I would not blame purists from the Campania region if they wanted to throttle me for daring to refer to the rice concoction I am writing about as a ‘sartù’. A sartù is an iconic conglomeration of a recipe, a precious pearl in the crown of posh recipes that were served to the noble families in the Campania region. If you want to read more about it, check out my previous post.
Here in the Alban hills south east of Rome, an area known as the “Castelli Romani”, we too have posh antecedents. We are famous for our baroque estates, sometimes built over the remains of ancient Roman villas (the popes’ summer residence at Castel Gandolfo, for instance, was built over Emperor Domitian’s villa). Popes, cardinals and Rome’s noble families liked to spend part of their Summer here and enjoy all that it had to offer. If Rome were to be thought of as New York City, then our Castelli Romani could easily be regarded as its Hamptons. And this all the way from pre-Roman times to just after the Second World War. A lot changed after then. And not just in Frascati, naturally, but all over the world.
These days, as far as current Romans are concerned, we people in the Castelli Romani are to be thought of as ‘rednecks’ or ‘hill-billies’ or something akin to a peasant whichever way you look at it. Their word for us is “burino”. We are country bumpkin ‘burini’ whereas they are city dwellers, with Rome being the centre of the world. A lot of this is in jest of course but even so when I hear talk levelled at us burini, I put my hands on my hips and fight back. I like to counter the view by letting THEM know that one cannot consider himself/herself a true Roman unless he or she has Roman relatives going back at least five generations (even seven). So mneah, take that! So many so-called Romans have parents who relocated from other counties just after the Second World War. Including my husband, for instance. He was born of parents hailing from the Marche Region. And though he was born and raised in Rome, in theory he couldn’t be considered a ‘true’ Roman. At least we Castelli people are authentic burini, ha ha. (Actually, even that wouldn’t be totally correct: so many labourers and workers, during the mid-century 1800s onwards all the way up to the 1950s, came to find a living in these parts. They hailed mainly from Abbruzzo and the Marche regions, as well as southern Lazio but sssssh, don’t tell.)
Favourite son asked that I make polenta for him when he came to visit us last month. Obliging Mamma of course makes some, double quick, Favourite daughter loathes polenta and favourite husband isn’t overly keen either, so this request gave me the opportunity to finally make some and know it would be thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed.
I am so used to cooking for a fair amount of people that I ended up making too much sauce (the classic pork and sausage sauce) and thus put the remainder in the freezer. Except I didn’t – put it in the freezer, I mean. I thought I had but I hadn’t. So days after my darling boy had left I discovered a large glass jar of the sauce at the back of the fridge. I tasted it and it was fine thank goodness. What to do? what do do? What to do? I used the sauce to make a risotto. And then I had one of those beautiful Aha moments and realised I could invent a Roman rendition of the Neapolitan sartù. Another name for this could be “Timballo di Riso”, I suppose, but it isn’t half as catchy as Frascati-Style Sartù, do admit?
If there is one staple that is iconic to the Castelli Romani (over and above wine that is), then that would be the roast hog known as “porchetta”. Instead of adding meatballs and salami to my rice dish, I would substitute with porchetta. Genius.
(1) The Sauce:
The sauce I made is the following one: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2012/12/19/sausage-and-spare-rib-stew-for-polenta-polenta-con-le-spuntature/
You don’t have to go all the trouble of making an identical one. However, do include pork sausage in it whichever way you want to make it. Pork sausage, garlic, tomato sauce and pecorino are a must. The rest you can improvise or tweak.
You will also need to make a bechamel: https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/03/17/the-queen-of-sauces/
(3a) Cotechino – explanation follows
(4) Other ingredients
Both parmesan and pecorino cheese, peas (frozen will do), red pepper kernels (optinonal), butter.
PRELUDE TO ACTION
Well, more of in-action to be honest. Long story short, I was unable to buy porchetta and had to do with cotechino. Cotechino is another iconic item on the Italian table, and specifically towards the end of year, in order to celebrate the new year. It is served traditionally with lentils. Read all about it by fellow and much-loved blogger Frank Fariello (https://memoriediangelina.com/2010/01/01/cotechino-lentils/). Cotechino and brother Zampone (another end-of-year sausage) are to be found in stores already towards the end of November. I picked one up, just because. And just as well I did.
When the going gets tough, call upon a softie. In this case, Rossella my sweet next-door neighbour. We needed to catch up on some gossip and so I inveigled her into coming over for a much needed catch-up, and while we were at it, would she give me a hand in the kitchen? “Ma certo!” was her gracious resopnse, but of course. I got her started on the cotechino. It needed to be cut into cube-like shapes, see above.
I had alread made the risotto with the leftover sauce and had placed it inside a biggish pyrex dish. Rossella spread a layer of cubed cotechino on the surface of the risotto, and then sprinkled another layer of previously cooked peas.
I call that quite pretty, huh.
And now, lots of fresh mint and parsely to add a bit of green. And then much freshly grated parmigiano AND pecorino cheeses (equal parts of).
A snowstorm of parmigiano and pecorino with the herbs playing peekaboo.
And now it’s time for the bechamel.
Here is Rossella lovingly spreading the bechamel. She has the patience of a saint.
Last-minute addition: red peppercorns. Not too many of course, but enough to get noticed. I love red peppercorns – they make me feel happy.
Butter, dollops of butter.
Ready to be placed in a previously heated oven, at 180°C.
Except that I didn’t bake it straight away. I froze it. So …. hip hip hurrah, this is the sort of dish that can be prepared in advance, frozen, and used when necessary. Especially when a party is necessary. You do all the hard work days or weeks before and little else on the actual night.
And this is the only measely photo I have of the completed dish. I know, I know. What one does manage to discern doesn’t look very enticing, more like a dog’s dinner. But I promise you it was very very good and all my guests complimented me. You’ll just have to trust me. (You’d think at least one of the guests, or my husband, would have taken a nice photo, no? Too busy eating?)