August is a rather confusing month in Rome. It is extremely hot and the humidity patiently persists. This is the time when the Romans depart for their much anticipated one month long summer holiday, heading to the coast (working hard on their tan) or to their family holiday homes in the countryside. A large number of local shops and businesses tend to close for a minimum of two weeks starting from the 15th of August called Ferragosto, a public holiday that coincides with the major Catholic feast of the Assumption of Mary. Some of our favourite restaurants sadly close too. One may think that the ones that remain open are just tourist traps, but that is not exactly true. Fruit and vegetable vendors also depart for a well deserved rest.
We have been living in Rome for a couple of years now, enough time to learn to some extent our way round, know about shops closing periods (sometimes the hard way) and where to source all the food we want. The choice is slightly limited during this period but we will not compromise on the quality. Amazing what just a few years in Italy can do. I have always been used to walking and going to extreme lengths to buy something as trivial (to some) as good bread (sourdough or yeast bread where time and ingredients are crucial) or cheese and meat of course. For ”The dégustateur ” that was something new and I must admit, he loves it. Well, what’s not to like. We are spoilt that our food shopping route runs through or near the mayor Roman attractions and monuments. It does feel like living in a museum at times.
Early mornings and early evenings are my favourite parts of the day. To see a city waking up has always thrilled me. The air seems so fresh. Almost empty streets and pavements enable me to stroll undisturbed while admiring the surroundings and enjoying the very early rays of sun that gently kiss the skin promising yet another gorgeous and wonderful hot day. Some locals actually choose to stay in Rome during August to take advantage of the quiet life and traffic free streets. We truly share that attitude apart from a couple of weeks when our gym closes down for the yearly maintenance routine, as they say. Wisely we don’t want to compete with the large numbers of vacationers and choose the spots and timings for our trips outside The Eternal City quite carefully during that period.
Towards the end of August and first week of September life in Rome slowly gets back to normal. My local grocery stores gradually build up their stock upon their reopening, the morning chaos caused by smaller or larger delivery vehicles begins. The coffee bars fill up with locals demanding their morning coffee and cornetto, before heading to work creating a wonderful buzz. At such an early hour when I depart for my food shopping tour most of the tourists are just waking up or having breakfast. This is the only time of the day when the narrow streets of the city are not crowded with tired and occasionally confused tourists trying to work out their maps and being unaware that they have to share their space with other passersby not to mention scooters and cars.
For many September means the end of summer and that is very true from the weather and geographical point of view. Here in Rome on the other hand it is a fabulous month, an extended summer. This is actually one of the loveliest months of the year. I can feel the slight weather change running my morning errands. It is slightly cooler, fresher and in no way less pleasant, quite the opposite. The dégustateur joins me when he can and we start the day first by having a coffee together and a small bite usually at one of the historical cafès in the vicinity of the Pantheon. In the morning the coffee bars offer a very generous selection of cornetti (either served on their own or with a custard, pistachio or marmalade filling) and pastries which we eat standing at the bar. The pizze, panini and tramezzini are usually displayed some time before noon depending on the establishment.
By the time we return home the sun and the temperatures have already risen promising yet another very warm and a pleasant day.
With the gentle temperature drop I slowly gravitate to some of the Roman food classics of the summer period. While tomatoes are bountiful I have chosen ”Pomodori al riso”, baked stuffed tomatoes with rice. The filling consists of just a few ingredients which is so representative of Italian cooking. It is all about the simple and good quality ingredients beautifully put together so you can still taste each one of them. They are harmonious and compliment each other. All you need is some shallots, tomato sauce, Pecorino Romano, fresh basil leaves and (risotto) rice of course. This is the period when you can find bigger tomatoes that perfectly suit this dish. Traditionally they are served with roast potatoes which I occasionally make too. In such case the whole meal is more filling which means I will have a few tomatoes left for next day. Just heat them up in the oven and lunch is ready. I love that kind of cooking. It is not only time saving but also the flavours improve over night.
I have recently tasted a great courgette salad in one of the local places that we often frequent and I have recreated it at home. It has become our latest favourite.
You will need is a couple of medium size Romanesco courgettes, sun dried and fresh tomatoes, rocket salad and mint or basil leaves. All tossed together with some lemon juice and olive oil, finally topped with shaved parmesan.
A steak is always a good choice at any time. In Italy the way butchers cut their meat varies slightly from North to South, but a beef fillet, sirloin or ribeye remains unchanged regardless of the geography. The dégustateur says I have spoiled him from having a steak anywhere else but home. Well I take it as a compliment especially that we all know that these cuts are not as even and uniform as they are prepared for a restaurant, where you can fry them with eyes closed, no touching, just relying on timing.
Today I paid a visit to the one and only friendly butcher’s and chose chicken legs.
I asked to have them skin off and divided into drumsticks and thighs. We are still celebrating summer so I made ”Pollo alla Romana”, Roman style chicken cooked with white wine, onions and an abundance of peppers and marjoram. So few ingredients can create a delicious meal. To accompany the chicken just roast some potatoes and that is all you need. Perfect late summer cooking and flavours of which I am very fond.