By Helen Klein
The first Italian dish I ever made didn’t have tomatoes in it.
It also didn’t have pasta, basil, garlic or just about any other ingredient you think of, when you think of the glorious food of the Mezzogiorno.
Rather, it was a gloriously refreshing shake whose main ingredient was strawberries, fragole as they say it in Rome.
When I whipped it up, using my mother’s old blender, I was recreating a drink I’d enjoyed on a backpacking trip through southern Europe during college. My friends and I happened upon a tiny shop called Frullati Pascucci, on the Via di Torre Argentina in Rome, on a really hot July afternoon, and were enticed inside the shady premises by the promise of something cool and fruity to drink.
My beverage was prepared by a white-uniformed man, who scooped strawberries from a waiting vat behind the glass counter, added the rest of the ingredients, and whirled them all together.
The frullati, when I tasted it, was a revelation. Icy cool, rich but not cloying, it tasted intensely of strawberries.It was so good, in fact, that I asked the man behind the counter how to make it, stumbling along in a combination of Italian, French and Spanish -- the way I typically made myself understood through much of the Mediterranean region.
I had never done that before -- never, that is, asked anyone how to prepare any food, which is probably as good an indication as any how much of an impression that pink, frothy drink made on me at the tender age of 19. In those days, I usually ate what was put in front of me, rather than orchestrating what made it to the table.
I know I wrote down what he told me, or at least a clumsy translation thereof, then played around with the instructions till I had reproduced the drink I remembered so longingly to my satisfaction.
It’s also been to my children’s satisfaction. While neither of them would drink milk in its plain form, both of them eagerly downed frullatis, which actually can be made with any fruit or combination of fruits you crave or have on hand. Among the flavors I recall at Pascucci were ananas (pineapple), lampone (raspberry), pesca (peach) and banana (banana). Strawberry frullatis, however, are our hands-down favorite.
Though it’s been years since I’ve visited Rome, I know that Pascucci is still there. My daughter, on a visit to that city last year, passed its premises, but it was closed for the evening.
She never made it back before departing the city, but she has returned to my kitchen on numerous occasions and requested frullati.
I’m always happy to oblige.
2 cups strawberries, cleaned and hulled
1 cup chopped ice
½ cup milk
¼ cup sugar, less if you prefer a tarter flavor
Put all ingredients in a blender, and whirl together until thoroughly combined and frothy.