Scorpacciata is a term that means consuming large amounts of a particular local ingredient while it's in season. It's a good way to eat. Let Mario Batali pronounce it for you.
The first time my mother ever cooked for my father, she made okra. If the cuisine of my childhood provides any indication, there's an excellent chance that she defrosted a cube of pods, chucked them into a pot and boiled until floppy. Neither she nor my father is Southern or Indian in upbringing. Okra is not their birthright; they were clearly tempting fate.
My father chewed dutifully, likely made the appropriate "yummy" faces - until my mother took a bite and bolted for the sink. He quickly followed suit, and the story became the stuff of family legend - not to mention a family phobia.
Yup – it sure can be. "Snot" is often cited as the closest texture analogue, and that's fair. Okra is a member of the mallow family, and as such contains mucilage - a sticky substance that may seep out when the okra pod is cut.
This is emphasized, and in fact prized in some dishes like gumbo, where it's added to lend both flavor and body, or in a traditionally Southern tomato and okra stew. A splash of vinegar or lemon juice can help cut the slime factor, but the truly ooze-averse cooks tend to default to frying.
Golden brown rounds at a roadside barbecue joint in the shadow of a South Texas mega-church provided my own personal okra redemption. There's much to be said for whole pods or slices dredged in cornmeal flecked with salt and pepper, and fried in the fat of one's choosing. It's darned delicious, and minimal in slime, but it's also, ya know - fried. Can't do that every day.
So I've experimented over the years, tossing raw slices into salads, roasting on baking sheets and pickling jars of whole pods to garnish drinks. All those methods have their merit, but I've found that open flame works perhaps best of all. The outer skin crisps up to nearly crackling on the grill, while the insides of the pods stay miraculously slime free and still maintain moisture throughout.
It's a textural two-fer that's packed with health benefits, including high fiber, Vitamins A and C and plenty of minerals like iron, calcium, manganese and magnesium. If I'm firing up the grill to sear a skirt steak or a halibut filet, it's become second nature to toss on a skewer or two of fresh, young, in-season okra to serve as a side.
'Snot any trouble at all.
Wash fresh, young pods and trim the stems, while leaving the tops intact. Thread the pods onto skewers side by side, but not touching. If you're using bamboo skewers, soak them for at least 30 minutes beforehand so they won't burn.
Brush or spray the pods lightly with oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Your favorite barbecue rub will add an extra layer of flavor, as will powdered, okra-friendly spices like cumin, coriander, turmeric, paprika or cayenne pepper.
Heat the grill to medium, oil the grate and cook the skewers for 2-3 minutes, then flip over for an addition 2-3 minutes. The pods should be slightly crisp and pick up grill marks, but shouldn't be charred.
Remove from heat, remove the skewers, sprinkle lightly with lemon juice if desired and serve.
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