Augusto rides via Testaccio market each morning at about 9.30, his bicycle chopping a reasonably easy and regular path between stalls and buyers. He stops to purchase greens from Il Velletrano, meat and offal from the butcher Sartor, then fish from the stall that was run by Mauro till he handed over to his younger apprentice. Mauro and Augusto used to barter till their frontal veins bulged so insistently I fearful they may burst, and so they had been at it for years. These days, it’s the younger apprentice that stands agency as a day by day deal is struck and a steel trolley of polystyrene bins crammed with silver-blue anchovies and mottled clams, tiny octopi and loose-mouthed groupers is pushed 3 streets from the market to Augusto’s ristorante.
It has been an exceptionally gentle October – days heat sufficient to eat outdoors with extra to return, apparently – however final week they retired the road of tables below the drooping awning till subsequent spring. Inside it’s. The decor at La Torricella jogs my memory of the boardroom at my dad’s work within the late 70s: darkish wooden fittings, drinks cupboard and a sense of plush performance. At La Torricella, the slim entrance part opens up into a giant room divided by pillars; there’s a bucolic Roman scene painted on 1 wall and a big portrait that appears influenced by each Klimt and Barbara Cartland on one other. There are double cloths on every desk, yellow napkins, a salt-pepper-toothpick set, and glasses with squat stems which might be good to carry.
In his glorious ebook on Italian tradition, Massimo Montanari described the evolution of consuming institutions in Italy and Rome within the 19th century, how osteria, trattoria (which he calls city inns) and household run eating places have been – and nonetheless are – extensions of individuals’s houses, serving wine and “simple, traditional food of intense flavour based around local ingredients”. In quick, good almost-homestyle cooking with the occasional flourish, and with wine by the litre, for a great worth.
Years in the past I bear in mind studying the recommendation written by a superb if intimidating Roman meals critic who mentioned not simply to ask the locals the place they go, however to ask to go together with a neighborhood and see what they order. Then, in case you just like the place, construct up a relationship – even when it only for a couple of days. Finding La Torricella was like assembly somebody I knew was going to be a great pal, It was the identical with the meals – good, and unfussy; the kind of factor I need to eat repeatedly: curls of fried anchovy and golden cod cheeks, fish soup, spaghetti tangled with clams or little octopus, Augusto’s bean and chestnut soup, baked fish and sliced potatoes, custardy chestnut ice-cream with squirty cream. We come usually, and my son has grown up right here, consuming spaghetti al pomodoro realizing youngsters are as welcome as adults, typically extra so, even when they do put toothpicks up their nostril.
There can be a trolley. What is it a few trolley? Is it the anticipation of it being wheeled in direction of you, rattling with good issues? La Torricella’s trolley is residence to antipasti and facet dishes, which fluctuate from each day and, like the remainder of the menu, are principally – however not completely – fish. There is normally a big Pyrex bowl of octopus salad – pink-edged chunks wearing olive oil with a couple of skinny slices of celery; additionally presumably a salad of flaked fish, lettuce and prawns; and now that artichokes are again in season, there are all the time not less than 2 preparations of those – normally alla giudia (trimmed like a tulip then deep-fried till they seem like bronze flowers) – and possibly wedges grilled with breadcrumbs. Lately there have additionally been fishballs, the scale of a plump walnut, flecked with parsley and sitting in pool of vibrant pink, wealthy tomato sauce.
As with Italian meatballs, bread is vital in fishballs, not solely to make issues go additional, however for an virtually pillowy texture. We have been with my companion Vincenzo’s dad and mom the day we first ate these, and his mom is a detective, guessing each ingredient and estimating proportions. In my recreation of Augusto’s recipe I’ve urged a 4:1 ratio of fish to bread, however you possibly can add extra bread in case you wished, through which case much more lemon and cheese are price including. Almost all white fish would work right here, however I particulary like cod and hake. It actually is price making a recent tomato sauce, letting it simmer till shiny and wealthy, including a little bit sugar to the sauce whether it is acidic, then poaching the fishballs within the sauce till plump. Eat with rice, or just bread, with salad after and about half of a litre of home white every.
Polpette di pesce al sugo (fishballs in tomato sauce)
The breadcrumbs are only for moulding, however I really like the way in which they thicken the sauce – however in case you can’t pay money for very effective crumbs they aren’t important. It will not be conventional to serve these with pasta – however it is extremely good. Either the sauce (after which polpette as a 2nd course) or each sauce and polpette with spaghetti.
400g skinless fish fillets, similar to cod or hake
100g delicate white breadcrumbs
1 garlic clove, very finely chopped
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley, plus extra for end
1 tbsp grated parmesan (non-obligatory)
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
Salt and black pepper
Dry breadcrumbs (non-obligatory)
For the sauce
1kg ripe tomatoes, or 500g tinned peeled plum tomatoes
1-2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
A sprig of basil
1 Chop or mince the fish. In a big bowl, soften the breadcrumbs with the crushed egg after which add the fish, garlic, parsley, parmesan if you’re utilizing it, zest, salt and pepper. Then use your arms to deliver the whole lot right into a delicate, constant mass. If the combination appears too moist, add a handful of dried breadcrumbs.
2 Scoop out a big teaspoon of the combination at a time after which form right into a walnut-sized ball, rolling it in dry breadcrumbs if you want. Once rolled, depart the fishballs to relaxation.
3 Make the sauce. If you’re utilizing recent tomatoes, peel them by plunging them first in boiling water then in chilly water, at which level the skins ought to slip away. Chop roughly, discarding any powerful bits and the seeds if you want. If you’re utilizing tinned tomatoes, use scissors to cut them instantly within the tin or go via a mouli.
4 In a big frying pan, heat 5 tbsp olive oil with the garlic. Once aromatic, add the tomatoes and sprig of basil and simmer for 10 minutes, mashing with a wood spoon.
5 Now add the fishballs. Simmer for one more 25 minutes or so, turning the polpette infrequently and including a little bit extra water if sauce appears to be like too diminished.
6 Once the polpette are cooked via, pull from warmth, sprinkle with extra finely chopped parsley and serve.
- Rachel Roddy is a meals author primarily based in Rome and gained the Guild of Food Writers meals author and cookery author awards for this column. Her new ebook, Two Kitchens (Headline Home) is out now; @rachelaliceroddy
Rachel Roddy from theguardian.com