We entered the deli in via Marmorata, in the bustling Roman neighbourhood of Testaccio, short after noon. A well-nourished crowd of locals was populating the tiny space, raising their voices to make themselves heard by the people serving behind the counter. All were waiting, more or less impatiently, to be served their daily dose of pecorino, guanciale, ricotta, and pizza bianca. We joined the crowd, famished after an early rise and a long train journey.
Testaccio is a great place to be for food, as good traditional trattorias, street food branches, delis, markets and bars aren’t short in the neighbourhood. From our previous Roman trip, we vaguely remembered there was a good deli on the main road linking the river to the Pyramid. Our well-seasoned plan was to just walk until we stumbled upon it. We eventually did and recognised it immediately for the bountiful displays of preserves, hams and whole cheeses in the window. And so, we joined the not-so-orderly queue and started to think about what we wanted for lunch.
The truth is, I am not a butter eater. In front of a loaf just out of the oven, I will reach for peppery olive oil and flaky salt. Butter can sit in my fridge, ignored, for months, until the baking itch attacks.
But since our last trip to Rome – where I ate my weight in gluten and dairy – I have been using that packet of butter surprisingly often. It was either melted into a puddle, mingled with anchovies and used to season pasta. Or eased in thin yet un-spread layers over toasted bread, and covered with whole, plump anchovies only seconds before the first bite. And anyway, as hazardous as this combination might sound, they are actually the perfect match – a classic case of opposites that attract each other.
Burro e alici (butter and anchovies) is a traditional Roman dish of poor origins, combining all the main nutrients in one simple and filling dish: fat from butter, proteins from the fish, and carbs from the bread or pasta. Cucina povera at its finest.
The bruschette are a very nice and quick option for aperitivo, especially if last minute. I like the butter to be in shavings that melt on their own over the warm bread, and whole anchovies for texture.
The pasta is not for the faint of heart, but I made it for an enthusiastic American who thought anchovies were the enemy only a couple of years ago. It has a strong, stubborn attitude, and attacks your nose with its fishy notes before you even taste the first forkful; but the sweetness of the butter will there, waiting to reward the brave hearts with its deeply satisfying lusciousness.
“Aò, nun vedi che stai a fà un casino?” (Hey you, you are making a mess, don’t you see?)
We were sharing the first course, a big plate of steaming, saucy tagliatelle al sugo d’involtino. Or trying at least, as I was failing in the attempt of splitting it: I stained the tablecloth while trying to transfer a forkful of tagliatelle on my plate, and succeeded in creating a very intricate bundle. The waitress hurried toward us and promptly sorted things out – not without commenting on my poor performance. She stripped the two forks I was clumsily holding, and skillfully rolled the tagliatelle into two perfect portions. They were fantastic, of course, like the rest of the meal, of the day, of our stay in Rome.
We were lodging in a small apartment not far from the Vatican – or better said, not far from Bonci’s pizza spot in Via della Meloria. On New Year’s Eve we woke up to a bright, sunny, spring-like day, and made plans to take the metro to the Piramide, wander around Testaccio and Trastevere, and fit a good meal in between. “You must try Da Felice”, a friend told us. We phoned and booked a table for a late lunch.