I was trying my best not to leap around like an overexcited five year old yelping the sun the sun the sun until I went to teach my class of 23 five year olds this morning. I arrived at school during their break and was greeted by a joyous frenzy of sun soaked happiness as 23 little ones hurled themselves around the playground, little bodies liberated from the coats and gloves that had impeded their movement all winter, little faces warm and pink, and smiles that cried il sole il sole il sole.
We drew pictures of the sun, each bright yellow circle with an appropriately curved smile, before I attempted to teach them The sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray. 23 little Italian faces scrunched and contorted earnestly as they tried to mimic the funny English sounds. Finally we took the lesson where it belonged, outside, we leaped and jumped and spun while we chanted uh sun ah ot heez at on ip ip ip ooray.
I made my way home from Gianicolo, soaking up warmth and glorious views of Rome while winding my way down the curves of via Garibaldi and weaving my way through the labyrinthine lanes of Trastevere. I stopped to lean-up against the polished wooden bar at Bar San Calisto in the sun filled piazza of the same name, inhaled a perfectly intense espresso, which injected rather more perk into my step than I expected, before walking to the river and following it’s twists and turns home to Testaccio.
It was about one o clock when I arrived at the market, my trusty fruttivendolo raised his palms, shoulders and eyebrows as I approached, a gesture which needed no wordy elaboration but perfectly expressed his reproach ‘what are you doing coming here at this hour, you are late late late, all the good stuff has gone, you know you have to get here early, you know you know, everybody knows.’ I didn’t need anything anyway, I just like breathing in the air of the market, even in the last hour of it’s working day, piles of crates being heaved into order, big old fashioned brooms rhythmically sweeping the escaped chicory leaves and artichoke petals into heaps, a lemon flying across the floor in an impromptu game of football. My late arrival was rewarded with a big hand-full of vibrant green parsley, the last two oranges and a wink which affirmed our pact of loyalty and it’s gifts.
This is the man himself, the other Vincenzo in my life, my fruttivendolo – oh Lo voglio bene Vincenzo.
Back home I flung everything open – I say everything but everything in our tiny flat is actually only one very large door and one very large window, but they top and tail our two rooms – light flooded in. Joy was followed by momentary horror as I took in the sheer quantity of dust, a fuzzy blanket covering everything, the breeze sent a dust-ball, worthy of a role in a western, scuttling across the floor, you know in the opening scene when you see the abandoned ghost town and the tumbleweed rolls into view, my dust-ball would like to audition for any forthcoming productions. It was no time for spring cleaning though, I adopted selective vision and the room looked quite pretty again.
I was still unsure what to have for lunch, but I knew it should really involve red onions, a rope of which were making the onion basket look quite lovely but loveliness aside, deserved some culinary attention and green beans which merited the same.
Green beans and red onions, I went a bit funny for some time – the way I do when trying to remember an actors name – while I tried to recall a recipe I’d seen involving both in one of my cookbooks. I don’t know if it helped, but repeating the words green beans and red onions while I persisted in my stubborn search was strangely satisfying, if not a little annoying for Vincenzo who was reading the paper in the corner.
After a rather messy search, which had the dust-balls not just rolling but twirling tauntingly around the room, I found it on page 73 of Giorgio Locatelli’s fine and heavy volume Made in Italy. Like so many recipes which catch my eye, it’s an assembly really, soft, creamy, roasted red onions separated into layers, tossed with a edgy dressing and left to laze for a while you boil up some fine, sweet green beans, drain and toss them with some grated Parmesan and a slightly mellower dressing. To serve you make a pleasing pile of onions and top that with a pile of beans dotted with Parmesan, to finish you shave over some curls of Parmesan. stop, eat.
It’s worth roasting more onions than you need as they will keep for a day or two. Keep them in the fridge but pull them out a while before you eat them. They are a delight squashed on some nice bread with some piquant goats cheese or chopped up a little and tossed with hot spaghetti and sprinkled with plenty of Parmesan.
It may only be a simple assembly, but it is utterly delicious, we ate with the door open as did the family in front which made it seem quite a social affair. Plenty of bread is required to mop up the dressing, hot pizza bianca is even better. I tried to teach Vincenzo the sing the sun has got his hat on hip hip hip hooray and got quite hysterical at his inability to pronounce H, then he retaliated by getting me to say ramarro and laughing at my inability to roll my r’s – ah that’s love.
Roasted red onion, green bean and Parmesan salad.
Adapted from Giogio Locatelli’s Made in Italy
serves 2 for lunch or 4 as a starter
- 2 large red onions
- 200ml red wine vinegar
- 1tbsp sugar
- 100ml extra virgin olive oil
- 240g fine green beans
- 2tbsp freshly grated Parmesan and extra for shaving
- 2 tbsp your favourite dressing
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Set the oven to 220°c.
Leaving the skins on wrap each onion in tin foil and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
While the onions are baking put the red wine vinegar in a small pan and boil energetically over a good flame intil it had reduced by about a third. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the sugar until dissolved and them whisk in the olive oil to make your vinaigrette for the onions.
Once the onions are ready, they should be soft and creamy not crunchy, unwrap the foil and peel them. While they are still warm, cut each onion in half and separate the layers, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and put them into the vinaigrette.
Cook the green beans in plenty of well salted boiling water for about 5 minutes, then drain them very well and toss them in a small bowl with the grated Parmesan and 2 tbsp of your favorite dressing.
Arrange a layer of onions on each plate and top with a pile of beans and shave over some Parmesan.