the other quarter

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Now the leaves are falling, if I lean precariously from my balcony I can just about make out the statue of a winged god punching out an innocent bull through the branches of the trees that line Via Galvani. God and bull sit above the entrance of the Ex-mattatoio, Rome’s sprawling ex-slaughterhouse that closed for business in 1975 .

I stood looking up at the bull and the god, then down at the collage of cobblestones and cigarette butts, with my friend Joanna nearly nine years ago. The Ex-mattatoio was the one of the stops on Joanna’s self-styled architectural tour of Testaccio. A tour for which Joanna wore red and yellow high heels, with style it has to said, not a stumble, which is quite an achievement if you consider the cobblestones and libel worthy pavements. A tour that steered us from imperial ruins, domes and sepia-stained piazze down river to a quarter shaped like a quarter or a wedge of cheese. A quarter crisscrossed with streets filled with 19th century residential blocks, boasting a futurist post office, a boisterous market that smelt ripe and bosky, an abandoned slaughterhouse, a plethora of trattorie and bars I wanted to try and a charm I couldn’t quite put my finger on. In short: where I wanted to live.

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To understand something of Testaccio and the Ex-mattatoio is to understand something of Roman food – or one aspect of it at least – and therefore part of the story of Rome. Food as story or story as food or something akin to that. The area has been associated with food trading since ancient Roman times when it was a port and sprawl of warehouses. In fact Testaccio takes its name from an archeological site called Monte dei Cocci that rises somnolently at the bottom of the wedge, which is in fact a pile of broken but neatly stacked amphorae dating from the fourth century. The Monte is now the hub for a cluster of nightclubs that are burrowed into its base, meaning at night ancient amphorae jolt in time to drum and bass, latin jazz and eighties disco: ancient and everyday colliding with almost banal ease.

It was in a bar in the shadow of Monte dei Cocci, while her dog tried to avoid the shameless advances of my anarchic son, that my neighbour, sociologist and writer Irene Ranaldi talked to me about the part of Rome I have lived in for nearly nine years.

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Until it was developed in the late nineteenth century, Testaccio was an open space dotted with ruinous clues as to its ancient significance and vines producing wine grapes for industrious Romans. During and after 1873, a zoning plan turned the former port and open space into a quarter of public housing, factories and the slaughterhouse. It was supposed to be the ultimate in working class neighbourhoods where thousands of immigrants from all over Italy attracted by the promise of work and the metropolitan lifestyle Roman had to offer, could live.

For the next hundred years the slaughterhouse was quite literally the bloody, beating heart of the quarter, providing work and meat for those who could afford it. The workers of course couldn’t afford the meat (and little else, poverty was endemic), but were paid in kind with the bits nobody else wanted, meaning the offal that made up a fifth of the animal’s weight. It was this quinto quarto or fifth quarter that the workers took home to their wives or local trattoria owners, who in turn, inventively and resourcefully turned it into tasty, sustaining meals.

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This is the uncompromising and distinctive quinto quarto cooking, a style of cooking evolved through necessity but continued for posterity, taste and because the bits neglected became the bits selected (by some at least). A style of cooking you still find in trattorie and homes: ox tail cooked slowly with celery, tripe with tomato sauce and dusted with pecorino cheese, lamb’s offal with artichokes, grilled sweetbreads and intestines. These are dishes that merit attention and  – for some of us –  a leap beyond misconceptions, squeamishness and a possible moral crisis because they are tasty and good, because they are part of the animal we (may or may not) decide to eat, because they are dishes that tell a story.

Which is why I think it’s important I mention them here, after all, they are as much a part (albeit a less regular one) of this chaotic – and messy, so messy, I am a domestic disgrace – Roman-kitchen-of-sorts as freshly baked pizza bianca, battered courgette blossoms, pasta with beans, spaghetti al pomodoro, braised beef, artichokes, curls of puntarelle, tiny sweet peas, fave, ricotta, sour cherries, sweet-yeated buns, strawberry scented grapes, ugly hazelnut biscuits that taste buono and other good things.

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My grandpa Gerry would have loved today’s recipe: Coratella con carciofi , so would my Grandpa John, although the artichokes might have given him heartburn, but then most things gave him heartburn. All my grandparents knew the merits, both economically and gastronomically, of offal, that if you eat meat it is disingenuous and wasteful not to eat the whole animal. My brother does too, Ben this post is in no small part for you. Coratella is lambs offal: liver, lungs and heart, a beautiful, complex cluster - it is, it is I will hear no different –  of rosy-pink, coral and chestnut-brown. Cooked well, coratella is a textual and flavoursome delight, the liver is creamy and delicate, the lungs pillowy and tasting rather like pot-roasted pork and the heart rich and thick. Carciofi are artichokes, these are the first, long spindly things that really do remind me artichokes are wild thistles.

Probably the most difficult thing is finding some fresh lambs coratella from well-reared animals. Persistence with a good butcher should do the trick. You also need a keen hand to ease the lungs away from the membrane. You need a keen hand too, for trimming the artichokes, not that it is complicated, more finicky, I hope this is helpful. Once all the elements are prepared it is just a matter of frying them in the correct order.

First the onion and artichokes, adding a little white wine and then leaving the pan at a burping-bubble of a braise until the wedges are tender. Then in another pan you fry the coratella, adding the parts to the pan according to how quickly they cook, so first the lungs, then the heart and finally just for the last few minutes the liver. The coratella is cooked when the lungs whistle and all the parts are lightly browned and cooked through. To finish, you unite the meat and the artichokes, season with salt and pepper, lemon juice and maybe a little mint, then serve.

Food with a story, a story with food.

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Coratella con carciofi - lambs pluck with artichokes

Adapted  from a recipe in il talismano della Felicità  and Il Cucchiaio d’Argento

serves 4

  • 4 artichokes
  •  a lemon
  • a small onion
  • 4 tbsp olive oil or 50 g butter or lard
  • 200 ml white wine
  • 5oo g lamb’s pluck (lung, heart and liver)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  • fresh mint and another lemon

Trim the artichokes, rubbing them with the cut side of a lemon to stop them discolouring and then slice them into thin wedges. Keep the artichokes in a bowl acidulated with the juice of half a lemon until you are ready to use them.

Peel and dice the onion. Warm 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a saute pan and then fry the onion until soft and translucent. Add the drained artichoke wedges, stir well so each one is coated with oil, then pour over the white wine and reduce the heat so the pan bubbles gently. Allow the artichokes to cook/braise for 15 minutes or until they are tender. Add a little more wine or water if the pan looks dry. Set the artichokes aside.

Prepare the pluck by pulling the lungs away from the membrane and then cut all three parts into small pieces.

In another pan  warm the other 2 tbsp of olive oil and then add the lungs and cook for 10 minutes, then add the heart and cook for another 10 and finally the liver which should take another 5 or six minutes.

Put the other pan with the artichokes back on another flame and then once the meat is lightly browned and cooked through add it to the artichokes, season generously with salt, pepper and a good squeeze of lemon, maybe some ripped mint and if you feel it needs it, another slosh of wine, cook for another few minutes, stirring every now and then. Serve immediately.

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61 Comments

Filed under artichokes, coratella, cucina romana, offal, quinto quarto, rachel eats Italy, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, Roman food

61 responses to “the other quarter

  1. Oh Rachel….I don’t think I can eat pluck! Yuk! I’m not plucky enough!

    • rachel

      Hi Charles – I was expecting a few (lots) of people might respond as you have i.e Pluck yuk. I am always sorry not to make readers happy. I thought hard about posting this but as quinto quarto plays an important role in the story of Roman food, is so inextricably linked with the part of Rome I live in and is part of the way I eat, it felt important I wrote about it at least once. Next week pasta all best Rx

  2. Oh man..do the lungs really have to “whistle”?

    • rachel

      apparently yes….quietly. I know it is a bit visceral, but then offal is. I’m such a fan of your work these days – flipping bellissimo all – baci Rx

  3. Sorry Rach, I love this post, but can’t join you in eating the pluck. x

  4. Well I think you are fabulous Rachel for writing about pluck in the first place and for attempting to cook coratella !!! it is not at all an easy dish to prepare and requires practical cooking skills which are all about finesse – ironically so since the ingredients are considered the ‘cheap’ part of the meat cuts. We are of a generation — actually two — who have not been raised to eat offal etc and so I am not surprised that people might recoil in alimentary horror at the very thought. But people who are interested in cooking and food should ‘get over it’ !, and ask themselves instead: now, why would such a dish be considered a delicacy?” Number one. Number two – Do you think Italians are stupid? gastronomically stupid that is? No, I didn’t think so. Then … it stands to reason that coratella must TASTE good, and that’s why cooks continue to cook it and people continue to eat it. No one is putting a gun to their heads! In France too by the way, sweetmeats are considered an absolute delicacy. So … it’s about time we all thought of coratella as an aquired taste that must be mustered and mastered as opposed to a dish that must be spoken of in apologetic terms.

    • rachel

      I am always apologising – but you are right I shouldn’t about food, especially when it is food like this. My Northern grandparents all loved offal and not just out of necessity. My brother Ben is s fan, he was the impetus for this post actually. He is keen to learn about tripe and coda, I must link him over you. Thanks Jo, my cooking world (and world) is better with you in it Rx

      • Aw!!!! fanks … and it’s reciproco … let’s meet soon!

      • Eileen

        Last year we were in France (on a canal boat, never again) and on the final night we went to a Logis for a survivors dinner. My husband liked the sound of a lamb dish and I didn’t tell him what I thought it was (pancreas) – when it arrived he loved it! He is very squeamish and picky – but the texture was so delicate he ate the lot and admitted he would eat it again! I had to fight for a bit to taste. The guy at the next table told us how good this restaurant’s version was. It was!
        OTOH, when i was in a German hospital before my younger daughter was borne the Saturday lunch one week was “Saure Lunge”, a local speciality. It looked and smelled awful! No apologies…

      • rachel

        It is delicate, and yes when cooked well, just delicious. But when it is bad, it is very very bad. I had another Coratella the other night with onion which superb. I feel much the same way about cabal boats…..

  5. Never thought I’d eat dish of pluck until Davo presented me with it at 40 Maltby Street – no alternative, no substitutions. It was delicious! I couldn’t agree more with the thinking that if you’re happy to have an animal killed in order to eat it, do it the honour of not wasting any of it. Plucky post.

  6. Ben

    I for one think these sort of recipes are vital. To badly paraphrase Simon Hopkinson, ‘a trained chimp can steam a lobster or fry a fillet steak, but it takes real skill cook to turn something that seems so humble into something so good.’
    If we are to slaughter animals for our tables I think the least we can do is use as much of them as possible. More of these please Rach, I’m awaiting your coda and trippa recipes!

  7. AHA! I GROW said healthy lambs! I am also going to send this to an english friend of mine who is a raging offal eater. How interesting though that the workers were paid (partially I hope) with these bits and pieces and from this grew a culture of recipes.. lovely writing rachel and lovely photos of course! Please do not write to please people, write to please yourself, you have very good taste, and not all of that is in your mouth, so once we taste what you taste you will win us over.. Have a glorious roman day.. Isn’t it funny when we find that our homes are so far from where we began the search. c

  8. Carolle

    My Mum & Nana might join you but I’m going to leave this one to you & them!

  9. Reblogged this on Italy in NYC and commented:
    My amazing friend Rachel’s latest…so tasty!

  10. Wish I could be there to taste it! Yum…

  11. MiChela

    My mamma, Cabiria, loved the organs. Grazie anche for the history of Testaccio.
    BTW, I haven’t been since they eliminated my beloved testaccio market (and created the modern mall). What did they do with the former piazza? And will I weep if I visit the new one? I understand at least some of the vendors moved with it…:-(

    • rachel

      It is all still a bit of a shock as the old market is still a building site they keep making promises about, but remains a building site. Apparently it is going to be a nice piazza – we will see. The new market is very white and shiny with most of the old vendors (and some lovely new ones). I have to say I am getting used to it, slowly, even though I miss that ripe and bosky place.

  12. Lynn D.

    Years ago we went to a butcher in Eugene, Oregon who regularly sold lamb hearts. They were delicious! People, get over it! Every time you eat a chop or roast, there was a heart, liver and lung involved. Today, I’m off to the farmers market and will definitely pick up some hearts (I don’t think I’ve seen them offer the other parts, but I’ll ask.)

    • rachel

      It is an easy city to miss (even though sometimes when you are in the midst of it, it can be exasperating). i look forward to looking at your blog.

  13. Not to change the topic of the brave conversation about coratella, but how about a recipe for the buono hazelnut biscuits you just mentioned? Per favore?

  14. Well, I’m not against trying this, though I can’t think where I would source the ingredients – the meaty ones that is. I was raised helping my mother make brawn from the pigs’ heads that, even when I was small, sold for buttons because nobody much wanted them. There’s so much meat it would be a crime to junk or simply make into animal feed. I can’t believe I’m even writing this. I’m an ex-vegetarian. No, actually this does make sense. If you must eat meat, you mustn’t waste any. Here endeth the sermon.

    • rachel

      A good sermon and one we should preach more. I was a vegetarian for years. I still eat without meat most of the time but when I do i try to do so with care and eat everything. I love brawn and how wonderful you made it..

  15. Julie

    Lovely, truth. Nice work…I loved reading this, and the comments.

  16. I am working on offal. Not there yet… But ever hopeful, because I agree that if we are going to eat animals, we should eat all of the animal, as far as possible. There is something about the texture I tend to find difficult (a generalisation, but seems to be a common theme), but I am persevering.

    Artichokes, on the other hand, are an absolute joy, and something I ate for the first time in Rome, so to read about both is wonderful!

    • rachel

      You are brilliant, because if you don’t really like offal it can be a bit grim reading about it. But you did, because i think you care enough about story and all food even if you choose not to eat it. I love that. Artichokes, yes yes yes and lots of recipes to come.

      • Thank you for such kind words! To be honest, I just feel like a bit of a wimp, because I read posts like yours and think how delicious, I must give it a try, and then when it comes to eating it, I just can’t stomach it… The same thing happened recently with beef tongue in this wonderful tapas restaurant in Boston. The description sounded so great (beef tongue with salsa verde and lentils, yum), but I had one bite and had to retire!

  17. Eha

    Well I happen to think this an absolutely wonderful post! I must admit I was in my teens ere I leaned about pluck and so enjoyed it and still do! But as a small bub I loved calves liver and Mom’s Russian-style kidney soup [with pickled cucumbers] and black pudding/cakes. My personal passion is honeycomb tripe slowcooked in the oven overnight in red wine with lost of onions and garlic!! Viva offal and thanks for the blog and I agree with everything Celi has said :) !

    • rachel

      Thanks so much Eha. I love calves liver too and I love the sound of the kidney soup. I find tripe tricky, the texture but i am intrigued by it and determined to find a way of cooking it I like. I have the best readers, lucky me x

  18. There’s something about the murky slaughterhouse background of Testaccio that drew me to the area. And like any place with such incredible gastronomic history, I wanted to, HAD to try quinto quarto (namely I was after a good pajata) while I was there. Not trying some quinto quarto while in Testaccio just seemed like missing one of the big historical landmarks or artworks – only in food form. Florence is very much the same. Tourists go there to marvel at the Renaissance and eat their fill of (often not very Tuscan) food but rarely are they there for the lampredotto and that’s sadly where they miss out on the essence and spirit of Florence, it’s people and it’s cuisine. I know how upsetting it is to not give readers what they want to read about, but can I just say it is so refreshing to see something like coratella on a blog and hear about something that really is at the heart (no pun intended) of a place and a cuisine. Also, it looks delicious. I would happily devour this, if only I could get some good artichokes over here!

    • rachel

      Emiko, I can’t wait to sit and eat (and drink and eat some more) with you while our little ones run riot, we have much to talk about. I have never had lampredotto in florence, I need to try it. x

  19. Aleph

    Rachel, I love this post, graze! I grew up in Italy and it was always considered normal not to waste any parts of the animals we ate. I still feel really strongly about this. Plus, coratella is delicious, as it is tripe (I had a traditional dish of tripe in Rome last summer, with mint and pecorino, that was one of the best things I ate all year).

    • rachel

      You grew up in Italy so therefore grew up with different views/attitude to offal…and food in general…lucky you. Although I am happy to try it, I don’t really enjoy tripe yet. Maybe I never will, but I am determined to try it in other ways before I give up on it.

  20. tanya

    I grew up in USSR (a very hungry place with not much food available) – hand pies with lung or brain were devoured! Pig’s ears I still dream about. Squeamishness is a luxury in some way.

    • rachel

      I would love to know more about the food (and Story of the food) in Russia. Yes, you are right, Squeamishness is a Luxury.

  21. Sorry if this comment is a jumble of words, but reading your post provoked a million different thoughts. I think you were absolutely right to post this recipe: not only do I personally love all offal, but it is such an important part of Italian (and not only of course) food.
    I understand and respect that not all people enjoy meat or necessarily want to try everything out there but I believe eating a variety of cuts, even the less noble ones, will make us more sustainable eaters. It drives me crazy when I hear people will not eat fish if served with the head on or certain animals because they are too “cute” but then eat chicken,beef and pork every night of the week (and sometimes twice a day), often throwing leftovers away. I get it that certain things make people squeamish, but as meat eaters I feel it is our responsability to use up as much as possible of the animal that is killed to feed us. Even that cut of beef we enjoy as a Sunday roast is a bloody part of an animal’s body. Just because supermarkets cut it into geometrical shapes and put it in cellophane wrapped trays to try to help us forget where it came from, it doesn’t change the fact that it belonged to a living being. If we understand where our food comes from, then perhaps we will waste less. We won’t need to breed and kill as many overmedicated animals to feed an ever-growing population. We all have to learn to eat more sustainably, like our grandparents and great grandparents did: less meat, poorer yet tasty cuts, a larger variety of animals. Along the way, we might even discover that these parts are quite delicious. It is a matter of trying to move out of our comfort zone. A beautifully written post like this one can only help people do this more. So thank you.

    • rachel

      Thank you to you, I didn’t know it, but this is exactly the response I was hoping for (you put things so much better than I did.) I wholeheartedtly agree about eating more sustainably, particularly if we chose to eat meat (which I do). Thank you again for such a thoughtful comment.

  22. Sarah

    Do you have a recipe or a link to a recipe for those “ugly hazelnut biscuits that taste buono”? I think I remember you mentioning one but can’t seem to find it.

    So excited for your book!

    • rachel

      I don’t yet, it is for the book: Sorry However you can find a recipe easily on the web as there are dozens, they are called brutti ma buoni Rx

  23. terrific post, Rach–you must always write what you want, and what is the truth. To deny offal in Testacchio, and its contributions to the cuisine would be unthinkable. And points up the hard, cold fact of honoring the animal in its entirety. In my noblest moments, I must confess that I am not all there—some offal I like quite well (ears, sweetbreads, some livers) some I am squeamish (intestines) others I’ve never encountered (lungs)
    Cheers to you.

    • rachel

      Thanks N and yes I know, even though it is hard sometimes. I love a book called Nose to tail eating by Fergus Henderson, the cook and owner of a wonderful restaurant called St john that does just that, he talks often about honouring the animal in it’s entirety. I agree.

  24. I grew up in the Southern United States and in Mid-Century, 20th, we ate all that a pig or cow or lamb had to offer. I remember eating cow brains, livers from just about every animal, some folks still eat pig tails & ears with relish. Chittlens/intestines are a coveted edible here in Middle Tennessee by many. I am, as an adult, not as much a fan of some of these animal parts as I was as a child, but chicken livers crispy fried can still arrest my senses. Great post.

    • rachel

      I knew this about parts of the states, I suppose the story is such that in moving away from poverty, people moved too from the foods associated with it. Chittens – wonderful name. I ate fettucine with chickens livers yesterday and it was simply delicious.

  25. Dear Rachel:
    I want to thank you.
    We have just returned from a week in Rome and it was as if you were our companion during our stay because I took copious notes from your blog and did my level best to eat my way through Testaccio.
    It was all that your writing promised and we spent more time in Testaccio than in any other part of Rome except perhaps the street on which we stayed. I must say that on this street, tucked into a wooded hillside in Prati, we found a wonderful Hosteria (Vongole e Farina) on Via della Cava Aurelia. We ate there often and the food was rewarding and the staff was very accommodating.
    But it was in Testaccio that I felt most at home and where we experienced some brilliant and very grounded food. Of all the wonderful places we visited (and we tried just about everything you mentioned in the bog) Agustarello was the stand out.
    The owner’s son let us in just before closing time at lunch and seated us in the center of the dining room packed with families, animated and clearly enjoying their meals. We ate what he recommended which included a Lamb parts dish (never really understood which parts but I did taste liver) and ox-tail.
    I expected to feel heavy after eating such solid food but was surprised to feel quite the opposite. The food was satisfyingly delicate, notwithstanding the nature of the ingredients. All in, it was a wonderful experience.
    Thank you for the inspiration to visit Testaccio. I look forward to reading more about it and to returning there one day.
    Best regards,
    Richard

    • rachel

      Good Morning Richard,

      I am so happy you had a good holiday in Rome, even happier that I played a (small) role in that holiday. You went to Agustarello – fantastic, it really is one of the best places to eat real authentic cucina Romana and it still one of the few places that is unspoiled and uncompromising. It sounds like you really lived this city of many faces – bravo. Thank you too for this message.

      All best, Rachel

  26. Pingback: Recipes to Try | Live and Learn

  27. Meredith Rowe

    Hello Rachel,

    I receive your RSS feed and it is always a little bundle of joy to see that email waiting for me, to read during my morning coffee. Your writing is lovely – evocative, warm and inspiring. Thanks for creating this great little place on the web.

    However, I digress. I am posting this comment to one of your old pieces as it seemed a more appropriate placement …. I just watched an amazing film from the 2013 MAD food conference, with an Italian master butcher. This man is so amazing he made me cry.

    Allow yourself 26 minutes to watch this on Vimeo, and ensure that you do so until the end. A paean to responsibility in food, respect for what we are given, and a passionate celebration of the Italian spirit.
    http://vimeo.com/74282454

    Best regards and with many thanks for your blog and the pleasure it brings,
    x
    Meredith

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