Mrs Masi and her family run a vegetable shop in Frascati and are open on Sunday mornings too. They are the suppliers of very many restaurants in town. I tend to be a democratic greengrocer and buy from more than one place but theirs is the venue I end up frequenting the most, as it were, because … because half the time, I don’t know about you, but I’m in a hurry, there is always so much to do. This is how it goes: it’s getting to be evening, ideas for dinner need to be considered and scaled down, and off I trot to up the hill into town to get my meat and two veg. The veg fromt the Masi family and the meat from the Chioccia family in Via dell’Olmo.
I believe that shopping should entail more than just a modicum of pleasure and what better way to celebrate the exercise than an aperitivo after all that strenuous activity? Hence, on a regular basis now for some years, I will meet up with my friend Michelle Smith at our favourite watering hole, the “Stanza del Duca” in the town’s oldest square. It’s just behind the historic Palazzo Vescovile, the bishop’s residence. This is the heart of centuries-old Frascati and, in terms of neighbourhoods, we consider it the way Romans would Trastevere. Sleepy time during the day, bustling and alive in the evenings (not so much in January and February admittedly – but then that’s when we all go into hibernation). Piazza San Rocco wakes up in the evenings, with its many wine bars and restaurants, and the people it draws, the mainstay demographic, are mostly young. The daily “The Guardian” wrote a lovely article about the buzz in Frascati last September and I am borrowing a photo from it … hope I don’t get into trouble for doing so?
Anyway, here is a link to the article: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/sep/10/rome-frascati-wine-food-italy.
Michelle and I put the world to rights over a glass of wine or a spritz and our host, the inimitable Giancarlo delle Chiaie, is very generous with his pour as he is with his trove of stories aka gossip. Mild gossip, I hasten to add, we are not malicious people. We bang on about standards, and what the town administration fails to do, how short-sighted they are, versus our way of how things ought to be done. Sigh. And on the bright and light side, music plays an important role. Giancarlo is a choir master and an accomplished organ player and his friend Romeo Ciuffa, who is also a regular at the Stanza del Duca, is a professional musician and organizes many a chamber music concert in our neck of the woods. And all that talk makes for thirsty work so Michelle and I will very often ask for a wee top-up to our glass as we carry on delving into topics that require our undivided attention.
I often think that breakfast, while one is on holiday and without a care in the world, in a hotel say, is the nicest meal of the day. One has the whole day lying expectantly before us and to look forward to, as we dig into our orange juice and coffee and toast and what have you. Similarly, but more often for me, I think that aperitivo-time is the best time of day. The cares of obligatory work are over for the day, in theory, and one can relax and be light hearted and broaden the horizon of mental attention. Michelle and I can be very philosophical at aperitivo time.
Who is Michelle, you might ask. Well, she’s not easy to describe in a nutshell … she is one of those people who is a dab hand at anything she does. A jack of all trades who gets to be very masterly time after time. Though living in the same area, we didn’t get to meet until relatively recently and we hit it off straight away. For the purposes of this post let us say she is a sommelier, translator, and painter. She set up a website (all on her own, every single bit of it !!!!) called easyfrascati.com. And I will come out and say it outight: one would think that Frascati’s town council would have gone to the intelligent trouble of setting up an informative website? But no, it took an English rose to do so. Tut tut. Last, though she and I can wag our fingers disapprovingly, it’s not about self importance, Michelle is one of the most modest people I’ve ever met. It’s because we care. We see so much potential going unattended. Dear, dear … shall we have another glass of wine before going home?
Michelle is also a good cook by the way and so we often discuss recipes. “So, what are you cooking tonight?” will often start the conversation. Which brings me to today’s recipe. I got all excited because it is so much more than the sum of its very simple parts. When one is a little strapped for time, one should still find the energy to make the main meal of the day a ‘special’ one. What’s the point of living otherwise?
I got this recipe from Mrs Masi, and I thank her for it. The only ‘long’ thing about it is its cooking time in the oven. It can even be eaten at room temperature although I tend to think that it gives its best when served just out of the oven.
INGREDIENTS: slices of courgette/zucchini, olive oil, mozzarella, thinly sliced onion, some parsley if you like it, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper
What you see are the sliced courgettes coated with olive oil, over which I sprinkled salt and pepper, I then added little lumps of mozzarella. I squeezed the mozzarella to remove some of the liquid.
I also added half an onion, very very thinkly sliced. And an avalanche of roughly minced parsley.
Finish it all off with a layer of bread crumbs. I suspect I drizzled some olive oil over the surface for good measure, before popping it into the oven.
And this is what it looks like when it comes out of the oven. To be honest I can’t remember how long it cooked (just over half an hour) and I expect the temperature was 200°C.
This recipe looks like a lot of trouble went into it and yet it couldn’t be simpler to make! Unless your name is Phylis Knudsen, you could even add a few ancovies to the mix. (Bless her, Phylis can’t stand anchovies.)
So, what are you thinking about making for dinner tonight? Please don’t tell me you are ordering in ….! 🙂
P.S. If any of you should be in Rome and would like to do something a bit more bucolic and pastoral outside of the capital, please feel free to get in touch with either Michelle or me. And there will always be a glass of wine and good food to put you in the mood …. 🙂
P.P.S. I wrote about La Stanza del Duca in this post from last year. Here is a link in case you missed it: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/a-duke-some-ladies-lots-of-hats-and-an-afternoon-tea-in-frascati/