In February Italians indulge in frappe and castagnole. On the Roman coast, in the district of Ostia, there is a small bakery that opens only during the Carnevale period to prepare traditional pastries. It's called Pasticceria Simona and this is their history.

Pasticceria Simona

This is the story of a friendship, of a family, of the love for the countryside and the love of good food. It’s the story of two friends from Campania, Lorenzo Russomanno and Giuseppe Gifoli, the first from Avellino and the second from Salerno, who after graduating from hotel management school decided to move to Rome to find fortune. A solid friendship, built on a common passion (good food), which continues today. Now that their culinary adventure has become so successful to allow them to only open 1 month a year. This is the story of Pasticceria Simona, a shop entirely dedicated to the production of frappe in Ostia Lido, a suburb of the Rome district overlooking the sea, which has managed to be successful not only in the area, but throughout Rome proper. How was this success obtained? Telling us how is Simona, Lorenzo’s daughter.

The beginning

Towards the end of the ’70s, at Hotel Shangri La in Rome, in the Eur area, father Lorenzo and the person Simona, after many years, affectionately calls “uncle”, are working as waiters. “They have always been passionate about cooking, but finding work as a chef wasn’t easy. And so they started from the bottom up, waiting tables”. They were living in Acilia, a fraction of Rome not far from Ostia, and in the meantime they began looking for a laboratory available in their area to give freedom to their creativity. While working as waiters, back and forth from tables to kitchen and at the end of their shift, they’d stop and observe the chefs and pastry chefs at work, learning techniques and dexterity. They paid attention to every gesture, to the ingredients used and their methods, while memorizing everything. So, as soon as they found a space in Ostia, they launched into the adventure that still continues today in Via delle Repubbliche Marinare, a few steps from the seafront. “In ’82 they took over the premises, first rented and then purchased, baking and selling traditional pastries: mignon, biscuits, cakes and pies”.

The frappe

They immediately started frying frappe and castagnole for the Carnevale period “without being too pretensious about it and without too many expectations”, and instead the success was immediate. “The customer response was really unexpected: everyone was literally crazy for their frappe and began to spread the word around the neighborhood”. So they continued, year after year, to produce these specialties “focusing more and more on quality than quantity,” thus becoming known gradually beyond Ostia and throughout Rome proper. No social network or website or advertising of any kind: it was the end of the 80s and the most powerful means to promote an activity was their customers’ word of mouth. And so it began. The fame of the frappe bakery in Ostia has grown immeasurably, so much to push the two partners to open for business exclusively during the Carnevale period.

An unusual choice

“In 2009 they decided to keep the bakery open only for the Carnevale holiday. Being open all year round didn’t really make sense for their business: there were regular customers who’d come for mignon and birthday cakes, but the real profit was with the frappe.” Going forward with age, Lorenzo and Giuseppe choose to dedicate themselves to their first passion, “the countryside”. When the bakery closes its doors, the duo returns each one to their birthplace to take care of the family vegetable garden and olive groves. And they do it only as a hobby: “It’s about small productions for the family, no sales”.

Long queues and preparation

So when does the laboratory open? “Usually a few days after the Befana holiday, starting from January 9th, and then closing at the end of Carnevale festivities”. There are no fixed dates, because these vary every year depending on the calendar. And this unusual choice involves long queues, and often in vain: “Unfortunately it happens that some customers wait in line for a long time and then are forced to leave empty-handed. In the laboratory there are only two of us working, plus an extra helper who gives them a hand, so production is limited.” And not only: “the frappe are prepared by hand every day, without using machines or other tools. They still do everything by hand and fry several times a day, to ensure maximum freshness of the product.” But their principle has always been the same: quality and not quantity, so once the production cycle is over, we stop and start the next day. The opening hours are also special, from 3.30 pm to 7.00 pm Monday to Saturday, with a special morning opening only on Sundays. But this doeen’t stop consumers, who come from every part of Rome and beyond for their products: “Once we had customers come from Frosinone! A friend of theirs had them taste our frappe and they came back specifically to buy them”.

The recipe

What’s so special about these frappe to make folks come from all over Rome (with the risk of not finding them)? “The ingredients are listed on the label, as in any other recipe. The secret lies in the method.” The recipe is therefore the traditional one, first tested by Uncle Giuseppe, “the more inclined towards pastries among us”, and then later modified. Meaning? “I don’t know that either,” smiles Simona. Because in this particular shop it’s impossible to watch the production method. “It’s all in dexterity, in the way the dough is handled.” And in frying, which must be “very fast” and must be “always in fresh new oil”. The best oil? “Peanut oil, because it has a fairly high smoke point and does not give release too much flavour and scent to the frappe”.

The other products

This unusual bakery also gives space to other traditional pastry specialties. There are croissants on Sunday mornings and then tea biscuits, mignona, bavarois and montblanc cakes, “our most popular product after the frappe”. Do not miss tasting their castagnole, available in the classic version, flavored with rum or filled with pastry cream, “for me, the latter are the best”. Simple and tasty desserts, which reproduce the flavour of classic pastries of the past: “My father and my uncle are both very tied to tradition. In the bakery there will never be any unusual or novel products: it’s part of the charm of our laboratory.” Simona uses the term “ours” because she is now part of the team, working as at the cash register. And also her brother, who manages the Facebook page and the website “born for my mother’s will, in order to keep our customers updated on the opening hours and calendar days”. In the meantime, however, Simona continues her passion for cake design, “in which I hope to specialize as soon as possible”.

Pasticceria Simona | Ostia (RM) | via delle Repubbliche Marinare, 50 | frappesimona.altervista.org/

by Michela Becchi