NEW YORK – The roads that crossed the mountains from the plains of Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna to Tuscany were part of the ordeal that many of the Grand Tourists had to endure; depending on the weather, they could take as long as a week to cross. Once they arrived in Florence, however, British Grand Tourists found a sizable and friendly expatriate community to welcome them. Two of the major hotels in the city centre were English owned and operated, and the main attraction for the well-heeled traveller was a visit to the home of Sir Horace Mann, the British envoy to Tuscany.
Mann lived in Florence for nearly 50 years, entertaining countless Grand Tourists on their way to Rome. In his house in the Palazzo Manetti, Mann held open-house conversazioni at which tourists mixed with the Florentine elite. Perhaps a bit prissy in character – he was easily agitated – Mann was nevertheless extremely kind to his guests, and gave them a bit of a home away from home and a chance to mingle with their countrymen. His generosity was much appreciated and admired, perhaps most eloquently by John Boyle, Earl of Cork and Orrery, who visited Florence in the 1750s. Boyle enthused that Mann:
does honour to our nation. He lives elegantly and generously. He never fails in any point of civility and kindness to his countrymen. The politeness of his manners, and the prudence of his conduct, are shining examples both to the Britons and Italians. He is the only person I have ever known, whom all Englishmen agree in praising.
But for most tourists Florence was an amusing sideshow to the whole point of their journey abroad – the city of Rome. The roads in the Grand Duchy of Tuscany were generally considered to be reasonable and the route through Siena and then down the old via Cassia into the Papal States was often favoured.
HENDRIK FRANS VAN LINT, CALLED LO STUDIO ROME, A VIEW OF THE PIAZZA DEL POPOLO. ESTIMATE: $150,000–200,000.
Entrance to the city was made generally through the Porta del Popolo, and despite the grandness of the piazza and the three arterial streets that ran from it, the first impression many travelers had of the city was mixed. Anne Miller, whose published Letters give a detailed account of her visit, reached the city on 2 January 1771, and was underwhelmed, noting that while “there are many fine buildings …. [their] splendour is the more surprising, from their being surrounded with miserable habitations.”
Most British visitors to the city stayed in the area around the Piazza di Spagna, and there were several hotels that catered to an international clientele, and offered more familiar British dishes. At Pio’s, her hotel in the via della Croce, Mrs Miller was happy to find that:
Our table is served something in the English style, at least it affords us three or four homely English dishes (thanks to some kind English predecessors who have taught them) such as bacon and cabbage, boiled mutton, bread-puddings, which after they have been boiled, are cut in pieces, fried and served with a wine sauce strongly spiced, & so I do not imagine we are likely to starve here.
DAVID ALLAN’S THE ARRIVAL OF A YOUNG TRAVELLER AND HIS SUITE DURING THE CARNIVAL, IN PIAZZA DE' SPAGNA, ROME, ROYAL COLLECTION, LONDON. THIS DRAWING GENTLY CARICATURES THE WELCOME THAT A YOUNG AND UNSUSPECTING GRAND TOURIST MIGHT FIND ON HIS ARRIVAL IN ROME. THE CARRIAGE HAS PULLED INTO THE PIAZZA DI SPAGNA NEXT TO THE SPANISH STEPS, IN FRONT OF THE VILLE DE LONDRES, ONE OF THE HOTELS FAVOURED BY BRITISH TRAVELLERS OF MEANS. ROYAL COLLECTION TRUST/© HER MAJESTY QUEEN ELIZABETH II 2014.
Well-connected Grand Tourists like Mrs Miller and her husband were usually received into private homes for dinners or receptions. Mrs Miller recalled a sumptuous dinner for 50 people at the residence of the French ambassador to Rome, the Cardinal de Bernis. Although he was himself constrained by his gout from indulgence in rich food, the Cardinal provided a lavish meal for his guests. “His dishes are of the best kinds, the greatest variety the season can afford in profusion, and the best dressed,” recalled Mrs Miller. And, she added, like most formal tables, the Cardinal’s banquets combined “French refinements [with] Roman magnificence.”
POMPEO GIROLAMO BATONI, PORTRAIT OF PRINCE EDWARD AUGUSTUS, DUKE OF YORK AND ALBANY (1739-1767).
So where does this leave us for our recipe this week on our culinary Grand Tour? With “Roman magnificence” or a “homely dish”? I like the idea of a comforting dish that is also a local classic, and so I choose Abbacchio alla Romana, or baby lamb, Roman style. Prepared with is milk-fed spring lamb Abbacchio is frequently served for the Easter meal. The dish derives its unique flavor from the counter play of the delicacy of the young lamb with the saltiness of the anchovies. This unusual contrast seems to be typically Roman and the result is probably not that different than what the ancients tasted when they put their famous garum, or fish sauce, on meat.
2–2 ½ lb. leg of spring lamb
Flour for dredging
A few springs of fresh rosemary
4–6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1–2 garlic cloves, minced
¾ cup white wine
¼ cup white wine vinegar
4 anchovy fillets, minced (if using ones from a jar, rinse and pat dry on a paper towel first. If using ones packed in salt, they must be rinsed and desalted, skinned and deboned before use, but are the best option)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cut the meat from the leg into pieces of about 3 inches each (or ask your butcher to do this for you). Dredge the lamb pieces in a plate of flour, shaking of excess.
In a metal pot, preferably a cast-iron enamel one, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil (or lard if you are being authentically Roman) over high heat. Sautee the pieces for about 8–10 minutes until they are lightly brown. Add the 1–2 sprigs of rosemary, the garlic and sage, and pepper to taste. Let cook for a few minutes until aromatic.
Add the wine and vinegar and cook down until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Add a scant cup of hot water and put in the oven for 30–45 minutes, or until the lamb is tender (the younger the lamb, the shorter the cooking time). Monitor the liquid in the pot from time to time and if necessary add a small amount of water.
When the lamb is nearly done, remove 3 tablespoons of the liquid and put into a saucepan. Add the minced anchovies and simmer over a low heat, using a whisk or wooden spoon to blend into a smooth sauce. Add this to the pot and continue to roast for a few minutes. Remove from the oven, stir well to mix the juices, test for pepper (it should be salty enough from the anchovies) and serve.
Wine: I would probably serve a Piedmont wine with this, Barolo say, but if you want to stay in Lazio, then a Cesanese would work well too.
Yesterday's stop: Venice.
Our final stop tomorrow: Naples.