Has it really been two whole months since we’ve last seen each other? Well, between a plethora of visitors and a new side project, Headline Foods has been slacking off a little. My bad. Seriously. I mean honestly, we’ve missed fava bean season entirely, carciofi romani disappeared from the markets weeks ago, and it’s so freaking hot here I’m drinking about 6 liters of water a day sitting inside, at a desk, with a fan overhead. Still, it’s not like that ever stopped me from eating. And just because it might be something I ate two months ago, there’s no reason you shouldn’t hear about it, right? So…what we’re doing today is resurrecting Headline Foods from its two month slumber, with, appropriately, Easter. Because Easter here rocks, and we made some pretty awesome food and I would feel terrible depriving you all of the opportunity to salivate over it. Also, one of the dishes we made was also featured in last year’s Brooklyn Spring Religious Holiday Al Fresco Extravaganza (Seder AND Easter dinner on the deck, and just a few weeks apart!), which also was inexplicably never published.
But back to Rome. Easter in Italy is a glorious tradition. Giant chocolate eggs abound, the next day is a mandatory work holiday, people travel to Rome from all over the world, the standard celebration is just sitting around and eating, etc. All good things. I originally hoped to go down to Matera, a town in Basilicata known for being both exceptionally gorgeous and the home of my roommate. Unfortunately for yours truly, the whole family decided to travel instead, so I found myself without a destination but with a craving for some springtime treats. Fortunately, my fellow Americans here in Rome were eager for an Easter celebration of their own. I’ll direct you over here for a recap of our shopping travails in the market (I mean honestly, no lamb available on the afternoon before Easter? What, did people actually plan ahead or something?!?), and share a little more info about the magic that goes into making these delicacies here. And oh, what delicacies they were. We whet our appetites with a plate of deviled eggs, whipped together with nothing more than some expertly hard-boiled eggs and a weird failed homemade mayo that actually still tasted pretty good.
After the antipasto, it was time for our primi – and that day we were going all out: pan fried ricotta gnocchi with pancetta, fave, and pecorino. Read that again, just in case you didn’t drool enough the first time. The main event here is the pan fried gnocchi, which has become something of an Easter tradition (if making it twice in a row counts as tradition…and I think it does). These fluffy, crispy, dumplings of delight are actually surprising easy to make. The dough consists of mixing together approx. 1 lb fresh ricotta, 1 egg, ½ cup grated Grana Padano cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and about 1/3 to ½ cup flour – slowly added in until the dough is no longer sticky but definitely not dry. We actually went through the process of rolling the dough out into ropes and cutting down into gnocchi sized pieces, but I think with this type (DEFININTELY NOT WITH TRADITIONAL, POTATO BASED!!!!), you could get away with just spooning it out directly from the mixing bowl. But into what, you ask? Ah, into a medium sized skillet sizzling away with some hot oil. They’ll need a minute or two per side, just enough to get nice and crispy on the outside, but maintaining the soft, cheesy center. Heavenly.
The great thing about these is they hold their taste and flavor for a while, so you can fry them all up, and then prepare the “sauce” and toss it all together at the end. For this dish, we started off by cooking up a pancetta, guanciale, lardo mixed bag that my new bff at the Testaccio market provided for us. Once a fair amount of the fat was rendered, in went the beans from about 2 kilos of shelled favas. Which I’m not going to talk about any more because fava season is over and all I want is to sit outside shelling favas and eating it with pecorino and I CAN’T UNTIL NEXT APRIL. Anyway, with the pork and beans cooking up nicely, I finished it off with a some nice aged pecorino and combined it all together with the fried gnocchi. See below.
Our secondi that night was actually two very well-roasted chickens, but we’re going to skip that (as I’ve previously covered my extraordinary talents with poultry roasting), in favor of the contorni. Chicken-fat roasted potatoes. Total win, but not much to be said. Just take the chicken drippings, toss with some taters, and roast until crispy. The other contorno was not exactly universally praised, but I happened to like it, and I’m proud of it because it was my first, and relatively successful, attempt at a truly classic Roman dish: carciofi alla romana. Romans love their artichokes, and they particularly love them stuffed and slowly steamed to a point of tenderness that we can only dream of from our tough, Central Valley, not that I don’t love just scraping off the ends and dipping it in sauce but there’s so much MORE to an artichoke, California ‘chokes. To be fair, this preparation isn’t exactly the least time-consuming option out there, but oh MAN is it good. The key here is actually all of the prep work, as the actual cooking is fairly foolproof. Correction: the key here is actually a sharp knife which makes things a LOT easier. Because while you can eat most of the roman artichokes, you so still need to remove the toughest outer leaves, lop of the spiny tops, and remove the choke. All while keeping a lemon and a bowl of lemony water on hand to constantly keep the cut surfaces from oxidizing. But for more detailed instructions, check out Elizabeth Minchilli’s well-photographed step by step break down. Once you have your ‘chokes prepped, it’s time to stuff them with a lovely mash of mint, parsley, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and, which I didn’t find out until too late, anchovies! Once the vacant choke and all gaps between the leaves are well-stuffed, the ‘chokes all go into a covered pot with about an inch or so of water at the bottom to steam for 45 minutes to an hour, or until perfectly tender (it is important that you reach perfection here). This, however, was our one misstep. Choosing to repurpose abandoned lemon halves as supports in the cooking pot, the end result artichokes were imbued with a citrusness that some found less than ideal. I didn’t mind, though, plus, they’re so pretty!
Dessert was a strawberry pie. It was incredible. That is all you need to know.