Tasty Little Brains, or A Halloween Special

One of my very favorite dishes at Maialino, a Roman-style trattoria in NYC, is Frittura Romana. This dish is also known as “fritto misto alla romana” (a mixed plate of “fried things”, – traditionally, fried suckling lamb or veal brains, sweetbreads, and artichokes, sometimes with a few substitutions). The organs and artichokes are deep fried in olive oil, and served with lemon wedges:

tasty little brains and artichokes at Maialino, NYC

It is no secret that Romans’ penchant for deep frying knows no bounds; and neither does their love of offal, the so-called quinto quarto (“5th quarter”). According to Wikipedia, in Roman slaughterhouses, the meat would be divided up in quarters: the prime quarter would go to nobility, second best to the clergy, third – to the bourgeoisie, and forth – to the soldiers. The remainder (the rejected, nasty bits such as heads, intestines, hearts, livers, feet, etc.) went to the working class. As a result, it is hardly surprising that quinto quarto is just as important to the Roman cuisine as the other four quarters.

Before you say “euh gross!” to offal, consider that it is responsible for the existence of such delicacies as fois gras and paté. Of course, offal also includes tripe (stomach lining), and a number of other organs and unmentionable animal parts… I admit that I have to be in the mood for tripe, and have only truly enjoyed it on two occasions (at Checchino dal 1887 in Rome, and Barbacco in San Francisco), both prepared traditionally (stewed in supertasty tomato sauce). But I do adore hearts, livers, brains, tongue, and sweetbreads (thymus or pancreas) on any occasion, and I will mourn forever the closing of NYC-based Convivio, with its incredible, melt-in-your-mouth sweetbreads, testa, and tongue.

R.I.P. Convivio! Till (I hope!) it comes back from the dead, perhaps, as suddenly as it disappeared last March…

Happy Halloween!