The bar in Linari must be 12m long, at least, and it’s shaped like an “L” or an allen key. The shorter section is opposite the espresso machine, and a good place to stand, or lean, with one eye on both doors and the cash desk, and the other on the silver machine with its crown of warm cups. I’m not sure which movement I prefer: the bash to get the used-up coffee grounds out of the filter basket, or the twist to put the newly filled portafilter back in place. Certainly watching a barista make an espresso is not something I ever get bored with; the opposite, in fact: the dark grounds deposited into the basket and pressed firm, the twist, then the hiss of pressure that forces the right measure of water through the compressed grounds and the dark stream into a small cup.
Sometimes sugar, sometimes not. If I do, I stir 15 times clockwise, because, years ago, I overheard a conversation between two people I liked the look of and I copied them. The other thing about stirring is that it is mildly hypnotic: a seven-second meditation with a cup in the company of others, but all alone. The bar has a glass top, so if you haven’t paid for a pastry, you might feel regret looking down on the well-lit, quite well-laminated cornetti, raisin whirls and armband-sized, ring doughnut-like ciambelle.
Meanwhile, standing in the first half of the longer section of the bar means dealing with a large mirror. Which is best done by looking down at more pastries and pizzette, which are thin of crust and the size of large fried eggs topped with a smear of tomato, some of them with cheese, too, that you fold in two and eat in four. And if it is 4pm, don’t look down but across to the last few metres of the bar, where the glass-fronted cold cabinet is filled with sandwiches and nine sorts of biscuits and pasticcini, or little pastries.
Also known as mignon, which my dictionary defines as things that are “piccola e carina; delicato” (small and pretty; dainty), although some are actually quite sturdy. It is the pastry equivalent of Woolworths’ pick’n’ mix. There are deep-fried bignè filled with cream or thick custard and topped with a cap of glaze, mini cannoli and cassate with their cherry nipples, rum-smoked babà, mini Sachertorte and – for the sake of this column, let’s say they are my favourite – tiny tarts with frilly edges filled with a blob of custard and topped with soft fruit, of all sorts, but most often strawberries. On the shelf behind the counter are gold trays in 12 different sizes, depending on whether you want six or 75 mignons. Or you can buy a big one from the gigantic fridge next to the telly. And if you can’t buy one, you can make one.
Dust with icing sugar before serving with fizz or espresso, standing, leaning, sitting, in the company of others, then the last slice alone.
Tart with crema pasticcera and strawberries
You will need a 23cm-25cm tart tin, ideally one with a loose bottom.
Prep 10 min
Chill 1 hr+
Cook 40 min
For the pastry
110g cold butter, diced
240g plain flour
80g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting, if you like
1 pinch salt
1 large egg plus 1 extra yolk
For the crema pasticcera
4 egg yolks
75g caster sugar
30g plain flour
500ml whole milk
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
Make the pastry by rubbing the butter into the flour until it resembles crumbs. Add the icing sugar, salt, the egg and extra yolk, and bring everything together into a ball. Cover and chill for at least an hour.
Working on a piece of baking paper, roll the dough into a thin circle a centimetre larger than the tin. Use a rolling pin to lift the circle into the tin and press down and into sides, but leave the overhang (you can cut this away later). If you have time, chill again. Prick the base and, if you want, add a circle of parchment and baking beans. Blind bake at 200C (180C fan)/390F/gas 6 for 25 minutes, or until baked through and deep golden. Remove from the oven and, while still warm, trim away the overhang. Leave to cool.
Meanwhile, in a heavy-based pan, beat the yolks and sugar with a balloon or electric whisk, until pale, fluffy and doubled in size. Add the flour gradually, whisking constantly.
In another pan, warm the milk and lemon zest until almost (but not quite) boiling, then pull from heat and add, whisking, to the egg mixture.
Return the pan to a medium heat and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the mix is thick enough to roll slowly from the back of the spoon.
Scrape the still warm crema pasticcera into the tart case and smooth the top with a knife you have dipped in hot water. Leave to cool, then decorate with strawberries, either sliced or quartered, in a neat or casual way. Dust with icing sugar before serving, if you like.