when it was march

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We live three floors above a Bar. A Bar in the Italian sense of the word, so a place with a bar at which you stand to drink coffee, or juice, or a fluorescent aperitivo. It is also a Latteria, so a place you can buy latte, milk. I tend not to drink coffee or buy milk at this Bar, which also has a disco ball. I won’t hear a word said against the place though, as the owner Franco, who leans up against the door or paces up and down the pavement in front, is very much part of our everyday life. He is friendly and weary, and I forgive him and his neglected coffee machine because I know he would rather be doing what he does after rolling down the metal blinds. I know because he tells me about his other life most days, I have even sat beside him and his co-producer helping them check the English lyrics to a new dance track. It was a surreal moment, sitting in a basement recording studio in Testaccio listening to the young winner of an Italian TV show I have never seen, record vocals. Dreams be shattered like a glass, let’s fly in our mind yeah, yeah, yeah. As my temples thudded in time with the base line, I suggested are shattered instead of be shattered, and felt both old and useful. Take 9. Dreams are shattered like a glass, let’s fly in our mind yeah, yeah, yeah.

A few weeks ago Franco was forced to move the tables from outside, new council rules in Rome, which are flexible if you are prepared to pay enough to bend them. No tables means the group of older signori who spent every morning sitting outside the Bar – as far as I could tell never actually buying anything –  have migrated to the newly opened piazza. This means I no longer have a front door greek chorus. There is no-one to watch me and comment while I struggle with my warped key, or to tell me that they have just turned the water off in the entire building until 3. No-one to point out that Luca is under-dressed for the weather, or that I might need an umbrella as I walk out of the door. Last week, there was no-one to witness my bag slip from my shoulder and tomatoes spill all over the pavement.

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Franco came to the door as I was picking up the last few and the first drops of rain hit my specs. ‘Marzo pazzerello, se c’è il sole, porta l’ombrello‘ he said. It means something like Crazy March, if there is sun, take an umbrella. Then he handed me a tomato that had rolled into the Bar. ‘Caffe?’ It was clearly an offer. I accepted, and drank it up against the bar below the disco ball. It was better than usual, but still made me shudder. I wondered if the free espresso was going to lead to a request for more lyric consultancy. But it didn’t, we just stood watching the rain batter against the window and on the empty pavement.

It was a Marzo pazzarello and not just the weather. Everything – it seemed – kept changing from one moment to the next: ideas, arrangements, moods, things spilling all over the place. It’s the book I told Vincenzo. ‘Yes‘ he replied with weary patience. ‘Your book’. I have a feeling April is going to be much the sameOne thing however, regardless of sun, rain or in-between, is constant, my daily walk up Via Galvani, past the 200o year old hill of broken amphora, four mechanics and a wolf painted on the side of a block of flats, to the market.

Roots and winter cruciferous veg are now sharing the stalls with clear signs of spring: the first, straggly wild asparagus, a grass-like vegetable called agretti, which tastes somewhere between seaweed, asparagus and grass, which probably sounds odd, which it is, but also delicious, especially boiled and then dressed with anchovy butter. There are also fat bunches of rocket and the first peas and broad beans in their pods. Contrasting all the green are pinky-red radishes with fat bushels of leaves, strawberries from Terracina, and Sicilian tomatoes, some round and fluted like the columns of the pantheon, others plum-shaped and the first datterini, round to a point, thick-skinned, crisp and sweet.

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I had planned to write about a post about Italian Easter customs, possibly with the recipe for a dove shaped yeasted cake, or three-day Neapolitan pastry. I also thought about an English post, Hot cross buns or a Simnel cake. I had ambitious plans. However with the exception of hot cross buns whose crosses disintegrated as they baked (but tasted smashing), I have made none of the above, never mind written about them. So here I am writing about salad.

A good salad, and one we have been eating often since rocket and tomatoes returned on such good form to the market. The tomatoes need to be firm and sweet enough to contrast with the peppery heat of the rocket. With good tomatoes and rocket and you only need extra virgin olive oil and salt, ideally the sort you crumble between your fingers, such as Malden, which is the box that always fills the gap in my hand luggage when I come back from London. The other day we had this salad with Broccoletti ripassati, so boiled, drained and then re-cooked with olive oil and garlic, a Mozzarella di bufala and some toast rubbed with garlic. It was a really good lunch, the sort that gets even better as the bits get muddled and you get better at assembling the ideal bite: crust of bread, a squashed tomato, bit of rocket and straggly broccoletti topped with strand of mozzarella given a swipe through oily juices yeah, yeah, yeah.

Rolling the tomatoes across a Bar floor before making this salad is optional.

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Rocket and tomato salad, garlicky greens, bruschetta and mozzarella

Hardly a recipe, more an assembly. You hardly need instructions for this, but here they are anyway. Serves 2 greedy people well.

  • a bunch of rocket
  • some sweet cherry tomatoes
  • a bunch of broccoletti, rapini or sprouting broccoli
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • a clove of garlic
  •  4 – 6 slices of good bread
  • a good mozzarella

Ideally the mozzarella should not have been in the fridge. If it has, remove it an hour before. While you are at it, pull the tomatoes out of the fridge too.

To make the salad – wash the rocket and tomatoes then dry thoroughly. Arrange on a platter, sprinkle with salt, pour over some olive oil and then toss together properly.

To make the garlic greens. Trim and wash the broccoletti and then cook until tender in well- salted fast boiling water. Drain. In a large frying pan, warm the oil and add a peeled, gently crushed garlic clove. Gently fry the garlic until it is fragrant, but do not let it burn or it will turn bitter. Remove the garlic. Add the greens, sprinkle with salt and toss around the pan until warm and glistening with oil.

Make toast, rub with the cut side of a clove of garlic, zigzag with olive oil.

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74 Comments

Filed under antipasti, food, In praise of, odd posts, rachel eats Rome, Rachel's Diary, salads, spring recipes, Testaccio

74 responses to “when it was march

  1. Can’t wait for your book so I can be immersed in Italian life and all the crazy sweetness of it. You do that in your writing. And the recipes are all wonderful too.

    • rachel

      It is being printed this week, in Italy, which is so nice. Thanks so much Tricia for your support and comments it makes writing here even nicer Rx

  2. Marilyn

    I just picked up a bunch of agretti from the market to try for the first time. Thus far, I have eaten them in a simple tomato salad – they are indeed delicious! I would love to hear if you have any other ways of preparing them.

    • rachel

      Hi Marilyn, as I mention in the post, I like them boiled briefly, then dressed with melted butter and anchovy, this is particularly good with lamb but also linguine pasta, which might sound odd, but really works. I also like them with olive oil and lemon. -R

  3. Despite the abominable coffee, it sounds like the bar downstairs brings mostly joy into your life. I can just feel how you will both miss and rejoice at the forced relocation of the Greek chorus! Thank you for sharing a bit of your Rome with us.

    • rachel

      You are right, it does, especially at 9 in the morning when I take my son to school and the sun catches the disco ball which throws its glint on the street. thanks for reading along R

  4. victoria2nyc

    It’s been the second coldest winter in NY State, missing the record by one degree; many mornings it was 14 below 0 F. But this morning the temp is what seems like a balmy 34 degrees F, and yesterday I saw a robin red breast, an Eastern bluebird, and a swarm of red-winged blackbirds flying around outside my kitchen window. Spring truly will come.

    I would give a lot to have local arugula and tomatoes right now so I could make this sprightly salad. I have plenty of Maldon Salt and good olive oil on hand, and my mouth is literally watering at the thought of the bite and the sweet mingling together on my plate.

    But I will be patient and sate myself with your cacio e pepe.

    • rachel

      Hello V, I am glad to hear that there are signs of spring. I wish I could bring you over a bunch of green and a tub of red, you could make lunch and we could have a good catch up (I think we have lots of catch up on). Rx

  5. I only just, last year, discovered the joys of tomatoes + arugula, together. Why so late, so long?? Particularly beloved, around here, with little green lentils, sheep’s feta, and toasted walnuts. Oh so lovely.

    And garlicky greens? Yesterday’s haul: three pounds rapini, braised in a heap of olive oil, a small mountain of anchovies, and lashings of aleppo. Pile atop crostini, glossed with more oil, and cushioned with sparkly fresh ricotta. Dinner.

    • rachel

      I like, I mean love the idea of lentils, feta and walnuts – that will be made. Hope you are al well, I need to come over and see for myself as I need a dose of Molly x

  6. Our March has been pretty crazy too. I am glad it’s over, and hope April will be more merciful. My bad planning brought me to make Pastiera on Easter Sunday, and hot cross buns too early – so they were gone by Good Friday. It’s in moments like these that such beautiful salads come into play – they are all I want to make, and eat, and talk about, and read about. So good Sending positive vibes. xo

    • rachel

      Yes, lets hope for a clamer, more consistent Aoril (I used to yawn at consistent, now I long for it). I still need to make the agretti and cams you wrote about, it sounds fab. good vibes back at you (both) Rxx

  7. Eha

    Oh I just had to look up ‘agretti’ which seems to have more names than a good child, with saltwort being the favourite English interpretation . . . . seeds offered everywhere on the Net!!! Your writing marvellous with that usual Roman feelingworld . . . time to cook dinner: wish I had your market riches handy!!!

    • rachel

      I have also heard it called monks beard, a fab name don’t you think. Let me know if you grow it (i would love to grow it). hope you are well? xx

  8. Annie

    We made this for supper last night, using kale from the garden for the greens. Delicious! And I had been wondering if I should try growing agretti, you’ve persuaded me.

    Thank you for another lovely post, as others say, it’s great to have a little snapshot of Roman life.

    • rachel

      Hi Annie and I hope you do grow it, and the you can tell me all about it. Thank you for reading along and commenting, it makes writing and being here very nice indeed. Rx

  9. Wow that mozzarella caught my eye straight away – lovely recipe!

    • rachel

      It was a good one (although It had been in the fridge, which is never a good thing, and I forgot to take it out long enough before) x

  10. laura

    Oh, Rachel, your stories and the way you tell them are always enthralling … and the recipes and photos are icing on that very rich cake. Thank you.
    I discovered agretti when I lived in Rome, only back then they were called “barba dei frati”. When I came to Florence and tried to find “barba dei frati”, I was handed something that was obviously just for a salad and looked like flat grass. Finally, agretti started to appear at one or two vegetable stands here in the San Lorenzo market and now they are much more common, thank heavens. (Though this year I think they kept the young ones for Rome and sent us the older ones with the chunkier stems!)
    June is closer and closer … and I am SO looking forward to having your book in my house. I pre-ordered it months ago and so have been savoring the pleasure for some time now!

    • rachel

      HI L, the book is bring printed as I write, in Vicenza, which feel so lovely and appropriate. Thanks, as always, for your support and generosity. I love the name barba dei frati, or monks beard, it makes me smile, as does eating it.

  11. Ah, Rachel, you have a way of writing. By the time I got to the recipe I felt like I’d been in the kitchen with you as you told this tale. I would be very happy to eat a hot cross bun with a disintegrated cross, by the way – way too many hard, plasticised bun crosses around this Easter!

    • rachel

      I was quite upset about the disintegrating cross, I thought I made made a good stout cross mix…next year. Could you grow agretti? x

  12. Your post has me wishing I was in Italy again!!!

  13. This is one of the greatest posts I’ve ever read!!!

  14. Arugula and tomatoes seems a classic but so delicious combination! Love the post!

  15. Aleph

    I LOVE this salad but it’s one of those dishes that rely entirely on the quality of the ingredients and basically only works if you happen to be in Italy! I know, I sound like an Italian abroad.🙂

    • rachel

      I totally agree, and I agree produce, or rather this produce, is best in Italy. that said, I have had superb toms and rocket grown in the Uk from small independent growers …. also Natoora are importing such wonderful italian produce to the uk now x

  16. Every time I read your stories I feel as if I am in Rome with you. You truly have a way with words. I can’t wait to read more!

    Also – a while back you posted a bean recipe and I think that was the very first time I ever made an edible pot of beans! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  17. Love the story. It kept me fully engrossed.

  18. This is just the kind of thing I love to eat at lunchtime on the rare occasion I get to work from home. As others have commented, I’m so excited to get my hands on a copy of your book – I think we share the same pub date? How exciting x

  19. Hitz Movies Blog

    nice… so yummy

  20. stellinaitor

    If you come in Italy,for the EXPO you can read my post about it(sorry for my not good english)

  21. Fantastic recipe !! Looking forward to try it🙂

  22. Thank you for sharing! It was a beautiful post. I hope you’ll come check out my new page, Real Life Natural Wife and lend me your thoughts. Enjoy the day!

  23. Great post. Loved the story:)

  24. Oh my God, that picture… I’m melting… I’m Italian, but I’m staying in Brazil, and here they don’t know what mozzarella is… It’s the thing I miss the most from Italy, together with my Grandma!!!

  25. This is absolutely gorgeous writing.

  26. There’s nothing like Italian food !🙂

  27. Now i am hungry & thirsty for coffee too.. off to get a cuppa🙂

  28. That was incredible writing. Those tomatoes looked delicious!

  29. Reblogged this on Coffee With Riss© and commented:
    This is a must read, especially if you’re a foodie! Simply delicious and she definitely knows how to tell a story!

  30. Sounds great. I have recipes on my site as well. Check it sometime. http://Www.ThroughTheEyesOfI.com

  31. danidannyco

    Reblogged this on danniecool.

  32. Pingback: when it was march | chen kaisi 92- always be positive

  33. This all looks so great!

  34. Reading this made my mouth water!🙂

  35. Andreea nv

    Beautiful and tasty, I am so hungry for italian salad now.

  36. Reblogged this on The Best and The Beast and commented:
    Just reading this description of how to make and enjoy an italian salad makes me hungry !

  37. I love your story at the beginning, paints such a picture!

  38. Liz

    As I read, eating my steamed spinach and seasoned beans, I live vicariously through your posts and wonder when I will take the leap and live the life I dream! *Le Sigh*

  39. Me

    Love this Italian fun!🔺

  40. This is a lovely post. You convey so much in so few words. I envy your writing style.

  41. i love your blog. it is so well written.

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