Pots and Puntarelle: a one-off tour of Testaccio with Agnes Crawford and Rachel Roddy on Wednesday 6th December.

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Were it not for Testaccio market or Monte Testaccio, the extraordinary ancient Rubbish dump that rises somnolently the bottom corner of this most Roman of Roman quarters, I am pretty sure I would never have started writing a blog at all, never mind a book, or a column. So it seems absolutely fitting that nearly 13 years after arriving in Testaccio, my first proper tour, alongside my friend and inimitable tour guide Agnes Crawford, is of the market and dump.

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The plan is as follows, Agnes and I shall be leading you through the Testaccio market, visiting some of my favourite stalls and learning some technical tricks on taming puntarelle: every Roman’s favourite winter salad. We shall discuss the area’s social and culinary history, and nibble on fried goodies with a glass of something fizzy before a wander through the former (cleaned up!) abattoir.

We also have specially arranged access to the usually closed Monte Testaccio where we shall crunch our way over the shards of broken terra-cotta pots for a unique view of the city and a chat about the numbers and types of pots beneath our feet, and why they had to be thrown away. Appetites suitably sharpened, we will repair to a small trattoria off the usual food tour route for a festive lunch with a specially chosen winter menù, including (of course!) those puntarelle. Much chatter and wine guaranteed. The day will begin at 10.30am and lunch will conclude at about 3.30pm. Total cost, including all food and wine: 100 euros. Book here

Dietary restrictions can of course be accommodated, please mention details when booking.

At this point you might like to go off and read Agnes’s post about Monte Testaccio. Once you have done so, come back here for a recipe and – if you wish – to book the tour.

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Insalata di puntarelle
Puntarelle with anchovy and lemon dressing

The mere mention of puntarelle has me shooting off on a sentimental tangent that involves my friend Alice, a trattoria in an irritatingly pretty piazza, a paper tablecloth, Pyrex glasses, a litre of hair-curling wine, a grumpy waitress, braised rabbit and a bowl of pale-green curls of gently bitter salad leaves with anchovy dressing.

I’d heard about an idiosyncratic salad from a Roman friend in London long before I moved here, of a Catalonian chicory with dandelion-like leaves called puntarelle, which, once trimmed, cut and immersed in cold water, curled in much the same way as Shirley Temple’s hair. The pale green curls are dressed with a pungent and loudly delicious dressing of anchovies, garlic, olive oil and lemon or vinegar. I ate it with Alice during the first spring I was in Rome, and neither the wine nor the waitress could spoil our delight in the puntarelle salad that we, in the proprietorial manner of new arrivals in Rome, had so happily ‘discovered’.

Twelve years later, less proprietorial and pretty comfortable about still being in Rome, I prepare puntarelle a lot during its winter- spring season. I say prepare, but curl, pulse and assemble is a better description. Some people say that the dressing should be made with a pestle and mortar, but I make mine with my stick blender – not just for speed, but because I like the more consistent, thicker dressing that a few pulses creates. I also prefer lemon juice to vinegar, as it gives the dressing a citrus-sharp but less aggressive edge. Puntarelle is becoming more widely available, but in its absence you can use frisée.

serves 4

1 head puntarelle or frisée
1 garlic clove
4 – 8 anchovy fillets packed in oil, drained
1 teaspoon lemon juice or red-wine vinegar 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

To prepare the puntarelle: holding the whole head, pull away the dark green external leaves. Separate the individual tube-like stalks and pull off any dark green leaves. Cut away the tough lower part of each stalk, then cut the tubes in half lengthways and then each half into strips about 3 mm wide. Rinse the strips under cold water, then immerse them in a bowl of iced water for 30 minutes, or until they curl. Once curled, drain and dry thoroughly.

To prepare the frisée: discard the tough outer leaves (or use them for soup), then wash and carefully dry the paler inner leaves. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces.

Peel the garlic, then cut it in half and remove the green shoot, if there is one. Pound the garlic in a pestle and mortar, then add the anchovy fillets and grind to a rough paste. Stir in the lemon juice or vinegar and then the olive oil. If you’re using a stick blender or small food processor, blend all the ingredients until they form a textured dressing. If not, just blend the ingredients in the pestle and mortar.

Tip the leaves into a bowl or serving dish, pour over the dressing, toss to coat evenly and serve immediately.

(recipe extract from my book Five Quarters. Second and last picture of Testaccio market by my photographer in crime Nick Seaton)

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ROME SHOPPERS FEET

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half tbsp, two classes, a dinner and 6 lines.

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One of the good things about writing recipes here is that I can sign in at any time and change something. The virtual equivalent of being given the chance to pop back home and get something forgotten. Or add something, a line such as ‘I add a whole tbsp of black peppercorns to the beef , but you might like to start with half. Print is of course another thing entirely, it is there print (ed), fixed on a page which may have been ripped out and made, and might mean a very peppery supper. Or no supper. To anyone else that made the pepeso and found it to be too peposo – I am sorry, it is the most disappointing thing to hear a recipe didn’t work. It is a traditional recipe and not called pepeso- peppery for nothing, but clearly you do need high pepper tolerance. For anyone still to try the beef, wine and pepper stew, and I hope you do as it is delcious, start with half a tablespoon of black peppercorns, crushed, and taste, then only add the rest if you think it needs it.

The week after was pasta and potatoes with cheese, a soulful bowlful, proving yet again Neapolitans know something about comfort. Keep cooking, and keep letting me know if things go well, or not so well! I really care.

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Now some practical things. I am happy to say that Market to Table, a collaboration between myself, the cook and teacher (also my teacher) Carla Tomasi, and cook, food stylist, writer and owner of the Latteria studio Alice Adams, is going to be a monthly occurrence. The idea is simple, we meet at Testaccio market at 9 30, shop for meat, fish, cheese and whatever vegetables are in season. We then walk across the river to the Latteria Studio, where along with more fresh vegetables and herbs from Carla’s garden we prepare a four course lunch, which we enjoy together with natural wines from our friend Antonio’s shop. Exactly what we cook will change from month to month depending on what’s in season. but there will almost always be something fried, sheep’s milk ricotta, fresh pasta, more often than not artichokes. We enjoyed our first four Market to Table’s immensely, they were joyful, creative occasions, so we are looking forward to this years. Market to table is usually the third Friday of each month, there are 7 spaces for each session, the cost is 100 euros pp, and you can book here.

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Pause. Re-fill tea.

I am going to be teaching two days of Roman Cooking at Mark Diacono’s Otter Farm in April and then again in July. I am excited at the thought of spending time in Devon, just 30 minutes from my parents, with Mark, whose writing and work at Otter farm I admire very much. We will be cooking with produce from Mark’s extraordinary garden and the area. The plan is 6 dishes that celebrate Roman food in all its simple beauty, but also the connections with English food that exist. Depending on season and the group, we might make chickpea soup with fresh pasta, twice-cooked greens with olive oil, garlic and peperoncino, sweet and sour onions, a wild green salad, roasted pork with herbs, and panna cotta with blackcurrant sauce. For us it will be a feast. All the dishes stand alone though and are for the most part versatile – templates really – which can be adapted according to what you have and the time of year. More information here.

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Last but not least, the dinner, or dinners with Giovanni Brighi at Il Cudega in East London. On the 16th and 17th of February I will be helping to cook a Roman feast, all profits from which will go to the charity Heads Together a coalition of mental health and suicide prevention charities with decades of experience in tackling stigma, raising awareness, and providing vital help for people with mental health challenges.. I have personal reasons to feel strongly, so strongly about the work Heads Together does, and I am proud to be involved. Please come. You can book here.

Did you read all the way to the end? You deserve a drink ! Please forgive a years worth of events and things in one post, which is all a bit exhausting. I do hope, though, that some of you will consider one of the above. I look forward to meeting you. Book – no not yet, bloody hell, but nearly, nearly.

I will finish here, and start the New Year, with 6 lines! No, not that sort, but Seamus Heaney.

So hope for a great sea-change
On the far side of revenge.
Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracles
And cures and healing wells.”
― Seamus Heaney

Happy New year to you all

RR

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wave

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I know you have a dozen other things to do, but if you don’t have any in the cupboard, remember to buy a bag of white beans today. Then later – not yet – sit down with a cup of tea, or glass of sherry and read this. Next week, on one of the in-between days that thread Christmas to New year, put the beans in a bowl and cover them with water. The day after cook them, or rather let the oven cook them. But before you put the sage in the pan, don’t forget to rub it and wave it before your nose.

It is a bit late in the day to link you to my Christmas recipes, which are rather like our decorations, so from three places, some old, some new, a few precious, others sparkling, strung together differently each year!  I am a cautious enthusiast when it comes to Christmas, I plan, but due to my almost pathological inability to be truly organised, there is always plenty of room for improvisation!  It will all be fine.

Lookout for winking lights and the smell of clementines, listen for the music drifting from a radio behind the shop counter, keep expectations flexible, laugh, give more than you take, sing and dance at least once – even if it makes you cry, do something for someone without expecting anything back, don’t worry about having enough food – you have too much, read a poem, make a jelly, take yourself off for a walk’.

I used to pour scorn on this sort of Christmas advice! These days I try and take it. Also, if you fold and squeeze, hard, a piece of clementine peel right next to a candle flame, the essential oils sparkle and crackle like tiny fireworks, and the scent is even stronger.

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On the subject of citrus, we have chosen a cover, a picture of oranges and lemons I took last winter. Not the one above I hasten to add – who the hell would put a sink on a cookbook cover!  I am looking over first edits now, and gathering pictures, mine and Nick’s, of Rome and Sicily, two places and two kitchens, while still writing! But I am nearly finished and excited at the thought of sharing my second book ‘Two Kitchens‘ with you in July next year.

Meanwhile Five Quarters won both the André Simon food book award 2016 and the Guild of food writers First book award 2016. Best of all it has made its way into many kitchens, and dare I say it, beds. In bed with Five Quarters – I like that. Many of you have let me know how much you have enjoyed reading and cooking – thank you.

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I am sorry not to be writing here more often, I miss it. I will. Meanwhile my Guardian Column is weekly, and I know many of you read that. Next week’s recipe is an excellent and simple one for a beef and pepper stew called Peposo. So when you pick up the white beans, why not get 1 kg of braising beef for the freezer too, and clementines, don’t forget to buy lots of clementines, and look out for winking lights.

Merry Christmas and warmest wishes to you all – R

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potential for rainbows

 

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Rome in June. It was hot, the air heavy with the tastes and smells of summer pleasures to come, school finished for Luca and I wrote about pasta with beans. Sicily in July. It was even hotter, scorched really, the sky hard hard blue, the sun at its most powerful. We settled into life there, dried tomatoes on the roof, took Nonna’s ashes to the cemetery, and I wrote about stuffed pie and stuffed tomatoes (not for the first time and probably not the last). Now, Dorset in August. It is sunny, but also rainy – so lush with potential for rainbows. I am drinking lots of tea, talking to pigs up the lane, and I have just written about chicken with peppers.

Only not here. I miss it here.

Having spent six weeks at our house in Sicily, I didn’t pass go, but came straight to my parents in Dorset to finish this second book. In the bedroom at the top of the house, a great plastic bag of my childhood paintings behind the bed, I am trying to loop it all together, the kitchens in Rome and Gela, and here I suppose, trying to find the words to describe the drive along the coast to Scoglitti and the smell of wild oregano (without sounding a wally). Every now and then I bash my head repeatedly on the table, or I thud down the stairs three at a time to make tea, or to double check that the chicken really does need 50 minutes in the oven, to see if something has risen, or not.

Then came the rainbow, and I picked it. I spent half an hour trying to find the most descriptive shade of yellow for chard, googling damn paint charts – buttercup, Tuscan roof tile, Sultan’s trousers, before telling myself to get a grip and call it yellow. Next Tuesday you can read it all about the chard and the chickpeas in The Guardian, it goes on-line at about 12 30. The book will take a bit longer, 40 weeks on Tuesday if all goes well.

For now, I am here, with tea, possibly in my dressing gown, typing. I hope you are having a good summer? More soon.

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useful, rested and a lost knife

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The useful recipe is my version of Anna del conte’s daughter’s chocolate and almond cake, which is a bit of a mouthful I know, but in my family cakes always have to have a name attached to them, which then roots that cake to a time and a person forever. I have no memory whatsoever of the neighbour Freida who gave my mum the recipe for marmalade cake, but her cake is still made and she is given credit every time, Frieda immortalised in sticky slice with swirls. Back though to my version of Anna del conte’s daughter’s chocolate and almond cake, the sort of cake that can be made without too much fuss, and then taken anywhere, hence the useful. It is also so good it may require an armed guard.

The recipe for Braised chicken really is – like me – better after a rest. I enjoyed writing that piece very much as I am very attached to my Butcher. I also enjoyed writing about My kitchen equiptment. for a special edition of Cook. I still haven’t found that knife!  I would love to know about your kitchen bits and pieces, the things that have grafted themselves onto your cooking life in an essential, almost superstitious way.

Which brings us to this week, and a recipe for baked pasta from my friend Cinzia – who you may rememeber as the owner of the generous lemon tree. It is a favourite recipe especially for summer weekends – long, slow days when windows are wide and routines go out of them, so something made earlier to bake and eat whenever is welcome.

That is it for now, but more soon. R

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sinking in

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Sometimes you leave the dishes for a bit to long, other things too. Hello. I have decided that a good way of keeping up here, is to link up to my weekly column in The Guardian every Friday at this time, so 4 0′ clock Roman Time.

The column is now called A Kitchen in Rome, but my faithful sink still features from time to time. The plan is that I also include things here that I didn’t have space for in the column, a recipe I mention in the article perhaps, another picture, or something I forgot. In fact let me start straight away by noting that in today’s column I talk about Roman Misticanza, a mixed salad of wild greens and herbs. An hour or so after submitting my column, I came across a paragraph in a book from the 1970’s which suggests adding large peeled grapes to the misticanza. It find this idea thoroughly lovely. I can imagine the sweetness of the grapes – big, crisp greens one that burst between your teeth – contrasting with the bitter leaves. I also want to further mention a book I refer to in the Column, Gillian Riley’s Oxford Companion to Food. It is my constant companion, always open on my desk as a reference book and source of inspiration. Informative, illuminating and witty it is an irresistible book. If you love Italian food and culture, I highly recommend it.

More housekeeping, I now have a new website. It is very basic, bare bones really, but it is a place in which I can gather everything together, practical things about the book, events and workshops I am doing. It also means this blog, updated intermittently but faithfully, can be kept for stories and recipes. I will be writing more about Sicily in the coming months, as soon we are about to decamp to A Kitchen in Gela so I can work on my second book, the working title of which is Two kitchens. The house in Gela has a terrific sink, Vincenzo’s grandmother’s sink, which I enjoy standing at very much (even though I could do with being 6 inches shorter).

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But for now, back to A kitchen in Rome. This week’s column is all about Wild greens, and not so wild greens. You can also scroll back and read some of the 26 columns of you like, my favourite of which is about lemons.

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More soon.

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the language of food 2016

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The best laid plans, get turned on their head. Or maybe shuffled is a better word. The timetable Luisa and I had drawn up for The first Language of Food was full but measured, and neatly punctuated with rest and free time. It was then shuffled like a pack of cards, and every gap filled when it became clear that everyone wanted to write more, see more, cook more, talk more, taste more. Not that this presented a problem. Quite the opposite in fact, having a group that was so greedy for it all was completely brilliant: enthusiasm it seems, makes time. We fitted in more hours with Fabrizia in the kitchen, more time in the olive groves and garden with Ben the gardener eating herbs and greens like rabbits, and more time writing, discussing (nattering) and reading at the library table, the white embroidered cloth covered with open books of inspiring food writing, Sicilian sun filtering through the thin curtains.

Keep expectations flexible, is one of my dad’s favorite expressions. It was how Luisa and I approached our first writing workshop together, after all we really had no idea what to expect. Of course we’d planned discussion, exercises and talks – especially Luisa who has much more experience than me – and everyone had read the chosen pieces. But we still had no idea what it would be like. Keep expectations flexible. Then in much the same way they had approached time, Anna, Gry, Susanne, Elizabeth, Gayle and Francesca approached writing, bowling us over with their enthusiasm. Of course there was inhibition and caution, but isn’t there always? Beyond that were honest, moving, funny words, and a willingness to write, and write.

Before we started, someone asked me how much you can learn from a five day food writing workshop. My answer a year later, is plenty: about your own writing habits and those of others; better understand what it is about particular pieces of writing that draws you in (and what doesn’t); how to take advice; how your writing affects others; the importance of reading the good stuff; the need to start writing regardless of a hundred doubts; the importance of editing and editing (yes I wish I had an editor for this); How to write a good, clear recipe; when to show (stories and details) and when to tell. These were some of the things we learned, most of them blindingly obvious maybe, but no less useful beacuse of it. Things we put into practice while we were together, but more importantly took away with us, hoping they would worm their way into our writing, which they did (we have all kept in touch).

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Predictably the location, an extraordinary cooking school on the crest of a hill overlooking a valley in Sicily, was inspiring. Not only because it is so magnificent and atmospheric, but because you are so close to the source of so much, golden fields of wheat, orchards of citrus, vines dotted with the first signs of budding grapes, ancient olive trees with their twisted trunks and mad windswept branches that look like Einstein’s hair, six foot wild fennel plants with gangly stems and tops that look like inverted lacy umbrellas, the disconcerting tangle that is a lentil and chickpea plants (actual lentils and chickpeas on actual plants – I was stunned). I could go on. Close to the source, and also stories: thousands of years of history and tradition seem on a sort of parallel plane in Sicily, as if you can touch it all, eat it all, which of course you can. I can’t help but think of a Jane Grigson quote here, that food, its quality, its orgins, its preparation is something to be studied and thought about in the same way as any other aspect of the human existence, and then think that Sicily is a fine place to do this.

Then there was the preparation of food as a group, one of life’s great pleasures, the scents and our words fighting for airspace. The food we cooked and ate was inextricably tied with the place. It also transported us – as only food and talking about food can – from a valley in Sicily, to England in the 1970’s, Berlin in the 80’s, a supermarket in Chicago, New York restaurants, Canadian winters, Strawberry eating in Germany, a childhood in Sweden. We thought and wrote about family, traditions, etymology, fast food, slow food and everything in between, politics, life and loss. Food writing it turns out, is about everything.

All this to introduce the fact that Luisa, Fabrizia and I are thrilled to be holding the second edition of the Language of Food this June at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school. The Itinerary is below, set but flexible. Rest assured we will be writing, reading, cooking, exploring, making merry each night. I have written about the school before, so you may like to read that. Luisa has also written about last year’s LOF. Also go follow the progress of Cook the Farm, a 10 week course that is happening at the school now, it will give you a great sense of the place. Now I know it is a big commitment, but it is going to be wonderful, it would be lovely if you could come.

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The Language of Food second edition, June 20 – 25 2o16.

Before the course participants will receive six pieces of writing, each one highlighting a aspect of food writing we will then discuss. This years selection include peices By Mary Taylor Simetti, Jane Grigson, Fushia Dunlop, Simon Hopkinson, Deborah Madison and M.F.K.Fisher.

The Itinerary

Day 1: Monday, June 20
Arrive in late afternoon or early evening, introductory discussion over Sicilian aperitifs and then welcome dinner at Case Vecchie.

Day 2: Tuesday, June 21
Morning introductory writing workshop in three parts, followed by lunch at Case Vecchie

Afternoon visit to local shepherd and cheesemaker Filippo Privitera, where we will watch traditional ricotta production and sample both freshly produced cheeses and the family’s aged cheeses. Post visit writing session.

Salad collecting and garden talk with Rachel, Luisa and the gardeners,.

Dinner at Case Vecchie. • Post-dinner gathering and reading.

Day 3: Wednesday, June 22
A morning trip to natural hot springs. Late morning writing session, followed by lunch.

Kitchen round table writing session about descrptive food writing, and clear recipe writing.

Cooking lesson on Sicilian classics and dinner. Film in library.

Day 4: Thursday, June 23
Morning writing workshop, bread making tutorial and lunch at Case Vecchie.

Afternoon individual writing tutorials and then group session

Evening visit to the Case Grandi winery for a tasting workshop, where we will sample a variety of Tasca d’Almerita wines and learn a little about the language of wine. Dinner at Case Grandi.

Day 5: Friday June 24
Morning cooking lesson focusing on cous cous with Fabrizia, followed by lunch

Afternoon writing workshop followed by writing tutorials and then a group discussion.

Salad collecting and garden walk with Rachel, Luisa, and the gardeners, final dinner and after dinner readings in the garden.

Day 6: sat June 25
Final group round table and discussion, sharing of work for book.

Lunch and then departure

 

We hope the conversation from our writing community will continue through online discussion and continued feedback.

The cost

All-inclusive: 2,500 euros per person for single-occupancy, 2,300 euros per person for double occupancy. There are a maximum of 9 places. For more imformation and booking please get in touch with elke@annatascalanza.com or through the school website.

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