roman rosemary potatoes

Let’s get some fantastic veggies in the picture before the sweet Easter treats take over.

This is my staple vegetable dish, by far the easiest and most understated recipe in my journal. Humble family opinion rates it right up there with British Cauliflower Cheese browning under the grill and the best Baked Eggplant Parmigiana to come out of Italy.  These three veggie classics do constant battle for top billing in My Farm Kitchen.  All go hand in glove with a Roast Chook or a lovely Leg of Lamb or Beef.

Ingredients - 1½ kilos of waxy or all purpose potatoes (nicolas or desirees are fantastic), peeled washed, dried and cut in half

OR

same weight in a combination of white potato, sweet potato, carrot & pumpkin  ❤ 8 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and pricked ❤ leaves from three freshly picked Rosemary Sprigs, chopped coarsely  ❤ ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil ❤ sea salt and freshly ground black pepper  (Serves approximately 6)

Method + Top Tips 

Preheat oven to hot 220°C (425°F). Line large baking tray with a layer of foil and baking paper.

Peel potatoes, wash and cut in halves. If using other root vegetables as well, cut them in smaller chunks as they will take less time to cook than the potatoes.

Wash rosemary sprigs, shake to dry and strip them bare by running your fingertips from the top to bottom of the sprigs.  Chop rosemary with a Mezzaluna (sharp half moon cutter, well worth buying a good one if you haven’t already) as they are brilliant for chopping all manner of herbs, nuts and dried fruits in an instant.

Place potatoes and peeled pricked garlic into a large bowl. Sprinkle over chopped rosemary and drizzle olive oil all over the potatoes. Stir/toss well to coat.

Turn veggies out onto the prepared baking tray, ensuring they are spread out evenly in one big layer for even cooking. Cover with a sheet of foil tucked into each end and bake for 20 minutes.  

Check potatoes after this time, remove foil cover and turn potatoes over.  Reduce heat to moderately hot 200°C (400°F) and cook uncovered for a further 40 minutes or until just crunchy and edges gorgeous golden brown.  Sprinkle generously with Australian sea salt (I use Murray River Gourmet Pink Salt Flakes or Maldon) and cracked pepper. Toss again. Lift them into a large serving bowl or platter. Garnish with an extra rosemary sprig or two if you have plenty. Serve with your best roast.

Tip: There’s no end to the veggies you can roast in this way.  Onion wedges are great to add, tomatoes or mushrooms added in at half way, celeriac, Jerusalem artichokes and other tasty possibilities from your veggie patch or green grocer.

Travel Tale

Where IS that divine cooking smell coming from? And how do you buy a cheese grater in a foreign neighbourhood when you don’t know the word for cheese (or carrot for that matter), let alone “Do you have any cheese graters for sale per favoure?”   

When one doesn't speak or understand very much at all, setting up home in a foreign land becomes a challenge. A feat requiring good humour, a thick skin and endless enthusiasm. My 1st Roman kitchen wasn't much bigger than a shoe box. Normale, by regular Italian standards. Small I can handle, but a bare bones kitchen without utensils, cutlery or even a teaspoon was pretty challenging.  How can a little teaspoon be THAT difficult to pronounce! ‘Cucchiaino‘.

Fortunately my overcrowded ‘alimentari’ (local corner food store) seemed to sell everything from fresh flowers and Chanti to straw brooms and freshly baked ciabatta. That SMELL! There it was again...

Once stocked up with kitchen essentials and fresh Roman produce, this tiny apartment produced some of the simplest and finest meals of my life. I quickly learned that happiness nor success in the kitchen bears any correlation to square meterage or modern appliances.

And so with a small amount of bravado and lots of hope, my language skills slowly improved. On the other hand, my love for Italian cuisine soared. Roman cooking quickly proved to be the epitome of simple rustic fare and I adored it.

The seasons changed and soon after I relocated to the other side of town. “La Farnesina”, a zone named after the Ministry of Italian Foreign Affairs building at the bottom of my street.  Also closeby to “Lo Stadio Olympico” , the 1960 Olympic Stadium now home to the rowdiest soccer matches and traffic jams in Europe.  

Ponte Milvio, a beautiful and ancient Bridge connects this zone to the heart of ancient Rome. Couples in love make the old bridge famous, by attaching a padlock with their names inscribed to the railing and throwing the key into the River Tiber.

Not keen to profess my love quite so soon or dramatically, I loved dashing straight for the fruit and vegetable market alongside the padlocked Ponte. The inspiration for rustic roman cooking was endless. An open kitchen, expanding recipe journal and spare room for visiting Aussies made my Roman life complete.

Common vegetables become uncommonly fabulous to my meat and three veg palate.  One legendary local ristorante “Il Matriciano” changed my feelings for artichokes, zucchini flowers and broccoli forever. I’d order an antipasto of fried stuffed vegetables and nearly weep for joy. Followed by one of their signature family dishes, often the spicy pasta Bucatini Amatriciana bursting with bacon, tomato and basil.

The first Italian brave enough to employ me spoke as little English as I did Italian.  La Signora proudly produced her collection of Australian Womens Weekly Recipe Books at our first meeting. I was speechless once again.  Speechless and thrilled our Australian WW’s tried and tested recipes had found their way into this fine Italian family in suburban Rome.

Excuse my nostalgia, this time of year always reminds me of Roman days. The Spring crowds starting to gather in Piazza San Pietro in the lead up to Easter services. Carabinieri conferring outside the Vatican Walls...“ragazzi, cappuccino o espresso oggi?"

A scorching Summer always follows. Street food in roadside kiosks and bars; toasted sandwiches, little pizzas, sugar coated pastries, gelato, watermelon wedges and Grattachecca (shavings of ice flavoured with fruit juice or sweet syrup).  A variety of Slurpee you just won’t find at your local 7 Eleven. 

Romans head off to enjoy seaside and hillside villages.  I spent my first Summer working in Fregene, the seaside town 40kms west of Rome on the Tyrrhenian coast. “Where Rome goes for La Dolce Vita and a Sea Change”, says the New York Times.  Rome’s fashionable Via Veneto crowd have been coming to their Fregene holiday homes since the 1600’s! Most of the beaches are run by private clubs with pools, cabins, entertainment and bars. A lounge chair can be rented for the day at about 8-10EUR. I commuted from the city each day and enjoyed copious amounts of proscuitto and melon followed by rigatoni carbonara topped with fried zucchini, onion, chilli and bacon.  

When cooler Autumn evenings arrived I adored making “Farfalle con crema di noci e panna”, fresh pasta tossed in the ultimate sugo. A toasted walnut pasta sauce of tomato, basil, parsley, chilli, and gorgonzola cheese - with just a dollop of cream. And as for THAT smell, I finally tracked it down. Tucked away around the corner and down the street, Roast Chicken and piping hot Roman Rosemary Potatoes.