For Easter weekend, we opted to forgo family feasts, pack our bags and flee north. Not quite a two hour drive from Rome and not far from the edge of an expansive blue lake, my boyfriend’s family has a small apartment outfitted like a cabin with only the bare necessities. The stove is powered by a gas tank. The tablecloth is vinyl and easy to wipe clean.
The book I’m reading takes place in Bangalore where a family of five lives in three small rooms and makes do with a bench, two chairs and a table to support a gas stove. They stack their mattresses in the back room by the shrine during the day. We bring sheets from the city to use in the bedroom upstairs and stop at a nearby grocery store for pancake fixings. Sheep’s milk ricotta from Sardinia and lemons the size of my head are dropped into the shopping basket. I request an impromptu lesson on the popular local white wine, Frascati, cultivated since the 5th century BC and favored by the Ancient Romans, and add a bottle to the basket.
This week ran away from me. I lost it first thing Monday morning when I boarded the train and dropped into a seat by the window with the Sicilian murder mystery I was reading on my Kindle. As the train rumbled toward the center of Rome, the book’s characters shot at each other, swam in the sea and crashed a couple of cars, but kept eating. I highlighted the food references as I came across them: pasta con le sarde with sardines, wild fennel, saffron, pine nuts, raisins and toasted breadcrumbs, snails in tomato sauce or attuppateddri al sugo in Sicilian, or how about the street food mèusa made from boiled lamb spleen topped with the local caciocavallo cheese, or pasta ‘ncasciata, a great mound of pasta cloaked in eggplant and baked in the oven.
I last wrote on this blog months ago, before winter set in and blasted Rome with a dark, damp chill that left her feeling more like a stone, cold basement than a sun baked mediterranean city. Fortunately, spring has returned and along with her floral finery, brought back the sun and the promise of another hot, lumbering Italian summer. I’ll loathe it come August, but for now these old, cold bones are grateful for the heat.
I’ve been super busy with work and haven’t had as much time as I would like for posting, writing, reading, eating, running, cooking and everything else I love to do. But it’s persimmon season! And persimmons can be enjoyed even when time is not on your side. In Italy, I’ve often found myself served one at a meal’s end with nothing more than a spoon.
November to February is puntarelle season. This bitter, crunchy, watery green and its traditional preparation are distinctly Roman and are enjoyed in restaurants and homes throughout the city.
Puntarelle or “little tips” refers to the tips or the tender shoots of Catalonian chicory. The preparation is fairly tedious as the plants are cleaned and the shoots are removed and split before being soaked to make them curl. In Rome, you can buy the pre-split and soaked greens at most grocery stores and markets.
The Negroni is one of my favorite cocktails. It is made with equal parts Campari, sweet vermouth and gin and is served over ice in an old fashioned glass with a slice or twist of orange.
You can order two types of negroni in Rome: the classic negroni and the negroni sbagliato or mistaken negroni. The mistaken negroni is like the classic, but goes lighter on the alcohol by replacing the gin with prosecco.
Traveling to Rome? My brother is coming to visit at the end of the month and as his little sister who ran away from the Big Apple for cooking school in Italy, I need to make sure he eats well. Time is also limited as we’ll be off to Tuscany for a long weekend and we will be cooking Thanksgiving dinner too. One thing is already clear, no one will be going hungry–or on a diet.
Planning a trip to Italy? Did you know that Italy has more UNESCO World Heritage Sites than any other country in the world? 51 to be exact. China is next in line with 50. World Heritage sites are recognized by the United Nations for their cultural, historical, scientific or other value and are protected under international treaties. They are also great places to visit. The entire historical center of Rome has been included, including the Roman Forum pictured above.
My brother is coming to visit Rome for the very first time and I am trying to decide what sites he can’t miss. The Roman Forum is obviously a no brainer. But what else? There is so much to see.
Last Sunday’s historical earthquake leveled the 14th century Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia, the birth place of St. Benedict and founder of the order which bears his name. Miraculously and thanks to well-executed precautions, no lives were lost, although some 15,000 people were displaced.
But the Benedictine Monks of Norcia that care for the Basilica have been in the news for an entirely different reason in recent years–beer. The Monks of Norcia have been producing Birra Nursia since 2012, after taking up residency in Norcia in 2000 following a roughly 200 year hiatus for the order from the town.
Local food is synonymous with Italian cuisine, as is the tradition of celebrating and sharing it with others. Enter the magic of the sagra, an Italian food tradition in which a local food product is celebrated at its very own festival. There are sagras for wine and polenta and mushrooms and potatoes and pastas and nuts. Pretty much anything edible and local goes. Last weekend we stopped by a chestnut sagra in the medieval hilltop town of Vallerano and when my brother comes to visit me later this month we’ll be off to a Tuscan white truffle festival in San Miniato. Looking up local sagras is great for trip planning and for getting off the beaten trail as many take place in small towns throughout the countryside.
There are many sites on which to search for upcoming sagras by region (sagre is the plural in Italian), but googling will also get you some good answers as folks and travel writers generally like to keep tabs on a few of their favorites. What’s your favorite sagra?