Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fiori di Zucca: How Rome does Cheese Curds


[Written for my Film and Lit course. The assignment was to describe the best meal we've ever eaten...I may get a little sentimental with this.]

"For all sorts of fries the Romans are justly celebrated. The sweet olive-oil, which takes the place of our butter and lard, makes the fry light, delicate, and of a beautiful golden color..." [William Wetmore Story, Roba di Roma]

“Should we get an appetizer?” Ro asks. My roommates and I are crowded around a table in one of Rome’s smaller trattorie. It’s one of our last meals here before we fly back to America.

“Let’s get supplí,” Shannon suggests. Marina and I nod. The cheese and marinara stuffed rice balls have been a favorite Roman treat.

Ro looks over the menu. “They don’t have supplí, but there’s fiori di zucca fritti.”

“Flowers of zucchini…fried?” I guess. My Italian has improved in these four months.

Ro nods. “Fried zucchini blossoms. They’re so good.” Thanks to her highly traditional Italian-American upbringing, Ro is our go-to for questions of language and culture.

We decide to try the fiori di zucca along with some vino for starters and settle in to our cozy corner table. The intimate yellow lighting makes everyone’s skin glow and as varied groups of Romans and tourists squeeze in from the chilly May night, I lose track of what language I hear and speak.

When we fear we will faint if we don’t eat, a cameriera brings a steaming plate of blossoms. The hot, salty aroma of olive oil warms the air around our table and for a second I’m at home, in the Bingo tent at the fair, eating cheese curds. With a “Prego,” from our cameriera, I’m back in Rome and aching to compare these stuffed blossoms to the curds I’m used to.

We all grab one and quickly transfer them to our plates: they are too hot to eat, but our hunger has tripled by seeing and smelling them. Golden brown on the outside and the size of, well, a flower, the fiori di zucca glisten with salt. Under the batter, the bright orange blossoms fade into green. With forks and knives, we slice them open to reveal fresh buffalo mozzarella.

We can’t wait any longer: still using our forks, halves of fiori go in our mouths and immediately we remember why leaving Rome is going to be so difficult. First, my teeth recognize the crunch of the batter, followed by the firm yet tender give of the cheese. A hint of a squeak tickles my tongue. The actual blossom has the mild sweetness of a zucchini and its gentle flavor serves as the dish’s simple foundation as undertones of salty mozzarella and smooth olive oil dance around my mouth. I let the blossom linger, not wanting the taste to end. When it does, I drink some water to cool my mouth in anticipation of the second half of the blossom. Is it possible that this half tastes even better? Ah, si, buon appetito!

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