A long week in Rome: breakfasts

Cornetto, saccotino, maritozzo

If a long weekend involves stretching it to three nights, we’ve just had a long week in Rome, stretching over nine days, and celebrating Fran’s birthday in the middle. It was our first visit to the Eternal City since we left in October 2013, after having lived there since August 2011. So inevitably it was emotional. Although our time in Rome had involved challenges, it culminated in us having a great bunch of friends and an affectionate, nay obsessive relationship with the city and some of its fruits.

Fran and me are both somewhere on the gourmet-gourmand spectrum. She’ll a carnaholic and has a thing for salumi (charcuterie) and things like tagliata di manzo (sliced steak). My interests, on the other hand, are those in the name of this blog. So it was a great pleasure to get back to interesting Italian craft beers and Roman baked goods. Notably indulgent, sweet pastry-based breakfasts.

Luca and the pastry display

I can’t do it every day, and as I’m not a coffee drinker I am missing out on half of the appeal of an Italian café at breakfast time (with the Italian word caffè meaning both coffee and café), but I’m more than happy to scoff multiple Roman breakfast pastries in a sitting. And do that for several days in a row, until my body starts to put its stamp its foot and demand the more nutritionally fulfilling virtues of my homemade granola.

At its simplest, an Italian breakfast is a cornetto, the Italian equivalent of the French croissant, which I wrote about here, and a cappuccino. I worry about breaking Italian food etiquette. Even ordering tea or hot chocolate, instead of coffee makes me a little nervous. The latter, I found out, would only be served in most cafés in the winter; as soon as the weather started warming up a request would be met with a typically Roman café rejection, which somehow carried the message of “Don’t be ridiculous, idiot” in a gesture or expression even if when the words weren’t used.

It’s not that I’m always keen to conform to etiquette, but I am possibly a bit on that other famous spectrum, so like to know what the rules are. I worry and worry – then I see a bloke ordering a cornetto semplice (simple or basic, ie plain) and asking for it to be split in two and filled with aerosol whipped cream in Barberini café in Testaccio (via Marmorata 43). Despite being one of those places that gets frequented by the pavement-clagging Testaccio food tourists, Barberini retains a traditional vibe. So if the guy can ask for his cornettolike that, I suppose I shouldn’t worry too much.

I’d never seen this treatment of a cornetto before, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise – firstly, as cornetti do come with various fillings, include crema (custard), which Luca spent a good ten minutes mining out on one of our visits, accompanied by a snazzy babycino.

Babycino crop

And secondly, another classic Roman breakfast pastry is the maritozzo, which I wrote about here and give a recipe for here. The maritozzo is an enriched dough bun that comes in two typical forms: plain or filled with vast amounts of cream. I’d had a session recipe testing with Luca’s mum, Rachel, busy on her capolavoro recipe book, so the following morning I had to try a maritozzo from Bernebei, alongside a saccotino al cioccolato, the equivalent of a pain au chocolat. Ours stood up well against theirs I’m pleased to report.

Now we’re living in Lewes, a small English town, it can be a little challenging to even get a good croissant (Flint Owl Bakery does great ones, but they can sell out fast), and I’m dubious one could get a real cornetto anywhere in the UK. So it was good to gorge. The other quotidian baked product I really miss from Rome, and is again nigh-on impossible to get in Britain, is the classic street snack of pizza bianca, which I’ll talk about in the next post.

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