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.
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.
There is a large beer festival in Rome this weekend (EurHop) with a great selection of beers for sampling from around the world. I went last night. Noteworthy beers I tried included a creative smoked sour beer, Brett Peat Daydream, by the Italian brewery Birrificio del Ducato, a powerful and meaty smoked beer, the Affumicator by the Bavarian brewery Gänstaller Bräuand, and a delicate floral beer made in the lambic-style with elderflower which was vaguely reminiscent of tea, the Sourflowers Blend 01 Sambuco by Stradaregina in Lombardy.
But while one visit to the beer festival in a weekend was sufficient for me, my boyfriend headed back again today to continue his beer “studies”. In preparation, he requested pancakes. As I recently came back from Vermont with a suitcase heavy with maple syrup, it seemed an excellent idea and since we’re in Italy, fluffy ricotta pancakes it had to be.
Browsing through the photos I took this summer in Rome, one thing is clear, I’ve been drinking a lot of beer. This is unusual for me. But my boyfriend has become a bit obsessed with beer in recent years and has been dutifully “studying” as he says. I’m not complaining. It’s been delicious and I’ve “learned” a lot. Here is a list of some of my favorite places to help my boyfriend “research” Italian craft beers in Rome.
I’m always trying to learn more about Italian food and how to prepare it and have found myself turning to a few key cookbooks in recent years, often beginning research in one of my favorite Italian cookbooks, Le Ricotta Regionali Italiane by Anna Gosetti della Salda. Published in the 1960s and available only in Italian, this comprehensive cookbook conveniently divides recipes by region and is very well indexed, something I don’t think can be said about a great deal of cookbooks.
Of course, whether talking about ingredients, preparations or culinary history, there is never one right answer in Italian cooking. I therefore always rely on several sources and have found myself often relying on a favorite Italian pasta cookbook adapted for a non-Italian audience, Sauces & Shapes: Pasta the Italian Way which was written by an Italian food historian, Oretta Zanini de Vita and a food writer who moved to Rome from the States several decades ago, Maureen B. Fant. As a cookbook, it is well-written and practical for any level cook, providing just about everything one needs to know to begin to make and serve traditional Italian pasta, from where to source ingredients to the culinary history behind a dish to proper pasta etiquette. The crafty and amusing writing also holds its own outside of the kitchen too.
The tomato is of course not indigenous to Italy. Native to the Peruvian Andes, cultivated in Mexico and ever so slowly introduced into European culinary traditions before succeeding to its rightful Italian throne, the tomato was by no means an overnight success. Nevertheless, once the Italian culinary tradition got a hold of the “golden apple” or pomodoro as the tomato is known in Italian, they owned it.
Like the tomato, beer has also made a gradual entrance into Italian food and drink culture. The Roman Empire was not without it and considering how well it goes with pizza, its been around and appreciated for quite some time. However, the strong experimental beer movement Italy is becoming famous for had a late start in the mid-1990s. In a landscape laden with grape vines, its not difficult to speculate as to why.