Paschal Lamb Ragù (that’s good any time of year really)

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I dedicate this post to Kathy Ayer because it was with her that I bought some fresh pasta from the town of Artena.  Artena is famous for its bread, as is Lariano, but I reckon its flour makes some of the best fresh pasta I’ve ever tasted, with a delicious bite to it.  We are very lucky to find it at the farmers’ markets in the Castelli Romani.  In Ariccia on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and near Frascati on Fridays.  She and I were in Ariccia on the Wednesday and I asked the vendor whether the pasta would last until the following (Easter) Sunday.  The answer was yes.  I was to leave the pasta in its plastic container, but the lid was to be kept open.  Hmmm.

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Having always challenged the mantra my mother chanted throughout my childhood, and that is “to trust is very good, to not trust is even better”, I found myself annoyingly assailed by doubts that this pasta would indeed be good enough to eat five days after it had been prepared.  On the other hand, I knew I had plenty of other dry pasta at home so it wasn’t going to be the end of the world if I would have to do without it after all, on the appointed day.

The day was Easter Sunday, and in Italy, despite Berlusconi’s protestations as he had himself photographed hugging a baby lamb, Easter usually does mean lamb.  So I thought I would make a Paschal ragù using lamb and a few asparagus.  I asked the butcher to mince the meat for me (leg of lamb) and kept the bone too, to help with both the sauce AND the water with which to cook the pasta.

Are you ready?  This is not at all a difficult recipe but it does call for a little attention.  It tasted really good, so I shall make it again.  Try it some time.

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The above is about 350g of minced lamb, taken from the leg.  Of course, we are talking about Italian lamb here, agnello or abbacchio, and this is really baby  baby lamb.

INGREDIENTS

Leg of lamb, with the meat minced and the bone chopped into smaller pieces, asparagus stems (use the tips for something else), onion, garlic, olive oil, peppercorns, red wine (white if you prefer), rosemary, sage, mint, butter, parmesan or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, fresh pasta (dry if you haven’t any), salt and pepper. Two saucepans. One to start the sauce with, and a much larger one for the end results.

The first thing I did was soak the bones in plenty of water:

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The water goes red, so change it once or twice.

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And that’s what the leg of lamb pieces looked like after their bath.  Please note that there is still some meat attached to the bone (not a lot).

6I filled a large pasta pot with water and added bits of the bone that were meat free.

8I added some rosemary and sage to the water, and turned the heat on, with the lid on.

9Chop an onion, and place it in a nice saucepan together with some peppercorns, olive oil and the bits of bone with meat on ’em.  Start cooking, over a low-medium heat.

10Keep an eye on the onions – we don’t want them to go brown.

11When they are golden, remove them and transfer to another saucepan, in anticipation of the grand finale.  A BIG saucepan that will be able to accommodate all the pasta at the end.

12Back to our smaller saucepan.  Carry on cooking the bones, instead, on a lively heat … they will roast to a burnished colour.

1314When the bones have roasted enough, remove them, and deglaze the pan with some nice red wine.  When finished, transfer the juices too to the other, big saucepan.

15Remove as much of the meat from the bones as you can – and this is mighty tricky, let me tell you.  Not at all easy.  I might get the butcher to do it for me next time.

17And add those bones too, now, to the pasta water.

16Chop the meat you managed to remove from the bones.  Pur this chopped meat into the larger saucepan.

18Back to our initial saucepan which is looking rather the worse for wear – but that’s okay, no cause for concern.  Dribble more olive oil and put a couple of roughly squashed cloves of garlic in the pan. Turn the heat on and wait for the garlic to go golden.

19Now add the minced meat.  Sprinkle some salt.  Carry on cooking the meat until it turns a nice brown but not burnt colour.

20And now, this is what the bigger saucepan is up to at this stage: it contains the (1) previously cooked onions, (2) chopped meat I managed to extract from the bones, (3) deglazed juices, and (4) some rosemary needles.  Salt. Sprinkle salt.21

Now add the cooked minced meat to the bigger pan.  I apologise for the angle of this photo but I don’t know why wordpress uploaded it this way.  You’ll have to crick your neck to see it ‘properly’.  No  matter, you get idea, don’t you?

22I added a nice lump of butter.  I do love butter and a little bit of butter works wonders when there is a pasta sauce that does not have a lot of ‘liquid’ (such as tomato sauce) to it. Remove the pan from the heat for now.

24I removed all the bones and herbs from the pasta water.  All these ingredients had been useful as a kind of broth, and had imparted whatever flavour they could. Time to say bye bye.

2325I put the chopped asparagus and the pasta into the boiling cauldron of flavoured pasta water and waited for them to cook.  About 5-6 minutes.  Notice who ‘oily’ the pasta water is!

26Turn the heat back on …

27Drain the pasta and asparagus and put them into the saucepan.  Add some of the cooking water.

28Combine all the ingredients, adding more cooking water if necessary, and then season the pasta with some grated parmesan.  Use a wooden spoon to help you.  Or two large forks.

2930Taste. Taste, taste and taste.  A twist of pepper.  Maybe a little bit more salt? A few mint leaves?

31Serve and enjoy.

There was more grated parmesan on the table for people to add if they wished.

I normally rabbit on about loving the leftovers.  Well, there were no leftovers that Easter Sunday.  We polished off the lot.

 

Please to Remember the Fourth of November – The Plaques of Bologna

I only learned about Guy Fawkes day, November 5th, when I was living with my family in the capital of then East Pakistan, Dacca, aged ten.  I had been to an English school in Teheran previously, aged 8, but for some reason it wasn’t even mentioned there.  Here is what it’s all about, and I quote from :

http://www.rhymes.org.uk/remember_remember_the_5th_november.htm

Guy Fawkes & the Gunpowder Plot
Words of “Remember Remember” refer to Guy Fawkes with origins in 17th century English history. On the 5th November 1605 Guy Fawkes was caught in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament with several dozen barrels of gunpowder. Guy Fawkes was subsequently tried as a traitor with his co-conspirators for plotting against the government. He was tried by Judge Popham who came to London specifically for the trial from his country manor Littlecote House in Hungerford, Gloucestershire. Fawkes was sentenced to death and the form of the execution was one of the most horrendous ever practised (hung, drawn and quartered) which reflected the serious nature of the crime of treason.

The Tradition begins…
The following year in 1606 it became an annual custom for the King and Parliament to commission a sermon to commemorate the event. Lancelot Andrews delivered the first of many Gunpowder Plot Sermons. This practice, together with the nursery rhyme and quote, ensured that this crime would never be forgotten! Hence the words to the quote “Remember, remember the 5th of November”

The quote and poem is sometimes referred to as ‘Please to remember the fifth of November’. It serves as a warning to each new generation that treason will never be forgotten. In England the 5th of November is still commemorated each year with fireworks and bonfires culminating with the burning of effigies of Guy Fawkes (the guy) and people chanting the quote of “Remember remember the 5th of November”. The ‘guys’ are made by children by filling old clothes with crumpled newspapers to look like a man. Tradition allows British children to display their ‘guys’ to passers-by and asking for ” A penny for the guy”.

 

The folk verse is considerably longer than the first three lines we all remember  (Remember, remember!  The fifth of November,  The Gunpowder treason and plot;) and the last lines are quite the eye opener, I wonder if Pope Francis knows about this!

A rope, a rope, to hang the Pope,
A penn’orth of cheese to choke him,
A pint of beer to wash it down,
And a jolly good fire to burn him.
Holloa, boys! holloa, boys! make the bells ring!
Holloa, boys! holloa boys! God save the King!
Hip, hip, hooor-r-r-ray!

And on with the reason for this, a very unusual post for me.

While it is November 5th that is remembered in Britain, in Italy there is a November 4th date that comes with hallowed historical importance.  There is many an avenue all over Italy called “Via IV Novembre”.  There is one in Bologna too.

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I was in Bologna last weekend, and spent much of my time just walking, up and down its streets and porticoes.

There is so much walking to be done in Bologna.  The date (November 4th) marks the end of World War I in Italy, following the victory of the Battle of Vittorio Veneto.  And Italy still commemorates “National Unity Day” and “Armed Forces Day” on November 4th, in remembrance of World War I. A laurel wreath is laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Rome by the country’s President.

Snippet of war history:  On November 3rd 1918, the Austro-Hungarian troops withdrew tired and demoralized while the Italian troops entered victorious in Trento and Trieste. On Nov. 4, 1915 The Austro-Hungarian Empire signed the armistice that closed hostilities on the Italian front.  On the same day Chief of Staff Armando Diaz issued the “Bulletin of Victory” .  The Bollettino della Vittoria, together with the address to the Navy by Paolo Thaon di Revel, is the symbol of the Italian victory in World War I.   Commemorative plaques with the text are hung up in every town hall and military barracks of Italy, fused using the bronze of enemy artillery pieces.

13And here.  see above, is the plaque of The Bulletin of Victory in a main square in Bologna, opposite the Palazzo Re Enzo.  I provide a translation the the text at the end of this blog just in case you might interested in reading it.

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Above, on the same wall as the Bulletin of Victory is another plaque, this time commemorating the city’s gold medal for the part it played in the resistance during WWII. And, at the same time, mentioning the number of Italian soldiers of the Acqui Division ‘lost’ on the islands of Cephalonia and Corfu – they were massacred with remarkable cruelty after surrendering to the Germans on 21 September 1943, with 3,000 others lost at sea.  Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – anyone read that book?

12This plaque is reserved solely for the citizens of Bologna and the partisans (Resistance), and the huge role they played in fighting the Nazis.  Bologna received a gold medal for military valour.

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This is the huge front of the building called Palazzo della Borsa, which is now a fascinating library.  The plaques I mentioned are the three starting from the right and going left-wards, even past the entrance to the building.  To the left of that are showcases with photographs of every single partisan or plain citizen from Bologna who fought and died for freedom during WWII.

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It’s very hard to get a good picture – the glass reflects back.  The photos are in black and white.  I looked on and held back a choking sensation in my throat.

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A wreath is also there in grateful commemoration.

Opposite this building is the Palazzo Enzo.

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There were plaques on it too.

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This one is in remembrance of soldiers who died in Nazi camps.

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This one is dedicated to all men, women and children who died in concentration camps during WWII, whether they were Italian or not.   It exhorts us to fight for human liberty, for the indpendence of peoples and to seek a more just society with peaceful interaction for all populations.

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The above plaque recalls a time even further back, during the unification of Italy and Bologna’s support of Garibaldi.  It is dedicated to the Garibaldi Partisan troop who fought in Montenegro 1943-45.

So yes, Bologna seems to want to keep alive the memory and memories of past battles, strife and personal and collective sacrifice.  It does not wish to forget the noble people who did all they could, sometimes at great cost, to look on the bright side of life.

I googled the name of a street with a man’s name:

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It turns out it wasn’t a ‘man’ at all – just a 15 year-old anarchist, who took a wild shot at Mussolini and was lynched by the mob as a result.  His name was Anteo Zamboni.   For the record, it should be mentioned that Mussolini himself condemned the lynching of the boy. “Con questo atto barbarico, che deprecai, l’Italia non dette certo prova di civiltà”, he said.  “With this barbaric act, which I deplored, Italy certainly did not give proof of civilization”.  Pope Pious XI, instead, condemned the assassination attempt – and quite rightly too  – as a “criminal act the thought of which alone saddens us … and makes us give thanks to God for having failed”.  No mention of that poor boy, however.  Sigh. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anteo_Zamboni

Another road is named after Ugo Bassi, who was a priest at the time of Garibaldi.  His execution enraged Liberals all over Europe. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ugo_Bassi There is a statue in via Ugo Bassi as well.

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Yesterday was April 25th and a national holiday in Italy, so-called Liberation Day, the Festa della Liberazione.

It is the anniversary to recall the end of WWII, and the worthy role played by the partisan combatants (Resistance), of which many were women.  Take a closer look on the following link:  https://www.thelocal.it/20160425/what-is-italys-liberation-day-all-about-giorno-liberazione-partisans-nazi-fascist-milan-uprising-italian-republic-public-holiday .

So, yes.   My mind has been caught up with the history of people fighting for freedom. And my heart aches at the thought of all the senseless killing, pain, distress and desperation that human acts of courage have entailed. throughout history, both recent and past.  I know my own grandfather fought in the trenches in France during WWI and came back a changed man, at only 23 years of age.  It was supposed to have been the war to end all wars.

Lest We Forget

I don’t know about you but most of the blogs I follow are either travel or food related. I can’t help but notice, as might you, that the tone is nearly always cheery and rightly so, say I. This ‘wired’, tentacle-like, media-enveloped world we inhabit comes with a steady trickle of news that is never out of earshot or sight or hearing and, let’s face it, the content we perceive nearly always boils down to disquieting or bad news.  I think that food and travel blogs, with their upbeat attitude to writing, offer succour and respite as well as valuable advice and information.  I too try to inject some humour and light heartedness in my blogs, I feel I owe it to the readers who probably, like me, have many balls to juggle up in the air.  A little chuckle, a fleeting smile … these can be soothing, these too can be zen-like in their effect.

When my children were of primary school age and began eating supper with me and my husband (they used to eat before us previously), I told him he had to stop watching the news while I was preparing the meal because, willy nilly, the TV reports managed to waft right into our kitchen, and it would upset me.  The way I saw it then, and still do now, was that supper/dinner, whatever-you-want-to-call-it, was the time of day when we as a family could sit down and enjoy good meal and chat and ‘bond’ for a brief spell, and the last thing I (selfishly) wanted was to feel guilty about this pleasure in life.  I remember at boarding school when, during my first term there, one of the nuns at the table would admonish us to finish the meal and not be ungrateful (if we didn’t like what was on the table) and “think about those unfortunate starving people in Biafra”.  That just made me feel worse! There was I eating a meal, however unappetising, with a roof over my head and a uniform on, and having to think about poor people starving.  How could my feeling guilty about them help them in any way?  How indeed.

Bad news can lead to depression.  Well, if not depression, a bleak outlook.  People begin to feel disempowered and dismayed.  When I heard about the Stockholm terrorist attack a few weeks ago, I switched the TV on only a short while after it had taken place, and watched several TV stations’ news live.  In three languages: Italian, English and French.  I think I was glued to the screen for about half an hour, consciously keeping an eye my own reactions and trying to understand what was going on.  Half an hour can be a long time and I realized that the video journalists just kept repeating themselves and that no ‘real’ further news was forthcoming at that point.  Basically, all  there was … was vapid bla-bla in three languages. So I switched the TV off and got on with whatever else I was doing.  What would I have achieved by sitting there passively viewing scenes of human madness and distress?

We do need to know what is going on in the world, of course we do!, but I do wish that news agencies would also offer some items of news that might buoy us up a little.  I am sure that there are lots of ‘good’ things happening in the world too, but we rarely get to hear about them.  I was very impressed, for instance, with how the people of Stockholm reacted to this injury in the heart of their beautiful city.  Their attitude was indeed very ‘good’ news.

So, yes, I can be a bit of a pedantic Pollyanna about the unrelenting way news is broadcast these days.  I am not, on the other hand, enough of a Pollyanna that I can look at certain tragic historical events in the face without wishing they had never happened.  I can’t seem to ‘see’ any ‘good’ in a 15 year-old being lynched, in a priest being executed, in young men having been treated like cannon fodder during the First World War.  Sometimes, we need to be reminded of how lucky we are.  And that’s when all those plaques, in Bologna or elsewhere in Italy, or elsewhere in Europe, come in handy.

It behooves us to honour all the victims in question, whether they were men or women or children, and whether they were heroes or just ordinary people.  Without being morbid, it is good to give thanks and to realise that we owe so many of them such a big debt.

 

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From the Supreme Headquarters 12:00 hours, November 4, 1918

The war against Austria-Hungary, which the Italian Army, inferior in number and equipment, began on 24 May 1915 under the leadership of His Majesty and supreme leader the King and conducted with unwavering faith and tenacious bravery without rest for 41 months, is won.

The gigantic battle, which opened on the 24th of last October and in which fifty-one Italian divisions, three British, two French, one Czechoslovak and a US regiment joined against seventy-three Austrian divisions, is over.

The lightning-fast and most audacious advance of the XXIX Army Corps on Trento, blocking the retreat of the enemy armies from Trentino, as they were overwhelmed from the west by the troops of the VII army and from the east by those of the I, VI, and the IV armies, led to the utter collapse of the enemy’s front. From the Brenta to the Torre, the fleeing enemy is pushed ever further back by the irresistible onslaught of the XII, VIII, X Armies and of the cavalry divisions.

In the plains, His Royal Highness the Duke of Aosta is advancing at the head of his undefeated III Army, eager to return to the previously successfully conquered positions, which they had never lost.

The Austro-Hungarian Army is vanquished: it suffered terrible losses in the dogged resistance of the early days, and during the pursuit it lost an enormous quantity of materials of every kind as well as almost all its stockpiles and supply depots. The Austro-Hungarian Army has so far left about 300,000 prisoners of war in our hands along with multiple entire officer corps and at least 5,000 pieces of artillery.

The remnants of what was one of the world’s most powerful armies are returning in hopelessness and chaos up the valleys from which they had descended with boastful confidence.

Army Chief of Staff, General Diaz

A Searing Saga – Part 1

This is a Part 1 of a Part 2 Story Searing Meat story.  The technique mentioned in this part relies on searning the meat first and foremost.

Cousin Arthur on my husband’s side of the family (not a first cousin but that’s all I am able to explain since I can never figure out how many steps are removed, meaning that the ‘removing’ mechanism of kinship completely baffles me) runs an Italian restaurant in the Highlands in North Carolina called Paoletti’s (http://paolettis.com/).  It serves a regional Italian-food menu and boasts one of the ‘deepest wine cellars in the Southeast’. It has been in business for 32 years so that must surely say something about its quality.

We first met Arthur and his wife Meg about eight years ago and were very much looking forward to seeing them again last month.  They were on a road trip that began in northern Italy, visiting various wine estates in Piedmont and Tuscany on their way to Rome. And with them were three members of the kitchen staff.   I met with the boys in Rome and gave them a whirlwind unlikely tour of the city which went something like this.  We ‘did’ the church of Santa Sabina, the Orange Garden (Parco Savelli), the peeking through the key-hole, driving around the Aventine a little (well, we were able to see the Circus Maximus, the back end of the Roman Forum, the fleetest of glimpses of the Arch of Constantine, blink-and-you-miss-it Colosseum, the Baths of Caracalla, the Church of S. Saba and Rome’s only pyramid).  It was now time to visit the market at Testaccio and take a look at some food. And eat some food too, naturally.

And as we planned our menu for the next evening, Arthur developed a yen for Chianina. We went to the Sartor butcher’s who told us that unfortunately they were out of Chianina that day but that there was a lovely cut of fassona meat from Piedmont that would  make a marvellous substitute.

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I think it’s that big cut of meat on the left of this photo, in the background.

Anyway, we bought a good sized steak and all kinds of vegetables and even some fresh anchovies to round off tomorrow’s meal.  And got on with the rest of the tour.

0.JPGHere are the boys, in order from the left: Julio, Vijay, Arthur and Danny.  We went to see the Via Appia Antica, we walked through the Ghetto, and onto Campo de’ Fiori, and stopped for coffee and ice cream and shopping and, at my insistence, a sampling of the supplì in Via del Pellegrino.  Aperitivo hour was upon us and we chose to enjoy one sitting outside in Piazza Farnese.  Ciao ciao! see you tomorrow.

I managed to find some Chianina here in Frascati the next morning and all was well in our world.  Now began the fun. Ha!  1Danny got the job of shelling the broadbeans/fava beans.  I had pre-prepared (does that word exist? – the concept makes sense to me) a duck ragu that required further chopping. Only there wasn’t any room in the kitchen and so the boys had to make do with the balcony.  Vijay was somewhat bemused that I should hand him some scissors in order to chop it up the duck ragu, instead of a knife, but it was just like water off a duck’s back to him.

3aArthur, meanwhile, supervised the pouring of wine (they brought along some marvellous Felsina bottles, oh lucky us!, including their bubbly metodo classico) and here he is making the dressing for the puntarelle salad as he contemplates the meat.  I made sure that the meat was at room temperature.

2The evening was getting very jolly by now, our other guests had arrived, and here we are at the point where the batter is ready and Vijay is stuffing the courgette/zucchine blossoms.

aliceEnrico, my brother-in-law, butterflied the anchovies and fried them ‘alla romana’, with just beaten egg and flour.

3And here, dear Reader, you may get an idea of just how ‘big’ my kitchen is! As you can see, it will accommodate no more than two people comfortably.  But sometimes comfort has to be forfeited when it comes to cooking.  That’s why any poor home cook requires copious refills of their wine glass and seeks comfort in philosophy.  How else can one micro-manage or cope? This is Enrico at the stove.

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Enrico is an expert griller and we discussed how we were going to deal with grilling the meat without a grill !  I don’t have one.  And here is how we did it.  We seared the two steaks as much as we could on a cast-iron thingummy jig (what IS the name of that cooking utensil in the photo?) and realised that we would have to finish them off for a few minutes in the oven.  At 150°C I seem to remember.

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5The only distracting irritation was the smoke … the steaks released a lot of fat and so we used some of that as condiment over slices of bread.  It used to be called ‘panuntella’ here in Frascati, except the meat in question was pork and not beef.6All things considered, the meat turned out remarkably well … and all I can say is that there wasn’t any left over.

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wines

And here are the empty bottles of wine the following day.  I want to take this opportunity to once more thank Arthur, his trio of chefs and Enrico for making it such fun for all of us that evening.  We were quite the motley crew and there was much jest and rejoicing. I think I should get kudos too for not being too flustered about cooking with five chefs (Enrico just recently re-opened the Cantina Colonna restaurant in Marino).

And so all is well that ends well … we managed to sear and then cook the steaks on the stove top and then in the oven (i.e. without a grill), end of story.

Until, a few days later, I come across an article about a technique called “reverse sear”.

I will tell you all about it in the Part 2 of this searing saga.

Small Vegetable Shop for a Mega Cooking Crisis – Piccola Bottega Merenda

I only recently heard of a small(ish) vegetable shop, a greengrocer’s as we once would have called it, receiving merited acclaim for the high quality of its produce.  It is called Piccola Bottega Merenda and is located in the Tuscolano area of Rome, just down the road from where I live, more or less, in Frascati.  All the produce is sourced from small holders/farmers and little old ladies who go foraging, and all the vegetables are completely and only seasonal.  As to their freshness, the shop has not installed a refrigerator, the veggies get sold within the day or maybe two days.  They also sell top notch cheeses, and a selection of charcuterie, as well as dry goods and other staples, drawn from brands that are either organically certified or else just bloody good.  I noticed, for instance, that they sell my favourite olive oil: Quattrociocchi.  Not to mention an array of mouth-watering cheeses.

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Anyway, the reason I ended up going there last Friday was a bureaucratic one.  I needed to pick up a legal document from a public notary office in Rome.  I knew that their opening hours in the morning was from 08:30 to 12:15 p.m. and got there at around 11:00.

Only to find it closed.

Friday being the last day of the month, the office closed at 10:15.  Picture me, neck craned, doing a double take, double blink, OMG I don’t believe this!, I have just wasted a whole morning practically, Oh woe is me, o me misera!  Seriously? a public office is not open to the public after 10:15 ? Just because it is the end of the month? Why bother opening in the first place?

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Thankfully, it was a beautiful warm, sunny day.  It’s a crime to get one’s knickers in a twist when the weather and the time of year are are prompting you it to notice that it should be a joy to be alive. And so I resolved to turn this ‘down’ into an ‘up’ and, why not?, pop into the Piccola Bottega Merenda on my way home and do some shopping there.  I was having friends over to dinner the next day so it made a lot of sense.

Finding parking near the shop proved to be very challenging and I had to resort to a bit of devil may care nonchalance as I parked our car vertically alongside a zebra crossing, which is not allowed as we all know.  The avenue, however, was a wide one and cars could cross the road no problem, as could pedestrians on the zebra crossing.  Fearing an umpteenth ticket, on the other hand, I knew I would have to make the visit a short one.

The Piccola Bottega Merenda is run by the couple Giorgio and Giulia and from all accounts very lovingly so, showing respect both for the farmers and the end user.  All the fruit and vegetables are seasonal and they eschew refrigeration.  The produce will have been sourced from within driving distance and as fresh as can be.  It is situated in the Tuscolano area of Rome, South-East, not far from the Cinecittà film studios.  It is a very lively and populous area of Rome and serviced by the B Metro Line (underground).  My husband once shocked me by explaining that the population of the Tuscolano is greater than that of Florence!  The Tuscolana Road starts just after San Giovanni and goes all the way to Frascati.  In parts, it is built over an ancient road, far more ancient than the famed Via Appia, and the road in question is the Via Latina.  The neighbourhood itself, however, was built entirely after the Second World War and so is somewhat ‘modern’ by Roman standards, and not exactly ‘cosy’ or historically interesting, or even – let’s face it – particularly attractive.  Just a lot of modern apartment buildings flanking a main road. Practical (lots of shops and well connected to the centre) but not exactly charming.

I can’t see central Rome residents going out of their way to come to this store; central Rome residents are almost afraid to leave their 3-kilometer comfort zone, it’s really quite amusing.   When they find out I live in Frascati (a perfectly respectable commuting distance of 17 kilometers to Termini Station, and a 30 minute train ride unless I am driving) they open their mouths wide as if I were talking about outer Siberia.  But the San Giovanni residents shouldn’t have too much of a problem?  Little by little, it seems to me, this Tuscolano neighbourhood has been drawing attention to itself, gastronomy wise, for a few years now.  Not least because of the famous butcher Roberto Liberati, who has now opened a second store at Rome Termini Station’s eatery section Mercato Centrale (http://luckypeach.com/inside-roberto-liberatis-butcher-shop/), for the former Michelin-starred restaurant il Giuda Ballerino (which is now housed in the Hotel Bernini) and for ‘Sforno’, considered to be one of the best pizza places in all of Rome.  I am told that Ali Baba is one of Rome’s top-end Kebab destination and that too is in the Tuscolano area.  The Tuscolana fishmonger, Pescheria Marcello, is considered to be one of the best in the Capital.  So there.  This quartiere might be a parvenu compared with the rest of Roman neighbourhoods but its palate is honing itself in a very good gastronomic direction.

The first thing that struck me about the Piccola Bottega Merenda was its modest size, made all the more noticeable by the amount of happy shoppers in it, both young and old.  Secondly, as I said, its charcuterie and cheese selection !  Fabulous!  They offered reblochon and red Leiscestershire besides other good Italian cheeses, not so easy to find in Rome.  And then there were the vegetables.  I especially fell in love with the wild salads, the ‘misticanza’.  Time was at a premium for me, nevertheless, since I had parked the car in such a cavalier fashion, hence I just got on with my shopping, paid, and quickly hurried away.  I was unable to take more than a couple of photos of the cheese and salumi selection, one of them pictured above, the other below.

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When I got home … I felt so enthusiastic, so full of energy.  All I wanted to do was cook the gorgeous vegetables.

1I had bought: carrots, artichokes, fennel, potatoes, and wild salads – all of them blissfully in season.  From another greengrocer’s, afterwards, I had also then bought bell peppers (capsicum), courgettes, aubergines and basil … I hope that Giorgio and Giulia won’t admonish me for this unusual, for me,  seasonal breach in food shopping.  All I knew was that I had an incredible yearning to make some favourite warm-weather recipes.

3I finished these carrots with chopped parsely before serving them the next day.

Braised fennel … béchamel sauce.

8Finished off with plenty of freshly grated parmigiano.

9Sweet and sour courgettes, with raisins and pine kernels, mint leaves just before serving.  Sicilian style.

Deep fried, in olive oil, slices of aubergine.  I had placed the slices in salted water for an hour.  And then squeezed them very hard and patted them dry with kitchen paper just before frying.

4While they were frying I was making a tomato sauce.

And then it was time to assemble the parmigiana di melanzane, the aubergine, mozzarella, parmigiano, basil, and tomato sauce layered dish.  Once assembled, it needs to be baked but is better eaten at room temperature.  Even the next day.

14The beloved potato cake of Campania … known as the ‘gattò di patate’, with cheese and ham in it.  Also needing to be baked.

I enveloped the two large red peppers in aluminium foil and roasted those too.

15And that’s what the stove top looked like, the night before the evening after.  My yearning had been satisfied.

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The roasted peppers were finshed off with garlic, olive oil and chopped parsely.

17I made a pasta sauce with the artichokes (including garlic, evoo, sausages and white wine) …

19Buffalo mozzarella alongside some unseasonal cherry tomatoes ….

18Chicken and veal meatballs. Gozzaroddi.

19aWild salad leaf insalata.  Notice the yellow flowers.

And last, making no sense whatsoever geographically …

20A Persian rice and chicken recipe, with saffron and sour cherries. Chicken Tah-Chin.

Our guests brought good cheer and wines and flowers and two saintly children and all in all it was a lovely evening.  The menu made no sense whatsoever but there was a ‘sensibility’ within me, a deep desire to cook and nurture, that was above any rationality.  Le coeur a ses raisons che la raison ne connait pas (The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of …).

IMG_4310And what lovely flowers.  Spring is indeed in the air.

P.S.  If you are interested in any of the above recipes, here are some links.

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/a-royal-wedding-and-a-misspelled-cake-gatto-di-patate/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/sugo-time-and-the-going-is-easy-how-to-make-the-basic-tomato-sauce/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/window-slats-and-the-naming-of-a-dish-la-parmigiana-di-melanzane/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/03/12/parents-in-law-recovery-and-the-importance-of-a-good-meal-pasta-con-carciofi-salsiccia-e-cipolla/

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2014/04/05/testaccio-market-wrong-reason-right-recipe-courgettes-sweet-and-sour-caponata-di-zucchine/

http://fae-magazine.com/2012/09/25/tah-chin/