Minestra di Broccoli e Arzilla
The “Trama Tannica” in the town of Albano south of Rome is a tiny jewel for food lovers who are after what I call ‘gourmet’ hearty food as opposed to just ‘plain’ hearty food The owners, Alessandro Ferracci (son of famed Queen of Roman food Anna Dente) and his wife Sabina, go to a lot of trouble to source the freshest and tastiest ingredients they can lay their hands on and also know what to do with them, rustling up morsels that linger deliciously on the palate in a surprisingly sophisticated manner given the homeliness of the ingredients. I’m sorry but I am just going to have to come out and say it: there are a lot of people out there who are just not good-enough cooks despite their love of cooking and their carping on about the importance of seasonal ingredients, authentic recipes and organic produce. The end result of what they offer does not match their enthusiasm and well meant zeal, it’s just not “special” – – sad but true. Well, chez the Trama Tannica all the food is truly mouth-smackingly good and more-ish – not to mention the wines. Indeed it was on account of our belonging to a wine club, that makes use of Alessandro and Sabina’s talents to host wine-pairing events, that my husband and I went to eat there in the first place.
There was to be a tasting of some of Andrea Franchetti’s wines and, if you are anything like me, you won’t have even heard of him (which just goes to show that, in my case, a sommelier course doth not a sommelier make). All I can say is that this is the sort of wine that only a fortunate few get to sip in their lifetime (check him out if you like on www.winegeeks.com/articles/157) – quite simply out of this world!
And then again, on another occasion more recently, we got to taste the wine divine (I fell in love with the Syrah) of Cinzia Merli (http://blog.peripheriquewine.com/cinzia-merli-and-le-macchiole-at-quince-san). This time I did not go unprepared and very keenly did my google homework on her to the point of knowing that she would be jetlagged because she had just got back from the States the day before. Both these wine producers were passionate about their work but self effacing, very pleasant and very ‘normal’ people to interact with, and that naturally added to the enjoyment of both evenings. I think they might think me a little strange on the other hand, because at question time I asked them what their astrological signs were (Gemini and Virgo respectively in case you’re interested).
At our last gathering at the Trama Tannica before Christmas, we were to enjoy the wines of Valentini to accompany our repast. As a New York Times article put it “It is with the white, made from the usually ordinary Trebbiano grape, that Valentini stakes its claim to greatness” and who am I to disagree. Mr Valentini couldn’t be there sadly because of the snow hindering his travel but fortunately for us he had sent the wine ahead of him in good time and we were able to enjoy the meal drinking to his very good health which, if the number of toasts we proposed are anything to go by, should augur him a good, long healthy life.
I hope I am not coming across like a pompous so-and-so who has little better to do in life than potter about in the kitchen or go to fancy eateries and quaff boutique wines all day long. I do do plenty of ‘other’ things that are a lot more boring, of the kind that have to be done because that’s the way the cookie crumbles. If anything, I can’t believe my luck in having tumbled upon a club that is run by expert wine lovers — Fabrizio Russo and Paolo Gherardi, who manage to introduce such a wonderful array of high-quality wines to the likes of beginners like me without being at all snobby about it and without charging an arm and a leg for it! Paolo and Fabrizio are refreshingly gentlemanly, I daresay, about how they go about their business of spreading good cheer and “Cheers” — and in Alessandro Ferracci they can rely on a highly competent boon companion for this task..
All this to say that Alessandro and Sabina served “minestra di broccoli and arzilla” as part of the menu for the Valentini wines night. And it was spot-on delicious.
It’s not a dish that I make often myself because, although not difficult as such, it does call for a few steps that require a bit of thinking and patience.
I don’t know about you but I am one of those people who have great difficulty in understanding written recipes. Most of the time what I read makes total sense while I am in the process of reading it but then when it comes to actually applying the recommendations, I get stumped and feel very foolish … and so my powers of thinking run out of patience and by the time I really DO understand what I am supposed to be doing, I get all cross and usually mutter something nasty about the recipe writer, such as “Oh WHY didn’t you tell me that in the beginning you idiot! Fancy wasting my time like that!” …. That sort of thing … Hence my use of so many photos in this blog, it’s because I feel sorry for people like me.
Arzilla is the Roman dialect word for Razza in Italian which, apparently, translates as “spotted ray fish” in English. Somehow, I can’t see many supermarkets sporting spotted ray fish for sale and so I don’t know what one could use as a substitute … skate maybe? It’s supposed to be a cheap fish, bear in mind, nothing fancy, and the beauty behind the recipe was that one cheap and humble fish could provide nourishment for a whole family in a very tasty way. The fish is made into a thick soup to which broccoli and pasta are added.
The term ‘arzillo’ in Italian means spritely … and the word ‘broccolo’, apart from the vegetable, can also be used somewhat disparagingly of people who are not very bright. So the way I see it, it takes a bright and spritely spotted ray fish (arzilla) to make the broccoli wake up and see some sense!
The recipe I am outlining below is my own rendition of the recipe for this dish that came out in the very first edition of the “Il Gambero Rosso” food and wine magazine in February 1992 and yes, you’ve guessed it, it was one those recipes that elicited terms of abuse from me with regard to its writer! As dishes go, the preparation is straightforward and fairly intuitive … follow the photos (see part 2) and you shouldn’t go wrong!
LIST OF INGREDIENTS – 4 four people
Spotted Ray Fish – 1 kg,
Broccolo – 500g,
Spaghetti or small-sized pasta – 200g,
bruised plum tomatoes or tomato sauce – 200g,
1 or 2 anchovy fillets,
1 medium-sized onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery stick,
1 large garlic clove finely minced together with some flat-leafed parsely,
half a glass of white wine, and chilli flakes and salt and pepper and enough olive oil as required.
MAKING THE FISH STOCK
The first thing to do is bring the fish to the boil, leaving its skin on, in about 1.5 liters of water to which you have added the peeled carrot and onion and celery stick, as well as a few parsley stalks. Simmer on a v. gentle heat, with the lid on, for about 20 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the fish from the broth to another dish to be cleaned . Remove the head, the skin and other ‘bits’ of cartilage and plop these back into the stockpot and cook for a further 30 minutes. Keep the white flesh of the fish for use later on.
PREPARING THE TOMATO SAUCE
Chop and finely mince the parsely, anchovy and garlic then transfer to a frying pan with enough olive oil to cover the bottom and, if you like a bit of chilli, now is the time to add it. Turn heat on and cook for a few minutes making sure the garlic does not turn brown. Add the tomato and the wine, cover and cook on a gentle heat for about 15 to 20 minutes.
FINISHING THE SOUP
At this point, add the broccoli florets so that they can soak up some of the sauce.
Drain the fish stock and discard all the fishy “bits”.
Pour the fish stock onto the broccoli, mix well and cook for a further 10 minutes to soften the broccoli. Taste and add salt and pepper as you like.
Crack the spaghetti into edible size and then place into the stock and broccoli soup and cook until done … about 10 minutes. Serve with as much or as little fish as you like, Pour olive oil over each plate … and if you like, you could also add some grated pecorino romano cheese (some purists would disagree).
As for any leftover fish … pour oil and lemon over it and serve it as a starter when you are hanging around waiting for the fish soup to be ready … or else as a main course accompanied by a nice salad.
Minestra di broccoli e arzilla is often served dinner on Christmas Eve in Rome. It’s nice to know that we can eat it all year round …