TThe glass door is open. A branch is painted on it, as well as a barrel and grapes. It’s lunchtime, so the glass-fronted counter is packed, the metal bowls of vegetables with spoons stand like runners at a starting line. There’s chicory, well-cooked romanesco cauliflower, diced sweet and sour eggplant, grilled red peppers, zucchini with breadcrumbs, artichoke frittata, cheese and a variety of salami.
The mirror is to the right of the cash register wine sideboard, or wine cabinet, its four taps prepare to fill glass bottles of different sizes: litre, half, quarter. A group of regulars sit at tables by the counter and chat about Gualtieri, the mayor of Rome. The atmosphere is different in many ways, but it reminds me a lot of my grandmother’s pub. The place is called Fraschetta da Sandro; the eponymous Sandro is gentle and he asks what we want, then he tells us to sit at one of the tables and he will bring it.
In Lazio the origins of the word fraschetta are related to the ancient hamlet of Frascata (now Frascati), so named because local woodcutters built huts here frogs (Branches). Subsequently, local winemakers adopted a medieval custom of hanging a Frasca, a branch, often made of laurel, over the door to tell people that they can buy or drink wine inside. These branched marked locations became known as Fraschette. There was nothing to eat except maybe bread and boiled eggs so people brought their own. In the cluster of towns known as Castelli Romani – Frascati, Marino, Ariccia – stalls serving thick slices of porchetta are inseparable fraschette, some of which remain unchanged. Others evolved, and the new generation of Fraschette cities took on their own form, groceries became commonplace – cheese, salumi, cooked and pickled vegetables, and of course bread, although wine is still the reason.
A quarter of white wine is served, along with a plate of mixed vegetables, some bread, slices of cheese fanned out like the sun, and a frittata. This week’s recipe is inspired by it. Also from a bunch instead of a sprig of scallions, the green bits for frittata, the onions for a pan of water, sugar and vinegar where they are cooked until tender and coated bitter-sweet (sweet and sour syrup).
Serve the frittata and sticky onions with bread, cheese and a quart, half, quarter or sigh (a “sigh” or a 20ml bottle) Wine.
Spring onion frittata and sweet and sour onions
preparation 5 minutes
a cook 30 minutes
2 bundles spring onions (i.e. about 12)
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp grated Parmesan
salt and black pepper
100g soft goat cheese (Optional)
Cut the onions from the green tips of the spring onions. Carefully cut off the rooty base of the onions, making sure there is enough intact to keep them whole. If they are large, cut them in half through the root; if smaller, leave whole.
For the sweet and sour onions, heat some oil in a small pan, add all but two bulbs and stir for a few minutes. Sprinkle the sugar on top, then add the vinegar and four tablespoons of water and bring to a simmer. Reduce to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes. At the end of cooking, the onions should be soft and coated in sweet and sour syrup.
For the frittata, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil and some butter in a coated pan over medium heat. Finely dice the remaining two spring onions, add to the onion greens in the pan, sauté gently until soft and wilted, then invert onto a plate.
In a bowl, whisk the eggs with the Parmesan, salt and pepper, add the softened onion bulbs (not the greens) and whisk again.
Heat some butter in a nonstick pan, add the egg mixture, then arrange the wilted onion greens and goat cheese dabs (if using) on top. Cook on low heat for 10 minutes. I flip the frittata onto a plate and then slide it in. back into the pan to finish the other side, which is a bit messy but I prefer the end. Alternatively, do this under the grill.