Fragrances and Flavours Memories in The Hadmade Pastries of Zagarella

Right besi­de Saint Peter’s, whe­re the ancient fur­na­ces baked and sha­ped the bricks for the buil­ding of the Basi­li­ca, one sin­gle broad street runs bet­ween the rail­way on one side and the slo­pes of the Gia­ni­co­lo on the other. Some other short stree­ts inter­sect it. Amid­st lies the Church of San­ta Maria del­le Gra­zie alle For­na­ci. Once Saint Peter’s was achie­ved, the street flou­ri­shed with buil­dings and work­shops: the arti­sans had remai­ned with their diver­se exper­ti­se at the ser­vi­ce of the borou­gh inha­bi­tan­ts, In short, a small vil­la­ge, whe­re they gree­ted each other with the title “Mastro…”

Mass tou­ri­sm, mostly deve­lo­ped a few years ago, with its B&B, restau­ran­ts, cof­fee shops, sou­ve­nir sto­res has not vio­la­ted a small, deli­cious, and most sweet cor­ner.  In this pla­ce an arti­san pre­ser­ves the memo­ry of that vil­la­ge atmo­sphe­re, throu­gh his skil­led hands he che­ri­shes the fra­gran­ces and fla­vors, espe­cial­ly the swee­te­st ones, tho­se that imme­dia­te­ly make your mouth water. And with yea­sty pastries, bombs and wafers gen­tly delight each mor­ning start. 

His name is Libo­rio Zaga­rel­la, 80 years old, born in Maz­za­ri­no (CL), but Roman by choi­ce. He gave his name to the venue, a patis­se­rie with an adjoi­ning work­shop and a long open win­dow facing the street, use­ful, at the pre­sent time, to ser­ve custo­mers safely. 

Mister Libo­rio, how was this borou­gh when you fir­st ope­ned your busi­ness with your wife Lucia?

I took over this busi­ness in 1975, it alrea­dy was a patis­se­rie, but the pre­vious owner wor­ked in a more ‘indu­strial’ way. I chan­ged the way of wor­king in hand­ma­de production.

I’ll tell you a sto­ry. On the second day from the ope­ning, a man came to the work­shop and said: ‘I am the eggs sup­plier; how many do you want?’. I answe­red: ‘One!’. The day after he brought me only one pla­teau, around 30 eggs. But I wan­ted a cra­te of them, which means 360 eggs. The sup­plier sta­red at me and asked: ‘What do you want t do with them?’

At the very begin­ning we were alo­ne, my wife Lucia and I. I had come to know her when I was 12 years old, whi­le I was car­ry­ing a hea­vy bag of almonds. A true love, at fir­st sight! I mar­ried her when I was 27. 

For some time our daughters have given us a hand, then our 4 kids have taken other life-paths.

This was a wor­king-class nei­gh­bo­rhood. It was inha­bi­ted by plen­ty of fami­lies and the­re were a lot of arti­sans with their work­shops: the baker, the car­pen­ter, the bicy­cle and tires repair­men, the bar­ber, the glass­ma­ker, the cob­bler (his work­shop was just in front of mine), the tin­smith (at that time the­re weren’t so many machi­ne­ry and if you need to ena­mel a ‘rami­na’ – cop­per cup – you nee­ded a tin­smith). The­re was the uphol­ste­rer, the laun­dress, the seam­stress. A clo­thes men­der lived just next to us. The­re was also the but­cher, the fra­mer, just a few steps from here along the road.

It was real­ly a small village.

Let’s talk about you: Have you ever been pas­sio­na­te about making pastries? Who taught you this art?

When I ope­ned my patis­se­rie, I hired a pastry chef. Two mon­ths after I got aware, he did not meet my needs, the­re­fo­re I deci­ded to do it by myself. For fif­teen days I have been wor­king at night and sel­ling by day. Not sati­sfied with the resul­ts, I was going to hire ano­ther pastry chef, when, sud­den­ly, a mor­ning I came to the work­shop and I couldn’t believe…I had made it! That day I have under­stood I was over­wor­king the dou­ghs. I lear­ned not to over­work it any­mo­re and the resul­ts were excel­lent. What a saving!

May I add a word? In my opi­nion, our Govern­ment should make the same: when a poli­ti­cian does not work in the role of mini­ster, it’s bet­ter to keep a ‘tech­ni­cian’, fire the poli­ti­cian, and save money.

Now I’m tea­ching all my reci­pes to Gior­gia, a tru­ly cle­ver appren­ti­ce, who has been wor­king with me for three years. She is even bet­ter than me becau­se she owns that com­po­su­re, that patien­ce, which I didn’t have at her age.

How does your day unfold?

I live just abo­ve the patis­se­rie. My day begins at 5 am; at 5.30 am I bake the crois­san­ts that I left to rise the night befo­re; at 6.15 am I open the doors… I have some custo­mers who work in Orvie­to and just at the ope­ning they come and have break­fa­st; they also buy two crois­san­ts to eat at mid-mor­ning. During this pan­de­mic, we begin to pre­pa­re the clo­su­re at 4 pm, and at 6 pm we clo­se. We used to clo­se at 8 pm befo­re all this…

In your work­shop your pastries get along with sea­sons… they swee­ten the holidays…

At each time of the year cor­re­sponds the sui­ted pastry: in Lent, the ‘qua­re­si­ma­li’ from the Catania’s custom, at Easter the doves with can­died frui­ts and almonds, in sum­mer the ice cream, espe­cial­ly the rose-fla­vo­red ice cream. In fall the mar­rons gla­cés, and also the yea­sty pastries with mar­rons gla­cés, at Christ­mas the panet­to­ne, the pan­for­te, the pan­do­ro, and the famous sweet ‘log’ from the Roman tradition.

Your reci­pes are not only the tra­di­tio­nal ones, you keep on sear­ching for new fra­gran­ces, new flavors.

Eve­ry month I used to pro­po­se a new ‘fan­ta­sy’, I chan­ged reci­pe making experiments.

Lit­tle by lit­tle when I saw that a reci­pe was appre­cia­ted, I began expe­ri­men­ting a new one. Just as it hap­pe­ned with the dates’ ice cream or the ice cream with ricot­ta and cho­co­la­te, the fig ice cream made with the figs I gro­wn in a lit­tle plot of land that I own in Rie­ti province.

Ice cream has remai­ned in ‘your heart’, then?

I star­ted making ice cream at the age of 15. I was wor­king as a ‘cup-washer’ in an ice cream par­lor. On San Giuseppe’s day, the par­lor owner, sud­den­ly nee­ding an ice cream man, told me: ‘Do it!’. I have seen so many times the ice cream man blen­ding all the ingre­dien­ts: the eggs, the cho­co­la­te. It took me so long… the­re wasn’t machi­ne­ry, at that time, the ice cream was real­ly hand­ma­de, with a great bowl, the batch free­zer, and a sort of huge woo­den lad­le… Final­ly, I made three fla­vors cream, cho­co­la­te, and hazel­nut. My boss told me: ‘it took you so long… but it’s good!’.

To your rose-fla­vo­red ice cream, some­bo­dy has dedi­ca­ted a poem…

A girl from the school near­by, the daughter of two clien­ts of mine. In class, the tea­cher asked her to do an inter­view and she dedi­ca­ted a poem to me.

I know that you used to make your custo­mers smi­le not only thanks to your tid­bi­ts. At the end of the day, it was custo­ma­ry a con­vi­vial moment, chee­red by jokes and fun­ny stories.

When I ope­ned my patis­se­rie in the eve­nings’ peo­ple used to go for a walk, may­be with their dogs, and just here­by the­re was a pri­va­te hun­ters’ club. They used to come here to relax and tell jokes and fun­ny stories.

Then, in 2006, on the occa­sion of the Foot­ball World Cup…

The final game bet­ween Ita­ly and Fran­ce was broa­d­ca­st on tv ali­ve from Ber­lin. When the Ita­lia team final­ly won the Cup, my wife and I coo­ked ten kilos of spa­ghet­ti with toma­to sau­ce, pesto, and just but­ter. All our custo­mers were invi­ted to taste them… eve­ry­bo­dy, but two French tou­rists in a cor­ner of the patis­se­rie, exclu­ded from that ama­zing ‘spa­ghet­ta­ta’. For one only night, as you can see in the pic­tu­re, the Patis­se­rie Zaga­rel­la had tur­ned into the Oste­ria Zagarella…

Now due to the pan­de­mic, the shop win­do­ws are emp­ty, but insi­de, over the coun­ter the pans of fre­shly baked deli­ca­cies make your mouth water, would you unveil us one of your recipes?

It’s hard to choo­se just one, so many are my creations.

The Sici­lian dou­gh­nut made with the puff pastry stuf­fed with Sep­tem­ber figs jam; the flog­ger, which is an oblong stuf­fed puff pastry, the black mul­ber­ry tarts, deli­cious with the mul­ber­ry frui­ts from my garden…

Then here is the case of my apple cake. I’ll tell you ano­ther sto­ry. A cou­ple of clien­ts were used to come only on Sun­days’ and buy some pastries for the old mother. Once the law­yer came on Thur­sday. Asto­ni­shed I asked him why that unu­sual visit. He was just back from Flo­ren­ce, whe­re, out of the court, he went for lunch with his client at a restau­rant. At a table next to theirs a custo­mer, to whom had been offe­red an apple cake, had answe­red ‘I only eat Zagarella’s apple cake in Rome’.

That’s true, my apple cake has a secret ingre­dient, that I can’t reveal, but I will give you, in short, the reci­pe for an exqui­si­te almond tart with pista­chio cream.

It’s a reci­pe with no milk. You have to blend mar­ga­ri­ne with some eggs, flour, and ground almonds, half sweet and half bit­ter. Then you pre­pa­re a bat­ter and put it into an oven mold. You fill it with a cream made of eggs and ground pista­chios and add, on the top some chop­ped pista­chios. Around twen­ty minu­tes in the oven at 220/230º C and… the tart is ready.

Via del­le For­na­ci 95
Tel. 06 634628