Spring, sunshine and food bingo

Spring in Garbatella

Spring! Sunshine, flowering trees, time for allergy medication and looking at the surviving plants in our balcony boxes. It is a lovely day here, and people are making the most of our last weekend before lockdown starts again in Rome Monday until 6 April. Most of Italy moves to red now, so we will just have to make the best of it.

Spring drinks while bars still open: the blue spritz is made with blue Curacao. Classic Aperol Spritz is better.

One new thing we have tried this week is a food waste app, TooGoodToGo. I view it as food bingo: you pay a small amount from participating food shops to get a “Magic Box” of mystery food at reduced price that would otherwise be food waste. Near here it is mainly pizza, bakeries, bars, pasta shops and supermarkets. So far, it looks promising.

Today: a pizza box for 4€ and a very nice tray of pastries for 5€. Desserts for a week!

I looked for offers within 3km, with convenient collection time, and took it as an opportunity to explore new streets – and walk off some of those pastry calories in advance…. We like to cook, but now and then, it’s nice to try something else.

Hopefully we know better what to expect this time. There will be fewer zoom cocktails this time than our lockdown a year ago, but more making sure to get out for walks to maintain our mental health. Bonus if the walk passes a nice bakery or vegetable stand. The food markets here should still be open too, thank goodness.

Special greetings to all in lockdown. Forza! We will get through this. The news of friends and relatives getting vaccinated does help. Cheers to spring and more people having drinks in sunny Roman piazzas soon!

Baking Shrovetide buns (fastelavnsboller)

The days are getting longer, and despite the polar winds (well, -2C at night, which is cold for Rome) it does feel like spring is on the way. Some optimistic cherry tree are flowering, and there are electric yellow sprigs of mimosa bobbing down the street along with the red roses in Valentine’s Day bouquets today. Rome is currently in the yellow zone, so restaurants can open for lunch and we can go for coffee, as we did this morning, sitting outside bundled up against the wind. Everyone on the street wears masks, and it was a busy Sunday with people out walking in the sunshine. Carnevale must have started, as there are colorful sprinkles of paper confetti scattered here and there on the sidewalks, and a few small children in costumes. I confess, I’ve lost track of whether the kids are in school or not. The palazzo next door had a mini birthday toast for someone this morning, and it was great to see a couple kids with tutus and play swords. Even with plenty of distancing and masks, seeing that makes life feel almost normal again. The pastry shops in Rome are also selling frappe and castagnole, deepfried dough pieces dusted with icing sugar, and little dough fritters.

It’s Shrove Sunday, so I made Norwegian fastelavnsboller today, Shrovetide buns. Yeasted wheat buns with a little cardamom, split in two horizontally and filled with whipped cream, dusted with icing sugar. Some years I make a healthier version, this year I used the classic Tine recipe, just with less yeast, no egg and longer rise.

Fastelavnsboller (Shrovetide buns, makes 12-14)

100g butter, melted and slightly cooled
350 ml lukewarm milk (I used semi-skimmed)
25g fresh yeast (or 13g dry yeast)
100 g sugar
500 g white flour
1/2 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder

To serve
200 ml whipping cream, whipped wirh a little vanlla sugar, plus icing sugar to dust over

Melt butter, and add milk. Heat until it is just finger warm, about 37C. Crumble the fresh yeast in a bowl. When the milk and butter are lukewarm, dissolve the yeast in the milk and butter, in a large bowl. Careful it is not too hot, that will kill the yeast. Add flour, sugar, salt, cardamom, and sugar. Stir well, the dough will be quite sticky. Knead for a few minutes, you will feel the dough getting smoother. Let the dough rise at room temperature, under cover (I use a plastic shower cap) for 2-3 hours, you will see it doubling.

Knock the dough back. Divide it into 12-14 pieces, and roll these out to round buns, roughly the same size. Leave to rise on parchment paper on a baking tray, covered with a tea towel. Dampening the tea towel slightly keeps the dough from drying out. Leave to rise until it doubles, half an hour or so. Bake at 220ºC on the middle rack for 10-11 minutes. Let the buns cool on a rack.

When cool (otherwise the cream goes runny): whip the cream with the vanilla and sugar. Slice the buns in half. Spoon a generous blob of whipped cream on the bases, then replace each bun top carefully. Sift over icing sugar, and serve.

I hope you are all staying safe and that sunny days are on the way for you too.

Pickled beetroot

Yesterday afternoon, we heard a megaphone outside. A demonstration! We have not had that for a while in the neighbourhood. Unions and housing associations, I think: “Economia pubblica, occupazione stabile, casa e reddito per tutti”: Public economy, stable employment, housing and income for all.

We are preparing for a Christmas in Rome, where life suprisingly seems almost normal. Yes, we have lots of masks, and never leave the house without them. Yes, the bars and restaurants close at 6PM, and we have a curfew 10PM-5AM. But shops are open, we can still meet friends for an outdoor lunch on sunny days, and the only lines for food shopping are at the fresh pasta shop, baker and butcher. With all the travel restrictions it made sense to stay here for the holidays, and though it was hard to accept that, we are really grateful that friends and family are healthy and safe. Touch wood!

On the weekends I’ve doing small-batch pickling and preserving. Bread and butter pickles, this Christmas apple and date chutney, and several batches of pickled beetroot. Even anchovies for Christmas, which have not exploded yet…. we shall see if they are edible. The new market up the hill (near Regionale Lazio, if you know the area) is a great place to get vegetables, cheese, meat, nuts, a tablecloth, a haircut, or some roast porchetta. Very nice. The Puglian stand has amazing red onion taralli. I bought beetroot yesterday, and made another batch.

Pickled beetroot

1 kg fresh beetroot
2 tsp salt

300 ml white wine vinegar
300 ml water
400 ml sugar
1/2 tbs caraway
1/2 tbs yellow mustard seeds

Wash and brush beetroot, cut the stems and leaves off but do not peel them. Do not cut off root or stem base before cooking, or they will bleed red juice into cooking water and be paler later. Cook in salted water 30 minutes or so until almost tender when pierced. Rinse in cold water. Now cut off root and stem base, the remaining peel will come off by rubbing them gently. Slice the cooked beetroot.

In the interim you’ll have boiled up the brine: vinegar, water, sugar, spices. Also, sterilize your glass jars by boiling them with lids for 5-10 minutes. Fill the jars with sliced beetroot, and carefully ladle over the boiling hot brine, to fill the jars. Wipe off any residue, and let them cool upside down. These should keep for a few months, refrigerate once opened.