Cetriolo—cucumber for Italians

Skip Lombardi has issued a plea on his Italian Food Blog for Italian recipes containing cucumber, which he has hardly ever seen in Italian cuisine. It had never occurred to me before that cucumber has made such a minimal impression on the Italian palate. Perhaps it has been eclipsed by its cousin the courgette, or zucchini. One doesn’t see many zucchini sandwiches: unlike cucumber, which is purely a salad vegetable, zucchini generally has to be cooked.

As Skip points out, cucumber is a key ingredient in the famous Tuscan salad, panzanella. And salad it is with the few other cucumber recipes I have come across. Marcella Hazan, in The Essentials of Italian Cooking has recipes for orange and cucumber salad, and roasted aubergine with peppers and cucumber. Elizabeth David, in Italian Food, has an intriguing Insalata di finocchi e cetrioli. I guess these could all be classed as types of insalata mista. Cucumber-only recipes however are rare: the only two I have come across are from Janet Ross’s early 20th century Leaves from our Tuscan Kitchen, more recently re-edited by her great-great-nephew, Michael Waterfield:

Cetriola alla comasco. Cut some strips of peel from a cucumber and slice the cucumber very fine on a mandoline. Arrange on a dish and sprinkle over half an onion (grated or very finely chopped), 1 tbsp tarragon vinegar, and 2 tbsp good olive oil. Allow to ‘pickle’ for 15min before serving.

Cetriolo condito al miele. Cut some strips from a cucumber, cut the cucumber into inch pieces and then into rather thin wedges. Pour over the following dressing: 1 full tsp honey, salt, pepper, pinch chopped marjoram, 2 tbsp wine vinegar, 4tbsp olive oil.