Tag Archives: English

Canterbury apple tart

Canterbury tart

My copy of the Roux Brothers on Patisserie is inscribed as a gift from my parents for Christmas 1995. They posted it out to me in New Zealand, where I enjoyed an antipodean summer Christmas. As summer gave way to Autumn, we began the Old Man Mountain apple harvest. In was in that orchard that I got, aged 24, my first ever bee sting. It descended liked a Stuka and stung me just below the eye.

I made a lot of French apple tart that Autumn. Mostly successfully, until the one time when I was helping my host, mentor and friend Nadia with a catering job. I made three or four in large trays, but failed miserably to get the liquid for the glaze to setting point. I’m still ashamed of that cock-up. Nadia wasn’t happy with me. I still love the Roux French apple tart, too. Though these days I’m possibly more keen on Canterbury tart.

We’ve lost so much of our culinary tradition in this country. I’ve said it before, but the combination of urbanisation, two world wars, the industrialisation of farming practices and the rise of the supermarket homogenised much of our food. Furthermore, we have a long history of food fashions and fads, such as royals employing French chefs. More recently, thanks to the work of food writers and immigrants, we’ve embraced Indian subcontinent and Italian-inspired food to the point where most families eat pasta more than they eat traditional British stodge, for example. We probably do. I’m not sure what I’d do without pasta to fill up T-rex most lunchtimes.

It shouldn’t need saying, but British food can often rival anything from our continental neighbours. We had our Dutch friend Annely visiting this weekend, and as she loves cheese treated ourselves to some pricy local fare. One was Lord of the Hundreds, a sheep’s milk cheese as good as any Sardinian or central Italian pecorino. Another was Lord London, a soft cows’ milk cheese as good as any French brie.

So when you discover a recipe like Canterbury tart, it’s worth noting that it’s as good as if not better than a classic French apple tart, and more straight-forward to make too. Now, I’m loathe to say Canterbury tart is an old, traditional Kent recipe as I can’t find much information about it. Several websites cut and past the same blurb saying the first recorded recipe was written by Geoffrey Chaucer in 1381 but I’m doubtful. Kent is certainly the heartland of apple growing, so let’s say it likely has some history. I got the recipe from my mum. Googling, it looks like one from Mary Berry. I wish Berry had told us where she got it from but her recipes are somewhat lacking in preamble.

100g butter
225g plain flour
25g sifted icing sugar
1 egg, beaten

4 eggs
225g caster sugar
2 lemons, zest and juiced
100g melted butter
2 large cooking apples, peeled & cored, about 350g
3 dessert apples, peeled, cored & thinly sliced
25g Demerara sugar

A 25cm (or thereabouts) flan tin

1. First make the pastry. If making by hand, rub the butter into the flour and icing sugar until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then stir in the beaten egg and bring together to form a dough.
2. If making the pastry in a processor, combine the flour, butter and icing sugar in the bowl then add the egg and mix until the dough starts to form.
3. Form the pastry into a smooth ball, wrap in plastic and chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
4. Roll out the pastry and line the flan tin, leaving an overhang. Chill the tin for a further 30 minutes (or longer if you need to).
5. To make the filling, beat the eggs, caster sugar, lemon rind and juice together in a mixing bowl. Stir in the warm melted butter, then coarsely grate the cooking apples directly into the mixture. Mix well.
6. Have the dessert apples ready sliced.
7. Preheat the oven to 200C, putting t a heavy baking tray in to heat up. (You don’t bake the pastry case blind, so this will help cook the bottom.)
8. Remove the pastry case from the fridge and spread the runny mixture in the bottom. Level the surface and arrange the dessert apple slices on top, neatly overlapping.
9. Sprinkle with Demerara sugar.
10. Put in the oven and bake for about 40-50 minutes, until the centre feels firm and the apples slices are slightly browned.

Serve warm, with cream or ice cream obviously. Though I would say I prefer it when it’s cooled and firmed up more. Even after a night in the fridge. Yum. The citrus/apple combination works so well.

By the way, I’m aware my pastry looks a bit messy. Although I can be somewhat perfectionist in some areas, I’m long reconciled with my shortcomings as a pastry chef. The important thing here is that it tasted good.


Filed under Baking, Pastry, Pies & tarts, Puddings & desserts, Recipes

Sussex plum heavies

Sussex heavies, plum heavies

Seeing some Eccles cakes in Lewes got me thinking. Lewes, SE England, is a long way from the Eccles cake’s origins: Eccles, in Greater Manchester (and formerly Lancashire), NW England.

Why have these small cakes, made with flaky pastry and a currant filling, become commonplace in England when so many other traditional, regional products are virtually forgotten? After all, there’s nothing terribly unique about a product made with flour, sugar, fat and dried fruit. Indeed, other variables not unlike the Eccles cake include the Banbury cake* (Oxfordshire), the Chorley cake (Lancashire) and even the Cornish heavy, which has a distinctive criss-cross pattern on top. Furthermore, surely there’s a Sussex equivalent?

A quick Google lead me to Sussex heavies, aka (as I understand it) plum heavies. Which may once have been made with dried plums (prunes) but seem to have evolved into yet another variation the small curranty pastry-cake.

I’ve never seen these in a bakery, in Sussex or elsewhere. Maybe some places still make them, but I doubt it – a Google image search for “plum heavies” brought up one image when I wrote this, but that site has subsequently died. If they were more of them out there, I’m sure today’s baking enthusiast foodie bloggers would have posted more about them.

Fat and flour

Pastry archaeology
So investigating them is a form of archaeology. Reading about them and planning a recipe is like an archaeologist looking at bones and fabric scraps and trying to envisage what the person must have looked like. You can’t ever be sure, and any idea that what I’m doing here is “authentic” is a bit silly.

It’s particularly tricky in this case as there seem to be various different interpretations. Such diversity is not unusual with any traditional recipe of course, but quite often, as with Eccles cakes, the simple fact of their popularity, and their larger-scale production, means they have become more standardised.

Flour, fat, currants, sugar

Elizabeth David’s ‘English Bread and Yeast Cookery’ put me on to another book called  ‘Sussex Recipe Book, with a Few Excursions into Kent’ by MK Samuelson. Although originally published in 1937, I’ve acquired a 2005 reprint. It contains two different recipes, acquired from a pair of 1930s Sussex ladies, one for “Sussex plum heavies” and one for “Plum heavies”. The former is simply “dough”, lard, currants and brown sugar worked together and formed into buns. The latter is much more like a scone, with lard and butter rubbed into flour, with sugar and raisins added, and a dough formed with milk. They’re rolled, cut into rounds, brushed with milk and baked.

“You have got plum-heavies for tea”

Other information suggests heavies were snacks for outdoor workers like famers and shepherds, as well as for children. Recipewise says “they were also commonly given out at Halloween to trick or treaters”, but I’m dubious. Trick or treating wasn’t a widespread English activity before recent commercial cash-ins on the US tradition (though arguably that had its origins in Celtic culture).

Recipewise does quote another nice source though, an 1875 Lewes publication with the wonderfully Victorian title of ‘A dictionary of the Sussex dialect and collection of provincialisms in use in the county of Sussex’ by Rev.WD Parish, vicar of Selmeston, Sussex. The full text includes this definition of the plum heavy: “A small round cake made of pie-crust, with raisins or currants in it.” It also includes this anecdote: “Dr JC Sanger, of Seaford [Sussex], when Government Surgeon at the Cape of Good Hope, was sent for to see an English settler. Reaching the house at tea-time, he joined the family at their meal, and on sitting down to the table he said, ‘You come from Sussex.’ ‘ Yes,’ was the answer, ‘from Horse-mouncies (Hurstmonceux), but how did you know that?’ ‘Because you have got plum-heavies for tea,’ said the doctor, ‘which I never saw but when I have been visiting in Sussex.'” (p88).

Sussex heavies, plum heavies

Anyway, all sources online agree they were called heavies as they were dense concoctions made with plain flour, quite possibly in the form of leftover scraps of pastry. In some modern recipes they’re more like a scone, in others more like an Eccles cake, with the paste given extra flakiness by the use of lard ­– a key cooking fat in traditional English baked goods, despite how out of fashion it may be now. I found a few recipes that even involved some basic lamination. So that’s what I’ve based mine on. And I’ve used self-raising flour, to make them slightly less heavy heavies.


225g self-raising flour
1/4 t salt
85g lard
85g butter [170g fat, total]
100g currants
50g soft brown sugar
100g milk, QB
Beaten egg to glaze

1. Sift together the flour and salt.
2. Cut the fats into small pieces, or even grate it coarsely.
3. Rub 50g of the fat into the flour.
4. Add the currants and sugar and, using a palette knife, bring together with milk. Don’t pour all the milk in at once – use just enough to combine. What Italian recipes call QB, quanto basta, “how much is enough”.
5. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead lightly. Like with pastry, if you overwork the dough, it’ll toughen up.
6. Form a rough slab and roll it out to form a rectangle about 30 by 12 cm.

Rolling out
7. Flake one-third of the remaining fat (40g) over the bottom two-thirds of the dough.

Adding fat
8. Fold the un-fatty top third down onto the fatty middle third, then fold the fatty bottom third up.

First fold
9. Rotate 90 degrees then roll out again to about the same size and repeat the process with another 40g of fat.

Second fold
10. Give it one final fold in the same way with the last 40g of fat.
11. Wrap the dough in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge of about 45 minutes. More won’t hurt.
12. Preheat the oven to 200C (180C fan).
13. Roll out the dough about 6mm thick
14. Cut out 6.5cm rounds. (Or whatever size round cutter you have. This is all I could find. Lost loads of kitchen stuff in our double house move, including a large portion of Fran’s cookie cutter collection. *weep*.)

Cutting rounds
15. Place on baking sheets (greased or lined with parchment) and brush with beaten egg. Or milk, which is easier.

Before baking
16. Gather the scraps and roll out again. Cut more rounds, until you’ve used all the dough.
17. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until a nice golden brown.

18. Cool on a wire rack.

This recipe, with a 6.5cm cutter, produced about 14 rounds, then another 8 or so from the scraps. The ones made from the scraps rerolled have a slightly different consistency. The first rolling retains the lamination, but recombining then re-rolling the scraps mean it will be shredded. These ones, however, are probably more like the historical Victorian Sussex heavies, simply made with pastry scraps, some fruit and a sprinkle of sugar. Both are yummy, short, flaky and not too sweet.

Sussex heavies

A very enjoyable bit of food archaeology. Now I just wish some 90-year-old Sussex native would see this and reply with a description of the real things they ate as kids.






* The April 2014 issue of ‘Great British Food’ magazine has this intriguing story: “It’s possible that the recipe for Banbury cakes was brought to England by crusaders in the 12th century – a similar type of cake is known to have existed in Syria at the time, and the soldiers would have been able to acquire dried fruit and spices at a reasonable prices.” It’s a credible theory, as Midle Eastern delights like baklava and ma’amoul are in the same broad family of sweet-pastries-filled-with-dried-fruits-and-nuts. As are fig rolls, an industrialised incarnations of an (ancient) Egyptian pastry.


Filed under Cakes, Recipes

Wholesome, wholegrain Magister and einkorn bread

With Sussex Hops

One of the things I enjoyed in my bread-making experiments in Italy was trying different flours, many of them traditional or what’s called “heritage grains”. This is a slightly vague term, muddled up with food fads, but basically it just means grains that are older strains. In the case of wheat*, they can either be alternative varieties to common/bread wheat (Triticum aestivum), or local variables, cultivated over generations to suit a particular terroir.

When I was trying to get my head around the Italian names for grains and flours – particularly the vexed question of what’s meant by “farro” – I wrote a few posts (here and here), where I started learning about some of the different strains and varieties of wheat.

Key heritage wheats that have survived the 20th century’s industrialisation and intensification of agriculture are einkorn, emmer and spelt, or to use their scientific names: Triticum monococcum, Triticum dicoccum and Triticum spelta. As with a lot of taxonomy, things are constantly being revised or bickered about; spelt is interesting, as it’s either Triticum spelta, or classified as Triticum aestivum var spelta, ie a variety of common wheat.

Whole loaf

Olde English
Since coming home to England at Christmas, after our two years in Italy and two months travelling in the US and NZ, it’s taken me a while to get back into the bread-making.

This is partly as we have a rubbish oven, partly as I forgot to pick up my leaven from my mother, who had been looking after it, and partly because Lewes now has a couple of great places to buy real bread these days: Flint Owl and The Hearth, which also has the town’s only proper pizza, made by master baker Michael Hanson and pizzaiolo and in his wood-fired oven.

Yesterday, however, I dived back in to the bread-making. I’ve been buying flours, and some of it needed using – particularly the Dove’s Farm wholegrain einkorn I bought that had a “Best before” date of July 2013. Ooops. Best before dates are, as sane people know, just a guideline, but flour does get a bit stale and loses its verve.

Still, at least it’s flour with form. The packet says Dove’s, one of Britain’s bigger organic flour brands, has been growing it on their farm on the Wiltshire/Berkshire border since 2008, and that the einkorn itself “was the original wheat, developed over 20,000 years ago”, and that it’s “the earliest type of wheat grown & eaten by mankind.” As such it can be seen as the crop that symbolises the human transition from wandering hunter-gatherers to settled farmers. You could say it’s the foodstuff that represents the founding of human civilisation, in Eurasia at least.

Einkorn, Sussex

So that had to go in. As did some lovely Sussex Bread Flour from Inbhams Farm Granary. These guys are a small operation, based in Surrey, the county to the north of Sussex. They sell a range of British grains and flours, as well as home milling equipment. Their emphasise the importance of freshness in grain products. Ironic considering the potentially state of the einkorn flour I had.

Still, the Sussex Bread Flour is not only relatively fresh, and thoroughly local, it was also a nice variety – Magister wheat, which Imbhams describe as “an older two row** variety” that “is a strong (high protein) grain”. It’s a winter wheat, and a variety of Triticum aestivum. I asked about the flour, and James Halfhide of Inbham’s explained that “Magister is a modern 21st century grain introduced from Germany and a ‘2 row’ variety – so an ‘older style’ of grain not unlike spelt or naked barley. So you could say it will carry some older characteristics – one we liked was the flavour. More modern breeding has lead to the ‘4 row’ varieties so they look ‘square’ and usually shorter straw stems.”

Between the two flours, both wholemeal, it made for a seriously wholesome dough, with only minimal elasticity. The einkorn has a protein level of 10.6% and while the Magister might be higher protein (around 12.5%), it’s stoneground and very branny. The resulting loaf has a close, slightly crumbly crumb. Very tasty though. And great with my favourite peanut butter brand.

Being back home in southern England, with its ongoing wind-wracked soggy apocalypse, might be miserable in some senses compared to poncing around the NZ summer or living in Roma, but at least I can get my Whole Earth Crunchy Original – a delicious type of peanut butter made with the peanut skin left on and one of the few foodstuffs I was transporting back to Italy after trips to England.

Sorry, it’s just better than any of those US Peanut Butter & Co varieties I’ve tried, despite that brand’s success (and hip excursions into film and TV; I first spotted it on screen a year or so ago in Girls) and even better than Pic’s Really Good, which I enjoyed a lot in NZ, as it’s from Nelson, a town I’ve got a lot of affection for. Those skins in tandem with butter – yes, butter, I like animal fat with my peanut fat – and this wholesome bread made for a cracking elevenses snack on this filthy morning.

Whole Earth

Not really a recipe

For one medium loaf I used:
500g wholegrain einkorn flour
250g Sussex Bread Flour
525g water
12g fine salt
10g fresh yeast

I’m using these same flours to feed up my leaven, but that’s not really ready for baking yet, so fresh yeast it was.

I also used water from our Brita filter. The tap water here in Lewes is pretty hard, and full of god knows what chemicals. I’m not sure the Brita existing makes it as pleasing as water bubbling from the ground in a mountain meadow in spring time, but hey, it’s got to be slightly better.

I just crumbed the yeast into half flour, then added the water and made a sponge. Then I added the salt and the rest of the flour.

I gave the dough a few short kneads over about an hour, then formed a ball.

Then I left in a cold place (about 10C; cold crappy 1950s construction house, basically) for about eight hours.

I gave it a quick shape into a ball, then a final prove in a warm place (about 20C; old-school airing cupboard) for a couple of hours, until it had doubled in size.

Baked at 230C for 20 minutes, then another half an hour at 200C.

Wholesome, historic and local.

Magister einkorn cut

* “Wheat” isn’t just one member of the grass family (Poaceae or Gramineae), it’s several, including many strains that have had ooh, ten-plus millennia of crossing and selective breeding.
** As I understand it, when talking about grains as 2-row, 4-row, 6-row, it’s a reference to the number of rows of kernels on the ear.


Filed under Baking, Breads, Recipes

Italian names for fish and seafood

Since I moved to Rome in August 2011, I’ve been keeping a list of the names for fish and seafood I encounter on market stalls and restaurant menus. Then I try to learn the English name for said fish. It’s a challenge though. As not only do common names change from region to region in Italy, but the same names are often applied to different species, most notably merluzzo, which, according to Italian Wikipedia, can refer to 15 species.

Basically, I’ve been utilising both the English and Italian versions of Alan Davidson’s ‘Mediterranean Seafood’ (aka ‘Il Mare in Pentola’), the classic book that comprehensively tackles of the subject of seafood nomenclature. (Although I do occasionally carry ‘Il Mare in Pentola’ with me at the market, it’s not very convenient when I’m out and about and end up in a restaurant: this list, on the other hand, I can access through my phone.)

I’ve also been cross-referencing both the English and Italian language versions of Wikipedia. Say what you like about Wikipedia, but it is constantly peer-reviewed by a vast number of contributors, so it can’t be all wrong – plus Davidson’s first did his work in the 1960s and even with later imprints, the updating process just isn’t as dynamic as that on Wikipedia. I’m also using other sources, both online and offline (like a poster I bought of seasonal fish species).

Please note though, I’m doing this more for linguistic and bloody-minded reasons. I’m not doing it as an overt exercise in seafood ethics. That said, many of these species are not sustainable, and shouldn’t really be eaten these days. Seafood sustainability is an issue there just wasn’t much awareness of when Davidson first wrote his book in the 1960s, and it still doesn’t really get a look-in even in the 2002 English or 2005 Italian editions that I have.

Greenpeace produces a Red List of fish to avoid. It’s handy as it simply lists the fish. They are also US and NZ specific versions, among others. A more comprehensive Red List is produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It’s not as user-friendly for consumers as you have to search by specific name (preferably a Latin, scientific name). Their database does however provide very detailed information; look, for example, at the entry for Atlantic bluefin tuna, Thunnus thynnus.

Back to practicalities: I’m doing fish (including some of the fresh water varieties I encounter), crustaceans and cephalopods together alphabetically, not in any separate categories. And I’m not going to list all the regional, dialect names Davidson mentions, though if you search here they may well be included alongside the standard Italian name. I’m also including a few bits of terminology, just cos.

Italian names are given in the singular form. Though (very) generally in Italian masculine nous ending in –o are pluralised –i, and feminine nouns ending in –a are pluralised with –e, there are exceptions, so I’ve included some for clarity. Note, for example, pesce (“fish”) is masculine, and becomes pesci in the plural.

Caveat: This whole undertaking is a minefield, linguistically and ethically. This list isn’t comprehensive, expert or entirely accurate. It’s just me trying to learn the names of fish I see used in Rome, and relate them to common English names. I’m British, so I’m talking about relating them to British English common names (which are more standardised than Italian common names, though not entirely standardised). But I’m also giving the principle scientific name for species, which can then be utilised to find common names in say, American English.

Please do comment or contact me though if you see something that you really don’t agree with. This is an ongoing project and I plan to keep revising it and honing it.

acciuga (plural acciughe) – European achovy. See alice.
acqua dolce – “sweet water”, that is freshwater. So freshwater fish are called pesce d’acqua dolce.
alice (plural alici) – the European anchovy (Engraulis encrasicolus). Some of the regional names are more similar to the English word anchovy or our more generic word for small, oily forage fish sardine, such as the Veneto’s anchiò and sardon, though this is an area of potential confusion as Engraulis encrasicolus isn’t considered a sardine species.
alalunga – see tonno alalunga.
alletterato – see tonno alletterato.
allevato in un vivaio – bred in a hatcher, fish farm
aluzzo – European/Mediterranean barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena) aka luccio marino, luccio di mare, luzzo.
anguilla – eel, or more specifically the European eel (Anguilla anguilla – gotta love those tautonyms). Saw a big tub of these, alive, on the market just the other day.
aragosta – spiny lobster (Palinurus elephas). Also know as aligusta, aliusta (Lazio, Marche, abruzzo); agosta, langusta, grillo de mar (Veneto); ravosta, rausta (Campania); arausta, ariusta, laustra (Sicilia).
argentina – argentine (Argentina sphyraena).
aringa (plural aringhe) – herring, or more specifically Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Not a Mediterranean fish, but here in Rome there are smoked (affumicata) herring fillets available in the supermarket and I’ve even seen kipper-like affairs in specialist food shops or on the market in certain seasons.
astice – European lobster, common lobster (Homarus gammarus). Also known commonly as elefante di mare, longobardo (Liguria); grillo de mar (“sea cricket”, as in grasshopper, not the daft/dull English game involving balls and sticks; Venezia Giulia); lupicante, lupocantero, lupo di mare (another “sea wolf”; Toscania).
azzurro, pesce – see pesce azzurro.

barracuda ­– barracuda. Refers to the Mediterranean barracuda or barracouta (Sphyraena viridensis), though possibly also the European barracuda (Sphyraena sphyraena), which is also found in the Med. See aluzzo.
barracuda boccagialla – Mediterranean barracuda (Sphyraena viridensis).
baccalà – salt cod, that is dried salted Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua). See also stoccafisso. Note, Atlantic cod is categorised as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List. Which is a problem for me, as traditional Roman trattorie frequently only have baccalà as the only alternative to red meat and offal. And I don’t much like red meat and offal.
bondella – see coregone.
boga – bogue, a type of seabream with one of the best tautonyms ever: Boops boops. It has a variety of cute regional names: buga, bacello, boba, boma, vopa, vova, vop, vopa, opa, uopa… you get the picture.
bottarga – related to fish roe, but I believe this is actually a product made from dried, compressed fish gonads, particularly from mullet (grey and red) and northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). Used a kind of condiment, grated on certain pasta dishes.
bronzino – see spigola.
bianchetti – the young (fry) of certain oily fish; fish just past the larval stage. This name, and gianchetti, is more from the northwest, Liguria. Called neonata and muccu in Siciliano. Neonata means newborn. I’ve eaten polpette di neonate (the fishing of which is strictly seasonal) in a Sicilian restaurant and they were very much like whitebait fritters I ate in New Zealand.

calamaro (plural calamari) – European squid (Loligo vulgaris). According to Davidson, it’s also called totano in Liguria and Venezia-Giulia, but if you scroll down to totano, that’s primarily the name for Europoean flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus).
cannochia, cannocchia – a freaky looking mantis shrimp (Squilla mantis). I’ll let Italian Wikipedia provide the regional dialect names: “panocchia, pannocchia (Abruzzo); spernocchia, sparnocchia (Campania); canocia, canoccia (Friuli-Venezia Giulia); cicala di mare (Lazio); balestrin, sigà de maa (Liguria); cannocia, pannocchia (Marche); cannocchiella, cecala (Puglia); càmbara de fangu, solegianu de mari (Sardegna); astrea, cegala de mari (Sicilia); canocchia, cicala di mare (Toscana); canocia, canoccia (Veneto).” Though I’ve never personally seen cicala di mare (“sea cicada”) used in Rome.
cappasanta – scallop, pilgrim scallop (Pecten jacobaeus). See conchiglia.
conchiglia del pellegrino, or di San Giacomo, or di San Jacopo – scallop (Pecten jacobaeus). Has a lot of local names. I’ve seen cappasanta used here in Rome, and there are other variables on that and the general religious name (pellegrino = “pilgrim”) according to Davidson, such as: capa santa, santarela (Veneto); pellegrine (Liguria); cappa pellegrina (Marche), etc. Interesting story about scallops, and dubious fishing practices, here.
capone coccio – red or east Atlantic gurnard (Chelidonichthys cuculus). Coccio means “earthenware”, a reference to the red colour presumabloy. It’s a species I see a lot on the market, and also used to buy from the market back in England. I’ve seen it called the rather complimentary occhiobello (“beautiful eye”) in a restaurant in Toscana/Tuscany. According to Davidson, capone coccio is also used in Lazio for another member of the gurnard family: the piper (Trgila lyra).
capone gallinella – tub gurnard (Chelidonichthys lucerna / Trigla lucerna). Gallinella means “chick” (as in young chicken) and is also a Roman name for the salad crop lamb’s lettuce (Valerianella locusta). You know, just to add to the confusion. Also called cappone.
cappone – see capone gallinella.
cecinella – according to Norman Lewis in his superb account his wartime experiences in Italy, Naples ʼ44, this “tiny sand eels” eaten “fried in batter”.
cefalo – grey mullet (Mugli cephalus). In Lazio also known as mattarello, which also means “rolling pin”. Also muggine.
cefalopodo – cephalopod, ie those delicious molluscs in the Cephalopoda (“head-feet”) class that includes squid, cuttlefish and octopuses. I’m very sorry cephalopod populations but you provide some of my favourite seafood dishes.
cerino – literally “match”, “taper”, but also a name for a type of mullet. I’m not 100% sure, but possibly cefalo, grey mullet. Davidson says it’s also called cirinu in Sicilia, which is similar, and I think I’ve heard the pescivendolo use cerino and cefalo interchangeably at the market.
cernia – grouper, grouper family (Epinephelinae).
cernia bruna – dusky grouper (Epinephelus guaza). Also zerola (Lazio), according to Davidson, but again, I’ve only encountered cernia in Rome.
coccio – see capone coccio.
coda di rospo – what a great name. It literally means “tail of the toad” or “toad’s tail”. The other common name for this fish is rana pescatrice, “frog fisherwoman”. Slightly more prosaically, we call this type of monkfish “anglerfish” (Lophius piscatorius), though other English names are frog-themed. Some more colourful Italian names are: diavolo de mar (“sea-devil”, also a name used in English apparently), rospo di fango (“mud-toad”), pisatrice nera, etc. Novel names aside though, the angler is really one of the core species to not eat, and it’s been on the Greenpeace Red List since 2010.  Even the UK Marine Conservation society rates it as 4 (with 5 the worst).
coregone – name used for several species of freshwater fish, notably the bondella or coregone bianco (Coregonus macrophthalmus, which occurs in Lake Constance in the Alps). We encountered this word on a menu in a restaurant at Lake Bracciano, north of Rome, so it may also refer to other small lake fish.
cozza – mussel, or more specificalloy the Mediterranean mussel (Mytilus galloprovincialis). Cozze (plural) is apparently the Lazio name. The more standard Italian name is mitilo,though of course there are numerous regional names including variations likes cozzica, cozzeca, cozzela, or peocio, peocchia and similar in northeast , etc.

dentice – generic name for the Dentex, but most commonly used to refer to the common dentex (Dentex dentex). The dentex family (Sparidae), is referred to as the seabream or porgy family and includes the sargus/sargo genus.

elefante di mare – see astice.

fasulari – another one from Norman Lewis’s Naples ʼ44, which he says are “bean-shaped bivalves” and a local speciality at Pozzuoli in the Bay of Naples.
fragolino – see pagello fragolino.
fellone – a name we encountered in Naples for a kind of crab; it turns out to be Eriphia verrucosa. Davidson says the full Campania name is rancio-fellone, while the standard Italian name is favallo.

gallinella – see capone gallinella.
gambarello – common prawn (Palaemon serratus). Presumably the serratus in the Latin name is related to the English word serrated, and another name for this one is gambero sega – where sega (politely) means “saw”.
gambero – prawn, shrimp. Can refer to several species, including the three below.
gamebero imperiale – see mazzancolla.
gambero rosa – red Mediterranean prawn (Parapenaeus longirostris). Rosa means “rose” or “pink”. It’s also called the gambero bianco, “white prawn”. This and the below don’t seem to have even vaguely specific English names (or at least nothing I’d use), but I suppose I’d use the French name, after eating a lot of them while on holidays in Brittany: crevettes.
gambero rosso chiaro – “red-clear shrimp” (Aristeus antennatus). Another one with confused colour-related naming, presumably on account of how it changes when cooked, it’s also called gambero viola (“violet shrimp”) in Italian.
ghiozzo paganello – goby, rock goby (Gobius paganellus).
gianchetti – see bianchetti.
granchio – crab; generic name but also used to refer to common shore crab (Carcinus maenas). Too many different regional names to mention them all, but some are: granso (Veneto), rancio (Campania), vranzi (Sicilia).

lanterna – see pesce prete (Uranoscopus scaber).
lanzardo – or sgombro cavalla is the Atlantic chub mackerel (Scomber colias). Also known as macarello (Lazio), a name it shares with Atlantic mackerel.
latte di pesce – “fish milk” literally, but referring to soft roe, milt. I bought some fish from our pescivondolo one day and, when gutting it, he told me how lucky I was to get the milt. I wasn’t entirely convinced, but for some people it’s a delicacy.
latterino – small fish from the order Atheriniformes, silversides or sand-smelt. If memory serves, I’ve seen small ones served deepfried in Rome (the Romans do love to deepfry).
leccia stella – doesn’t appear to have a British English name, but in American English is apprently (according to Davidson) the pompano (Trachinotus ovatus). In the English version of Mediterranean Seafood Davidson also mentions an older BE name: derbio. I’m sure I’ve heard them referred to here in Rome as simply “stelle”, but Davidson says they’re called leccia bastarda (Liguria), lissa (Veneto), pesce stella (“star fish”, Toscana), ricciola (Campania, just to confuse things with Seriola dumerili), sdofereo, cionare (Sicilia) etc etc.
luccio – pike, northern pike (Esox lucius). Traditionally eaten at Lake Bracciano,  north of Rome but it was a pretty sorry affair when I tried it, small and most unlike the formidable predator freshwater fish of lore. Presumably fished too young.
luccio marino – “pike of the sea”, see aluzzo.
lupino – small bivalve, described to us as in a restaurant as a “small vongole”, where vongole really is just a generic word for members of the Veneridae (Venus clam) family. Specifically Dosinia exoleta and similar.

maccarello – see scombro/sgombro and lanzardo.
marmora – striped bream (Lithognathus mormyrus). Also mormua, mormora, marmarozza, marmolo, mirmora and other names that, helpfully, don’t sound at all similiar.
mazzancolla – a type of king prawn (Melicertus kerathurus), also commonly known as Gambero imperiale (“imperial prawn”), spannocchio. Davidson says mazzancolla is the Lazio name, though it’s also used on Italian Wikipedia.
mazzone – see ghiozzo paganello.
melù – blue whiting (Micromesistius poutassou). Davidson says it’s called stocco and stoccafisso in Tuscany, so perhaps this cod relative has a history of being used for “saltcod”. English Wikipedia says “The fish is usually not marketed fresh, but processed into fish meal and oil. However, in Russia and in southern Europe, blue whiting are sometimes sold as food fish.”
merluzzo – boy oh boy. This one is the one that’s quite possibly the trickiest. Just look at Italian Wikipedia and it says this generic word used to refer to 15 different species. Most commonly, it seems to refer to Atlantic cod, but also other cod, and other members of the wider cod family like hake (Merluccius merluccius; commonly called nasello in Italian) and also pollack (Pollachius pollachius; which isn’t common in the Med so is just legally known as pollack in Italy).
mitilo – mussel. See cozza.
moscardino – another type of octopus. It’s generally small when it’s sold or served, though my research seems to say it’s Eledone moschata ­–  a pretty large species (growing up to 74cm, compared to 24cm for the common octopus). So this is either wrong, or they get it when it’s young.
motella – shore rockling (Gaidropsarus mediterraneus). Davidson calls it the three-bearded rockling, but according to Wikipedia that’s a different species (Gaidropsarus vulgaris). It also says they’re “often confused.” Also known as mosella, moustella, mostella, musdea e’ funnale. Hence potential confusion with musdea.
muggine – see cefalo.
musdea, musdea bianca – forkbeard, greater forkbeard (Phycis blennoides). Some of its regional names are mostella, mustella gianca, mustia – which sound like motella and some of its regional names. The two species are in the same order (Gadiformes) and family (Gadidae; the true cod family) but not the same genus. My guess is that they live in similar rocky environments, so were, in days of yore, caught together and discussed together by twinkly eyed, rough-handed fishermen.

nasello – hake (Merluccius merluccius). One of the fish commonly called merluzzo, but has numerous dialect names, such as pesce lupo (“wolf fish”; Marche), mazzone, mazzune, nuzz (Puglia), mbarluzzu, milluzzu, miruzzu (Sicilia) etc etc.
neonata – see bianchetti.
novellame – a generic word for young fish, just past larval stage. Although it’s on Italian Wikipedia, I’ve run it past several Italians and they looked kinda blank, so it can’t be that common. See bianchetti.

orata – Sparus aurata, gilt-head bream

occhialone – see rovello.
occhi di canna – literally “eyes on stalks”, I saw this in a restaurant in Rome and it refers to small, young octopus, smaller than moscardini. Then I saw them on the market (pic below).Occhi di canna
ombrina – doesn’t have a British English name as far as I can see (presumably because it’s a Med fish, not one from the seas around the UK) but seems to be called the Shi Drum (Umbrina cirrosa) in various places online.
orata – gilt-head (sea) bream (Sparus aurata). In this picture, it says they’re pescate, meaning fished (in the wild) not farmed.
ostrica (plural ostriche) – oyster, European flat oyster (Ostrea edulis). Although the (Latin-derived) Italian word is not unlike the English word, it also sounds like ostrich. In Italian an ostrich is the entirely dissimilar struzzu. Clear? Good.

paganello – see ghiozzo paganello.
pagello fragolino – common pandora (Pagellus erythrinus), which is in the same family as sea bream (Sparidae). It’s a cute name though as fragola means “strawberry”, and fragolino is means little strawberry, or wild strawberry. It’s presumably named for its red-pink skin.
pannochia, pannocchia – see canocchia.
palamita – Atlantic bonito (Sarda sarda), from the Scombridae family, that is related to mackerel and tuna. Despite the Latin name, not to be confused with sardines.
paranza – small fish such as ling and others. It literally means fishing boat, trawler. So small fish that’s trawled up and served up before its time.
palombo – a kind of houndshark, which Davison calls the Smooth hound. He says this can refer to the Mustelus asterias and Mustelus mustelus. The former is called the Starry smooth-hound on Wikipedia, the latter the Common smooth-hound. I often see fillets of palombo on the market, though have never tried it. Which is probably a good thing, as Mustelus mustelus is “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List.  Such is the tragic irony of many species with “common” in the name.
passera – European flounder (Platichthys flesus).
pelagico – pelagic. Not a fish, but a word commonly used to describe oceanic species that shoal near the surface, such as mackerel. Handily it’s basically the same in English and Italian.
pesce azzurro –  a generic Italian term for the smaller species of marine oily fish, from anchovies to mackerel. But also used to refer specifically to pesce serra (Pomatomus saltatrix).
persico – generic name for perch, also used to refer specifically to the European perch. See persico reale, below.
persico reale – European perch (Perca fluviatilis).
pesce castagna – Atlantic pomfret or Ray’s bream (Brama brama).
pesce persico – see persico, persioc reale.
pesci piatti (plural) – “plate fishes”, generic name for flat fish.
pesce prete – literally “priest fish”. This is the Atlantic stargazer (Uranoscopus scaber). This is the fish that started me on this mission. I’d asked the pescivendolo for something to make a stew and he sold me these ugly buggers. Some posting of pictures on Facebook led to long discussions, with ultimately the more helpful identification input coming from the Sicilian friend of a friend and from a British friend who’s an experienced diver, and drew on his diving community’s knowledge. I’ve seen them also called pesce lanterna and Davidson says regional names include pesce lucerna and lumera, though even in English “lanternfish” is very generic. A few other nice regional names from Davidson: bocca in cielo from Abruzzo and Campania, boca in cao from the Veneto, and pappacocciula, which I’d hazard mean the same thing: “mouth in the sky” (cielo means “sky” or heaven in “standard Italian”).
pesce sciabola – see spatola.
pesce serra – bluefish, blue fish (Pomatomus saltatrix). Had this in a restaurant in Sorrento. The waiter said it was also known as bandira, though Davidson doesn’t mention this name.
pesce spada – swordfish (Xiphias gladius). Spada does indeed mean “sword”, despite how much it might sound like “spade”. Greenpeace includes swordfish on the Red List, sayingSwordfish stocks… are fully fished in the Mediterranean.”
The IUCN Re List also says, “Globally, this species has shown a 28% decline over three generation lengths (20 years). The only stock that is not considered to be well-managed is the Mediterranean”.   So really, the Med fisheries particularly need to pull their fingers out.
pezzogna – red (sea) bream or blackspot sea bream (Pagellus bogaraveo). Also known as rovello (see below).
platessa – this name, handily, directly relates to the Latin name Pleuronectes platessa, which is European plaice. Davidson says it is “not really a Mediterranean fish” and Italian Wikipedia says ” È rara nel Mediterraneo” (“it’s rare in the Mediterranean”) though I’ve seen it offered in restaurants here in Rome. Presumably not freshly caught. Or trawled to be specific: it’s also on the Greenpeace Red List, for the damaging bottom trawling, though the IUCN says ” A widespread species which is vulnerable to overfishing in the sea, but this is not currently thought to be causing a decline great enough  to qualify the species as threatened.”
polpessa – this octopus seems to have a lot of names in English too: Atlantic white-spotted octopus, white-spotted octopus, grass octopus or grass scuttle. Its Latin name is great: Octopus macropus. Other regional Italian regional names include vurpessa, pruppessa, vurpàscele etc.
polpo, polpo commune – common octopus (Octopus vulgaris). Also polipo, piovra, folpo, tolbo, tulbo, fulbo, fulpo, vurpe, pruppu….
potassolo – see melù.

razza – ray.
razza bianca – bottlenose skate, white skate (Raja alba/Rostroraja alba). The IUCN Red List categorises it as “Endangered”.
razza chiodata – thornback ray (Raja clavata). Davidson says it’s called Arzilla pietrosa in Lazio, but on my local market’s fish stall in Rome, ray is just ray, razza, they don’t make distinctions. This species is categorised as “Near Threatened” on the IUCN Red List.
ricciola – greater amberjack (Seriola dumerili). Our first year in Italy, we asked the pescivondolo for something for Christmas Eve, when fish is traditionally eaten in Italy. They offered us a substantial ricciola, though we had no idea what it was. A white, very meaty fish it made a serious meal.
rombo – turbot; generic name for several species of flat fish (pesci piatti) not just Scophthalmus maximus; see below.
rombo liscio – “smooth turbot”, or brill (Scophthalmus rhombus). Also known as soarzo/soazo, rombo minore (Veneto); rombetto (Marche, Abruzzo); rombo d’arena, rombo piccolo (Lazio); linguata mascula (Sicilia).
rombo chiodato – “spiked turbot” (chiodo means “nail”, “spike”) turbot (Scophthalmus maximus, also Psetta maxima). Also known as rombo maggiore, rombo gigante, and several regional names like rombo di pietra (Lazio); rombo di sasso (Veneto); rummo petruso (Campania); romolo, rummulu pitrusu (Sicilia) and various names evoking stones and rocks (sasso, pietra, pitrusu etc). If it’s line or trap caught, it’s possibly okay to eaet, but frankly most vendors and restaurants won’t want to or be able to provide provenance information, and it’s likely it’ll be trawled. Trawling is not good.
rombo giallo – megrim, whiff (Lepidorhombus whiffiagonis).
rombo di rena –wide-eyed flounder (Bothus podas). Among the regional names are the delightful rumbo bastardo (Liguria) and quattr’occhio (Toscana). Inevitiably, variations on these names are used for different species in different regions.
rombo quattrocchi – “four-eyed turbot”, or four-spot megrim in English (Lepidorhombus boscii). Also known as suace, suacia etc.
rovello – another member of Sparidae (seabream, porgy) family: Pagellus bogaraveo, which seems to be known as red sea bream and blackspot sea bream (according to Wikipedia) and blue-spotted bream in English (according to Davidson). Also known as occhino, besugo, bezugo, mupo, mupa, occhialone, pampuni, pampini, pezzogna etc etc (Davidson gives many others). Even Italian Wikipedia concedes “anche se i vari nomi locali possono creare confusione tra le diverse specie di pagelli che si pescano nel mediterraneo” – that is, “the various local names can create confusion between the diverse species of the pagellus (genus) that are fished in the Mediterranean.”

salmone – salmon, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar). These days, most of the salmon you eat will be farmed. I avoid it, as although fish farming has its place, it can be dubious, particularly when it involves carnivorous species (like salmon and bass) that have to be fed with other fish, at an inefficient rate of exchange. So for example, for 1kg of salmon you have to process 4kg of wild fish.  Personally, I’d rather eat the wild sardines, anchovies etc than the salmon. Again, it’s a question of sense and sustainability.
sarago – generic name for Diplodus genus. Most commonly refers to Diplodus sargus, the white seabream or sargo, aka sargo maggiore.
sarago sparaglione – annular bream (Diplodus annularis). Here’s one where a  lot of the regional dialect names at least sound similar (ish): saragu, spareddu, saraghetto, sparleto, sparlotto, sbaro, sparinole, sparo etc etc.
sardina – sardine (smaller, younger), pilchard (larger, adult). As in English, a generic word for small oily fish, but also used to refer specifically to the European pilchard(Sardina pilchardus). Most European langauges call it some variation on “sardine”, and there are also many Italian dialect names like sardon, saraghina, sarducola, but there are also plenty that are completely different sounding, like palassiol, renga, falloppe, biancomangiare, sfiggiata, nunnata. The later is Sicilian and sounds like neonata (see bianchetti).
sargo maggiore – white seabream or sargo (Diplodus sargus). Among the many regional names are: cappuccino (“hooded”; Abruzzo, Marche); saricu monica (Calabria); saricu tunnu (Sicilia).
scampo (plural scampi) – the prawn family member most commonly cooked up and known as scampi in the UK (though monkfish tail has, illegally, also been served up as scampi). This is the Dublin bay prawn, langoustine or Norway lobster (Nephrops norvegicus). Italian regional names include: arancio, arganello, astracio, scampolo.
scombro/sgombro – mackerel, Atlantic mackerel (Scomber scombrus). Also maccarello (Lazio; I see both names in Rome), lacerto (Liguria).
scombro cavallo – see lanzardo.
scorfano – scorpion fish. Refers to seveal species. I wrote my first investigations prompted by buying scorfano.
scorfano rosso – red scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa). Also called cappone in Toscana; cappone means “capon”, ie a castrated cockerel, but in the fishy world is also used for capone gallinella (tub gurnard).
seppia – cuttlefish or common European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Regional names include sepa, seccia, siccia, purpo siccia, pruppusiccia, so at least there’s a pattern. Though Davidson says it’s also called a scarpetta in Puglia. A scarpetta is a ballet shoe or trainer, and one nice Italian expression for when you mop up the sauce in your plate with a piece of bread is “fare la scarpetta” – make the ballet shoe – just to confuse things.
sciabola – see spatola.
seppioline – little cuttlefish.
serra – see pesce serra.
soace – see suacia.
sogliola – sole, or more specifically the common sole (Solea solea). Italians do catch other species, but this is the main variety, and one Brits will know as Dover sole. Another problematic species due to beam-trawling.
spigola – bass, European seabass, Mediterranean seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax). Also known as bronzino (Liguria); ragno (Veneto, Toscana); lupasso (Davidson says this is the Lazio name, but I’ve only ever seen spigola in Rome); lupu de mari (Sicilian); and pesce lupo, though frankly variations on the latter names (“wolf fish”) seems to pop up for various species, including Anarhichas lupus. These days, it’s commonly reared in fish-farms, something I’ve got very mixed feelings about (see salmone).
spatola – silver scabbard fish, frostfish, beltfish (Lepidopus caudatus). Pesce bandiera (Lazio).
squalo – generic noun for shark.
stella – see leccia stella.
stoccafisso, stoccofisso – like baccalà, dried salted cod, Gadus morhua. The difference between the two seems to be a matter of argument, but It’s possibly a question of where the Gadus morhua is sourced: baccalà being Atlantic, stoccafisso being Norwegian/Arctic. It’s also a question of a different salting process.
suacia – Mediterranean scaldfish (Arnoglossus laterna), a flatfish related to flounder. A lot of the northern Italian names seem to be variations on petrèe, petrale, pataracia, peteracchia, but in the south things just spread out and have no apparent similarities. Also commonly known as zanchetta. My poster also lists it as soacia, though I can’t find any reference to that name in Davidson or online.
sugarello – Atlantic horse mackerel, scad, jack mackerel (Trachurus trachurus). Confusingly, the fish that’s literally called “horse mackerel” in Italian, Sgombro cavallo, is a different species – see lanzardo. (Note, mackerel is one of those vague terms that doesn’t exclusively include members of the same family of fish. So while the true mackerel, Scomber scombrus, and the chub mackerel,  Scomber colias, are members of the Scombridae family, this one is instead a member of the Carangidae family. They’re all, however, oily fish or pesce azzurro that have certain cosmetic similarities, notably the sheeny-shiny skins.) Scad isn’t generally eaten in the UK.
suro – see sugarello.

tellina – wedge shell, a type of bivalve (Donax trunculus). Apparently also known as fasiola and trilatera in Lazio, though in her book The Food of Rome and Lazio, Oretta Zanini de Vita just uses tellina, while Italian Wikipedia says they’re also called arsella. I had them in a pasta dish very much like spaghetti alle vongole, except that they’re small so it takes a lot longer to get the meat out of the shells. Tellina is also the French name. Strangely, Donax trunculus isn’t in the Tellina genus of bivalves – I can only assume it was scientifically reclassified after the Latin name became commonly used (via Vulgar Latin) for various edible bivalves.
tilapia – tilapia. Farmed tilapia is found in Italy, such as in my local DOC supermarket where they have it in packets, smoked. Unlike the aquaculture of salmon, which requires wild fish for feed, tilapia can be fed on a less unsustainable food source: algae. But they are also fed maize, a controversial crop (intensive monoculture, GM etc etc). Never mind the questions of hormones and chemicals. It’s a tricky one. I would say “try to buy organically reared tilapida” but a) you may not be able to get the relevant info and b) people will moan about it being pricier. You know what you – saving human civilisation in the face of environmental meltdown requires us to recalibrate their food consumptions habits. Anyway, back to tilapia in Italy. The farmed species found here are Nile tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) and Mozambique tilapia(Oreochromis mossambicus).
tonnetto – see tonno alletterato.
tonno, tonno rosso – tuna, specifically northern bluefin tuna (Thunnus thynnus). I’ve tried not to eat this perenially popular fish, well, for most of my adult life really as it’s the poster boy of over-exploited marine life. Indeed, most tuna species are firmly Red Listed these days, despite what supermarkets may sell you about line-fishing or even “ranches”, which are fish farms that don’t raise tuna from eggs, but instead still deplete natural stocks by taking young fish from the wild. Insanely, “Ranching also uses high amounts of other wild fish as feed – about 20kg of wild fish to produce just 1kg of tuna.” (from Greenpeace, here). Here is it too on the IUCN Red List.
tonno alalunga – albacore, longfin tunny (Thunnus alalunga). It’s on my poster of seasonal fish, but even the albacore is on the Greenpeace Red List these days, while the IUCN Red List categorises it as “Near Threatened“, having undergone an estimated 37% decline in the past 20 years.
tonno alletterato – little tunny, little tuna, false albacore (Euthynnus alletteratus). This one’s not on the Red List (at the time of writing, Feb 2013), and Wikipedia gives its status as “least concern”. Also known in Italy with other diminutives like tonnetto, tunnella, tonnello, plus loads more dialect names like sanguinaccio in Tuscany (this also happens to be the name of a blood sausage and a chocolate pudding made with blood); ‘nzirru (Campania); alittratu, littrata, culuritu (Sicilia) etc.
totano, totano commune – European flying squid (Todarodes sagittatus). Totano may also be used for the southern shortfin squid (Illex coindetii), notably in Sicily. See discussion in comments, below.
tracina –general name for fish from the Trachinidae family, weevers.
tracina drago – greater weever (Trachinus draco). Also (Davidson): agno, aragno, dragena, ragna, ragno, varagno, tracena, parasaula, antracina, tracchio, ragnas, aragnas. Although drago means “dragon”, a lot of these names are related to ragno, standard Italian for “spider”. It would also seem to indicates a lot of interchangeable nomencleature with the tracina ragno (Trachinus araneus), below. Unless Davidson was getting in a muddle too.
tracina ragno – literally “spider weever” in both Italian and Latin (Trachinus araneus), though in English it’s called the spotted weever.
triglia – generic name for red mullets, goatfish.
triglia di fango“mud mullet”, in English one of the two fish called red mullet (Mullus barbatus).
triglia di scoglio – “rock mullet” or “cliff mullet”, also known as red mullet in English but  a different species to the above (Mullus surmuletus).
trota – trout, brown trout (Salmo trutta).

Uova di pesce – “fish eggs”, meaning roe, or specifically hard roe. For soft roe, milk, see “latte”.

vongola – clam, generic name for various members of the Veneridae (Venus clam) family. In Italy, for dishes like spaghetti alle vongole, it usually refers to to Venerupis decussata, in English the carpet shell, or cross-cut carpet shell. Davidson also gives Italian names vongola nera (black clam), vongola verace (true clam), and says it’s call capa incrocicchiata and archello in Lazio, though I’ve not seen or heard this.

zanchetta – see suacia.
zerro –  picarel, blotched picarel (Spicara smaris/Spicara maena). I’ve never actually seen this one, or heard of it before now, so I’m not even going to go there with the dozens of regional dialect names Davidson lists. Life’s too short.

Coda: If, like me, you enjoy eating seafood, but want to see stocks managed and fished sustainably, I’d urge you to get involved with organisations that campaign for changes to policies and law. In the UK, for example, there’s Fish Fight.

I’d also recommending  watching the film The End of The Line, which has a global swep, and checking out the related charity, the Blue Marine Foundation.

If you’re based in the UK, another notable body is the Marine Conservation Society, which tries to provide consumer information via FishOnline and its Good Fish Guide.


Filed under Food misc, Italy, Learning Italian, Rome

Translating Tensione Evolutiva by Jovanotti into English

As usual, I’m hearing Italian music on Rampower, a radio station that doesn’t tell you what the songs are or who they’re by, or on the supermarket tannoy. And as I’m so resounding ignorant* of Italian music, I have to Google to get any info.

Anyway, this is one I genuinely like (until I get sick of it it being played to death). It’s a catchy combo of gutsy ballad and rave tune that shouldn’t work, but does. Some googling tells me it’s  ‘Tensione Evolutiva’ by Jovanotti  (aka Lorenzo Costantino Cherubini), a massive star here. It’s a far more sophisticated bit of song-writing than the last bit of Italian pop I had a go at translating.

Even if I didn’t know his name before, checking up on him now, I already knew some of his tunes. My chum Michele says it was Jovanotti who introduced hip-hop to Italy, as both a DJ and performer, but he has innumerable other influences beside. This familiar track from 1995, ‘L’ombelico del mondo’, exhibits a similar set of influences to Manu Chao. While his 1988 Italo house tune ‘Welcome’, released under the name ‘Gino Latino’, apparently reached number 17 in the UK charts.

I can’t say I like much of his older stuff listening to it now on YouTube (he started out doing iffy reggae), but I like ‘Tensione Evolutiva’ more after watching the great video, which is directed by Gabriele Muccino, who’s made a few Hollywood films. Though his most recent one looks terrible.

Anyway, I also like the song more after having a stab at this translation, as it seems to actually have something interesting to say, something that can still be rare in pop songs.

Here’s the video:

And here are the original lyrics (by Jovanotti and Michele Canova Iorfida):

Abbiamo camminato sulle pietre incandescendi
Abbiamo risalito le cascate e le correnti
Abbiamo attraversato gli oceani e i continenti
Ci siamo abituati a i più grandi mutamenti
Siamo stati pesci, e poi rettili e mammiferi
Abbiamo scoperto il fuoco, inventato i frigoriferi
Abbiamo imparato a nuotare, poi a correre, e poi a stare immobili.

Eppure ho questo vuoto
Tra lo stomaco e la gola
Voragine incolmabile
Tensione evolutiva
Nessuno si disseta
Ingoiando la saliva.

Ci vuole pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
Pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene.

E una ragione per vivere
Per sollevare le palpebre
E non restare a compiangermi
E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora, di più
Oh-oh, di più
Oh-oh, di più.

Abbiamo confidenza con i demoni interiori
Sappiamo che al momento giusto poi saltano fuori
Ci sono delle macchine che sembrano un miracolo
Sappiamo come muoverci nel mondo dello spettacolo.

Eppure ho questo vuoto
Tra lo stomaco e la gola
Voragine incolmabile
Tensione evolutiva
Nessuno si disseta
Ingoiando la saliva.

Ci vuole pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
Pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene
E sangue nelle vene.

E una ragione per vivere
Per sollevare le palpebre
E non restare a compiangermi
E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora, di più
Oh-oh, di più
Oh-oh, di più
Oh-oh, di più
E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora di più.

Pioggia, vento, sangue nelle vene.

E innamorarmi ogni giorno ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora, di più
Ogni giorno, ogni ora
Ogni giorno, ogni ora di più.

And here’s my (not entirely literal) stab at translation:

We’ve walked on burning stones
We’ve pushed our way up cascades and currents
We’ve crossed the oceans and the continents
We’ve got used to massive changes
We were fish, and then reptiles and mammals
We discovered fire, invented fridges
We learned to swim, then run, and then stand still.

Yet still I have this emptiness
Between the stomach and the throat
Unbridgeable chasm
Evolutionary anxiety
No one can slake the thirst
By swallowing saliva.

We need rain, wind, and blood in the veins [see below]
Rain, wind, and blood in the veins
And blood in the veins
And blood in the veins
And blood in the veins.

And a  reason for living
To raise the eyelids
And not going on feeling sorry for ourselves
And fall in love every day, every hour
Every day, every our, and more
Oh-oh, more
Oh-oh, more
Oh-oh, more
And fall in love every day, every hour
Every day, every hour, and more.

We have assurance with our inner demons
We know that at the right moment they’re jump out
There are miraculous machines
We know how to hurry ourselves in the world of showbiz. [see below again]

[Then repeated bits. ]

So yes. Anyway. It seems to be saying we need more than just what modernity has to offer us – and what we’ve evolved into – to get the most out of life.

Ci vuole pioggia, vento, e sangue nelle vene = We need rain, and wind, and blood in the veins
“ci vuole” literally means “he/she/it needs”, but I think he’s saying more that we – humanity – need these things, to live fully. We’ve evolved from lizards to people with fridges and more static lives, but we – our animal or atavistic selves – need stimulation.
We need these things – and falling in love. (E innamorarmi ogni giorno, ogni ora – “And fall in love every day, every hour”.) It is a pop song after (and an Italian pop song to boot). What’s a pop song without mentioning love and/or falling in love?

Ci sono delle macchine che sembrano un miracolo = There are machines that resemble a miracle, or There are miraculous machines
Sappiamo come muoverci nel mondo dello spettacolo = We know how to rush in the world of showbiz. Or something. I’m a bit lost here. Shame really, as it’s the last lines (before the repeats), so I’m sure it’s significant.


* As for this ignorance of Italian music – my theory is that if you’re an Anglophone, and have grown up with the great music produced in such cities as London, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, New York, Detroit, Memphis, Seattle etc, you have an attitude that’s not unlike the attitude Italians have about foreigners’ knowledge and understanding of food.

Italians disdain the very idea that foreigners know anything about food, and that they could even begin to produce food worth eating. (It’s a board stereotyping generalisation, but I’ve encountered it enough to believe it.)

So similarly, if you’re an Anglophone, you don’t grow up consuming Europop. Why would you? You don’t even think it’s possible for France or Italy or wherever to produce decent pop music.

Of course there are exceptions. It’s just a working theory. But I think the Italians-food/ Anglophones-music analogy is reasonable and viable.




Filed under Italy, Learning Italian

English-Italian confusables and false friends / Falsi amici


Italian is a Romance language (or series of dialects) that predominantly evolved from Vulgar Latin. English (I’m British, so I’m talking about BE) is a mongrel language, evolved from a blending of Vulgar Latin, Anglo-Saxon Germanic dialects, Norman French (another Vulgar Latin derivative spoken by a group of northern French of Viking descent), and all the rest (notably words added to BE from the British international imperial and post-imperial experience, eg anorak, canoe, pyjamas, curry, etc etc).

So English shares a lot of language roots with Italian, but not all.

Quite often, if you’re an Anglophone learning Italian, you’ll encounter a word that looks and sounds like an English word and assume it has the same meaning. And quite often you’ll be right, the words will be cognates – with the same linguistic roots – and friends – with the same meaning.  But not always. They might have the same etymological Latin DNA, but it will have got twisted somewhere along the way.

So here’s my ongoing list of false friends and English-Italian linguistic confusables. Along with a bit of etymology, because that’s how I roll.

Word list, A-Z

accidenti! – this is a fun one. It sounds like ‘accident’, ‘accidents’, but actually can be translated in a number of ways, depending on your favoured English idiom. I like ‘crikey!’ ‘Bimey! ‘Flipping heck!’ It’s a cute, non-religious, old-fashioned way of saying ‘dammit’. So the more US English equivalents might be ‘dang it’, ‘gosh darn it’, etc. I suppose it’s also not unlike mamma mia! An accident in Italian is un incidente, which is also a cognate for incident. Phew.

affermazione – is a cognate of ‘affirmation’, but more in the sense of a statement that provides motiviation. The other English sesnse, of a statement that confirms a fact, is una conferma, from the verb confermare.

annoiato  – doesn’t mean ‘annoyed’. It means ‘bored’. But the word ‘annoyed’ is related to ‘ennui’, so there is an etymological connection in there somewhere. Noioso means ‘boring’.

attico – rather than being a direct equivalent for the English word ‘attic’, meaning a loft or roof space for storage, it more normally means a top floor flat or penthouse appartment. A loft storage space would instead be called a soffitto. Which is slightly confusing as the word for ceiling is soffitta. Other words for a loft (storage, not fancy urban living) or attic are solaio and sottotetto. The latter is nice as it literally just means “under-roof”. You have to watch it a little with tetto though, as I mentioned here. Both attico and ‘attic’ are from the Greek ‘attikos’, meaning from Attica, the region around Athens. The term(s) came to be used in architecture to refer to a certain type of pilaster used to decorate top storeys, so the migration to the related modern meanings in English and Italian becomes slightly clearer.

camera – the old classic. It doesn’t mean camera in the English sense, it means ‘room’, and relates to the English word ‘chamber’, which derives from the Latin word for room, camera, which is from the Greek kamara. A camera, ie a device for taking (primarily still) photographs, is a macchina fotografica or fotocamera in Italian. A video or film camera is a telecamera. The English name for a camera comes from camera obscura, an early set-up for capturing images that was original just darkened room with a hole in the wall. Camera obscura literally means dark room in Latin. The room became a box, the box became a device with film in it. And so it goes.

capitolo – doesn’t mean capital in the sense of capital city (that’s capitale), and doesn’t mean capital in the sense of upper case letters (that’s maiuscola). It doesn’t mean the capital of a column either (that’s capitello). Nor does it mean ‘capital!’ in the sense of a blustery Victorian gentleman praising the latest imperial victory from the confines of a leather armchair in the tabacco smoke atmosphere of his private members club (that would be eccelente! meraviglioso! stupendo! or even splendido!, all good friends). No, it means ‘chapter’, in the sense of a section of a book or a biker gang. All these cap– words are related to caput, the Latin for head, which lives in in capo, the Italian for boss, leader or even head (still).

casino – literally means ‘little house’. In modern English it’s become almost exclusively used for a gambling house, but in Italian it means a brothel. It’s also used figuratively in the sense of “what a shambles!” – “che casino!“. A place for gambling in Italian is a casinò, with the emphasis on the final o, or a casa da gioco – ‘a gaming house’.

confetti – during carnival (after Christmas and before Lent, so usually around February), confetti is thrown around all over the place to celebrate. Or at least it is here in Rome, where the streets are liberally sprinkled with the stuff. You’d assume that in Italian confetti was confetti, as it’s clearly a loanword. You’d be wrong. It’s actually called coriandoli. Coriandolo is the herb/spice coriander. So it’s plural coriander that’s thrown around. Confetto (singular of confetti) is actually a type of sweet, a sugared almond, or a pill (as in medicine).

confezione – I was buying a Christmas poinsettia yesterday, and the vendor offered me some confezione. It’s not unlike the English word ‘confection’, and even the word ‘confectionary’. In the sense the vendor was using, it’s more like the former: he was offering to decorate or gift-wrap the pot. So it means ‘packaging’, but it also means ‘tailoring’, ‘sewing’ or, more broadly, making. This latter is closer to the English sense. ‘To confect’ means ‘to prepare’, even if it’s most used in the sense of preparing something sweet, confectionary. Both the Italian and the English (via old French) have their roots in the Latin verb conficere, to make, which itself is derived from facere, to make. In modern Italian to make is fare but its conjugation has more overtly Latin forms such as faccio, I make.

confidente – we were talking about this one last night. A Sicilian friend said it’s not actually the Italian word for ‘confident’, in the sense of having confidence, being self-assured, though it has come to be used in that sense. For confident in that sense the Italian word is sicurezza. Confident in the sense of ‘in confidence’, it’s confidenza. For being ‘confindent in someone’, in the sense of having trust, it’s fiducia. Confidente can also be translated into the gender-variable English nouns ‘confidant’/’confidante’, ie someone you have entrusted a secret to.

conveniente –  although it can mean ‘convenient’, more normally it means means ‘suitable’, ‘appropriate’ or ‘favourable’, ‘advantageous’. So it’s a cognate – ie it has the same linguistic roots – but it’s distinguished by nuance and context. For ‘convenient’ in the sense of useful, easy for that particular moment or opportunity, a better Italian word is comodo, but that also means ‘comfortable’. And relates to the English word ‘commodious’ – which comes from the commodus, meaning ‘convenient’. Though ‘convenient’ and conveniente themselves, as well as ‘convene’, ‘convention’, etc come from the Latin convenire, that is con + venire, where venire is still the verb ‘to come’ in modern Italian (and pretty much the same in French and Spanish: venir): ‘to come together’.

deluso – You might assume this means ‘deluded’, but in fact it means ‘disappointed’. The verb deludere is ‘to disappoint’, ‘to betray’ or ‘to let down’. The verb ‘to delude’ on the other hand is illudere. They all have roots in the Latin ludere – ‘to play’. So the English ‘to delude’ is from the Latin deludere, ‘to play false’, but the meanings have evolved in slightly different directions over the centuries.

doloroso – is arguably both a cognate and a good friend of the English adjective ‘dolorous’, but I feel there’s some distinction. In English, we generally use in the sense of emotional pain, anguish, grief, and in Italian I believe it’s used more in the sense of physical pain, ie when an injury is painful, it is una ferita dolorosa. Both are from the Latin dolere, ‘to feel pain’.

etichetta – while this does translate as the English ‘etiquette’, meaning ‘code of conduct’ or ‘manners’, it also means ‘sticker’, ‘tag’, ‘label’, ‘docket’, ‘ticket’. Which at first seems odd. But with a bit of digging, the relationship becomes clear (ish). Apparently, it’s from Old French, and mid-18th century French, when rule of decorum were written or printed on small cards.  Which is all very well, but surely it would have been rude, in specific social situations, to keep having to say “Hold on a mo,” then flick through your deck of crib-cards? BTW, the verb etichettare does mean ‘to stick a label on’. You’d think the reflexive form etichettarsi would mean ‘to behave oneself’, but it doesn’t seem to exist.

eventualmente – no, this doesn’t mean ‘eventually’. It’s a classic false friend. It actually means ‘possibly’, ‘in case’. Thankfully possibilmente is a true friend. Eventuale means ‘possible’. Thankfully eventualità is a true friend – it means ‘eventuality’. Though ‘eventually’ itself can be translated as alla fine, infine, finalmente – more literally ways of saying ‘finally’, ‘at last’.

fattoria – means ‘farm’, not ‘factory’. A factory is a fabbrica, ie a place where things are fabbricated or manufactured.

fiasco –  it’s another one of those words where you get a clue by replacing the i with a l: it literally means a ‘flask’. From scouring all of two different dictionaries it seems to be the case that the feminine form, fiasca, does strictly mean ‘flask’, though the masculine form fiasco can be used figuratively in the same sense as we know it in English: a farce, a shambles. Though I’ve never heard this; more common terms are a casino (see above), macello (slaughterhouse – so literally the same as ‘shambles’), or even bordello (which we also have as a loan word in English, meaning ‘brothel’). “Che casino!”, “Che macello!”, “Che bordello!”

genitori – no, not ‘genitals’. It means ‘parents’. What are parents? They are people with children. How are children made? From matter originating in the genitals. It’s all from the same Latin root. The Latin genitalis means ‘relating to birth’, it’s from the past participle of gignere, meaning ‘to beget’. The Italian for genitals is a nice neat cognate actually: genitali, or organi genitali.

gentile – it can mean ‘gentle’, but the more typical translation is ‘kind’, or even ‘gracious’. The ‘gens’ part of these words all has the same Latin root meaning, gens, meaning ‘family’, ‘race’, ‘people’ (see genitori, genitals etc). Somehow, perversely, the idea of being of noble lineage got mixed up with the idea of being gentle and kind. The mind boggles.

ginnasio – does mean ‘gymnasium’ in the British sense, but more typically it’s used to mean a secondary school or high school. The word is apparently used in various countries in this sense. I’d never encountered it before as a Brit whose longest time overseas was living in New Zealand (where all the linguistic education I got was an accent, pronouncing “peg” as pig, “pen” as pin etc). In ancient Greece, the gynmasium was a place of exercise for body and mind. Naked (gymnos means naked). So it’s no surprise that in different countries it’s taken either one meaning or the other: place of physical exercise or place of education. For those who like to go to the gym and use environmentally costly electricity to run on the spot, , like so many giant hamsters, what you’re looking for in Italy is a palestra. Though today neither places involve requisite nudity.

macchina – this isn’t a false friend, but it can be a little confusing. It does literally mean ‘machine’, but for the most part it (at least in the Italian I’ve encountered, mostly in Rome) it means ‘car’. It’s the quintessential Italian metonym. Italians are so obsessed with cars it’s no wonder the car is their ultimate machine, the machine. (Rome has an obscene amount of internal combustion personal transportation, something that’s just not viable for a 21st century civilisation that needs to move beyond fossil fuel gluttony.) Other examples of where macchina is used in the non-car sense include: macchina da scrivere (“machine for writing”, ie typewriter); macchina da presa (“machine for gripping”, meaning movie film camera, gripping ye old celluloid); macchina fotografica (see camera); macchina da guerra (war machine), etc.

magazzino – nope, not a magazine. That’s a rivista (ie “re-viewed”, reviewed). A magazzino is a warehouse, storeroom or store. It’s not such a false friend really, though, as English still uses ‘magazine’ to refer to a store of explosives or ammunition, for example. Apparently, books and periodicals acquired the name ‘magazine’ in English, directly from the Italian word, in the mid-17th century; it was being used figuratively, as publications were stores of information. Oh, and this one isn’t from the Latin, it’s from the Arabic: makhazin, meaning storehouses. In Latin, a warehouse is an horreaum. No idea what the ancient Romans called a magazine, like ‘Ampitheatre Times’ or whatever.

mansione – doesn’t mean ‘mansion’. It means ‘task’, ‘job’, or ‘function’. A mansion – a grand house – can be translated with palazzo (which also means apartment building, or the more obviously related palace) or villa (which means a detached house or large country house or… villa). A manor house is a maniero. I can’t quite get my head around the etymology here. The English ‘mansion’ is related to the French maison (house), and both have the same root in the Latin manere (itself from the Greek, from the Persian), which means ‘to remain’ (in Italian rimanere); as such a house was a place to stay or remain. But quite how the modern Italian meaning of task emerged I can’t say. Especially as this (old) Italian etymological dictionary seems to say mansióne (with an acute on the o) does mean ‘staying place’, a definition I can’t find in any other (newer) Italian dictionaries like Wordreference & Collins here, or the offline ones we have at home.

occorrere – this verb’s primary meaning is ‘to be necessary’, ‘to be required’. It can mean ‘to occur’, but the most direct translation for this English verb is succedere. (see below)

pavimento – doesn’t mean ‘pavement’. It means ‘floor’. Pavement (or ‘sidewalk’ in North American English) is marciapiede, which is a lovely word that makes me think, semi-literally, of “marching feet”. Pavimento, like ‘paving’ etc, is derived from the Latin pavimentum, a hard floor, from the Latin verb pavire, ‘to beat hard’.

piano – isn’t the musical instrument. That’s called a pianoforte in Italian, and indeed that was the name originally used in English. Piano is one of those interesting words in Italian where, if you replace the I with an L (think piatto, ‘plate’; piazza, ‘plaza’), it gives you some idea of the translation. So think piano, ‘plane’, in the sense of an even, level surface. Also think piano, ‘plan’. It also means ‘smooth’, ‘gently’, ‘softly’, ‘easy’, ‘floor’ (in the sense of ‘storey’), etc. The instrument – pianoforte – means ‘softloud’, ie the instrument was capable of this range. Though in English we’re just really calling it a ‘soft’ now.

radice – looks and sounds (“radishay”) like the English word ‘radish’. But it ain’t. That’s ravenello or rapanello. What is a radish? It’s a root. Radice means root. It’s from the Latin radix, which is also the the root of such English words as ‘radical’ and ‘eradicate’.

reduce – related to the English word ‘reduce’, sure, but in Italian it has two meanings: il reduce is the veteran, or the survivor, while reduce da means returning from, back from.

rumore – doesn’t mean ‘rumour’, it means ‘noise’. Fare rumore means ‘to make noise’. For ‘rumour’, Italian uses voce (literally ‘voice’); pettegolezzo (which is closer to ‘gossip’), chiacchiera (which is closer to ‘chatter’). There’s also the Neopolitan dialect word inciucio, which has apparently become more widespread throughout Italy. Rumore and ‘rumour’ may or may not have the same roots. The English word comes from the Old French, and thence the Latin (rumor – common talk), but the roots may go deeper than that, to the Old Norse rymja, ‘to roar’, and even possibly to the Sanskrit raut, rauti, ravati, (he) cries.

simpatico – this is a classic semi-false-friend-that’s-really-quite-friendly. An Anglophone might well assume it means ‘sympathetic’ when more commonly it means ‘likeable’ or ‘pleasant’. Someone can be molto simpatico – very nice. Though if they’re that nice, they’re probably going to be sympathetic too, which is lucky as it helps clarify the shared etymology, which is from the Greek sympathetikos, via Latin sympatheticus, meaning ‘having fellow feeling, affected by similar feelings’. (With+pathetic, where pathetic is based on pathos, feeling, suffering.) Having said all that, simpatico – in the Italian sense – can be found in English dictionaries….

succedere – this verb’s primary translation is ‘to occur’, ‘to happe’n, not ‘to succeed’ in the sense of ‘to accomplish something’. A better verb for that is riuscire. Which I find confusing, as uscire means ‘to go out’, ‘to exit’, so literally riuscire also means ‘to re-exit’, ‘to go out again’. Succedere can mean ‘to succeed’ in the sense of to be successful, to be good at something.

vizioso – this is another one of those nuanced ones. It is related to the English word ‘vicious’, but is another example owhere the words in Italian and English have evolved in slightly different directions. So, by and large we use the word vicious increasingly to mean savage, ferocious, ‘a vicious dog’. Officially and literally though, it means ‘characterized by vice’, ie ‘depraved’. Which is closer to the Italian sense. For vicious in the sense of ‘ferocious’, there’s the nice feroce, un cane feroce. Confusingly, Italians do use the expression un circolo vizioso, but, like in English, it’s less to do with depravity and more to do with generic, unfortunate cause-and-effect.


Filed under Italy, Learning Italian

What is “farro”? Wheat names in English and Italian

100% spelt loaf, sliced

This is my latest loaf. It’s made with 100 per cent farro biano flour. Farro is the Italian word for spelt. Or is it? This is something that’s been nagging me for a while.

Farro is a big part of various Italian regional cuisines. So, for example, there’s the classic Tuscan zuppa di farro e fagioli – spelt grain and bean soup. When I first tried to make zuppa di farro e fagioli, back when my poor Italian was even worse, it inevitably involved trying to work out what specific grain to buy. As well as having to try and work out the difference between farro perlato and farro decorticato (more on which later). This also led me to double-checking the assumption that farro is literally translatable as “spelt”.

I knew spelt was an ancient strain of wheat, that is a member of the Triticum genus of the Poaceae (or Gramineae) family of grasses, but it’s also known as dinkel wheat, and its proper scientific name is Triticum spelta. Okay, “Spelt wheat”, check. But when I checked “farro” on Italian Wikipedia it informed me that Italian uses the word to describe three species of wheat.

These are:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco
2 farro medio or farro dicocco
3 farro grande or farro spelta

Oh dear. How confusing.

Now, I’m not a scientist, but I am interested in taxonomy and how it aids clarity and accuracy when, for example, discussing the production of a type of bread. When I first encountered these Latin names, I was mildly exasperated that when I buy the packets of farro flour, the packaging blurb doesn’t include the specific species. Normally, I like to buy stoneground organic flours from renowned or local producers. I have, for example, been buying my flour from Mulino Marino (though, yes, they’re in Piedmont, so not exactly local to Roma. I must find a supply of Lazio grains milled in Lazio) and their packets just say Farro bianco etc. Today, however, I noticed the Coop supermarket’s organic farro flour is labelled with “Farro spelta”, so I think it would be fair to assume that is Triticum spelta.

A little more investigation, meanwhile, reveals that farro piccolo, aka small farro, aka farro monococco, aka Triticum monococcum is the ancient wheat species we know in English as einkorn. Though, to add to the confusion, in English Einkorn can also refer to its wild cousin, Triticum boeoticum.

Checking Triticum dicoccum, meanwhile, reveals that Farro medio, aka medium farro, aka farro dicocco, is what we know in English as emmer (the name is related to the Hebrew for “mother”). Oh, and according to the Slow Food book ‘Pane, pizze e focacce’, it’s also known as spelta, just to add to the confusion, while Triticum spelta is also known as spelta maggiore. It’s an awned wheat, that is with most bristles on the ear. Apparently, when Italians refer to farro, it’s most commonly used to mean this grain. So it’s likely that in the abovementioned soup, for example, the grain will be Triticum dicoccum, emmer.

Oh, and while I’m at it with the ancient wheat species, another flour I encounter in Italy is KAMUT. This is a trade name for Khorasan wheat, aka Triticum turanicum. Khorosan is the name of a region in northeast Iran, just to the east of the ancient Fertile Crescent where so many of today’s most common food crops were first cultivated, notably grains.

Just when I think I’m achieving some clarity with this issue though, I have to return to the question of perlato and decorticato. Perlato literally means “pearly” and as such relates to pearl barley, a traditional ingredient in British cuisine, such as the lamb knuckle stews I hated so much as a kid. Pearled grain has in fact not just been hulled, or husked (that is de-hulled, de-husked), it’s also been polished to remove the bran. Farro perlato cooks down to fairly mushy in about 20 minutes. According to the handy glossary in Zuppe, the soup book from the Rome Sustainable Food Project, farro perlato is emmer.

Decortico literally means husked too, and English does have an equivalent word, decorticated. But the difference here is that it’s not been polished, and when farro decorticato is cooked, it takes longer to soften, and indeed retains more bite even after about 45 minutes. In Britain, we’d make the distinction between pearl barley and hulled barley. The other English name for these hulled grains is groats.


Meanwhile, as wheat is the third biggest stable crop in the world, after maize and rice, I just want to mention a few more species.

The most commonly cultivated wheat is Triticum aestivum, known, unsurprisingly, as bread wheat or common wheat. It was first cultivated in the prehistoric period, though it’s been bred rapidly since the 1960s to increase the amount of endosperm, the starchy part of the grain, for white flours. Another major wheat species is Triticum durum, durum wheat, a descendent of emmer that is used for dried pasta, semolina and couscous. You can buy both semolina and durum flour here; the latter is what’s known as farina di grano duro: hard grain (wheat) flour. The hard here is not used in the same sense as in English: when we describe a flour as hard, we mean it’s high protein, high in gluten.

Right. That’s quite enough of all that. I’m not even going to touch the question of hexaploid, tetraploid and duploid wheats, or the matter of seasonable wheats. I’ll save those subjects of another day. Plus, I’ll also save a discussion of why I’m making the transition away from modern baking with modern wheat varieties for another post.

At least now I’m fairly confident that when I buy farro flour, it is indeed spelt: Triticum spelta. Though when I buy farro perlato, it’s quite likely to be emmer: Triticum dicoccum. Maybe.

Just to reiterate:
1 farro piccolo or farro monococco = einkorn (Triticum monococcum)
2 farro medio or farro dicocco or spelta = emmer (Triticum dicoccum, or Triticum turgidum var dicoccon)
3 farro grande or granfarro or farro spelta or spelta maggiore = spelt (Triticum spelta or Triticum aestivum var spelta)


Filed under Breads, Discussion, Flour & grain