polish and scrub


After two unsuccessful ventures, we finally found the marble man. He was in fact as promised, at the wrong end of Lungotevere Testaccio. The very endafter the Romany camp, behind an intimidating gate, tucked under the railway bridge. A machine screeched and then stopped abruptly as we entered the marble flanked workshop. The marmista turnedpulled down his goggles and stared hard. ‘We’ve been sent by Emanuela at Testaccio market‘ I garbled. At which suspicion faded into something cordial. Five minutes, a sketch, a sum and some marble stroking later and we laid a crisp deposit on the dusty workbench. ‘Lunedi’ he promised before lifting back his goggles and turning his attention to a sheet of pale grey marble streaked with deep blue veins.

A week later and my carrara marble table top is balanced, temporarily, on the odd pine table that came with the flat. The pine table is bigger, so it’s peeping out like a Tom.  I’m told there is a blacksmith who could make me a base near Monte Testaccio, but until we can get to the bottom of his idiosyncratic working hours, the balancing act and peeping will continue. I still amazed we got the marble back in one piece, driving as we did in an almost unsuspended car through Roman traffic.  It was only as we veered from Via Marmorata into Via Galvani that I noted the significance: Via Marmorata is called as such because it was the route along which enormous quantities of marble (marmo) passed into Rome in Antiquity. Two thousand years later and we too had passed along the marble route bearing marble. I am ridiculously happy with my 60 x 100 slab and keep polishing it.


I have also been scrubbing. Not the marble obviously, nor the floor, even though it could do with a bloody good clean. I’ve been scrubbing new potatoes and top and tailing green beans, lots of them, in order to make Patate e fagiolini condite. Which I could translate as potato and green bean salad. Which it isn’t. Or is it? I’m not familiar with salad law. Eitherway, I prefer the literal translation – potatoes and green beans dressed. Simply dressed obviously, after all it’s 30° and the last thing we want is fussy or complicated. I’ve also been pulling leaves from the bedraggled mint plant that’s – despite my neglect and the searing heat – hanging on for mint life on the balcony. Mint, as we know, makes a good bedfellow for both potatoes and beans. But more about that in a paragraph.

This is barely a recipe. It is however a nice assembly and one of my favorites at the moment, just so, beside a lamb chop, next to a hard-boiled egg and some tuna, under a slice of pure white young sheep’s cheese such as primo sale. You need best, properly waxy new potatoes, ideally large ones that can be boiled in their skins and then peeled once cool enough to handle. You also need fine green beans: pert, sweet and nutty, salt and good extra virgin olive oil. Mint or vinegar is optional.


There are five things to remember. Scrub but don’t peel the potatoes, then boil them whole. Cook the beans in well-salted fast-boiling water until they are tender with just the slightest bite but no absolutely no squeak. Tear the mint into tiny pieces with your fingers. Dress the vegetables while they are still warm with a hefty pinch of salt – launched from high above so evenly dispersed – and enough extra virgin olive oil to make a dietitian bristle and each chunk and bean glisten. Let your dressed vegetables sit – in a cool place but not the fridge – for a while before serving.

It should be a well-dressed tumble, the chunks of potatoes distinct but breaking gently at the edges, so blurring everything slightly. For me the optional mint – I adore the way mint manages to be both bright and moody in the same moment – is vital.  It lends something cool and herbal and renders a dish made with Italian ingredients on a humid and tempestuous Tuesday in Rome decidedly English and familiar. I don’t usually add vinegar. If I do, I don’t add mint and it’s a dash of red wine vinegar, sharp and pertinent. In my opinion balsamic vinegar – which generally seems to be both over and misused these days – isn’t right here. You may disagree.

A reminder that good ingredients, well-prepared, well-paired, well-dressed and served at the right temperature (that is just warm) are delicious.


Patate e fagiolini condite  Potatoes and green beans (dressed)

Inspired by a comment from a Christine. Advice, as usual, from Jane Grigson.

  • 4 large waxy potatoes or many little ones
  • 500 g fine green beans
  • a few small fresh mint leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt
  • red wine vinegar (if you like)

Scrub the potatoes and top and tail the beans.

Put the whole, scrubbed potatoes in a large pan, cover them with cold water, add salt and then bring the pan to the boil. Reduce to a lively simmer and cook the potatoes until they are tender to the point of a knife.

Tip the beans into a large pan half-full of salted water at a rolling boil and boil them uncovered hard and briefly – eight minutes should do the trick – until they are tender but still with the slightest bite. Drain the beans.

Wait until the beans and potatoes are cool enough to handle but still warm. Put the beans in large bowl. Using a sharp knife pare away the potato skin and then roughly chop and break the potato over the beans. Tear the mint leaves into the bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt and then pour over some olive oil and the vinegar if you are using it. Use your hands to gently turn and mix the ingredients. Taste and add more salt and olive oil if necessary. Leave to sit for at least 30 minutes before serving. Turn again before serving.

A suggestion.

Patate e fagiolini condite are delicious served with grilled lamb. Romans call young lamb cutlets cooked briefly so burnished outside but still pale pink and tender within: costolette di abbachio alla scottadito or simply abbachio a scottadito. Literally translated this means lamb cutlets to burn your fingers, reminding you they should be eaten as soon as possible from the grill or coals – so blisteringly hot – with your fingers.



Filed under Beans and pulses, food, lamb, potatoes, Rachel's Diary, summer food, vegetables

50 responses to “polish and scrub

  1. How funny, we cycled down there past the Citta’ on Sunday, but turned around and beat a hasty retreat when several dogs started barking at us. It was all a bit Mad Max. Brava!
    And yes, loved the beans and spuds. Great, simple combo. We could also have them with say…. salsiccie. 😉

    • rachel

      Mad max – ha – brilliant, yes what with the graffiti, abandoned metal, wild cats and chaos of rubbish trucks. With sausages – yes.

  2. I have two square feet of marble tile on my small kitchen island. I like to pretend it’s a large, beautiful slab. Congrats on bringing it home in one piece and for getting it in only one week – that seems quite a feat in Italy!

    • rachel

      You’re right, however dodgy and clandestine it all felt, he turned out to be a marble master who got the job done in record time. A real feat.

  3. Oh, please may I come over for lunch? This looks so wonderful, and the heat in New York City and in upstate New York has been close to unbearable. This is the first thing I’ve seen that made me feel hungry.

  4. beautiful — both the marble and the potato & green bean combo.
    thank you for the treat!

  5. Rachel, what a lovely slab of marble! I’m living Rome through your writing, which always, always delights and surprises at the same time!

    hi from Buenos Aires!

  6. Ha! I imagined marbles for Luca to play with. Now I know, I see your marble brings you just as much joy. Nice on your hands too in the heat!

  7. I love “barely a recipe” concoctions. Something marvelous without having to think too much or look anything up. Really great. How big is your marble, if I may ask? And do you keep it permanently in place, or is it leaning against the wall unless you’re cooking? Thanks. Ken

    • rachel

      Hi Ken, it’s 60 x 100 and it is going to be a small kitchen table (my kitchen is tiny) once I find a man to make me a base. It is lovely for making pastry and pasta – but you know that! x

  8. I have been yearning for string beans and potatoes so I bought both yesterday to serve with tonight’s dinner. This is a beloved dish from my childhood so I always use the splash of red wine vinegar but not the mint. Tonight I will add the mint!

    • rachel

      This seems to be a real favourite with so many of us. I thought twice about posting, it seemed too basic, but then I remembered that it’s dishes like this, made carefully that are the dishes I love to make and eat more than most fancy things. Hope you are settled now? xxx

  9. laura

    Ciao, dear Rachel. As I read along breathlessly, I was dreading the thought of you lugging the marble top somehow on foot, so while the car may have been “almost unsuspended”, I gratefully unsuspended my breathing when I learned about your mode of transportation.
    I’ve done something similar to your recipe but with zucchini rather than green beans, but I just happened to pick up some pert beans and large potatoes today so your post is most welcome. I love the idea of this well-dressed tumble – and the thought of the dietician bristling at food that’s glistening. And, obviously, I love your writing!
    p.s. I am in complete agreement with your comment about over- and mis-used balsamic vinegar (of frequently shoddy and non-traditional quality these days) and with your appreciation of scottadito! Once again, grazie di cuore!

    • rachel

      It would-t be totally out of character for me to try walking home with something like this! Another insane project that ends painfully. Now for the base, I hope this is as straightforward

      Shoddy, yes quite and then flung over everything the in UK. I can talk, I did it too, only now I am starting to learn how to use good balsamic.

      Hope all is well Rx

  10. Oh, it’s lovely. I would be scrubbing it too. Scrubbing floors is over-rated though so leave that for another day.

  11. Amy

    Ehh squeaky green beans are the worst! And that marble is the best! Really beautiful. I just finished spending all day at a granite and marble warehouse with my mother, and the only thought I had throughout the whole process was that if I can ever afford it, I’m buying big slabs of granite and marble to hang up like art. I mean it’s just so beautiful! (And expensive — if I’m paying that sort of money I want it to be at eye-level for everyone to notice, haha.)

    • rachel

      Yes, yes, squeaky so often means losing that sweet, nuttiness which is so delicious. Marble isn’t cheap but it’s much more affordable here in Italy and my piece is smallish, as is my kitchen. Rx

  12. This is lovely…the potatoes, the green beans, the mint, the marble, and the writing. Thank you.

  13. sarawhite

    I got all excited when I read this because I’ve actually been looking for a place here in Rome to buy a simple slab of marble, no table legs or anything else already attached! I wonder, if I were to just show up at this spot behind the bridge (provided I can actually find it) without anyone’s name to reference like you had, whether he’d be willing to create something for me too…

  14. Adoro il mercato di testaccio e questa insalata, una delle mie preferite in estate, sia calda che fredda!
    Un saluto

    • rachel

      Tutti i miei amici Romani adorano quest’insalata. Sono veramente contenta di averti qui, sono una tua fan. Rach

  15. Beautiful cool marble…lovely pictures…delicious simple food..and I agree about the vinegar. Red wine is good, and I love to use lemon juice a lot.

  16. Fantastic! Simplicity superstar recipe … and thanks for sharing re Via Marmorata, who knew …?

  17. Carolle

    I want some marble in my kitchen (pout) in fact I want a whole new kitchen but that’s not going to happen! Love the potato & bean combo, I had something similar for lunch the other day, mine were left overs with a few tomatoes & half a can of tuna chucked in.
    A quick query: what is your opinion on leaving a tip in Italy? I usually leave atip as you would in the UK but in Genoa last week I had one place just keep the change & another person chased me down the road to give me the tip back.
    Good luck with the blacksmith.

    • rachel

      Thank you, i think the blacksmith might be more complicated. We may be balancing for some time. With tuna and lots of black pepper too – yes yes.

  18. Barbara

    Rachel, your description of getting the marble home brought a wonderful memory back. Naples, late 70’s, driving in a very old Fiat sport car (hah!) from the campagna back into the city with a table sized piece of white marble and a pastry rolling size one, too. I think it shortened the life of the car but the pieces brought joy for years and years.

    • rachel

      I love that. We were in an old panda which was already on it’s last legs. Do you still have the marble? xx

      • Barbara

        We still use the marble piece for rolling out pastry; the table top was broken in half in a move from Spain to Hawai’i. However, we kept the pieces and now have them in our backyard garden as stepping stones. Forever useful.

  19. The marble looks great, I am sure it was worth what sounds like an interesting journey to sort it all out.
    Also that food looks yummy. I’m actually watering at the mouth thinking about it. I wish I had some talent in the kitchen.

  20. What a lovely post. I am not a foodie, but a colleague of mine in London suggested I might enjoy your blog as a fellow expat blogger in Rome. She was right, I have been scanning through some old posts and I love the way you write and your amusing, interesting details of living in this beautiful and complicated city. Now I know how Via Marmorata got its name! I look forward to reading more.

    • rachel

      Hi Trisha, being as I am a great fan of my your writing, blog and observations on Roman life, means your words mean much. Thank you and maybe our real paths will cross one day.

  21. Lovely, lovely, both the new tabletop and summery dish. I don’t know if I have the courage to take on white marble, though can certainly summon up the energy to make the dressed potatoes. Our green beans aren’t in yet, but the tiny new potatoes should marry well with the favas and agretti now in the garden…

  22. Christine

    One of my favorites! I’ve never used the mint (or omitted the sharp vinegar), but I will have to try it. Especially if I’m serving with lamb.

    Also, that is a lovely new work space!

    • rachel

      It is, of course i have managed to stain it – lemon: the one thing I was told to keep away from the marble. Oh well. So this recipe/ assembly is thanks to you – thank you. Yes, lovely with lamb.

  23. I keep seeing and wanting a marble worktop (even a big marble slab would do – for now…) but the workspace in our kitchen is fairly pathetic and really badly organised so it will have to wait and I will just live vicariously through your photos. Until then though this salad sounds great and like just the dish for this Scottish heatwave (!).

    • rachel

      Hi Gemma,

      I am in the Uk at he moment so enjoying the beautiful, if slightly overwhelming weather. Hope you are both well? x

  24. Pingback: Recipes to Try | Live and Learn

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