The Upstairs Vegetarian went to Disney World with her family for ten days and now she’s obsessed with amusement parks. I know. Ten days. They did have a couple of little kids along so it’s (sort of) okay. Anyway, we took a drive a few weeks ago to check out some of the theme parks around Rome. Not that they are open this time of year. Mr Disney was very smart to locate his flagship parks in states where the weather is basically the same year-round. Here, they are open from about May to October only. I don’t know what they do about the Disney theme park in Paris and those Asian ones in places where they actually have seasons. So we weren’t actually visiting the parks, just reconnoitering for later. I’ll give a full report if we go back (I love a good roller coaster ride although I do draw the line at tea with Tinkerbell unlike some people who will be nameless but their initials are U.V.).
My reward for being an excellent and non-critical travel companion came in the form of a fine lunch. The U.V.’s ‘Find the Nearest Quaint and Delightful Slow Food Restaurant’ app directed us to Taverna Mari in Grottaferatta so that’s where we went. It was great: quaint and delightful as all get-out. They had parking, efficient and friendly service and they welcomed small dogs, none of which are ever foregone conclusions around here.
Sunday lunch is a big deal in Italy as in many places and by the time we got settled, the joint was jumping. Let’s get onto the food, shall we? The U.V. had a delicious pasta with fava beans and pecorino cheese. This is a classic Italian combo. The beans are eaten raw with hunks of the sharp, salty sheep’s cheese. Fava beans, I am told, also go well with liver and a nice Chianti. Shame on you if you don’t get the reference. According to the American Film Institute, this is the 21st most recognizable movie quote ever (to save you the trouble of looking it up: the first is “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”).
Another fellow that is associated with fava beans is St Joseph, the stepfather of Jesus. Joseph is the patron saint of Sicily and back in the Middle Ages there was a drought, which caused a big famine. The people prayed to Joseph for rain and promised him a major feast if he delivered. The saint came through, the heavens opened, fava beans grew in profusion and Sicily was saved from starvation. Now St Joseph’s Day — March 19th — is celebrated with (what else?) fava beans (also because it’s the middle of Lent so no meat. But don’t worry. This being Sicily there are plenty of pastries and cakes). I had lamb, hunter’s style (abbacchio alla cacciatora), which was basically lamb shanks in a rich garlic and herb-heavy sauce. It was delicious. I don’t really know what the dish has to do with hunters or why the preparation markedly differs from other things cooked alla cacciatora like chicken and rabbit where carrots, celery and sometimes tomatoes are also involved.
Now here’s a thing. I love leg of lamb; it’s probably my favourite bit of my favorite meat (and I looooove meat). In Italy, where sheep and thus lambs abound, it is impossible to get a leg of lamb. I mean you can get a leg of lamb but it is inevitably chopped into several pieces and you can’t get those lovely juicy slices because the legs are very small and there’s so much bone everywhere. And because there is so much bone in these chopped up little lamb legs it is really hard to cut and eat (do Italian lambs have more bones than elsewhere?). And do not try to teach yourself how to debone the chunks by watching Gordon Ramsay videos on You Tube. It’ll only end in tears (and blood). So that was my Easter weekend. The other thing is that Italian lamb doesn’t taste much like lamb. Or rather it does, but not assertively (and I like my lamb to be assertive). My friend Jeremy posits that since most sheep-raising in Italy is about the milk, farmers are not much interested in the ram lambs (a.k.a boy sheep) and therefore do them in before they are old enough to have learned to assert themselves (which also explains the little legs). Anyway, all this to say that — thanks mainly to the sauce — my abbacchio alla cacciatura was delicious but it didn’t take long before I was eating it with my fingers. Stupid bones.
With my lamb I enjoyed an insalata misticanza, a dish that generally features a wide range of wild and cultivated lettuces and greens. Mine included chicory, escarole, dandelion greens, wild fennel, mints and probably lots of other things. The U.V. had cooked greens and potatoes and that was nice too.
All in all, a very fine meal. So if you are out exploring the little towns dotting the Alban Hills or else hanging at the amusement park or hitting the outlet mall (no judgment), you might just want to stop by.
Via Piave, 29, 00047 Grottaferrata Roma, Italy
+39 340 104 2466