Speaking of cutting shapes, we have artichokes to prepare. Rachel shows me how to peel away the outer leaves, revealing their tender pistachio-hued innards: Spring is winking at us. We rub the trimmed ‘chokes in lemon juice to stop them from discolouring and drop them into lemony water. We sweat three thinly sliced onions in 12 tablespoons of olive oil, cut the trimmed artichokes into eight, lengthways, and add them, so that everything glistens. We braise the vegetables in white wine, seasoning to taste, and then blend half the mixture so that, when it comes to adding the artichoke mix to pasta, there’s enough sauce to coat each strand, but also bite from the still-intact pieces of artichoke. With a snowman of ricotta, a sleet of pecorino and a sputter of chilli oil on top, we have a handsome plateful. On the side – just in case we should feel cheese-deprived – we have more pecorino and glazed mustard fruits “like stained glass windows,” Rachel comments.
Rachel came to Italy on a whim in 2005. She had been working as an actor in London and, following the end of a relationship, felt the need for "something completely different – and warmth". She turned up at the airport and bought a one-way ticket to Naples with no luggage, then spent six weeks travelling around Sicily before coming to Rome "reluctantly", for language school. It her best friend, Joanna, an architect fascinated by city planning and the development of English garden cities (on which Testaccio was modelled), who encouraged her to visit the neighbourhood, which has been her home ever since. Rachel studied Italian and started working as a waitress in a trattoria – where she met Vincenzo.