"'What are you doing?' I asked him. And he answered me with a question in turn.
"'What shape is water?'
"'Water doesn't have any shape!' I said, laughing. 'It takes the shape you give it.'"
For this round of Cook the Books, we're reading something that I probably would have never picked up myself, The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri, as picked by Rachel. This is the first novel in a series of Inspector Montalbano mysteries. Now, it has all the makings of something I would gravitate towards. The tagline on the cover reads "a novel of food, wine and homicide in small town Sicily". That in itself got me excited to start turning the pages.
In all honesty, I was having a hard time getting into it at first. The writing seemed jumbled and confusing. The language and terms used were offensive. I'm not a prude (usually). I'm not easily offended (okay, I kind of am). I'd define it more as a sensitivity towards other people's feelings (and my own). Right off the bat there's talk of fat, hairy nether-regions, transvestites, transsexuals, and a word that is better reserved as a synonym for cigarettes. All of which maybe I could have overlooked if the book lived up to its tagline, but I was hard pressed to find the food and the wine. The homicide was there, though.
Not one to quit, I forged on. About a quarter of the way into the book, it started to even out. It became less jumbled and confusing. Our detective turned out to be a likeable sort. He appreciated a good meal, believed in love, and had a compassionate soul. Food edged its way into the mystery here and there... from teeth being sunk into a bread roll filled with prosciutto (yes please)... to a dish of pasta with garlic and oil served alongside boiled shrimp with lemon... to a delectable dish of perfectly cooked baby octopus. But fair warning to potential readers, the context of the book never allows the crude sexual talk, terms, and descriptions to fade away.
I've heard that this is a sort of "development" novel, and that they get better. I mean, it is the first in a series, so I get that. I'm not sure if I'll continue on to the rest, definitely not right away. Perhaps if my teetering piles of books scattered here and there ever find themselves dwindling...
So what dish did this novel inspire me to make? A simple street-food. Montalbano spoke of a hovel of a shop that sold not only "terracotta dolls and rusty weights to nineteenth-century scales", but also "càlia e simenza, a mixture of roasted chickpeas and salted pumpkin seeds". He would buy a paper cone full of them and head out on his stroll along the eastern jetty, to the lighthouse. I knew as soon as I read the passage that that's what I'd be making.
Crunchy and salty, càlia e simenza makes the perfect snack food. I can definitely see myself strolling along outside, enjoying the sites and tipping back my paper cone. And as my husband pointed out, they'd be perfect alongside a cold beer.
Càlia e Simenza
A mixture of roasted chickpeas and salted pumpkin seeds that are perfect for snacking.
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 30-40 minutes
Keywords: roast appetizer snack vegan pepitas chickpeas Italian
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained
- 1 cup pepitas
- olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- smoked paprika
Preheat oven to 400° F. Spread the drained chickpeas out on a layer of absorbant towels (paper or clean tea towels) and let sit to dry while oven is preheating, 15-20 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread the chickpeas out on the parchment paper. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a few pinches of smoked paprika; shake the pan to coat with oil (or use your hands to make sure they're all coated in oil). Slide into oven and roast for 20 minutes.
Remove from oven, and tilt to roll all of the chickpeas over to one half of the pan. Quickly spread the pepitas out on the other half of the pan. Return to oven and roast for another 15 minutes, or until the chickpeas and the pepitas are roasted and golden in spots. Sprinkle a little salt over the pepitas.
Toss them together and serve in paper cones while still warm (or at room temperature).
Typically this would be made with shell-on pumpkin seeds, but since I didn't have any, I substituted pepitas. If you want to use shell-on, add them at the same time, or 10-15 minutes before the chickpeas.
You could also used roasted, salted pepitas, and just mix them in with the chickpeas as soon as they come out of the oven.