Rachel Roddy

Rachel Roddy

Rachel Roddy is featured in issue #33 of Apartamento magazine, where she is interviewed at her home in Rome by Alex Whyte. Read the full interview in our brand new issue, available here. The following is excerpted from Five Quarters: Recipes and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome, published this month in a new black and white reissue edition by Headline Home. 


Of course, I thought Rome was glorious, but I didn’t want to stay. A month, three at most, then I’d take the train back to Sicily to finish the clockwise journey I’d interrupted before moving further southwards somewhere. I had no plan, only a vague notion that I would know the place I could settle in when I found it. It was about halfway through that first reluctant month—April 2005, to be exact—that my oldest friend, Joanna, came to stay for a few days, bringing with her a suitcase the size of a few weeks and the itinerary of an architect. We spent her first three days negotiating maps, disconcerting curves in the river and other tourists in search of fluted columns and flights of steps. Then, on her fourth day, we visited one of the most Roman of all Roman quarters: Testaccio.

Approaching Testaccio for the first time, as we did by bus that day, I was caught off guard. Linear and grid-like, the blocks of undistinguished-looking 19th-century buildings seemed hard, passionless even, after the warren of medieval alleys and the exhilarating sprawl of imperial ruins we’d been lost in. We walked, or wandered really (the best way, and invariably a happy adventure in Rome), down tree-lined vie, past tenement blocks and clusters of chattering signore, and pressed our noses up against the frosted-glass windows of local trattorias. In the courtyard of one block, while Joanna made notes about the internal stairwell and talked about public housing schemes, I watched a wicker basket being lowered from a window, filled with shopping, reeled back up and swallowed by a clotted lace curtain. In another courtyard, which had washing hung like smiles under almost every window, we dodged a trio of boys playing, their ball ricocheting from the internal walls, until a voice called out ‘tacci tua!’ and the boys scattered like marbles, us too. Years later, now that I fully understand the connotations of ’tacci tua, I cringe at our thick tourist skins, walking around a private courtyard admiring the washing, only to be shooed away by an old lady and this very best of Roman insults. We barely caught sight of another tourist.

Apartamento Magazine - Rachel Roddy

Eventually, we found ourselves at the centre of the coarse and chaotic old market, with its iron uprights and grimy glass roof, the air damp and bosky. We wandered, staring at whole waxed wheels of pecorino cheese, hind legs of prosciutto and atom-tom-drum sized tin of salted anchovies, over which a woman sat poised, spoon in hand, ready to scoop and wrap her silver-streaked, salt-encrusted fish in waxed paper. We marvelled at the unruly heaps of wild cicoria (chicory), crates of globe artichokes with violet-stained petals and silvery leaves, piles of peas, fave (broad beans), lemons and the first of the tomatoes, deeply fluted and smelling of the tangled vine on which they grew. In return for our stares, we received stares back, mostly aimed at Joanna it must be said, who, although happy to accept a free pear and an impertinent ‘che bella!’, was actually more interested in the ‘70s roof elevations.

It was at least midday by the time we sat at one of the small tables outside Zia Elena for ill-timed cappuccinos and sweet yeasted buns called maritozzi. Then, as we have done since the ages of three and four respectively, we thought, and then raced to say, the same thing at the same moment: that Testaccio was extraordinary, and I should find a flat here. That night we had supper at the trattoria that had caught my eye, Agustarello, where I ate my first cacio e pepe (pasta with cheese and pepper), a dish infinitely more delicious than it sounds if the maker has the know-how and flick of the wrist to turn the cheese and the pasta cooking water into a seductive, soft sauce. There were also lamb chops and braised Roman artichokes, I think, although I can’t be sure, as we also drank far too much of a pleasant Frascati. We finished the meal with the herbal digestif Amaro, which made us shudder, before walking back through the piazza to catch our bus.

Apartamento Magazine - Rachel Roddy

Two weeks later, with Joanna gone, I signed a year-long contract for a small flat at a gentrified rent next to the market. Did I know at this point that Testaccio was the somewhere I’d been looking for? Looking back, that was possibly so; certainly, I celebrated with a bottle of Sicilian red, which left me unfit for anything, let alone unpacking or mattress shifting, and fell asleep on the sofa. The next day I fell into life in Testaccio. That is, the coffee bar for breakfast, then the bakery (forno) for bread, before walking round the quarter, and occasionally beyond it, always ending up where I’m happiest: wandering round the market, figuring out what to have for lunch and dinner. Within weeks, I had met more neighbours and shopkeepers than I’d met during seven years in east London.

My days continued just so, contrasting sharply but softly with my old London life. They felt simple and straightforward, punctuated with waves of relief that I had finally got away and idealistic, possibly clichéd delight at finding myself living this particular life in this particular corner of Rome. I should note that Testaccio, and its shops, bars and most certainly the market itself, is a far cry from any rustic, whimsical or Mediterranean idyll you might imagine, for although charming and charismatic, it is straightforward, traditional, ordinary. It is also an area tangibly struggling with change and the age-old story of gentrification, of which I was the surest sign: rising rents pushing out the traditional parts of the community and replacing them with a new crop of people with deeper pockets. My guilt wasn’t going to change anything, but my loyalty to the local shops might. So I was loyal, and embraced la vita del quartiere (the life of the quarter) wholeheartedly.

In December 2005, in much the same way that I’d fallen into life in Rome (that is, reluctantly and unexpectedly), I fell in love with Vincenzo, a Sicilian who’d been living in Rome for 25 years. I began writing my blog in September 2008, when I’d been in Testaccio for three-and-a-half years, and Vincenzo and I were still living next to the market, directly above a bakery called Passi and across the courtyard from the boisterous trattoria Il Bucatino. I was teaching full-time by now, mostly English to children through theatre and music. The rest of the time I spent cooking, eating, and writing. I’d always enjoyed them, but these three things really came together—collided if you like—in this small kitchen in this distinct part of Rome. I was plainly happier than I’d been in a long time.

Apartamento Magazine - Rachel Roddy
Apartamento Magazine - Rachel Roddy

Insalata di puntarelle

Puntarelle with anchovy and lemon dressing

The mere mention of puntarelle has me shooting off on a sentimental tangent that involves my friend Alice, a trattoria in an irritatingly pretty piazza, a paper tablecloth, Pyrex glasses, a litre of hair-curling wine, a grumpy waitress, braised rabbit and a bowl of pale-green curls of gently bitter salad leaves with anchovy dressing.

Id heard about an idiosyncratic salad from a Roman friend in London long before I moved here, of a Catalonian chicory with dandelion-like leaves called puntarelle, which, once trimmed, cut and immersed in cold water, curled in much the same way as Shirley Temples hair. The pale green curls are dressed with a pungent and loudly delicious dressing of anchovies, garlic, olive oil and lemon or vinegar. I ate it with Alice during the first spring I was in Rome, and neither the wine nor the waitress could spoil our delight in the puntarelle salad that we, in the proprietorial manner of new arrivals in Rome, had so happily discovered.

Nine years later, less proprietorial and pretty comfortable about still being in Rome, I prepare puntarelle a lot during its winter-spring season.

I say prepare, but curl, pulse and assemble is a better description. Some people say that the dressing should be made with a pestle and mortar, but I make mine with my stick blender – not just for speed, but because I like the more consistent, thicker dressing that a few pulses creates. I also prefer lemon juice to vinegar, as it gives the dressing a citrus-sharp but less aggressive edge. Puntarelle is becoming more widely available, but in its absence you can use frisée.



Five Quarters: Recipe and Notes from a Kitchen in Rome,
reissue edition published by Headline Home, 2024.

serves 4

1 head puntarelle or frisée

1 garlic clove

4 anchovy fillets packed in oil,


1 teaspoon lemon juice or red-wine


4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

To prepare the puntarelle: holding the whole head, pull away the dark green external leaves. Separate the individual tube-like stalks and pull off any dark green leaves. Cut away the tough lower part of each stalk, then cut the tubes in half lengthways and then each half into strips about 3 mm wide. Rinse the strips under cold water, then immerse them in a bowl of iced water for 30 minutes, or until they curl. Once curled, drain and dry thoroughly.

To prepare the frisée: discard the tough outer leaves (or use them for soup), then wash and carefully dry the paler inner leaves. Tear the leaves into bite-size pieces.

Peel the garlic, then cut it in half and remove the green shoot, if there is one. Pound the garlic in a pestle and mortar, then add the anchovy fillets and grind to a rough paste. Stir in the lemon juice or vinegar and then the olive oil. If youre using a stick blender or small food processor, blend all the ingredients until they form a textured dressing. If not, just blend the ingredients in the pestle and mortar.

Tip the leaves into a bowl or serving dish, pour over the dressing, toss to coat evenly and serve immediately.

Apartamento Magazine - Rachel Roddy
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