Friday, November 27, 2009
Every November two questions come up: What to do with all my quinces? (I have a quince tree in Umbria) And what pies to make for Thanksgiving? This year I had the same answer to both: a Quince Crostata. While I’ve made plenty of quince crisps and pies over the years, somehow the idea of a crostata never occurred to me. And this is strange, since in my neck of the woods (I’m talking Todi) I’m considered the Crostata Queen. Invite me to dinner, and I will certainly bring a crostata or two.
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I was so happy to see Eric Asimov’s piece in this week’s New York Times Dining section on Italian digestives! Although I am definitely a grappa girl when it comes to after dinner drinks, I love the idea of amaro. And when I do find one that’s not over-sweet, tasting of wild herbs and citrus, it is a thing of joy. I’ll leave it to Eric to explain the history and allure of these supposedly medicinal herbal liqueurs. He rightly makes the point that amaro is the perfect remedy to Thanksgiving over indulgence. He was lucky enough to sample hard-to-find bottles like Girolamo Luxardo, Quintessentia and Fernet d’Italia at the upper east side restaurant Convivio. You’ll probably find less of a choice in your own local Italian restaurant, and even if you live in Italy most places tend to stick to the tired and true Averna, Cynar or Fernet Branca.
The complexity, variety and sometimes just plain weirdness of Italian amaro means that you usually love them or hate them. Most people have their favorites, but it’s always an adventure trying out new ones (although I am convinced that Convivio’s flight of five amari is a recipe for a headache) And with hundreds still produced all over Italy, each with its own secretly-guarded formula, it’s way too easy to try something new. (Personally I like the bottles. The decidedly old-fashioned labels - with old typeface, rustic maps and lots of gold leaf - are hard to resist.)
Two of my favorite haunts for searching out hard-to-find amari are quite near each other, both facing Rome’s opera house (and conveniently too-near my yoga studio.)
Chirra, located on Via Torino, is a place I know almost too well. I usually head here for otherwise difficult-to-find-in-Rome imported bottles of the hard stuff like Maker’s Mark when I want an Old Fashioned or something other than supermarket vodka for a martini. But I always end up falling into a trance in front of the huge selection of amari. It may be my post-yoga bliss, but I just love the names and the designs of Kapriol, Casauria and Florio. The friendly staff is helpful, and you can actually try some of the amari, since half the shop is a bar.
Angelini Enoteca, at Via del Viminale, is a slightly weirder place. Its dusty windows are stacked with a huge collection of bottles - some empty, some just old and dusty, all interesting. Looking for a bottle of nameless red wine with a label featuring Mussolini or the Pope? This is the place to go. Angelini has been in business since 1880, as the current owner, Enrico, is more than happy to explain. It was his grandfather who opened the shop, when the building was built, and they have been here ever since. Luckily, if you are in the mood for discontinued and hard to find regional amari, some of the stock has also been on the shelves for decades. Several dusty bottles of Amaro Kambusa must be among the only left around. It was sitting next to an even dustier bottle of Braulio Riserva (who knew amari even had riservas?)
It’s hard to generalize about amaro, since it changes so much from region to region. Angelini, with their over 40 amari, seems to cover all the regions - including some that I have a feeling are no longer even part of Italy.
Via Torino 132
Open until 2am every night, closed Sundays.
Via del Viminale 62
Open every day, except Sundays
Hours...whenever Enrico feels like it. Enrico usually shows up by early afternoon. Often closed before noon.
Monday, November 23, 2009
One of the most frequent questions I get from friends is what can they buy to take back to the States as gifts? Nothing too big, nothing too expensive. Preferably nothing that is going to break en route. Must be something that is found only in Italy. Nothing designer.
Also, each year, at Christmas, I have to decide what to bring back myself, as gifts for friends. I’m not talking about the big gifts (cashmere scarf for my sister, leather gloves for my mother) but smaller thoughts to bring along to dinner parties, etc.
Here is what I’m bringing back to New York this December, but could easily serve as souvenirs all year round:
Apicoltura, Via Della Dataria 93, This tiny shop is tucked into the street that leads down fro m the Quirinale towards the Trevi Fountain. While most stores in the area sell pure tourist dreck, Apicoltura’s selection of artisanally-made, honey-based products are heavenly. My gifts of choice are the jewel-like soaps. Cut from larger slabs their muted colors float with sprigs of rosemary, lavender and thyme. A real treat are their hard honey candies, soothing and delicious. Of course there is honey too, but I’m always afraid that will break in my suitcase.
Wednesday, November 18, 2009
I was looking for some good pig photos to illustrate this blog entry on a screening of Food, Inc. and realized that not only did I have a pretty cute photo of a cinta senese pig, but it was happily posing with Michael Pollan, one of the food gurus behind this amazing film. (the other two animals are my dog, Pico, and husband, Italian architect Domenico Minchilli.)
Thursday, November 5, 2009
When it comes to writing about restaurants in Rome, there is usually not much to report that is 'newsy.' When Food & Wine asks for my help with new openings for their yearly Go List, I'm always happy to oblige. Yet every year I have to explain that nothing new ever happens in this ancient city. This year I was proven wrong. In the 4-month time lag between turning in my copy to F&W, and the material appearing online, half the restaurants have closed! Sign of the times? Perhaps. But not all news is bad news. Here's the recent scoop:
Monday, November 2, 2009
Sometimes Rome can be an awfully hard place to navigate. Between traffic jams, daily strikes, protest marches and continual road work the idea of getting in the car and driving to the farmer's market just makes me tired. That's why I was so thrilled to discover that on Saturday mornings the farmer will come to me.