Testaccio in ancient times was the centre of trade along the Tevere, and in the centre of this suburb stands Testaccio Hill, which is made up entirely of broken clay amphorae or vessels, a kind of Roman midden pile, providing archeological evidence of ancient everyday Roman life. I would love to go digging in that pile of remains, a highly unlikely prospect. In the meantime, I went digging for culinary treasure at the Testaccio market, a venue often heralded as one of Rome’s food havens.
Testaccio is a plain looking working class suburb that is on the turn. The bars and restaurants look more appealing than many of those located in the tourist traps around Rome, though they are being discovered and some are beginning to blandify their offerings to suit small tour groups run by American food bloggers. In one such establishment, Flavio Al Velavevodetto, I had the best Carciofi alla Giudìa, that classic Roman Jewish dish of deep-fried artichoke, and a rather insipid Pasta e Ceci, redeemed only by the cute bottle of their own freshly pressed olive oil, which went straight into my handbag. The restaurant is carved into Monte Testaccio and you can view amphorae shards in the hill through carved out arches in the rear wall. Perhaps this is a worthy reason to visit in itself.
The Testaccio market building is modern, fairly ugly, and not particularly appealing. However, If you have an apartment in centro and are after fresh ingredients, this is the spot to shop. Other offerings include an outdoor cafe, a shop touting a list of so-called Strit Fud snacks, a concept I still find jarring in the Italian context, and a wonderful little corner bar offering a tall glass of Prosecco at any time in the morning for €2
Un piccolo forno dentro il mercato
Prosecco and wine corner
Treviso e Zucchini
La stagione per carciofi
Street food really?
Carciofi ready to cook
I was intrigued by the padrone of the prosciutto shop, who hand cut his special cured meats. A small crowd gathered as he carefully shaved off thin slices of Cinta Senese, that Tuscan pig with its own DOP.
While the produce is fresh and appealing, the market was, for me, underwhelming. We needed that glass of Prosecco.
The other day I noticed some of our peaches ripening on the bench too quickly. This is not normally a problem, given that I live with a fruit bat of a man who has an addiction to fruit, a dependence he has passed on to some of his grandchildren. The likelihood of finding fruit in prime condition, hanging about and ready to be eaten, is a rare event. He was being polite I am sure, knowing that I have a preference for summer stone fruits. Thank you kind sir, but I can’t eat 12 pieces of fruit in one day like the rest of you.
The slightly too ripe peaches were skinned, stoned, ( it’s beginning to sound like a medieval tale of torture- bring on the rack), then thrown into a blender, puréed and frozen into ice blocks. On Christmas Day, at around 11 am, they emerged once again and were shaved into the base of a crystal stemmed glass and covered with chilled Prosecco. Not quite a Bellini, more like a special breakfast beverage and one I can highly recommend.
The day started to improve dramatically. We began with a small pot of Manuka smoked mussel pâté on salted plain biscuits, a quickly imagined and executed festive treat, consumed only in the interests of sobriety. My simple Christmas vegetarian meal followed, Stilton and Walnut Double Baked Soufflé, the pre-planned part of our day. It was whipped up the night before, requiring minimal re-heating in the oven ‘on the day’, and accompanied by a few colourful trimmings, picked baby leaves from the garden and a psychedelic dollop of home-made Beetroot and Caramelised Onion Relish . These little puffy fellas were served with a Roaring Meg Pinot Gris from the Central Otago District of NZ. At this point, I was more than happy about losing my traditions, amongst other things.
And that dear friends, is how my quiet Christmas Day at home, senza famiglia, went. The dessert, a grown up trifle full of garden berries, followed much later on.
I’m posting my simple festive recipes here as they are most fitting for a light luncheon or entrée in any season. The soufflé recipe comes from Delicious Magazine.
The Smoked Mussell Pâté. Throw a handful of good quality smoked mussels into a blender. Add a couple of Tablespoons ( 1/4 cup) of cream cheese and a little sour cream. Blend until smooth. Add chopped chives if you have them nearby. Adapt the quantity to suit your numbers.
The Twice baked Stilton and Walnut Souffles ( makes 6)
300 ml milk
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
25 gr unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
25 gr plain flour
2 tsp English mustard
4 medium-sized free range eggs, separated
175 gr Stilton cheese, crumbled
50 gr walnuts, roughly chopped
leaves, chutney to serve
Heat the milk in a saucepan with the celery to just below boiling point. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 180C . Butter 6 X 150 ml ramekins/mini souffle dishes thoroughly and place in a deep baking tray.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat, then stir in the flour to form a smooth paste. Remove from the heat and slowly strain in the celery infused milk, stirring constantly to make a smooth sauce. return to the heat and bring to a gentle simmer, stirring to thicken. Cook a further few minutes then transfer to a large bowl to cool.
Beat the mustard and egg yolks into the sauce and stir through 150 gr of the Stilton, the walnuts.Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl till they form stiff peaks, then using a metal spoon, fold a little egg white through the souffle mix to loosen it. Fold the rest of the egg white gradually into the souffle.
Divide the mixture among the 6 buttered ramekins, then fill the baking tray with boiling water so that it reaches halfway up the outside of the ramekins Bake for 30 minutes or until the souffles have risen and are cooked through. Carefully remove them from the bainmarie, cool,then chill until needed.
When ready to serve, preheat the oven to 200C. Line a baking sheet with baking paper and using a palette knife, carefull loosen the souffles from their ramekins. Turn each one out onto the baking sheet. ( if at this point , some of the mixture has stuck to the bottom of the ramekins, don’t worry. Just lift it off with the knife and gently place it back onto the souffles. They may look a little ugly and shrunken at this point also. Don’t fret- they puff up agina with the second baking.) Scatter over the remaining 25 gr of Stilton.
Return to the oven for 10- 15 minutes until risen and golden on top. Serve with watercress, or baby leaves lightly dressed and some interesting chutney.
The best part of this recipe is that it can be made ahead up to step 4, then wrapped in cling foil. They can be frozen for up to 1 month and defrosted in the fridge overnight. Or they can be kept chilled for up to 24 hours. When ready to serve, continue from step 5.
Tomorrow’s recipe – that beetroot and caramelised onion chutney.