It was the sort of evening where dessert had to be eaten first. It was the end of June and the tiny, scarlet, sweet-as-jam wild strawberries, le fragoline di Nemi were in season. Baba was visiting me in Rome from Bucharest and on the weekend our dear friends, Uncle Iqi and Aunty Neeman graciously drove us up into the Castelli Romani to the small town of Nemi. They always knew where to take us for the best medium-rare steak or the crispiest-thinnest pizza in Rome. And this time, they invited us for early season porcini mushrooms and le fragoline in Nemi.
All the local cafés there were serving le fragoline in tall glasses with clouds of fresh, whipped cream, or atop a creamy vanilla gelato. And then there was my favourite, brought to you in bowls with a splash of balsamic vinegar, the sweetness of the strawberries coaxed by the tart and earthy tones of the aceto di balsamico.
Uncle Iqi chose a restaurant overlooking the silver lake which is so perfectly still and calm that it is referred to as Il Specchio di Diana; the mirror of Diana. But prior to dinner, Aunty Neeman said we needed a fix of these wild strawberries at the café, so as Uncle Iqi sipped on his wine and chatted in his charming baritone voice, Baba lingered over his caffè latte whilst us girls tucked into our naughty pre-dinner desserts. Italians love their culinary rules: no grated cheese with spaghetti alle vongole, no cappuccino in the afternoon, but Aunty Neeman assured me there was absolutely nothing wrong with having some spoonfuls of Nemi’s strawberries before our dinner.
Later, the four of us shared plate after plate of bruschetti, crowned with fresh tomatoes glistening with olive oil and verdant leaves of basilico. After this carb-gluttony, Baba and I decided to share one primo of taglioni, tossed with roasted, intense-flavoured porcini mushrooms, and to bind the dish, a generous heap of grated pecorino romano. The grassy olive oil spread all over our lips as we kept twirling our forks into the taglioni, adding a fresh grind of pepper here and there. The patrons at the other tables wondered who this odd father-daughter pair were- how odd that they were sharing one plate of pasta.
But it was one of those inexplicable father-daughter moments.
And of course, the indulgence continued with bowls of fragoline di Nemi to round off our meal.
Aunty Neeman and I strolled back towards the car, with Baba and Uncle Iqi ahead of us, savouring puffs from their Partagás as the sun was setting late into the night and the silvery sheen of the lake now gone.
The local Ontario strawberries remind me of that evening in Nemi and all the other times I have indulged in scoops of fragoline di Nemi gelato in Rome.
The creaminess of the Greek yoghurt is just the sort of base that accentuates the sweetness of the strawberries- that, mingling with the fragrance of rosewater, and all you need is a dusting of crushed pistachios and a gentle swirl of your preferred honey over the berries.
*350 g / 1 cup full fat Greek yoghurt
*200g / 1½ cup strawberries
*½ tsp rosewater (this can be found in Persian, Lebanese / Syrian, Pakistani or Indian grocery stores- (if you live in Toronto- it can be found at a local Rabba corner shop)
*2 tsp crushed, unsalted pistachios
*your preferred honey for drizzling
*Place yoghurt in a medium-size mixing bowl. Add rosewater and gently stir. Set aside.
*Hull the strawberries and slice as thinly as possible on the vertical (the strawberries will look heart-shaped when sliced).
*Transfer 4 tbsp of the rosewater-spiked yoghurt to each individual plate / bowl. If using a plate, you can transfer with an icing spatula to spread the yoghurt in a circular pattern.
*Arrange strawberry slices on top.
*Dust with crushed pistachios.
*Drizzle with your favourite honey. I use lavender or manuka.