Wednesday, April 28, 2010
Ever since Evan Kleiman interviewed me, while I was in LA, for Good Food, about typical Roman food, all I can think about are all the things I forgot to mention! One topic we did cover a bit was the idea that Romans still eat very seasonally. They are wary of strawberries except for a few short weeks a year, and gobble up as much puntarelle as they can during their brief season.
When it comes to seasonal vegetables nothing beats the holy trinity of artichokes, fave and peas. They each have their own specific time: first the huge, purple romanesco artchokes start showing up. Then the bright green, bursting-at-the-seams fave pods. And finally, just before the fave leave the stage, peas make their entrance. The result is one of Rome's most loved – but maybe least known – dishes: Vignarola. Available for a few short weeks in April.
I have never seen this dish on a menu outside of Rome, must less outside of Italy. Maybe that is because its success has as much to do with the freshest ingredients as with any culinary skill. The artichokes that grow in Lazio are unique, and their perfume (yes, raw artichokes smell heavenly) fills the markets in the spring. And the dish is made with very fresh, very young fave that require no double shelling. Hard to find most places
But I also think that one of the reasons that Vignarola is not on any menus is due to the fact that it is so damn labour intensive. While easy to cook, the vegetables themselves take forever to prep. Shelling enough fave and peas for a meal for four can take you a half hour. Then there are the artichokes, which must be shorn of their tough outer leaves, trimmed around the root, de-choked and sliced. All the while keeping them (and your hands) in an acidulated bath so that they don’t turn brown.
But..if you are lucky enough to live in Rome, then you can pick up tidy little packs of fresh, cleaned peas, fave and artichokes in the markets around town. That’s what I did a few days ago, stopping at the outdoor market on Via Balbo, on my way to yoga.
After choosing one bag of peas, two of fave and eight artichokes, the fruttivendola asked me “Che, fai la vignarola?” I said, yes. And she stuck a small head of romaine lettuce in my bag as well. It’s a traditional ingredient, but one I usually just leave out since it doesn’t seem to add much. But she assured me, the lettuce was “importante.”
Later that night, here’s what I made. Served with a loaf of freshly made bread (have I told you lately how much I love my bread machine?) and some amazing blue goat cheese from Mia Market , it was the perfect Roman spring dinner.
3 scallions (only white part)
1 ½ cups shelled peas
2 cups shelled fave
2 cups finely chopped romaine lettuce
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt & pepper
Heat oil and gently soften onions, without letting them brown. Add artichokes, which have been cleaned and sliced (sorry, no ‘how to’ here.) Stir a bit, then add fave. Stir. Add salt and pepper, and about 3 cups of water. Cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, adding water if necessary (you want it to be somewhere between soup and stew). Add peas and lettuce and cook for another 8-10 minutes. Taste and correct for salt.
Depending on how I’m feeling I sometimes add chopped guanciale or pancetta at the beginning, with the onions. Another option is to add mint, parseley or mentuccia at the very end. If I’m feeling particularly daring, I add some grated lemon zest at the very end.
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Is it 7pm yet? If so, then I can start thinking about what cocktail to mix up tonight. I find that I’m not the only one of my friends to have moved away from a pre-dinner glass of wine, towards the harder stuff. “I love vodka” was not something I heard that much, up until a few years ago, yet now it’s something I hear disturbingly often. It was definitely before Mad Men, so that can’t be it. Whatever the reason, cocktails have become a part of our life. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that two of my neighbors in Monti had cocktail parties on their terraces last night.
But one thing does sort of carry through from my wine days. While we don’t go so far as to drink our martinis with our steak, I do try to think about what we are eating, and pair the tastes in some way with the menu that follows. Which got me thinking about Italian cocktails. What kind of cocktails do you serve if you’re cooking Italian?
Here are some of the classics:
Lately this is my go-to cocktail. When I’m at home, it’s easy. When I’m out, it’s no-risk (hard drink to mess up). The drink dates to the early 1900’s, when a certain Count Negroni, a Florentine aristocrat, asked the waiter in Cafe Rivoire to up the ante in his Americano (see below). So he replaced the soda water with gin, and voila’!
There are a few ways to make a Negroni (shaken, stirred, in a cocktail glass, over rocks). Here’s my favorite:
1 oz. Gin
1 oz. Campari
1 oz. Martini & Rossi Vermouth Rosso
Fill small rocks glass with ice. Add Gin, Campari and Vermouth. Stir. Garnish with orange or mandarin slice.
I have little use for the Americano, which always seems like a wimpy Negroni. But a lot of my wimpy friends prefer it. It was originally called a Milano/Torino, since the Camapri is from Milan, and the vermouth from Torino. At some point, around the 1900’s it was named after Americans, who seemed to order it a lot, while in Europe, drinking it up during prohibition.
1 oz Campari
1 oz Martini & Rossi Vermouth Rosso
Pour Campari & vermouth in rocks glass. Fill with ice, top with soda and garnish.
I can’t believe that it took me untill this year to discover the Negroni Sbagliato. Mona, at the American Academy, introduced me to this at the small bar there. In this case it’s just a slightly wimpier version of a Negroni, this time with the gin being replaced with Prosecco. So, slightly fizzy, but not quite as strong. Fun.
1 oz Campari
1 oz Sweet Vermouth
1 oz Prosecco
Pour Campari and vermouth in a rocks glass. Fill with ice and top with prosecco.
Once you leave Campari territory (and I didn’t even mention the obvious Campari & Soda) , in terms of Italian cocktails, there is really only the group of cocktails based on prosecco with something. The most famous is, of course, the Bellini. Bellinis are often what gets served at big cocktail parties in Rome, with waters passing around flutes of mediocre prosecco doused with bottled peach juice. Yuck. But a well-made Bellini - which was invented at Harry’s bar in Venice - is made from fresh peach puree and Prosecco. So, if you’re going to try your hand at this one, only attempt it with the freshest, ripest peaches. And if you do order it while out, do so only in season, and hope for the best.
Peel, pit and puree two fresh peaches.
In a champagne flute add 1/3 peach puree to two third’s prosecco, adding prosecco slowly and stirring gently.
The strawberry version of a Bellini, which I find not only prettier, but tastes better too.
I’ve only started hearing about this drink recently, and it seems to be what the ‘younger’ Romans are ordering these days. This was confirmed yesterday, by Sophie, my daughter. While she prefers her Prosecco straight, all her friends have it ‘spritzed.’ From what I can figure out, the idea comes from up north, in the Veneto. It’s prosecco or white wine, poured in a rocks glass, with a dash of something bitter like Campari or Aperol added, topped with soda water and filled with ice. Usually garnished with an orange slice. It actually sounds pretty good to me...
Are their any I’ve missed? Anyone have a favorite Italian cocktail? FYI, next week I’ll be talking about grappa, and some unconventional cocktails I’ve made over the years it.
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
It seems like months ago that I promised to continue my guide to Monti. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long, but I’ve been on the road, doing a book tour for Italian Rustic and have been playing catch-up since I got back two weeks ago.
While I loved traveling all over the States, I was really (REALLY) happy to get back home. Home to my family, home to our apartment, and home to my neighborhood. There’s nothing like traveling non-stop for three weeks to make you appreciate every little thing about where you live.
Which makes it all the easier to brag about all the great places to shop for food in Monti. While I ate very well when I was in the States, I still missed cooking every day. What follows is the Minchilli guide to grocery shopping in Monti.
Delizie di Calabria
This store comes first, since it’s one of my favorites. You’d think that a store that only sells items from Calabria would get old fast. You’d be wrong. When what is coming up every day includes things like mozzarella, olives and rustic bread, it’s hard not to work those ingredients into at least a few meals a week. The mozzarella is by far the best in the neighborhood, and once you taste it, it’s hard to settle for less. If you can’t decide between the four types of olives on sale, never fear, you can try them all at the little tasting table at the back of the store. In the fall and winter there are baskets of fresh porcini and chanterelle mushrooms, and the rest of the year the store is heady with the perfume of dried porcini. My sister Jodi asks me to bring her the pungent origano, and my friend Alice Feiring puts in an order for bitter orange marmalade. Via dei Serpenti 20a
A newcomer to the neighborhood, Mia Market is fast becoming my favorite place to shop. Besides being one of the cutest shops I’ve ever seen, the 100% organic produce seals the deal. I actually like the fact that she only has a half a dozen fruits or vegetables each day (making it that much easier to make a decision about what to make for dinner.) There is no yogurt aisle in this store. Just one kind of yogurt: plain, full fat organic. And when I don’t feel like cooking, I pick up a container of the soup of the day, a loaf of bread and enough chicken meatballs cooked in wine to feed the family. Via Panisperna 225
Antica Pescheria Galluzzi
“Where do you buy fish?” Do people in other cities ask this question? In Rome, it’s more common to hear this question at a dinner party, than “What do you do?” People here take their fish – and fish buying – very seriously. I consider myself lucky and proud to live near one of the city’s best pescherie. This fish store has been around since 1894, and you have to make it here early in the day, before most of the stock goes out the door to be delivered to Rome’s best restaurants. Don’t walk in with a shopping list. Instead, see what they have and go from there. The owners are just as likely to steer you away from a bad, expensive, choice, towards a less expensive alternative. (for instance fresh sardines instead of imported salmon). Trust them, they’ve been doing this forever. Do remember to ask them to clean the fish for you, which they will do at no extra charge. Open only in the mornings. Via Venezia 26, 06 474 4444
I’m not a fan of grocery stores, and I’m much more likely to go for the local than the imported. But…you know? Sometimes you just want to eat a cheese that isn’t pecorino! That’s when I go to Elite, a fancy schmancy supermarket on Via Cavour. I avoid most of the store and head straight to the cheese counter. Oddly enough they have more imported cheeses than almost any other store I know, including hard to find cheeses from the north of Italy as well as a selection of French cheeses. Via Cavour 232
La Bottega del Cioccolato
Ok, Chocolate isn’t really ever on my shopping list. Even so, I head to La Bottega del Cioccolato more often than I should. I try to wait for an occasion – a dinner party gift, Easter, Valentines Day – but really, any excuse will do. The owners are the most recent generation of an old chocolate making family, and opened up shop in Monti about 10 years ago. While their chocolate colliseums and other figurines are cute (and taste good) better to go for an assortment of pralines, which are hand made freshly several times a week. Via Leonina 82
There used to be a fresh pasta store in every neighborhood in Rome. Rising rent prices have made this low margin type of store hard to make a go of. One of the few hold outs in the center is on Via Boschetto. Besides the fresh sheets of pasta – cut to whatever width you’d like – there is usually ravioli, tortellini and on Thursdays gnocchi. Call ahead and they are happy to prepare lasagna and cannelloni. Via del Boschetto 42B; 06 474 4688
Another casuality of rising rents and lack of family enthusiasm has been the closing of two of the neighborhood pastry shops over the last few years. Which is why I was so happy to see Sweety Romeopen on Via Milano. Once I got over the incredibly silly name, and the fact that they are specializing in mostly American desserts, (which usually are disappointing in Rome) I became a regular. While the cupcakes are awful cute, it’s the carrot cake and cheese cake that wins my vote. I love their brownies so much that I actually have to avoid walking down Via Milano.Via Milano 48; 06 489 13713
And here follows a brief list of all the rest:
Il Giardino del Te
One of the best (if not the best) tea shops in Rome.Via del Boschetto 112/A
Al Vino Al Vino
Where I go for wine. Small, but excellent selection. Via dei Serpenti 19
Piero Stecchioti, Macellaio
Although I now usually order my meat from an organic farm in Tuscany, I still go to Piero, the famous ‘butcher of the quirinale’ every so often, as much for the meat as for the political conversation with Piero, a die hard communist. VERY expensive. Via Panisperna 245
I know that I've probably forgotten something, so - to all my fellow monticiani - please add on your favorites!