A Duke, Some Ladies, Lots of Hats and An Afternoon Tea in Frascati

I have written fewer blogs last year for reasons that aren’t worth going into here but I do, I very much do, want to write a beginning-of-the-year post as a way of wishing all of you a very good one.  It’s a bit of a long ramble and might not be to everyone’s taste so if this is where you stop reading, again: HAPPY NEW YEAR and may it herald a lot of positive things for everyone !

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The photos above and below are of Frascati’s Piazza San Rocco – easily my favourite piazza there …  overlooking Rome, and for good reason.

1.JPGChristmas and the New Year’s festivities have come but not altogether ‘gone’ because decorations linger, including the kind that are not necessarily in the best of taste with their overblown brightness and blingyness; they still adorn our rooms, and we don’t mind any clutter they’ve ushered because the days are still short and dark. And cold.  Even here in Frascati/Rome. I want to start the year on a high note, I want to think about good times, spent with family, friends and new acquaintances.  And so festivities come to mind: birthdays, usually, weddings, sometimes, parties, for sure!, Christmas naturally, New Year’s, and not forgetting last-minute get-togethers that can be rustled up in no time at all.  Often the latter are the most fun of all, and spontaneity and the unexpected can throw in that fillip that no planning, however well thought out, can hope to bring to an occasion.  It’s then we feel so ‘alive’, isn’t it.  It’s then, the day after, that we relish the memory, the camaraderie and the laughter, the high jinks of it all, often supported by tasty food and copious amounts of a favourite tipple.  I don’t know about you but “wine o’clock”, the hour or so before supper, is nearly always my favourite time of day.  If I am not clamouring after a glass of wine when supper is nearly on the table, I worry whether I am coming down with something.  (Can’t drink wine during the day, however, makes me too sleepy.)

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So, you must be thinking, can this gal have any fun without wine? Aha! And the answer might surprise you.

I have two favourite meals.  One is breakfast.  Only for years now I’ve not been eating breakfast, just drinking coffee.  Even so, I think of breakfast as one of the nicest times of day, especially on holiday, or when staying in a hotel.  A good breakfast has all the ingredients to make you want to look forward to the unfurling of the day’s events.  Toast, first and foremost.  Nice marmalade or jam.  Eggs, bacon, sausages, kippers, salmon, mushrooms, cooked tomatoes.  Fruit and fruit juice.  A croissant or a cornetto here in Italy.  Pancakes.  Crepes.  French toast. Breakfast cakes.  Yogurt.  Good quality loose leaf tea. Coffee.  It’s a feast, and the day has only just started.

The other ‘meal’, if that’s what we want to call is, is Afternoon Tea.  Yes, I used capital letters.  As someone who does not have a sweet tooth and rarely has dessert, isn’t it ‘strange’ that I just cannot resist the sheer beauty, the sense of occasion, the frivolity of a proper Afternoon Tea.  One tends to pick up more than one motto in life, or change it as our natures evolve, but there is one that has stuck in my chords for decades now, and that is Voltaire’s “le superflu, chose si nécessaire”.   Damn right, he was, to say that the superfluous is so very very necessary in our lives.  (By the way I love caviar too and can’t afford it  but I think I would favour an Afternoon Tea over caviar if I had to choose.  On the other hand, just think of the naughtiness of serving caviar at an Afternoon Tea, tee hee!)  Who can have a long face at an Afternoon Tea, hey? Who? It’s like chalk and cheese, impossible.  A normal breakfast can be just that: normal.  Afternoon Tea is always special.

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Cast of Characters

And so it was that three friends, Michelle, Victoria and I decided to organize an Afternoon Tea party nearly four years ago now.  At a tearoom run by Giancarlo delle Chiaie here in Frascati.

Now, the first thing to bear in mind is that Frascati is famous for its white wine and the fact that we have been making wine around these parts for three thousand years or so (Frascati was the very first wine in Italy to receive the formal DOC certification in 1966).  The second is that there is no such thing as Afternoon Tea in Italy.  Some Italians, true, do like their tea and but  most would considerate it a beverage that is de rigueur only when illness sets in.  I’ll never forget when I offered my father-in-law to be a cup of tea.  He looked very puzzled and answered something like, “No thank you, I’m fine.”

So imagine my surprise when Giancarlo opened a tearoom in Frascati back in 2009.   Frascati is famous for its wine taverns, known as “fraschette” or “cantine” or even “osterie”, and casual outdoor eating during the warmer months of the year.  It’s all very laid back and convivial and the opposite of posh. Trestle tables are set up outside in the streets and piazzas and the tablecloth is made out of paper.  The wine is served in sturdy glasses, forget about stems.  The wine comes in a carafe not in a bottle.  The atmosphere is ‘animated’, aka pretty much loud or raucous.  You get the picture.

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The above photo is the view of Piazza San Rocco from Giancarlo’s Tearoom

Our Giancarlo, who was an acquaintance when he opened and has now become more of a friend, is not exactly a fan of mega decibel banter and such plebeian cavorting when it comes to the enjoyment of life.  And that’s putting it mildly.  It’s not that he is a snob.  No, it’s more like he has standards and bad rustic just doesn’t do it for him.  He was outraged, for instance, by another Giancarlo (a former professional football player) who runs a wine tavern with trestle tables outside on the quaint and historic Piazza San Rocco, at the bottom of the bishop’s mansion, just across from the tearoom.  (Such a delight to eat al fresco there in Summer, the atmosphere is amazing.)

Tearoom Giancarlo simply could not forgive wine-tavern Giancarlo for having placed neon lighting above the trestle tables, his disapproval was total and gave him a case of ‘après nous le deluge’ big time.

He dresses simply and somewhat soberly.  His tearoom, however, belies the understated approach to his day to day attire.  It is housed in a former wine cellar to the side of the Piazza San Rocco, close to our town’s historic and oldest church.  It was not a large wine cellar at that (if you want to know, it belonged to my cousin Teresa’s grandmother, after whom she was named, and cousin Teresa remembers helping out her Nonna with the wine making, imagine that!).

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The entrance to Giancarlo’s Tearoom

Remember the law of Physics about Nature abhoring a vacuum?  If ever proof were needed, Giancarlo’s place would fit the bill with bells and whistles.  This cosy-sized tearoom positively drips with gilt-framed mirrors, chandeliers and candelabras, not to mention assorted bone china plates, cups, tea pots, even a Russian samovar, various paintings and lithographs, and the paint is all about green and gold.  Whilst a seasoned minimalist would suffer a serious attack of furnishing overkill upon entering, I and many others find it welcoming and full of atmosphere.  There is even a piano.  And that’s because Giancarlo is a musician, a professional organ player, as is his younger brother.  Giancarlo runs a choir too.  He will sometimes play the piano for us.

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Most of the time he is too busy.  He runs the tea room all by himself, making and baking all kinds of deliciousness, cakes and even small chocolates.  He would have fitted in beautifully at the court of Louis IV – indeed, Giancarlo was involved in a one-day event held at nearby Villa Mondragone in 2004 where actors dressed the part as king, queen, courtiers/courtesans, musicians and servants and what have you and disported themselves accordingly.  Giancarlo organized, oversaw, played and conducted all the music, and he waxes lyrical over it to this day.  He pines for the mountains and the cooler weather, whereas Michelle and I, who frequent his tearoom in the evenings when it’s time for a glass of wine as opposed to a cuppa, are just the opposite.  Michelle taught him how to make Pimms, by the way.  He taught himself how to make scones, there you go.

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Now Michelle (in the above photo) who is English and has lived in and around Rome for decades, enough to speak Italian like a native, is one of those people who are hard to describe.  She does not fit into a neat category. She is a dab hand at just about anything, and a quick thinker to boot.  For the purpose of this blog post let’s just say she single-handedly set up an invaluable website called “www.Easyfrascati.com” and is a trained sommelier, collaborating with the oldest wine estate in the area, the Principe Pallavicini.

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Vivacious Victoria, for her part, lived in New York working for MTV; she left her fast-paced action-packed life for the obvious reason (her hubby like mine is Italian) and heads a group called “Welcome Neighbour of the Castelli Romani”.   It was she, also, who set up another group called “Culture Club of the Castelli”, which includes me and Michelle (both groups are on facebook).  And the three of us do enjoy organizing cultural events that will always include food and wine somewhere along the way.

And now we come to the last person in this cast of characters.

The name of the tearoom is “La Stanza del Duca”, which translates as “The Duke’s Room”.  The duke in question is – or was rather, bless him he died in 1807 – Henry Benedict of the royal house of Stuart.

His grandfather James II was the king who his lost the throne on account of being catholic, and his daughters, Mary and then Anne, subsequently and in turn became Queens.  Prince Henry’s father James III was known as the “Old Pretender” to the British Throne. His brother was known as the “Young Pretender”, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie.  I don’t want to bore you with too much history and the Jacobite rebellions but basically our Prince Henry couldn’t be bothered about claims to the throne and contented himself with being a jolly good cardinal.  He was born a prince and the grandson of a crowned king, and was a direct relative even of Mary Queen of Scots. But he was best known as Duke of York, the title that was bestowed upon him (in the Jacobite Peerage) by his father.  He and his brother were both born in exile in Rome, and both were buried for a short while in Frascati’s St Peter’s cathedral.  And that’s because Cardinal Duke of York Henry Benedict was bishop of Frascati, amongst other things, and lived here for decades.  He was very much loved and respected for all the good works he did – and of course, he lived in the Bishop’s palace just across the road from the tearoom bearing his moniker!

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THE AFTERNOON TEA – PREPPING

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Ssssh … don’t say I said but I do have to say it.  Italians, or rather some Italians just to be on the politically correct side of the equation, find it hard to let their hair down on social occasions that are not within the strict perimeter of their homes or family/close friend connection.  Socially speaking, they tend to be on the shy side that way.  Instead, Brits, Americans and Scandinavians ‘make friends’ much more easily. Brits in particular tend to like dressing up and acting silly at parties, that’s what parties are for surely?  So Michelle, Victoria and I came up with a very cunning plan.  We decided to host the Afternoon Tea Party during the week of Carnival/Mardi Gras, just before Ash Wednesday when Italians find it all right to dress up (especially the children) and act silly or even be a little on the boisterous side if need be.  We knew we wouldn’t be able to convince our guests to dress up but we did insist on everyone wearing a hat and set up a prize for the most ingenious or original one.  We therefore called it The Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.

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When people ask me why I  like Italian food so much, I answer sincerely that I love so many other cuisines of the world too, don’t get me wrong.  That said, every single time I cook Indian or Thai or Lebanese or even British food (think Sunday Roast), I am reminded of how quick (super quick!) it is to rustle up an Italian meal compared with other nations’ food.  Thus, I knew that an Afternoon Tea was going to be mega planning, shopping, and hard work, with close attention to detail.  As did both Victoria and Michelle.  I am not very good in the sweet department so I invited another good friend, Italo-Australian Liz, who is easily the best home cook I’ve ever come across, to come on board.

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Artistic Michelle came up with the invitation card within seconds of being asked.  Victoria was all about ensuring that our ladies went home with a goody bag on top of everything else and all in all, this was one of the most arduous events I have had the pleasure to be involved in (please excuse my split infinitive).

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Sandwiches, good ones, are the backbone of an Afternoon Tea and these require good butter.  Liz was visiting her daughter in Oslo just days before our event so I asked her to kindly bring over some good Norwegian butter as well as –  yes, please don’t laugh – cucumbers.  Again Sssssh! I say this in ultra hushed tones but … If there are two, and only two, food stuffs that are sadly disappointing in Italy then these must be butter and cucumbers.  The latter are often almost bitter and hard to digest.  And I always buy Lurpak here because Italian butter is just so, well, ‘unbuttery’. In fact, when family or friends come over from England and ask what they can bring, I always ask for butter which I then freeze (including gorgeous unpasteurized French Butter).    Oh, and …  and Liz also had to bring over some dill from Oslo, because dill is really hard to come by in Rome.

 

Our guest list of 24 (all ladies except for one husband who loved the male/female ratio) was composed of people we knew or friends of friends and eight nationalities were present: Italian, English, German, French, Russian, North American, South African, and Argentinian (plus Norwegian salmon, butter, dill and cucumbers).  We charged the token sum of twenty euros a head and everyone had a delightful, and I mean delightful time, and it was worth all our efforts.  Michelle’s hat was by far the most original but we decided it would not have been ‘proper’ for the organizers to win the hat prize.  There were runner-up prizes too …

 

Giancarlo was blown away by our organizational skills and the ‘correct’ tone of this happy party (lots of fun but done with style, none of that faux rustic nonsense). But the cherry on the cake, for me at least, since I am a romantic at heart, was the fact that a real British Duchess was amongst our guests enjoying the gathering to the hilt.  At one point, with no one noticing, I raised a glass of prosecco to Henry Benedict, Cardinal Duke of York, and smiled within.  I bet he was happy to see such frolicking going on so close to his erstwhile much-loved home.

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That’s me on the left, having a good laugh with Victoria.

The photos (all the good-quality ones that is) of the food and people at the party were taken by Michelle Aschacher, Leanne Talbot Nowell and Diane Epstein … all of them fabulous photographers.

Again, Happy New Year Everyone !

16Giancarlo donning a Cardinal’s hat … what else!

Putting the Posh in Peas (and Chicken)

I don’t buy a lot of frozen food generally speaking, that is except for peas.  Most of the year I buy frozen peas.  When fresh peas are in season, however, it is such a joy to have them to cook with (not so much a joy having to shell them but that’s another story).  Anyway, I got hold of some fresh peas a few weeks ago, still in their pod, and enticed my mother who was staying with us into shelling them.  She did after all say she wanted to be of help … I was just doing the kind thing.

Today’s recipe is one I was inspired to try out from a rather posh recipe book with beautiful photos, truly artistic (once I find the book I can tell you the title).  The recipe in question seemed straightforward enough so off I trotted to get all the ingredients. By the time I got around to cooking, however, it was getting very late and I had to hurry things up a bit because people were getting hungry for their dinner – so in the end presentation was the least of my worries.  As you will see, the final plate looks a bit of a mess but I promise you it tasted fine, just fine.

When I teach people how to make fresh pasta, I tell them that it is a very forgiving recipe – it’s very hard to get it wrong.  “And,” I reassure them, “if things really do go downhill, at the end of the day we are talking about wasting some flour and eggs – we are not talking caviar!”  Pasta is not supposed to be ‘posh’, just ‘simple’ and delicious.  Delicious in its simplicity.  With today’s recipe, I am taking the opposite stance.  I am turning some basic, ‘simple’ ingredients, and wanting to present them as grander than they are.  And that’s because we all deserve a bit of grand now and then, don’t you agree?

INGREDIENTS: chicken breast, olive oil, paprika, fresh peas, onions, lemon, fresh mint leaves, butter, phyllo pastry

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In this ambitious photo (I’m standing on a stool in an attempt to get an overhead clean vista of the ingredients) you can see some chicken breast that I cut into similar-sized pieces, fresh peas, and a bowl containing olive oil, its peculiar colour having been brought about by the addition of liberal pinches of paprika.

2Sprinkle salt over the chicken.

3Transfer the chicken pieces to an oven dish, and dab the olive oil and paprika over both sides of the meat.

5Cover with clingfilm/saran wrap/gladwrap or whatever it is you call this marvellous invention that I love to hate.  I can never get it right, it always sticks to my fingers somehow.  So, yes, it looks a bit crumpled but I did manage to get it to be air-tight.  I then placed the chicken in the fridge for about one hour.

Prepare an ice bath – basically, just a bowl with cold water and ice cubes in it.  And then proceed to cook the fresh peas until they are done.  To be honest, I can’t remember how long that took – but longer than one would think.  Fresh peas take their time to reach the the point of perfection.

8Drain and quickly transfer the peas in the ice bath to cool down.  Drain again and separate the peas into two containers.

Okay?

And now on with cooking the chicken.

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12Cook the chicken on both sides until browned but not entirely cooked through.  Then place in the oven dish and continue cooking in a low-temperature oven for about 15-20 minutes (150°C let us say) until you think they are cooked (no raw chicken).

And now let us deal with the peas.

Add fresh mint leaves and a squirt of lemon juice to the peas in the glass bowl.

14Process, add a little bit of olive oil, a pinch of salt – and taste, taste, taste until you can pronounce what you taste finger-licking-good.  Set aside.

16Remember the other bowl of cooked peas?  Well, soften/cook some onions with butter in a saucepan, and then add the peas and some salt and pepper.  (Sorry, no photo to show you at this point).  Set aside.

A lot of setting aside, isn’t there.

17And then I had a brainwave.  I happened to have some phyllo pastry in the freezer that always gave me baleful looks when I opened the freezer door, as if to say: WHEN are you going to use me up?  The fateful moment had finally arrived … how about …?

18Slicing the phyllo pastry into ribbons and …

19Crisping it up (it only takes seconds) with some olive oil?

20Genius, right?  It was very oily because I was in a hurry, and I had to pat it down quite a bit with kitchen paper (and next time I might do this in the oven instead).  But it did indeed add a bit of crunch factor to the final presentation.

Time to plate up.

21Step one.  The pea mash.

22Step two: the unmashed peas.

23Step there: a shower of crispy phyllo pastry.

Presentation, repeat, not brilliant … but it tasted nice enough and that’s what counts.

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Prelude to a Recipe : Nonno’s Birthday Bonanza (Pasta with Coda alla Vaccinara Sauce)

 

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My mother in law Maria hails from a small hilltop town in the Marche called Monterubbiano.

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When my father in law retired, he bought a house there which became the Summer Holiday go-to venue for me and my husband and our kids for several years in succession.

There comes a point in children’s lives when they feel it’s no longer ‘cool’ to spend holidays with their parents and sure enough, that happened with us too.  Even so, Monterubbiano maintains an iconic status in the vault of family memories, and always will do.  So many outdoor dinners, friends and family gatherings, laughter and silliness and looking forward to future frolicking.

My in-laws leave Rome some time in May and stay in Monterubbiano until early September, sometimes very late August when the weather there can change sooner than it does in sunny Rome.  Monterubbiano can get very ‘foggy’ in no time at all, even during the Summer, not to mention unseasonably chilly.   It is close to a mountain range, after all.

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Il fumo della PioggiaThe view from our bedroom early one September morning … foggy.  When our daughter was little she used to call it “il fumo della pioggia”, the smoke of the rain.

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Monterubbiano’s signature food dish is the “tagliatelle fritte”.  These are fettuccine cooked and seasoned with a bechamel and cheese sauce, then shaped into a ball, breaded and fried.  They are served with a tomato sauce.  One ball per person is enough, let me tell you, they are indeed very ‘rich’ !

My husband and I adore the sea and there was no way we would have spent so many weeks in Monterubbiano, Summer after Summer, if it wasn’t within easy access to the sea.  It is a twenty minute drive away from the town of Porto San Giorgio.  An Italian singer called Piero Focaccia came out with a song in 1963 that says, “For this year, don’t change, stick to the same beach, to the same sea, and come back to me” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvaCyff7Jn4).  This attachment to “sameness” is a concept that non-Italians will perhaps find difficult to appreciate but is a way of life that is deeply imbedded in the culture (or was rather, things change, even in Italy.)  When my daugher was just one year old, we sought a beach that was relatively “quiet” and off the beaten track, not too crowded etc.  When I say beach, I mean a beach with with the usual frills and accommodation that are a staple in Italy: sun beds, sun umbrella, drinks and a loo/rest room (facilities that make life very civilised to my mind).  They call them “chalets” there, just as one has chalets up in the mountains.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we espied one of these chalets just opposite a convent and that did it for us. Some of these chalets can be very ‘cool’ places for young people to throng about, as they strut their stuff and put music on and generally do what young people enjoying life do: make a lot of noise, laughing and joking, smoking and canoodling.  We presumed that no young person worth his or her salt would be seen dead within walking distance of a convent and we were right.  This was a family place, with not just parents but grandparents too.   The gamut of generations ran from nappies to bikinis to sun-dresses and included a forgiving attitude towards bulge, fleshy flab, deeply lined facial expressions, paunches, stretch marks, and many a leg heavily laden with varicose veins. Perfect.

It is still called “Bagni Giuliana”. The owners, husband Cavicchi and wife Giuliana, were so accommodating and pleasant and kind that we returned to them the following year.  And the one after that. And then the one after that one too. In other words, we never changed our chalet and the writer of that song would be proud of us.  We are welcomed like family when we return, they have literally seen our children (and their friends when they came with us) grow up.  And we, unfortunately, have seen Mum and Dad die, although we are pleased that their two daughters continue to run the place (which was thoroughly modernised about 20 years ago).  The pull of the familiar can never be underestimated.

Anyway, as life cracks on for my mother in law, her body has begun to show cracks of its own.  Two knee replacement operations make it hard for her to walk properly now but the real reason for this unsteadiness is that Alzheimer’s started its unwelcome inroads on her health.  She is ever more forgetful now, and often gets confused, or tells a story over and over again.  Fortunately, she continues to be a good story teller, and her innate kindness, sense of wonderment and impish naughtiness (her motto? “God save us from the virtuous” – Dio ci salvi dai virtuosi … ) continue to attract young people to her.  She may not have been the best home cook in the world but she certainly was a jolly good one and that’s where the sadness sets in.  Basically, she cooks no more, and I know that my father in law suffers for this.  Not that he would ever complain, he is too proud.  That generation never would – their complaints are lodged in other fields of human interaction.  He makes do, buying nice cheeses and cold cuts, and making a basic pasta for himself.  Or buying ready-cooked veggies and  rotisserie chicken.  He won’t die of hunger, oh no.  But he, like me!, lives for his food, for a decent meal and it must hurt so much not to be able to enjoy a ‘decent’ home cooked meal on a daily basis.  Especially since he spent all his life with his wife making him one.

Dear Reader, I can’t tell you what pleasure it was for me to cook a decent meal for him when we went to visit them last Summer in Monterubbiano.  It gives me so much satisfaction, the kind that only another home cook will understand.  It’s all about making people happy, even if a grunt is all you’ll get out of them on occasion.  It’s about the joy of seeing someone reach out for another helping, just a small one, and then another, again – just a small one.  Of seeing them studiously mop up the sauce on their plates with a bit of bread. Oh hearing them sigh and exclaim that they couldn’t possibly eat another thing, they’ve eaten so much already (true, very true). And then seeing them fall asleep, head nodding, on the sofa as they pretend to watch a bit of telly afterwards.   Of their face when you ‘force’ leftovers on them to take home in batches of plastic containers that you’ll never see again (who cares!).  Eating is all about evanescence.  A lot of work and trouble growing/making food and then pouff! it’s gone in a few moments in the eating.  The pleasure principle of it all.  A huge big fat Zen lesson there, surely?

Anyway, last Summer we visited Maria and Giose on a number of occasions, all of them poignant for the above and other reasons.  One of Maria’s best friends there, Liliana, is a brilliant cook and organises mega dinners for the town al fresco.  All the proceeds go towards the upkeep of the local football team.  If you have the time, I’d like for you to watch a wee video I took of a dinner she organised.  Plastic plates and plonk for wine, but really good food I tell you!  All for the magic price of Eu 10 per person.  With a local live band.  The guy playing the trumpet? Enzo.  Always cracking jokes.  He is the retired owner of the town’s only grocery shop and played a surprise Serenade for me and my husband the year we got married with a bunch of other musicians at around 2 a.m.  The much appreciated serenading was followed up by sandwiches and jugs of wine and hearty snacks all organized by my in laws.  The lady with the walking stick is my mother in law, Maria, being escorted by my husband, her son, Pino.

 

We returned one last time early in September, in time to celebrate my father in law’s birthday.

My birthday present to him?

Lots and lots of sauce for making pasta.  And the sauce in question was made from the Coda alla Vaccinara recipe.  I’ll write about it in the very next blog.

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A Sultry Sicilian Sunday Lunch, Stefania Barzini Style

Question: how many people still ‘do’ Sunday lunch these days? Meaning, as the high point of the gastronomic week, as the family get-together nexus, as the excuse to invite good friends for a slow-paced convivial experience?

Culturally speaking, I associate this ‘special’ Sunday meal with the rightly famous British Sunday Roast and with the Italian “Pranzo della Domenica”.  Meaning, question again, was the Sunday lunch a big deal in other countries too? I’ve not heard of it being celebrated in North America, or France or Spain or the Netherlands, Scandinavia or Germany/Austria/Switzerland or Eastern Europe – but of course that’s not to mean that it does not exist in these geographical parts, simply that I’ve not heard about it.

So far as my family is concerned, this was never a tradition chez nous.  I’m of maverick stock.  So no one would say that I am an ardent proponent of the Sunday luncheon.  That said, it’s primarily because it means having to prepare much of the meal the day before, and wake up at the crack of dawn on the day to get everything done spit-spot.  It’s the timing that’s tiring for me.  Drinking wine is most definitely part and parcel of the pranzo della domenica and then what happens, eh?, I ask you?  One gets sleepy and yearns to catch forty winks – what better way to book-end the experience than a Sunday nap?  But if one is with friends, or not in one’s own home, this is not an option and it becomes hard work staving off the droopy eyelids despite the copious cups of post prandial coffee.  Sigh.  I get woozy after a boozy dinner too but going to bed is the natural next step and falling asleep is simply bliss.  So, yes, these are just some of the reasons why I prefer a dinner on the whole.

They say that the mundane is to be cherished.  True.  How much more, then, should a ‘special’ occasion be appreciated !  It stands to reason.  Which is why I heartily accepted an invitation to Stefania Barzini’s for Sunday lunch the other day.  This was not the first time I had enjoyed a Sicilian menu cooked by her and her friend Paolo Colombo (if you have not heard about Stefania, you can read all about her in this piece I wrote: https://frascaticookingthatsamore.wordpress.com/2016/11/23/kale-crostini-by-stefania-barzini/).

Another attraction (well, for me at least) is that because the invitation is open to people who are interested in a top-notch home-cooked meal presented in the chef’s own home, you never know who you are going to meet.  Some are friends of Stefania’s, some are acquaintances, and others are complete newcomers.  The atmosphere is one of a hail-fellow-well-met welcome, sit yourself down, and eat and drink.  Very little fuss, people are supposed to cooperate.  They are expected to mix and mingle as Stefania and Paola see to the finishing touches and bring in the food, course upon course.

Since, on the whole, it is mostly I who do the cooking for dinner parties, on top of the mundande-to-be-cherished daily meals, I confess that not having to lift a finger (other than to eat) for a change is  a feeling I embraced to the hilt.  I felt so spoilt.  My delightful daughter who loves Sunday lunches (as well as all things Sicilian) decided to join me and that was an added and unexpected bonus.   I love Stefania and her husband’s home, not to mention the kitchen!, it seems made for this kind of entertaining.

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Stefani’as kitchen before the onslaught of the guests.

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I served some fantastic just-fried saffron-steeped rice balls as an ice-breaker to a group of people sitting on the sofas around the large coffee table.  “Since you are all too shy to be the first to grab one, I shall pass the plate around,” I said encouragingly.  No further chivvying was required after that – we all partook with a vengeance of whatever was put before us as nibbles before sitting at the tables for the main courses.

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Oh this citrus-buttressed chicken liver paté … I couldn’t get enough of it.

 

There was also a large platter of cured meats from Sicily (silly me, didn’t take any photos) as well as home-cured olives and pepper flecked cheese from the Nebrodi region of Sicily.  Nibbles galore.

4And then, once seated at the table(s), we were served our pasta course.  Ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta and dressed with a mint and sage sauce.  A sprinkling of pecorino cheese.

6And were they good?  Is the pope catholic ….?  No, seriously.  They were excellent.  The texture of the home-made pasta was incredble, it was as silky as the ricotta stuffing.  The flavour was of course a savoury one but there was just a hint of sweetness that the mint and sage offset beautifully.  Very more-ish indeed.

7The pièce de résistance … the brioche salata, or “brioscia”.  A pie named after the French brioche, I presume.  This, as well as the other recipes, were all from Fabrizia Tasca Lanza’s repertoire, for which Stefania was most grateful, as were we.

8By the time the ‘brioscia’ arrived on our table, I was feeling pretty much full.  It is a very rich dish, sumptuous.  It was served with an intriguing lentil dish.

9It may not look like much but these lentils were super.  They were cooked with an orange and a lemon, and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, a little bit of chilli and fresh mint.  It’s definitely a recipe I want to incorporate in my repertoire.

8aThe bottom of the brioscia was slightly burned but no matter.

And then came the dessert.  Two desserts.

12A superb cassata.

12aThis was my helping, I simply couldn’t eat any more but I can tell you – it was really delicious.  And I’m not usually a great pudding eater.

And here is the tangerine ‘gelo’ – il gelo di mandarino.

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10aA gelo is a bit like a jelly in consistency.  The tangerine flavour coupled with the pistachio (and don’t the colours pair well too!) was intensely satisfying.  And it ‘cleaned’ the palate, so to speak.

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It was definitely time for coffee.  What a meal!

13Here is a lovely photo of Paola, Stefania’s friend and co-host.  And no, I didn’t take any photos of Stefania.  Normally I’m the one taking photos of everything and everyone but today I was just relaxing and involved in the various conversations.  What’s a Sunday lunch about after all!

The photo of Stefania below, and a few of the above, were taken by Stefania’s friend Donatella Monachesi.

14Stefania looking after her guests.

15And this one is of Donatella holding forth and intriguing us all with her witty conversation.

The lunch was followed  by a viewing of a documentary all about Sicilian food traditions. I had to miss this opportunity because it was time to go home for me.

 

 

Potato Cake when Diets and Blood Thinners Challenge the Menu one can Enjoy

During the past few years I have occasionally given private, mostly individual English lessons that are all about the person in question, wholly tailor made to fit in with their level of comprehension of the language and, almost as important, their character, their personality, and age.  Anyone grappling with the challenge of learning a new language nearly always suffers from the excruciating pain of looking foolish, I find, and the result is that even outgoing people end up being on the shy side.  It is important that I succeed in getting them to overcome this hurdle, how else otherwise will they be able to make any inroads?  I often take recourse to songs and nursery rhymes, the sillier the better.  People feel okay about ‘repeating’ the words of a song or a ditty because it somehow shields them from exposing their tender language-impaired ‘self’.   And if there is a little laughter or a chuckle to be gained thereby, all the better.  Nothing like a little sense of humour to shake things up a bit, it can do so much to encourage a little courage.

A good song is “O dear, what can the matter be? Three old ladies locked in the lavatory”, etc.  The first verse is fine but things get very complicated, vocabulary wise, after that.  I will introduce it only when we have reached a certain level of understanding.  Much easier to begin with the famous, or infamous if you will, baked beans song.  You know the one, don’t you?

Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart
The more you eat, the more you fart
The more you fart, the better you feel
So eat baked beans with every meal.

I heard the song for the first time when I went to boarding school in England where I learned that flatulence enjoyed pride of place in giggledom.  Farts, and bathroom jokes, I soon discovered were the origin of much hilarity.  So noblesse oblige, I joined in and even participated in a farting competition in my dormitory one night.  I hasten to add that I soon outgrew any fascination for the subject or its physical expression anywhere near my presence.  In one dictionary I looked up the word ‘fart’ in at the time the explanation was quite mind boggling: “a slight explosion between the legs”.  I have a lot of respect for the workings of a healthy body, and any unwanted air must of course be allowed to escape, bar the risk of it rumbling uncomfortably inside the body. That is what I informed my children when they were young.  That said, the bathroom was the best place for its evacuation unless extreme conditions obtained, in which case it would be a good idea to excuse oneself.  I realised that it was a fine line between presenting the act of farting as a ‘normal’ bodily function and casting a socially shameful light on it.

Why preface a post with all this talk of flatulence, you might well ask?  Well, the reason is actually quite a bittersweet one. My mother had to undergo surgery on her brain last summer to get rid of a haematoma.  Considering her age, almost 90 at the time, she came through it all with flying colours.  The doctors suggested she stay off blood thinners for a while, and all was well until a few months ago, when she began to suffer from very strong atrial fibrillation.  After much to-ing and fro-ing with the cardiologist and blood tests etc, it was decided that she should be put on blood thinnners,  the Coumadin anticoagulant also known as Warfarin, to avoid the risk of a stroke.

Aged 90 plus now, she passed her yearly driving test on the Monday, and was told by the cardiologist not to drive on the Tuesday.  That didn’t go down well with her and she started driving again as soon as her fibrillations abated.  Not that she drives any long distance, bless her, basically only within a 3-5 km radius, but being able to drive is what keeps her ticking.

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Here is my mother, Agnese, a couple of Sundays ago.  At a garden party lunch.

Another thing that keeps her ticking is cooking.  My love of food and cooking has most certainly come from her, and a lot of our conversations over the phone are all about recipes or ideas for a recipe or talk of what she found at the market.  So imagine telling someone like her that they have to restrict their “healthy” food intake.  Crestfallen by the appalling implications of this bloody Coumadin stuff, I told the second cardiologist that to me it sounded like a death knell for her.  Thankfully, he was very sympathetic.  And, indeed, hopefully within the next ten days she will be put on another kind of anticoagulant medication that does not interfere with the diet and does not require periodic blood tests.  Phew.

Please take a look at what she must avoid until then.

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Let me translate for you.

TO BE AVOIDED

Broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, radicchio, turnips, artichokes, any dark green leafy vegetable

Parsely

Liver, pork, bacon, eggs, butter

Green tea

ALLOWED  ONLY IN VERY SMALL QUANTITIES – LESS THAN 100G PER DAY (that’s just about a piddly 3 ounces !)

Chicory, asparagus, endive, bell peppers, aubergines, mushrooms, courgettes, collards, fennel, tomatoes, carrots

Tuna/tunny fish

Fresh beans, fresh peas

Strawberries

Seriously?

“Drinking grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, and alcohol during treatment with warfarin / coumadin can increase your risk of bleeding.”  “Steer clear of green apples and prunes.” In one of the websites I researched on the subject, even extra virgin olive oil was supposed to be eschewed save for a dribble.  In other words, with Coumadin we are basically being told NOT to eat a Mediterranean diet, the one that is now proven to be so good for us!  How do you think my mother got to celebrate her 90th birthday?

I felt very badly for my mother and when she came over for supper day before yesterday, I wanted to cook something that would seem ‘normal’ and not smack of that dreaded word ‘obligatory’.   ‘Choice’ is such a pleasing sounding word, isn’t it.  At first I thought I might do something with beans, not the proscribed fresh ones but the ordinary cooked kind.  My mother doesn’t like chicken much, the only meat she really enjoys now is pork for some reason but of course she isn’t allowed that, it wasn’t a fish day, she wasn’t allowed eggs … ouff! … so beans sounded like a good kind of protein.  Except that I then thought of the beans’ ‘explosive’ consequences … and that’s how I came up with the idea of the recipe for a potato cake drowned in a cream and pecorino sauce.  I take no credit for the recipe, I saw it on a television programme recently.

INGREDIENTS

Boiled and mashed potato, onion, olive oil (EVOO), tomato sauce (passata), cream (as in full fat whipping cream), grated pecorino cheese, basil (the original recipe called for fresh mint leaves but my mother is not overly fond of mint)

PROCEDURE

1

Boil the potatoes (in my case it was only 1 large potato), mash, allow to cool and set aside.

Slice or chop the onion and sweat it with some olive oil in a saucepan.  Then add the tomato sauce, some salt and a teensy pinch of sugar.  Cook for about 10-15 minutes, adding fresh basil leaves a few minutes before the end of the cooking time. Taste and season again if needed.

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3

Now, add the mashed potatoes and gently combine with the tomato sauce.

4

It doesn’t take long to combine all the ingredients nicely, over a low heat.

5Use two spoons or a wooden spoon to shape the potato mix in to a round ‘cake’ shape. Continue cooking until you think one side has been nicely ‘done’.  Then, using a plate, flip the potato cake and slide it back into the pan.

6The potato cake can now cook on the other side.

7Grated pecorino.

8Pour some cream into a small saucepan and add some nutmeg (my idea) and the cheese. Cook until the cheese has melted.  At this point, I switched everything off and decided to make my mother a good old-fashioned tomato bruschetta.

9It was that beautiful time of day, when one can enjoy a glass of wine and contemplate the cinematic performance of a Summer sunset.   Nature can be such a ham at times.

10I got my husband to lay the table.

11He kept my mother company as she enjoyed her sundown bruschetta on the balcony.

14.jpgI stayed in the kitchen getting on with our meal.  My mother had brought some tripe she had made earlier.  Trippa alla romana, which my husband loves.  So, heating that up and covering it with pecorino was easy enough.

15There had been no mention of green beans being dangerous in any way.  So, I had prepared some with a clean conscience.

16I pan fried some breaded beef slices.  Who doesn’t love a “fettina panata” now and then?

12I heated up the potato cake and then slid it onto a plate.  I apologise for the photo, not a good one.

13I heated the pecorino cream sauce and poured it over the potato cake.

17Rustic tablecloth, colourful combination of various hues  – thorougly unsubtle at that.  Sometimes, it’s  a good idea to go for ‘cheery’ even though it’s a mite over-the-top.  Dinner was ready to be enjoyed.

18And enjoy it she did, phew.  My mother said it was really nice.  She did not eat all of it and took the rest of it home later.

19Grapes were fortunately also not on the Verboten list.

And all in all we had a lovely evening, followed by watching the film “Florence”, with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant.

The moral of this story?  The enjoment of food, especially at a certain age, is an essential part of a life worth living.  Do not let dour medicine get in the way of it.  Get thee hence Coumadin.  Roll on the new medication.  But in the meantime, even a ‘restricted’ meal must appear to be inviting.

Buying Olive Oil the Maritime Way

I have become somewhat addicted to the olive oil produced by Quattrociocchi, in the countryside near Alatri, about 40 minutes away by car from Frascati.

IMG_6008My mother has too.  One of my sisters in the UK has too and every time my mother goes over to visit, she takes three to four 3-litre cans of their Olivastro oil with her.  It’s that good.  It is organic. It was won prizes all over the world, indeed I daresay it might even be the olive oil that has won the most prizes globally?.

I did an introduction-to-olive-oil course last year with Marco Oreggia, he of Flos Olei fame.  It was very interesting and I will eventually get around to writing a post about it. Anyway, Quattrociocchi gets 98 out of 100 points in their 2016 Guide (which is the Flos Olei guide I have at the moment).  Just to give you an idea, another olive oil which I love and is very well known and highly thought of,  Marfuga, from Umbria, gets ‘only’ 95 out of 100 points.  The Quattrociocchi olive oils contain phenolic antioxidant levels that are off the charts – which means it is incredibly good for boosting our health.  And at Eu12 per litre I would say that it is also very reasonably priced.  Whatever, we get through their oil as if there were no tomorrow.

Going to fetch the olive oil has frequently turned into a little jaunt for  my mother and me, with lunch being thrown in for good measure.  When my friend Sally came to visit for an all too brief stay last September, it coincided with my having completely run out and needing to go, otherwise I would have postponed, naturally.  The three of us (Sally, my mother and I) got there later than we had hoped for and when reached the restaurant we normally go to, we found out it was its weekly closing day.  The long and the short of it is that we ended up having lunch in one of these ‘Autogrill’ stopover places on the Autostrada (the Motorway). We could have done worse I suppose, and Sally is never one to comnplain anyway, but still …

Which is why, just the other day, the weather being so sunny and promising, I thought I’d surprise my mother as to the location of our post-Quattrociocchi shopping.  She insisted it was her treat, and I insisted I would choose where.  And that’s how we ended up having lunch overlooking the sea at Sperlonga.  Just to make up for our Autogrill lunch of six months ago.

Sperlonga is a very sleepy town in Winter and is not even wide awake now, as it readies itself for the Summer tourist season.  And that made it even more special an atmosphere to  be sauntering about in.  We ended up having lunch at “Il Portico”, very civilised and pleasant.  And all in all, we had a very special mother-daughter outing.  Now, it’s not every day that I take this long and go so far just to  buy some olive oil! But since life can indeed be so busy, and hard or disappointing, or just plain tiring a lot of the time, I try my best to imbue my ‘to-do’ list with ‘to-enjoy’ moments.  I hope you enjoy looking at the photos too.  I just love the sea! I just love the blue skies!

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Sperlonga sits atop two stretches of beach: this one is on its left.  There are the remains of the ancient Roman villa of Tiberius on this beach.  If you look closely on the horizon, on the other hand, you can just about make out the island of Ischia.

1Here, the island of Ischia is much easier to spot – almost floating on the horizon.  This beach is going to be very busy in a few weeks’ time but right now it was just dreamy to behold.  Some intrepid people were even bathing in the sea!

21And this is the stretch of coastline to the right of Sperlonga.  What looks like an island, there on the horizon, is actually the promontory of San Felice Circeo.  It is said that Odysseus/Ulysses was drawn there by the sorceress Circe.  She turned his men into pigs but he was so clever and so damn macho and sexy, I suppose?, that he managed not to be outwitted by Circe and have his men turned back into men again.  They/He enjoyed staying with her for a year before resuming their journey to Ithaca, and he back to his wife Penelope (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Circe).

20All of Sperlonga is white-washed. Perched on top of a scraggy promontory to keep safely out of reach of marauding and pillaging Saracens, its streets are very narrow.

19

It looks a little ‘Greek’, doesn’ it.  Adore this hue of blue.

18One has to be fit to live here … Can’t imagine people doing a weekly shop here.  More likely a half-day shop!

1716May is the month of roses …

121115My mother enjoyed her fried anchovies.

14I was a little greedier.

10896Love the bougainvillea.

7A huge ficus!

5An olive tree.

Time to go home.  An espresso and off we go.

13The weather is grey and it’s drizzling and the sky is a murky pale grey as I write this post, sigh.  Nothing like the blue of the sky and sea and the dazzle of a sunny day to make life come more ‘alive’.

The poet Ungaretti is famous for his one-liner “Mi illumino d’immenso”, which rolls off the tongue in a very Nabokovian sound-pleasing way in Italian.  Its title is “Mattina”, meaning morning.  It was printed in 1918 for the first time within an anthology entitled “Cielo e mare”, i.e. The Sky and The Sea.  Sometimes it takes a poet to know how to be pithy about the beauty and wonder of life.

Mi illumino
d’immenso.

Quoting from an article in The Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/may/31/featuresreviews.guardianreview6)

“To Italians, it’s perhaps the most famous poem of modern times: a tiny piece just seven syllables long, four shorter than a single line of Dante. The title is “Mattino” (Morning), and you don’t need to know Italian to catch the beauty of its sound:

M’illumino
d’immenso

A rough translation would be “I flood myself with the light of the immense”, though the vagueness of that is alien to the poem’s terse musicality. The open vowels and the repeated ms and ns create a mood of wonder, evoking the light of a new day starting to flood the sky. The two lines capture something deep in consciousness that responds to this great but commonplace event out there in the external world.

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/