what else is there to do?

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Did it take you a very long time to write? Asked my four-year old niece while balancing the book on her upturned palms as if to really weigh it up. ‘About a year‘ I answered. ‘What a long time!’  She paused for a few seconds, then began turning the pages, her fingers moving like a pro. ‘I like that picture‘ she said before pausing again and staring at me hard. ‘I don’t need pictures now you know. Harry Potter doesn’t have pictures‘. She continued working her way through the book, her fingers and eyes moving from left to right. In that moment she looked about 10 years old.

Look, look there’s that building we drove past, the one you said looks like a cake, which means your flat is here!’ She was looking and pointing at one of Nick’s pictures, a sweeping shot of Rome, in which you can just about make out the Vittorio Emanuele monument. We passed that monument, once, at speed, a few weeks ago during Beattie’s first visit to Rome. My aunty awe at her memory and orientation were interrupted by ‘Tomato, tomato, pasta, pasta, pasta.’ The nearly five-year old was back, her eyes wide-hungry. ‘Is that a sticky bun aunty Rach, a really sticky bun?’ Then she slammed the book closed, leapt down from the chair and ran off. I thought that was that, but she turned. ‘Well done, Aunty Rach, it is a good book’.

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I say it took me a year to write! Which it did, technically. A generous 12 months which allowed me to write, shop, cook, test, photograph and of course eat my way through the four seasons and as much as possible keep the process in tune with our everyday life (which is all too often far from melodic). But really, I started the book 10 years ago in April, when the 170 bus swerved into via Branca and I visited Testaccio for the first time. It was that day, as disorientation gave way to curiosity in a corner of Rome where ancient and modern collide with almost banal ease, and where food culture is woven into the very fabric of the place. I unknowingly began Five Quarters.

Many of you know the story. I didn’t intend to stay in Rome. I was set on returning to Sicily to finish the clockwise journey I’d interrupted. Then I visited Testaccio, which – for want of a better description – tripped me up with its cocky charm. I decided to stay for a while and rented a flat above a breadshop, across a courtyard from boisterous trattoria and seconds from the burly old market. My front door, like the two dozen other front doors, opened onto a narrow balcony overlooking an internal courtyard which was sort of vortex of cooking smells and vigorous Roman life.

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There is a wonderful Elizabeth Bowen quote (that we were given permission to use on page 252) pointing out the injunction to do when in Rome as the romans do is superfluous: what else is there to do?  Of course I was going to eat pizza bianca just pulled from the mouth of a baker’s oven, flowers dipped in batter and fried until golden, carbonara, spaghetti alle vongole, gnocchi with tomato sauce, whole braised artichokes, bitter greens cooked with olive oil and garlic, wobbly cream puddings, wild cherry tart. Seasonal, uncomplicated, bold, and with flavours that are undisguised and definite: Roman food was a revelation. And I didn’t just want to eat these dishes, I wanted to try to understand them, to make them. I have always cooked and written, but the two met, collided really, in a small wind ventilated kitchen on Via Mastro Giorgio.

I’d left everything behind in order to travel. I adopted a similar approach to cooking, allowing myself to watch, taste, experiment and learn things all over again, especially the blindingly obvious things. Such as how to make a soffritto, the simplest tomato sauce and bean soup, how to braise vegetables and meat in wine and their own juices, to boil pasta and soak chickpeas, all things I ostensibly knew how to do, but then again didn’t. Things that, once re-learned and better understood changed the way I cook.

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To start it was all about the new and different. But as a year became several, and recipes began to feel like my own, I began to observe similarities as well as differences. Roman food, I noticed, had much in common with traditional English food, particularly that of my northern relatives, the simplicity and straightforwardness of it (my grandfather would have said no fuss); the resourcefulness; the long slow braises using less popular cuts of meat; the battered cod; the love of peas, broad beans asparagus and mint; the jam tarts, stewed fruit and spiced fruit cakes. These connections were reassuring and made cooking even more of a new-found pleasure. There was another dimension too, the Sicilian food culture of Vincenzo, which felt like a bold and brilliant slap around the cooking face. I cooked and kept notes, and cooked and kept notes. In 2008 my notes found a home here on this blog, and now 7 years later a new home in a book.

Five Quarters; Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome is the title. Nick Seaton a photographer whose work I like very much, came and more-or-less lived with us – and our chaos – for a days at a time in order to capture Testaccio. His pictures, which feel like acute sideways glances at this distinct part of Rome, are honest and beautiful and add another dimension to the book. The rest of the pictures are mine, taken over the course of the year in our small kitchen as I cooked my way though the seasons and the 120 recipes.

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I am now sitting at my desk holding the book, weighing it up if you like. It has a picture of my kitchen sink and a kitchen roll on the front and I can’t help but wonder what my grandma Roddy would have had to say about that. Plenty I imagine, including ‘A Kitchen Roll, by heck, you can’t put a kitchen roll…! The name on the front cover is mine, but this book is the work of many, most notably my commissioning editor Elizabeth Hallett and Kate Miles at Saltyard Books, editor Laura Gladwin, designer Myfanwy Vernon-Hunt and Dan Etherington. It is impossible to talk about Italian food without talking about wine, so I did, a lot, thanks to the advice of the woman who makes my drinking life better Hande Leimer. To everyone involved – thank you.

I also want to say thank you to you all for reading, commenting and for the real sense of community that exists here. Without you, this book would quite simply never have happened. Thank you, Grazie, cheers and more cheers. Many of you have already preordered I know – thank you.  If not, and you would like to here is the link. Alternatively you go into your local bookshop and ask if they have it /order it, you could even suggest a book signing – I will try and come. The US edition is still a few month aways yet, February 2016 if all goes to plan. However and whenever you get the book, please do send me an email as in these days of fast mail I would like to return to slow mail and send you a post card with a picture from the book and two extra recipes. My e-mail is on my about page.

So to finish, a recipe. Or rather what we happened to have the day I wrote this post. An assembly I never seem to tire of: Bruschetta with tomatoes, basil and ricotta. What I like most about this lunch, is what I like best about Roman food, it is robust, inviting and uncomplicated. Also it is very satisfying to toast some good bread and then rub it with a cut clove of garlic, to pile on tomatoes glistening with extra virgin olive oil and scented with fresh basil and then finish with a big fat blob of ricotta. Then what else is there to do? You eat.

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Bruschetta with tomatoes, basil and ricotta

serves 2

  • 4 slices of day-old country or sourdough bread
  • 300 – 500 g good, flavorsome, ripe tomatoes
  • a few leaves of basil
  • salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • a cloves of garlic
  • ricotta (ideally sheep’s milk)  or goats curd

Rince and cut away the tough stem from the tomatoes, then dice them roughly into a bowl, taking care to catch the juices. Add a pinch of salt, the basil leaves ripped into small pieces and a good amount of olive oil. Let the tomatoes sit for a 10 minutes.

Toast the bread (either under the grill, on a griddle or in a toaster). Cut the garlic in half lengthways and then use the cut side to rub the toast. Share the tomatoes and their oily juices between the four slices of bread, top with a spoonful of ricotta, a grind of black pepper and another thin drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

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136 Comments

Filed under books, bread, Five Quarters: recipes and notes from a kitchen in Rome, recipes, ricotta, tomatoes

136 responses to “what else is there to do?

  1. Hurrah! Well done, Rachel! I can’t wait to get my copy (in the U.S.).

  2. Mary

    Congrats Rachel! Can’t wait to get my copy. Love your recipes, writing and photos and just falling into your world here and on Instagram. x

  3. Lynn

    So looking forward to receiving my copy, lots of delicious recipes to try.

  4. gentileconnazionale

    Many congratulations Rachel! Can’t wait for the book to be part of our kitchen in Kew x

  5. Beautiful, Rachel! Congratulations. I can’t wait for my own copy.

  6. Samantha

    So looking forward to receiving my copy! Congratulations!

  7. I know you won’t mind that it will take me 10 years to work through it (I’m not very good at using cookery books as instruction manuals). What I have enjoyed so much about your blog (and I’m sure will find the same in the book), is the simple sense of sharing your joys and frustrations and from them being inspired.

    As I’m sure we all do, I think you write very well. Sometimes I wonder whether It’s you we know from these pages, or like a skilled actress; what you do is think yourself, brilliantly, into the part.

    I wish you whatever riches you desire as the fruits of your labour. And, as to what else there is that needs doing? Well, there’s clearly the need for a decent equivalent book of northern English cookery!

    All the best,

    Richard

    • rachel

      10 years is a good number. thanks so much for your support over the years, I hope you enjoy the book/are inspired/cook…..and as for playing myself into the part, ha, maybe, Rome (even the more ordinary parts) feel rather like theatre. very best to you Rx

  8. Writing a book is no small feat, especially when you are busy with blogging, photographing, cooking, and just generally living. A HUGE congratulations to you!!!

  9. Brava brava brava Rachel Alice Roddy, there is naught to do but raise our glasses with and to you. Can’t wait to turn the pages.

  10. laura

    Brava, Bravissima! And Hip, Hip, Hurrah! It looks as if the book IS you, which is what we all wanted after the delicious dips into your doings you have treated us to on your blog. Can’t believe the day I’ve been waiting for is almost here and you will be in my kitchen soon!
    Thank you!

  11. Rachel! Such a lovely introduction to your book.

    Can’t wait for it to be out! Your writing has always been such a pleasure and honor to read, and I know I’m speaking for many. Thanks for creating a book where your words and recipes have a new home, surely in many kitchens around the world.

  12. I haven’t commented in quite a while but I’ve loved your blog for years and years. I have you bookmarked and look for recipes and thoughts on foods I’ve.. uh.. acquired. Most Definitely will buy your book! How wonderful! Well done, Rach!

  13. Congratulations Rachel – and I love this recipe – I cook and eat by the seasons too and will be looking out for your book.

  14. I love your writing, your ability to transport me to Testaccio (which I’ve nver in fact visited – yet), to make me jealous of all the just-picked ingredients you have at your disposal, and of your versatility with simple ingredients. I’ve just ordered your book from The Little Ripon Bookshop (I won’t use Amazon) and am so looking forward to using it. I know it will soon be among the more oil-spattered and well-thumbed books in my collection. Congratulations!

    • rachel

      Hi M, I am glad you are using a small book shop and I feel extremely honored that I am going to be on your bookshelf. x

      • I had a message from said bookshop that their copies (NB: copies plural!) have arrived and the first one is reserved for me. I’m collecting tomorrow. Can’t wait!

      • rachel

        Yes and yes, did I say how much your support means, you really are a star and that makes this whole pre-publishing malarky very lovely indeed. Now I am nervous! I so hope you enjoy it xox

  15. Oh – yay! (Except that I must wait until February — but then I’ll make sure you get a lovely spot in the bookstore. Congrats!

    • rachel

      Hi T, I am just finishing edits on the US edition now so it is all looking good for feb. Thank you for your support, I feel extremely lucky to be in the midst of this generous group R xox

  16. Rosemary

    Yay for you, Rachel. Have been reading for a number of years and commenting quite infrequently, but I love your blog and your writing. I’ve just placed my preorder from amazon uk (though I’m in the US- can’t wait) and I can’t wait to page through, and cook from, the book. Well done.

  17. oh, I am beyond excited about seeing your book, Rachel!! It comes out on June 4th, right? That happens to be our 10th wedding anniversary, so a very auspicious date all round!! When we celebrate, we will raise a glass to you. I have pre-ordered your book but will, of course, have to wait till it gets here. Can’t wait!! xxxH

    • rachel

      I love that we share a celebration. thanks for your support and friendship, it is what make is all so wonderful xo

  18. Your accidental swerve into Testaccio became our joy. Your blog has taught me, entertained me, and most times has made me laugh. Congratulations on a job well done and your most anticipated book. xo

    • rachel

      Thanks so much M, I am so so glad for our virtual friendship and cannot wait to make it real (as in glass clinking) one day as soon as possible xo

  19. congrats, darling.

    pre-ordered. pre-dreaming.

    xxx

  20. Congrats Rachel! I have pre-ordered and am so excited about cooking from the book. Wahoo! x

  21. Eha

    Rachel dearHeart – have attempted to pre-order from Australia throughout this am and am at the moment being rapped on my knuckles !! Shall attempt again tomorrow!! love . . .

    • book depository in the uk will have it from the 4th of June, and with free delivery to Australia. I hope it ships quickly here to Melbourne🙂

    • rachel

      Hi E, so sorry it is proving tricky….Thanks so much for all your support, it really is at the heart of all this, love from Rome xo

  22. telbel

    Congratulazioni! I too refuse to order from Amazon so am waiting impatiently for your book to arrive at my little bookshop in Teddington. And I’ve got five tiny zucchini plants chortling away in my tiny patio garden, soon to (oh I hope) produce ‘numerosi fiori’ for dipping in Rachel’s perfect batter. Ah… the next best thing to being in Roma.

    • rachel

      Your own flowers fro dipping – how wonderful. I have a batter recipe just for you. thanks for your support xox

  23. Congratulations Rachel! I’m so excited to pre-order a copy of your book and I absolutely cannot wait to start cooking from it. I can tell it’s going to become grease-splattered in absolutely no time at all xo

  24. Maz

    Will you be doing any readings in London?

  25. Lauren

    Congratulations Rachel! I can’t wait to get your book in hands. I have loved your blog for a few years now, it has kept me company on the dull bus rides to and from work and in the middle of the night rocking a restless baby. I have made many of your recipes and even manage on occasion to soak my beans.
    All the best and bring that book tour to Australia we can wine tour the Barossa Valley. Xx

    • rachel

      Hi Lauren and I really hope I can come to Aus, then we can toast, books and life and good food over wine. thanks for al your wonderful support xox

  26. Jennifer

    Congratulations! I’m looking forward to picking up a copy soon!!

  27. Carolle

    Congratulations Rachel, a few more days to wait until your book is released in the UK, I’m sooo looking forward to it. Time for you to take a breather & relax!

  28. Sandra

    Can’t wait to recieve a copy. Will order one tonight! Sandra (Holland)

  29. Please get in touch. Would love to review your recent opus.
    http://www.insearchoftaste.com by way of introduction. Kindest regards, Keith

  30. Congratulations! Come and do a book signing in Bologna!

  31. Rachel, I’m just simply bursting with pride. How about a book signing in Orvieto? I’ll organize if you agree. xxoo

  32. What an accomplishment! I can’t wait to hold that great heavy tome and lose myself in it as I have in so many of your posts. There is so much here – your lovely photos, fine writing and marvellous food. What a joy it will be to have all these things on my bookshelf as well.

    • rachel

      ….thanks so much, you are just lovely and I feel honored that I am going to be in your kitchen. I hope you are all well, lots of love Rx – yes heavy

  33. ssaadat

    Many congratulations – look forward to the book coming out in N America x

    • rachel

      thanks S, and thanks for your support over the years, I hope you are all well?, I am still hoping for that drink and meal in Rome one day xo

  34. Bellal!! Congratulations Rachel:)

  35. Charlotte

    Looks lovely. Congratulations – can’t wait to read it.

  36. chiaradiack

    Congratulations!

  37. victoria2nyc

    I cannot wait until I get my copy!

  38. SarahC

    It looks beautiful! Many congratulations, after all your hard work.

  39. Mark

    Hi Rachel,
    Just ordered your book. Can’t wait to get it. I have read your blog with great pleasure for years. You have been an inspiration. I wish you the greatest success!
    Mark ( a Canadian expat ) in Munich

  40. Wonderful post as always! Love your writing and can’t wait to receive your book! Congratulations Rachel and please come to Berlin for your book signing!🙂

  41. Ivy

    Yours is one of my favorite blogs – the recipes, the writing, the baby! congrats on the book Rachel! I can’t wait to get it in the US.

  42. How very exciting for you to see your work finally in print. Well done.

  43. Amber

    Hi Rachel, ordered the book last night. Looking forward to receiving it!

  44. jana

    i can’t wait to read it. first time i comment here. your blog is pure joy. thank you🙂

  45. I am so happy for you and I can’t wait to read the book. I have a feeling the pages will be splashed with olive oil and covered in crumbs in no time at all! Congratulations!

    • rachel

      I cannot wait for the day my books is splattered with signs of cooking, really. thanks for all your support, it is lovely, Rxo

  46. My goodness, I love your words, Rachel. And your recipes. Ordering now! So very very exciting, congratulations. And yay for me, to soon be able to devour these dishes. x

  47. Elizabeth Ward

    Fantastic news Rachel. I have been reading your blog for several years and have looked forward to the book. I have pre ordered it – wishing you success in all your endeavours. Elizabeth Ward

    • rachel

      Hello Elizabeth and thank you for reading along, it make me so happy to hear you enjoy it, thank you too for pre-ordering I hope you enjoy reading and cooking xox

  48. I can’t wait for my copy to arrive. Do you fancy a visit to Shropshire for a book signing? I wish, wish, wish I was coming to the food writing course, but money and children prevent me. I am raising a glass (only water at the moment unfortunately) to you having a fantastic couple of weeks ahead.

    • rachel

      I wish you were coming too, really. I understand the reasons too (i know the price is very high). I am hoping to do something else one day, more accessible. Yes I do ant to do a signing in Shopshire, this is the perfect reason for us to meet. Do you have a nice local bookshop that we could do a signing at? even if it was just a tiny event that meant we would get to meet and eat xox

      • There are a few bookshops that would suit. One very local, one or two in Shrewsbury and one North of the county. I will do some investigating and get back to you. It would be wonderful to meet in real life.

      • rachel

        you are a star, yes lets make this happen xo

  49. Jane Stephenson

    Hoping to be able to pick up your book( birthday present to self-always the best) before flying – by happy coincidence- to Rome early Friday. Staying with family near the Pyramid so if you see a slightly dazed body clutching your book in Testaccio market skip past unless you can face some effusive praise and request for very own signing on the spot!

    • rachel

      Hi Jane, and the fact you are hoping to bring my book to Rome makes me extremely happy. I will be in London, so we will sadly miss each other. I hope you have a lovely time (you will), the weather is beautiful and the market is at it’s most wonderful: peas and peaches and apricots and strawberries and courgettes with flowers. Write me a mail to rachelaliceroddy@googlemail.com and I will send you the card and extra recipes xo

  50. Rachel, I have your book! It’s wonderful. I took it to bed with me last night and read it with as much enthusiasm as I would any page-turner. That and the photos too. Today, I’ll choose one of your recipes. Thank you! I see you have Yorkshire roots. But not North Yorkshire ones. If you DO venture this far north though, you’d have a great welcome, and not just from me.

    • rachel

      Margaret,
      Thank you. You are one of the first to hold the book and tell me you like it, which after months of excitement but also anxiety that anyone would actually want it never mind like it, is beautiful. I have said this before, but I will say it again: your loyal readership, comments and now book holding is very special to me. Enjoy the book and enjoy cooking from it, Rx

  51. Taubette Klompas

    Rachel,

    Just collected by pre-ordered copy of your book from Daunt Books London. The most beautifully produced cookery book I own! I already cook from lots of your blog recipes, so can’t wait to get started on your book. Thanks for your hard work in putting together such a great piece of literature! Love Taubette (Brighton) xx

    • rachel

      Hello Taubette,
      Thank you. Daunt is also my local bookshop in London so that makes this even nicer. I am so glad, delighted in fact, that you like the book (I know it is unusual in many way). My name is on the front, but the book is the work of many, all of whom were committed to making a lovely, truthful book – I will pass on your words to them. Thanks too for taking the time to write and let me know – very best Rachel x

  52. This is very interesting, I like your blog.

  53. Reblogged this on ziapomodoro and commented:
    perfect dinner

  54. Pingback: Buy Rachel Roddy’s Book Five Quarters Right Now | Parla Food

  55. Bevelie

    Thank you Rachel, my copy arrived today and it beats even my expectations! I have promised my small grandsons, Tom and Alex that I will cook my way through it and they can choose receives and test the results, so off we go!

    • rachel

      Hello there and thank you so much, this makes me extremely happy. I hope you enjoy the reading and cooking and reading and cooking, and that you all, esp Tom and Alex enjoy eating very best RX

  56. Bevelie

    So sorry, recipes, not receives…….

  57. Sarah Johnson

    Rachel – many congratulations on your book! My long-awaited copy arrived today … I love the combination of beautiful photography, elegant and engaging introductions to each recipe and most importantly your gentle, but to the point, instructions. I can’t wait to cook my way through it. Thank you!

  58. Shelley Alder

    Hi Rachel, Congratulations on a wonderful blog and also a great book. I brought a copy of the book today – at a bookshop in Subiaco- inner city suburb of Perth Western Australia. Nice to have the book just as it is published instead of a big wait. Beautiful book. Cheers, Shelley.

  59. My copy came today!!! It is a beautiful, beautiful book. I mean, the actual book is beautiful–the cover design and materials, the paper quality, the heft. None of us have any doubt the content and the recipes will be equally stunning, but this was a lovely added bonus and surprise. Congratulations!

    • rachel

      thank you so much and I (we) anre so glad you like the look and feel of the book, the team at salt yard really did want it to be a lovely book (with a sink). I hope you enjoy reading and cooking and reading and cooking xo

  60. Hi Rachel,
    On this weekend i will try your dish and serve to my family and all are really excited because i do always something new in food department and its turn of your dish, as i complete it sure share with you my family reviews

  61. congratulations! The bruschetta looks amazing! please visit my blog❤ https://enjoybypaula.wordpress.com/

  62. Jenn

    Congratulations–can’t wait to get a copy here in Miami! I had to look at the book picture close up to figure out your name–as I headed over to Amazon to see about pre-ordering I realized it probably wouldn’t be by “Rachel Eats.” (Yah, I’m pretty quick like that). First discovered you here the day you posted the recipe for Pasta y Cecci, its still one of my all-time favorite lunches. Thanks!

  63. Love your blog and look forward to your book!

  64. I just received my book this evening…Nice moments to come !

  65. Wendy Simmons

    I recently discovered your blog, and I have been unable to subscribe. I’ve made several attempts to resend, and nothing works.
    Can you help?
    Thank you, Wendy

    • rachel

      Hello Wendy and I am nor sure why you can’t subscribe. I will check with wordpress. I am also in the prices of updating everything here so hopefully that might make things easier. thank you for letting me know -R

  66. Jon

    Dear Rachel, congratulations on your book! I only hope that this doesn’t mean that you will stop blogging… I also love your instagram pictures! Hava lovely summer!

  67. Dear Rachel, I am egregiously late in wishing you “tantissimi auguri” on the launch of your first cookbook and February can’t come fast enough so I can buy the US edition! I sincerely hope we can both meet in person when we are in Rome next. Our travel plans keep getting postponed, but we will make it back and I will keep you posted. I would love to learn all about Testaccio and finally experience it first-hand. Well done, my friend. Auguri e abbracci!

    • rachel

      dear F, thank you so much for this and your continued support I feel extremely fortunate to be surrounded by such lovely and generous people. I am looking forward to you having a copy, to meeting you too, in person for supper in Testaccio. keep me up to date with your plans x

  68. Hi Rachel, Can you tell me if any of the English language bookshops in Rome are currently stocking your book? I’d love to pick up a copy while I am living here in the city (am also in wonderful Testaccio!). Grazie!

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