Summertime means Frisa-time
Well, almost summertime. After a wintery start to spring here in Berlin (yes, it snowed the day before Easter!), it has finally warmed up to such perfection that it is entirely criminal to eat indoors. Thus, what seems like everyone in the city has descended on the parks, lakes, backyards and tiny balconies, armed with picnic baskets and 8 Euro grills. Myself included. A spontaneous Monday-night barbecue inspired me to suggest grilling burgers in the lush little backyard of friends in Graefekiez in Kreuzberg. I don’t think I have ever made burgers, to be honest, but being the only American representative in the group, my initiative was appreciated and admired, even if I did little more than recommend adding chopped red onion to the ground beef.
My favorite dish of the night, however, and the one that in my opinion vastly overshadowed the burgers, was my friend Mino’s appetizer of Frisa di Salento. Coming from Lecce, that little culinary paradise in the deep south of Italy, Mino is not only a fantastic cook, but he even had some special Puglian delicacies on hand for the barbecue. You see, his family was in town for a visit last week and brought along three – no lie -THREE suitcases filled with cheeses, pasta, meats and frise from home. What are frise, you may ask? Don’t worry- I had never heard of them before, either. Looking somewhat like a four day-old shriveled bagel, frisa straight out of the package is actually a quite unremarkable, even inedible, piece of dried bread.
It is what you do with the frisa that just makes so much intuitive sense that it simply cannot be anything but delicious. This hard bagel-like thing is first soaked in a bowl of cold water until it just begins to soften. Then it is removed from the bath and set on a plate. A mixture of fresh chopped tomatoes and basil with a bit of salt (and pepper if you like) is then spooned onto the top of the now slightly softened frisa. Drizzle over a good dose of olive oil and allow it to sit for a few minutes before eating to soak in all the sweet juices of tomato and olive oil. Add another sprinkling of salt, since the packages of frise are unsalted. And presto – that crunchy brick is literally transformed before your eyes!
If you eat this on a warm almost-summer evening, with an aperol spritz close by, you are nearly guaranteed to be instantly, metaphysically transported to southern Italy. Mino describes the dish as being a quintessentially summer one in Lecce. After a long day on the beach, you would return home at around 7 to a good helping of frise. Or, heck, if the water at the beach seems clean enough, you could even go ahead and soak the biscuits right there. In the lightly-salted water of the Adriatic Sea. Next time…
Frisa di Salento
Recipe – 8 servings
eight frise (can probably find at an Italian specialty food store)
six small-medium tomatoes (whatever is freshest – this time of year it may have to be cherry tomatoes, in which case more are needed), chopped
10 leaves of basil, chopped and added to the tomatoes
olive oil (1-2 Tbsp)
salt to taste
-Soak frise in cold water for about three minutes, or until they soften slightly
-Remove from water and set on a plate
-Top with the chopped tomatoes and basil leaves, salt
-Pour olive oil over the top of the frise
-Add salt as needed
-Allow to rest a few minutes
-Enjoy Frisa di Salento with aperitivo