Ancidda a Picchi-Pácchiu all'Auruduci
Region: Italy, Sicily
Difficulty: Easy but special equipment needed
The Sicilians are noted for culinary preparations with vulgar names. It’s not clear when this tradition began but one particular style of preparation, and actually the name of the sauce in a variety of preparations, is called picchi-pácchiu, referring to various sauces made with tomatoes and onion with the addition, depending on the cook, of eggplant, anchovy, basil, and garlic. Some Sicilians have told me that the word has no meaning. But, I was also told that it is a corruption and diminutive of pacchiuni, a vulgar Sicilian word for the vagina, intimating that the deliciousness of the sauce can be likened to the erotic juice of cunnilingus. Another meaning to the word pácchiu is buttocks. Yet another theory links the word to the Italian word pacche which refers to the kinds of extravagant abundance one would find in the imaginary medieval utopia of the Land of Cockaigne and is said by some linguists to derive from the Old High German word pahho meaning belly or buttocks. As far as the sauce goes, it is a sauce that was born in Palermo but is found throughout Sicily now and can be used over spaghetti although a number of dishes are done in this style, such as babbaluci a pic-pac, snails pic-pac style. Pic-pac or picchi-pácchiu is always the name of the sauce.
It seems likely, using volume 1, page 105 of R. Dozy’s Supplément aux dictionnaires arabes published in 1881 , that the word may actually come from the Tunisian word bakbak, meaning to chop small, which derives from the Spanish word picar as used by the sixteenth century lexicographer Pedro de Alcala after the transformation of the phoneme “p” into “b” as is typical in Arabic. On the other hand, the word may derive from the Hindi pakk~, meaning cooked, ripe, or solid, akin to the Greek passein, to cook. This word has entered the English language as pukka which can also mean genuine, authentic. In place of eel, you can use monkfish or swordfish.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
Preparation Time: 1:45 hours
1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
6 to 8 cups olive oil for frying
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 medium onions, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
6 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in half, seeds squeezed out, and grated against the largest holes of a grater down to the peel
6 salted anchovy fillets, rinsed
5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
5 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil leaves
3/4 teaspoon saffron threads, crumbled and dissolved in 2 tablespoons water or white wine
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 pounds boneless and skinless common eel, cut into 2-inch cubes
1. Lay the eggplant pieces on some paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Leave them to drain of their bitter juices for 30 minutes, then pat dry with paper towels.
2. Preheat the frying oil in a deep-fryer or an 8-inch saucepan fitted with a basket insert to 375 degrees F. Cook the eggplant, in batches, until golden brown, about 6 minutes in all. Remove and drain on paper towels.
3. In a large casserole, heat the extra-virgin olive oil over medium-high heat, then cook the onions and garlic, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes, anchovies, parsley, basil, saffron, salt, and pepper, stir, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer 30 minutes. Add the eel and reserved eggplant, raise the heat to medium-low and push the eel down into the sauce. Cover, and cook until the eel is firm, about 25 minutes. Serve hot. Let the frying oil cool completely and save the oil for a future use.