Rachel Roddy’s recipe for Roman broccoli cutlets

Rachel Roddy’s recipe for Roman broccoli cutlets

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If you asked for a caffè after lunch at Trattoria Zampagna, it would arrive a couple of minutes later on a metal tray from the bar next door. We never found out how the message was relayed, but assumed it was a knock on the wall or a secret bell. Then, when you asked for the bill, la signora Maria would come over with her pad, unclip the ballpoint from her housecoat pocket and do the sums between the oil and crumbs on a paper cloth.

There was a time when we’d go to Trattoria Zampagna in San Paolo at least once a month. Occasionally it was my idea, but generally it was Vincenzo who pushed for lunch at Maria’s. He loved everything about the place. Its form, function, frank attitude and the steady food from local ingredients. And the fact that it was always full of the mechanics who work under the arches farther down Via Ostiense. There was a menu, but between the daily specials and limited quantities, it was usually better just to let Maria tell you there were three portions of lasagne, two of breadcrumbed cutlets and one of pollo dorato left.

Portions were served with two courses in mind: a pasta or minestra primo and a meat or fish secondo, with vegetables on the side – cicoria, dice-sized roast potatoes or broccolo romanesco. Chartreuse-green and fantastically fractal, broccolo romanesco is more closely related to cauliflower than to tree broccoli, although sweeter and nuttier. If there was pollo dorato (golden chicken) on the menu, I had that. Like the coffee, I never found out how they got skin that was not just crisp but shattering over such tender flesh; I assume it was roasted and then finished in a pan. The broccolo was boiled, and testament to well-salted water.

On the other side of Rome, in a restaurant run by Francesca Barreca and Marco Baccanelli, they also boiled broccoli. In many ways, Mazzo, with its communal table, natural wine and innovation, was a different dimension to Zampagna. In others, it was exactly the same viscerally Roman dimension, with a frank attitude and steady food from local ingredients. I remember with joy the time we got the last portion of triple-dipped and fried cotoletta di broccolo romanesco, a recipe they shared in Laura Lazzaroni’s book, La Nuova Cucina Italiana.

Marco and Francesca suggest making your own breadcrumbs by putting three thick slices of good, stale bread in the oven until lightly baked, then pulsing them to rubble in a food processor. I have also used fine crumbs, and am sure panko would work, too.

At Mazzo they served their broccoli cutlets with garlic and chive mayonnaise, but they are also great with salted yoghurt or a slice of lemon, and dice-sized roast potatoes are never a bad idea. It is Vincenzo who reminds me, every time we drive past, that Zampagna has changed hands, and that Mazzo has closed, although only until they find a new venue (I am holding out for somewhere on via Ostiense). But, until then, I will boil at home.

Cotoletta di broccolo romanesco (broccoli cutlets)

Serves 4

2 small or 1 medium broccolo romanesco
Salt and black pepper
2 bay leaves
3 juniper berries
200g flour
3 eggs , beaten
200g fine breadcrumbs
60g pecorino
, or parmesan, grated
Oil, for frying

Cut away the base of the broccoli and remove the leaves. Cut the head in half through the core, then cut into quarters. Working carefully, and again cutting though the core, cut each quarter into wedges that are 3cm thick at their widest point.

Bring a large pan of water, with the bay leaves and juniper berries, in it, to a boil. Add salt, stir, then drop in the broccoli wedges and boil for five to seven minutes, or until the core is tender to the point of a knife. Drain.

Prepare three bowls: one of the flour, well seasoned, one of the beaten egg and the third of the breadcrumbs mixed with cheese. Dip the broccoli wedges first in the flour, then in the egg and finally the breadcrumbs, lay the coated wedges on a plate and chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes, or as long as overnight

Bring a deep pan of oil up to 180C, or until a cube of bread sizzles. Working in batches, fry the wedges for four to six minutes, turning them once halfway, or until they are deep gold. Lift out on to a plate lined with kitchen towel, sprinkle with salt and serve at once.

Courtesy: theguardian

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