in Persia, and is mentioned in the ‘Thousand and One Nights’.
Wobbly. Based on my research, I can only be sure of the following:
(1) Anything cooked ‘alla scapece’ means that it will be marinated with vinegar and that garlic will most likely be used too. (2) Secondly, most food recipes alla scapece will need to be fried first, and that sometimes this will call for dusting the food with flour prior to frying it. (3) Third, originally, using vinegar meant that foods could be kept for longer periods of time, in the way pickled foods can, and that the Arab cuisine was the leader of the vinegar pack. Sephardic Jewish cuisine is also redolent of foods fried in oil and then doused with vinegar.
Now, on with the recipe.
The recipe calls for slicing the courgettes, sprinkling them with salt, and leaving them in the sun for an hour or two, to dry out. Why? why do they need to dry out? We shall never know … sigh.
A lot of research on the complexity behind a very simple dish …. truly delicious.