l often passed La Torricella at about 11 o’clock as they get ready for lunch. Under a long, narrow awning are some 18 tables for two, which are pushed together in different ways depending on the bookings. Each table is overrun by two tablecloths. It’s a good sound, the heavy cutlery hits the table. Each seat also receives a thick napkin and two glasses, one slightly larger than the other, but of the same tulip shape with a short stem. I like these glasses; they are solid and reliable to hold. According to the restaurant offer website, they are called Bormioli Rocco 28.7cl or 20.7cl for a tavern or trattoria, a classic glass che non tramonta mai (that never goes out of style).
like many trattoria and restaurants in Rome, and especially in Testaccio, the family that runs La Torricella has roots in the neighboring region of Abruzzo – a reminder of rising migration, especially when Rome became capital in 1860, and also of the Abruzzo as cooks and hosts. Unlike other places devoted to classic and meaty? cucina romana and the right amount of offal, La Torricella offers mainly fish. Time has made us forgiving and affectionate; we have been going to La Torricella regularly for years. the flattened polpette of salted cod or squid, spaghetti with clams, short sleeve mezze maniche pasta with small flying octopus, mullet alla Livornese and baked sea bass with potatoes are all favorites. But maybe I especially enjoy both the smell and taste of fried things: small, bristly artichokes, small, musky octopus, and anchovies.
In La Torricella’s kitchen, a drawer is filled with spiced flour. It’s right next to the fryer, one of the few kitchen situations I’m jealous of. The gutted and cleaned fish are tossed into the tray, tossed around so they are well covered and then lifted into a wooden strainer before being thrown into the fryer. Submerged in the hot oil, the butterfly fillets grip into nearly white curls that only require a squeeze of lemon and eat them as quickly as possible. Not everyone eats fish, so long matches of zucchini treated the same way (that is, tossed in flour and fried until golden brown) are equally delicious.
The thing about fried foods is that they should be eaten as soon as possible, so pass the first batch while the next one is in the pan. That’s why it’s helpful to have a co-fryer, someone you trust to take over while you fill glasses with wine or beer or lemonade.
Fried fish and zucchini matches
Serves 4 as a snack or starter
500 g small fish – anchovy or white fish, so to speak
2 large courgettes
Peanut or sunflower oil
If using anchovies, clean them by pulling the heads away, in which case the entrails should pull away as well. Relax and open the body gently, then use a nail to loosen the spine, opening the fish like a butterfly. Rinse and pat dry. Whitebait, meanwhile, just needs to be washed and dried.
Cover and tail the courgettes, then cut them with a cheese slicer, mandolin or with a steady hand into 5 mm thick strips. Cut the strips into long matches.
Mix the flour and a good pinch of salt in a large bowl, add the courgettes and stir until well coated. Remove, shake off excess flour and place on a plate. Now flour the fish in portions.
Line two plates with kitchen paper. Heat a pan with oil to frying temperature, which is 350F/177C if you’re using a thermometer, or, if you measure by eye, when a cube of bread bakes steadily. Fry in batches first the courgettes and then the fish, until both are golden brown. When each batch is done, lift out with a slotted spoon, pat onto lined plates, sprinkle with salt and serve. Then bake the next batch.