Roman fare

Three recipes to make feel like an actual Roman.

Vegtables for antipasto ready to go – in Palermo Market (photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
Vegtables for antipasto ready to go – in Palermo Market
(photo credit: AYA MASSIAS)
Our recent Sicilian tour took us from the food markets in Palermo and Catania to the mikve (ritual bath) in Syracuse and several small fishing villages near Trapani that can be reached only by sea. It took us on an evening walking tour of the town of Noto, where the historic buildings and archeology are so rich and vivid that we felt that at any moment we might meet Julius Caesar and his centurions marching down the main street.
At the end of the tour we made a last-minute decision to spend an extra two days in Rome. Since Italy’s capital has probably one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, we decided to stay (and eat some of our meals) in Rome’s Jewish ghetto.
Today I shall be sharing three recipes that are very typical of Rome and of what Romans today really eat.
On my first morning in the city, I woke up very early and visited the Testaccio Market, which is open 24 hours a day. The produce arriving from farmers’ markets was top quality, and I began to plan the day’s menu for the group. I bought some great big, fat eggplants to bake a melanzane alla parmigiana (eggplant parmesan), as well as some very ripe tomatoes, fresh basil, smoked baby anchovies and fresh mozzarella to use as topping for the focaccia I was planning to bake. The main course was to be stuffed chicken breast.
Next year we are planning to tour Sicily in a luxurious yacht. Watch out for our tours in 2017, as some are going to be magnificent.
The writer is a trained chef, former owner of restaurants in New York and Jerusalem, and runs Yaya Food & Travel Ltd. (gourmet kosher Jewish heritage and culinary tours in Spain, Portugal, Provence, Gibraltar, Sicily and Morocco).
Serves 4
■ 4 cups flour ■ 75 gr. dry yeast ■ 3 tsp. salt ■ 1¾ cups lukewarm water ■ 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Combine the flour, yeast, sugar and salt in a medium-size bowl. Mix well by hand and make a hole in the center, then add the water and 1 Tbsp. of the oil. Knead the dough by hand or with a mixer. Then make one big ball out of the dough and subsequently divide it into 4 smaller balls. Let them expand in size for 30 minutes.
With your hands, flatten each of the balls until they are 3-cm.-thick circles. Bake the focaccia in a medium hot oven (180° C) for 7 minutes until hard (making sure that the dough remains white). Take them out and cover with your choice of toppings, such as anchovies, tomatoes, cheese and basil. Drizzle olive oil on the focaccia plus topping, and bake for a further 15 minutes, until the dough becomes dark and the toppings are baked and crispy. Serve as a first course.
Serves 8
■ 5 large fat aubergine, cut into 1-cm.-thick circles ■ 1 l. homemade tomato sauce ■ 125 gr. dry mozzarella cheese ■ 125 gr. parmesan cheese ■ 2 large onions, sliced ■ 5 garlic cloves, sliced ■ Fresh Basil leaves ■ 2 fresh thyme sprigs ■ ½ glass dry red wine ■ ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Place sliced eggplant onto a tray and sprinkle them with sea salt. Use a paper towel to soak up the liquid that will be released from the eggplants. Once they are dry, fry or grill them.
One by one, place them on another paper towel to soak up the extra oil. In a medium- size Pyrex dish, make layers, starting with tomato sauce, then eggplant, followed by the cheeses. Repeat 4 times, then sauté onion and garlic with the red wine. When nice and brown, use to cover the top of the eggplant parmigiana. Sprinkle with basil and thyme, and bake for 45 minutes in a medium hot oven 180° C. Serve very hot.
Serves 6
■ 6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts pounded to 4-mm. thickness ■ 100 gr. fresh spinach leaves, cooked ■ 2 garlic cloves, chopped ■ 2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard ■ 18 Kalamata olives, pitted ■ 18 sun-dried tomatoes ■ 200 gr. breadcrumbs ■ 50 gr. flour ■ 2 eggs ■ 1 glass extra virgin olive oil ■ ½ glass dry white wine
Pour a drizzle of olive oil into a medium-sized pan. When hot, sauté the garlic together with the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach and white wine. Then set aside to cool. Brush the chicken breasts with the Dijon mustard, then stuff each with the spinach mix, rolling each breast carefully. Dust with flour, dip into the beaten eggs and finally into the breadcrumbs.
Place in the freezer for 2 hours, then bring them out and sauté each chicken “roll” in the olive oil until brownish.
Finally, place all six rolls in a Pyrex dish and bake in a medium-hot oven for 25 minutes, cut each of the rolls in half and serve covered with a tomato sauce and white rice.