What stories from around the world are we not hearing about on the TV or in the news? In every issue, correspondents write about their experiences in the countries where they live. Here, Angelo van Schaik describes the homegrown food in the gardens of Rome.
The doorbell rings. My neighbor Fabrizio pushes a dish of homemade tortellini and a pan of broth into my hands. “I heard that you were sick and I was making this anyway,” he says. “Have some tortellini in brodo, it’s good for you.” And he’s gone. The tortellini tastes divine, and I later learn that he had spent the whole day searching for the best ingredients, making the dough and cooking the meat.
After sixteen years of living in Rome, I have learned one thing for sure: Food is important here. Not the time or the setting—the best restaurants are often not notable for their ambiance—but the food itself. Eating is practically a religion in this country, so Italians spend a lot of time and energy on it. They go to their trusted butcher, to the organic market for the best vegetables and the most beautiful fruit, and prefer to cook everything themselves from scratch. Buying ready-made food from the supermarket is deeply frowned upon.
Kitchen Garden with a View
Fabrizio works as a journalist for the Italian RAI television network, and hails from Bologna. He lives with his wife and two children in the same palazzo as I do—they’re on the ground level and I’m on the fourth storey. As far as Fabrizio is concerned, the cuisine of the Emilia-Romagna region around Bologna is the best in Italy—no, in the world. (Surprisingly, Fabrizio’s Tuscan wife, Teresa, has a different view: “Tuscany—now that’s the best place for really delicious food.”) The tortellini in brodo (stuffed pasta in broth) is a traditional dish from Fabrizio’s home region, and he prepares it with pride and care—the same care with which he tends to his vegetable patch.
Fabrizio’s kitchen garden lies on the outskirts of our neighborhood, Monte Mario in the northwest of Rome, and next to the Riserva dell’Insugherata, a nature reserve of about 740 hectares located just within the city limits. He invites me to go there with him one day and after just five minutes on the scooter, I find myself among sheep in the green outdoors. On the hill, affording a view of our neighborhood on one side and the enormous nature reserve on the other, owner and farmer Angelo rents plots of land to people like Fabrizio who want to grow their own vegetables. “We pay a symbolic amount of one euro per month,” Fabrizio explains.
Positioned on the south side of the hill, his plot is about fifty square meters in size and is protected by a fence and an upright pallet that serves as a gate. “The wire fencing is absolutely necessary,” Fabrizio says as he pushes the pallet aside and carefully steps between his plants, “because there are loads of wild boars and porcupines here. Those critters destroy everything.” Fabrizio usually visits the vegetable garden, which he shares with a friend, once or twice a week. “At first we shared the plot with four families,” he explains, “but now we are down to two. You have to take the term ‘families’ with a grain of salt by the way; my wife only comes here in the summer, to barbecue.”
- Read the full story ‘The kitchen gardens of Rome’ in Issue 28.
Text and photography Angelo van Schaik