Tag Archives: slow food

Birrificio Italiano Bibock at Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Trastevere, Rome

Bibock from Birrificio Italiano at Antica Foccaceria di San Francesco, Trastevere, Rome

Unless it’s a curry or a kebab, we don’t normally eat in Trastevere. If you want Italian, or more specifically Roman food, it’s about the worst neighbourhood, as so many of the dense thicket of restaurants – in our experience – are lazy and mediocre. However, a friend drew our attention to the Antica Focacceria San Francesco, part of a Sicilian micro-chain whose management has apparently taken a stand against the Mafia.

As much as I’m aware of the big corporations of the (Sicilian) Mafia aka Cosa Nostra, (Calabrese) ʼNdrangheta and (Neopolitan) Camorra, as well as the other immigrant mafias that operate in Italy (Filipino, Chinese, etc), I naively assumed that the touristy Roman restaurant scene would be better protected. Ho ho. Another friend who’s lived in Italy for decades says most places – cafés, restaurants, shops – have to pay the pizzo (protection money), which is what makes Antica Focacceria San Francesco’s stand notable: they said no. The New York Times gives more of the story here (though it gets the address wrong, which makes me question its fact-checking slightly).

So anyway, we headed down to the Trastevere branch on a Friday evening. It’s set in one of this cute quartiere‘s cute piazze, just round the corner from Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fà? and the strip of boozers that’s generally heaving on a summer weekend evening.

When our group all assembled and some menus arrived, I was pleased to see the Slow Food symbol. I was also pleased to see the wine menu had two pages dedicated to Italian birre artigianali (craft beers).

So while we ordered a tonne of Sicilian snacks (schiticchi), antipasti and secondi, I also ordered a beer. I got a Bibock from Birrificio Italiano, a brewery located in Lombardia, south of Lake Como. What a name – they’re just called “Italian Brewery”. Though they probably have a right to wield such a grand name: the brewery was founded in 1996, the same year as the renowned Baladin, and as such can be considered, in the words of the Guide alle birre d’Italia 2013, “one of the principle players in the affirmation of the craft beer scene in our country”.

The warmly copper-brown Bibock smells of raspberries, toffee, rose. It’s got a reasonably frothy head. Its taste also has notes of caramel and toffee, along with a very nicely balanced cereal-maltiness and bitter-hoppiness and a fairly dry mouthfeel. It’s bottom-fermented (as befits its roots in German, bock brewing), 6.2% ABV and has a medium body. Very nice.

I’ve no idea if it was a good choice to accompany the food though. I really, really need to learn more about food and beer matching. I’m sorry. But I’ve never made any bones about my beer blogging here being anything but a learning process.

Antica Foccaceria San Franciso, Trastevere, Rome

As for said food, it was pretty good. The Sicilian street food pre-antipasti nibbles were tasty, especially the chickpea fritters (panelle). And the sardines balls were pleasant too. Who’d have thunk it? One flaw in the experience, though, was that pretty much everyone seemed to involve caponata.

Now I love this slightly sour Sicilian dish made with aubergines (/eggplant/ melanzane), tomatoes, capers etc. I like it so much I’d made it the day previously at home, and had it for two days running. Now I found myself eating more; it was getting to the point of OD. The Antica Focacceria must have had a giant cauldron of the stuff in their kitchen.

The only other flaw with the meal came later on when the very sweet and entertaining waitress tried to sell us some desserts. We were already pretty full (of caponata) so had our doubts, but when she said they were sent in every day from Palermo I had even more. She was so excited to tell us this (“And the fish!”) but for me it was like a red rag to a bull. Sent in? “In aero?” I asked. “In a plane?” Really? Really?

How in the blazes does this carbon puddingprint fit in with the place’s nominal Slow Food ethos, of local and sustainable? Even a short hop flight is toxic, particularly as in aviation a lot of the fuel is used getting the beast off the ground in the first place.

If you want Sicilian pastries in Rome, have a Sicilian pastry chef make them on site in Rome. The products won’t just be fresher and better as they’ll only travel a few metres, the whole package will also be more credible in sustainability and environment terms.

The beer was good, the food was good, even the caponata was good (albeit excessive) but I’m sorry, flying in your desserts is just fucking insane. Especially if your menu is plastered with the Slow Food snail symbol. Reality check please!

Antica Focacceria San Francesco, Piazza di San Giovanni della Malva 14, Trastevere, Rome
(+39) 06 581 9503 | roma.lamalva@afsf.it | afsf.it

Birrificio Italiano
(+39) 031 895 450 | info@birrificio.it | birrificio.it


Filed under Ale, beer, Italian beer, Other food, Restaurants etc

The Baule: an Italian loaf shape, apparently

Baule bread loaf

Much of the time I’ve been in Italy, I’ve been looking for the definitive book on Italian bread and baking. Every time I visit Eataly or larger book shops, I pick up and put back down sundry tomes. It’s baffling though: many are rudimentary and some of them are even written and published in English and translated into Italian. The book I’m looking for may exist, but I haven’t found it yet.

I’ve not seen the revised edition of (American) Carol Field’s ‘The Italian Baker’ yet, though from my memories of the original, that’s not the definitive book either*.

If I lived in Italy for 20 more years, and worked in Italian bakeries, maybe I could write it… but that ain’t looking likely at the moment.

So in the meantime, I pick up the occasional book to tide me over. The latest one I bought is the Slow Food Editore (the movement’s own imprint) ‘Pane, pizze e focacce’ – “Breads, pizzas and flatbreads” if you want a semi-bodged, largely gratuitous translation.

This isn’t a classic book by any means, but it does have some good stuff about types of lievito madre (“mother leaven”, ie natural leaven or sourdough starter), about grains and ingredients, and about various forms and shapes of breads. Some of the latter – with names like montasù and mafalda – struck my eye.

So that’s been my starting point with this book: trying some new shapes.


This is about something the book calls a baule. The word means “chest”, “trunk” or “boot” (as in storage area of a car) but I can’t find other evidence on t’interweb for this style of loaf, with this name. I’ve said before, though, much of Italy’s food tradition probably doesn’t exist in digital form yet.

Confusingly, a bauletto (“little chest”) is a term that does seem to be used for this shape of loaf, from Ferrara in Emilia-Romagna, but name is also more commonly used to refer to a white tin loaf, often sliced.

I’ll just have to give ‘Pane, pizze e foccacce’ authors Davide Longoni and Marcella Cigognetti the benefit of the dough…t (hm, that doesn’t quite work does it?) about baule.

This isn’t a recipe, it’s just a record of trying a new shape. For the dough I just used the classic 10g fresh yeast, 10g salt, 350g water, 500g flour, with a mix of strong white and wholegrain.

So basically, you make your dough, and give it a first prove.

Then you deflate it slightly, form a ball and give it a rest.

Shaping ball

Then you stretch out that ball to form a rectangle, which you roll up tightly to form a cylinder or sausage shape.

Rolling up

Roll and stretch this sausage to elongate it.

Elongating the sausage

Once you have a nice long sausage, flatten it with a rolling pin.

Flattening the sausage

Once you have a nice long flat rectangle, roll this up, keeping it as tight as possible.

Rolling up the flattened sausage

You’ll get a nice sort of baton shape.

Rolled up

I love the spiral ends.

Rolled, spiral end

You then get a knife. The book says use the blunt edge, so you could also use a pastry scraper. Make a deep cut into – but not all the way through – the baton.

Cutting the form

Move this to a baking sheet.

Pre-final prove

Cover with a cloth, then leave to prove again, until it’s doubled in size.

After final prove

Bake. I did my usual time and temp for a loaf this size – 20 minutes at 220C, 20 minutes at 200C.

When baked, remove and cool on a wire rack.

Fresh from oven

It looks rather nice, and you can tear it down the centre to share during a meal.

Tearing baule in half

But I’d still love to see one of these things in a real Italian bakery. If anyone has every encountered this shape of loaf in Italy, please do let me know! I’m intrigued.


* I did originally include links to Amazon here, but this excellent piece by Russell Brand reminded me they’re still corporate tax-dodgers with  questionably “cosy relationships with members of our government”.



Filed under Breads

Dinner at Plistia restaurant, Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

This post does not feature beer. But it does feature some bread, as well as as soup containing grains. And a little cake. Some of which is photographed with my rubbish phone’s rubbish camera.

I know, I know, quality blogging is all about quality photography, especially when food is involved, but generally we’re not lugging the DSLR around with us when we eat and drink. I really need to get a decent phone with a decent camera, or even a new compact camera.

In my defence, I’d say I was more of a writer than a photographer, so hopefully I can describe these dishes through the medium of the English language, to compensate for the blurry pics.

So, the weekend of Saturday 29 June 2013, we headed out of Rome to get some mountain air in Abruzzo. We stayed in the town of Pescasseroli, at the heart of Abruzzo National Park. I’ve written about our hikes here; at the end of our second, long hike, we had a restaurant booked for Fran’s birthday dinner. This was Plistia, a restaurant and albergo located on the main road through the small town.

A kind of pasty - ok, a calzone - in Pescasseroli, Abruzzo

First, however, we had an aperitivo in a bar on the nearby piazza. The snacks included this Abruzzo “pasty” (probably actually a type of calzone, but they’re all related right?), and some sparkling Pecorino.

Many people don’t realise it, but Pecorino isn’t just the name of sheep’s milk cheese, it’s also a very good white wine from Abruzzo and adjoining regions, or more specifically a grape variety. Since we moved to Italy and started learning more about the vast number of Italian wines that don’t make an impression in the export market, it’s become our go-to white wine. Although Pecorinos (Pecorini?) vary, they’re generally slightly foral wines with some body – and as such a very nice versatile alternative to something like a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio. When we moved on to Plistia, the host, Cicitto, settled us in and filled our glasses with more Pecorino.

No menus were offered, but we were absotuly happy with his. He just said, “We’re going to feed you, lots of food, take it slowly”. Considering you enter the restaurant via a dogleg hallway with a view straight into the open kitchen, they’re clearly confident about their food. Fran had researched the place more than me, but I was also reassured by this confidence, and years of Slow Food certificates on the wall.

On our honeymoon, in Croatia and Italy, Fran and I had agreed that for a couple of taster menus we had arranged, we would eat everything, despite our personal preferences (hers: red meat; mine: very little red meat). When Cicitto went to get the first dish, Fran and I shook on “Croatia rules”. Of course, this being inland Italy, where the food is hearty and the red meat ready and bleeding, that was always going to be more in her favour, but hey – it was her birthday!

The first course was a cheese plate. Cicitto said four of the seven cheeses were world champions. I don’t know anything about cheese world championships (it doesn’t really get the TV coverage of the World Cup, say), but they were delicious: five sheeps’ milk and one goats’ milk, of varying characteristics: young and sweet, mature and crunchy. The two harder, more mature ones we were instructed to eat with a strawberry sauce with balsamic, and a very nice combination it was too.

lardo bread

Next up we had something that was apparently an invention of the chef, Laura, Cicitto’s wife, rather than a traditional Abruzzo item with a name… I think. I could be wrong. Anyway, it was basically like a savoury doughnut, swathed in lardo. People assume lardo is just Italian for lard, but it’s a false friend. Lard is actually struzzo. Lardo is in fact a cured meat, like prosciutto crudo but with an emphasis on the fat. Racheleats discusses of the differences between several types of salumipancetta, guanciale and lardo – and has a good photo to illustrate it:

pancetta, guanciale, lardo from Racheleats

Again, despite the crapness of my photo it was delicious. The bread, made with a lievito madre (natural leaven), was white and soft inside, and the crust was crunchy and fatty, from the cooking oil and from the flavoursome melting lardo. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’d never naturally be inclined to try, but loved when I did.

Next up was a soup. This was exactly the sort of thing I would naturally want to eat: a thoroughly rustic minestra. This one was made with grains, beans and greens. The grains were farro decorticato, or more specifically they were husked emmer. The beans were cannellini, or similar. The greens were an Abruzzo spinach. It was one of those soups that had such depth of flavour you wonder how it was achieved with such simple ingredients. It wasn’t even made with a meat stock, apparently. Fab. As much as I enjoyed the whole meal, the soup alone would have made me happy.

Soup at Plistia, Pescasseroli

After the soup we had not one but two pasta primi. The first was caramelle, that is filled pasta shapes that resemble wrapped hard sweets, or like ravioli that have had their ends twisted. The filling here was faraona – guinea fowl – and they had a buttery sauce with juniper berries. The latter are an important part of Abruzzo cuisine it seems.

Caramelle at Plistia, Pescasseroli

The second pasta was made with short, flat noodle pieces (possibly maltagliata – “badly cut”) that had parsley and pecorino cheese in the dough. It was served with a sauce with a little guanciale, saffron and some thin so-called wild asparagus. This was one of the meal’s weaker courses as it was a little salty and the asparagus was a bit woody. I’m surprised they had it, as over in Lazio we’re way past asparagus season. Sure there’s a different climate in the mountains of Abruzzo, but asparagus is a spring vegetable, and it was 30 June.

After all this, we were pieno come le uova (“full like eggs”), but meataholic Fran could hardly resist the offer of a steak. I don’t really eat steak, so we had one between us and she had the lion’s share. It was tender and bloody, and came in a deglazing sauce of red wine with black peppercorns and more juniper.

We were officially full by this point, but it seemed almost rude to deflect the offer of a desert. We had one plate, with a meringue and a kind of light custard, a ricotto cake and a chocolate form filled with more of the custard. These provided a sugary hit, but didn’t really compare with the flavoursome savoury courses.

Overall though, a suberb meal, and one of the best I’ve had in Italy. Furthermore, it cost about €40 a head – a price you could easily pay in Rome for just two mediocre courses and a few glasses of wine. Most certainly a meal with buon rapporto qualità-prezzo. So if you find yourself in Abruzzo, perhaps doing some hiking in the beautiful mountains, we heartily recommend a visit to Cicitto and Laura at Plistia’s restaurant.

Plistia, Via Principe di Napoli 28, 67032 Pescasseroli, Abruzzo
albergoristoranteplistia.it / info@albergoristoranteplistia.it / +39 (0) 863 910 732


Filed under Misc, Other food, Restaurants etc