Monday, February 28, 2011
I usually don’t go in for themed jewelry. You know what I mean. Heart shaped earrings in February. Pins that light up on December. I leave that to my mother, who not only has earrings and necklaces for every holiday, but matching outfits too. Thanksgiving? Out comes the turkey turtlenecks. Fourth of July? Red, white and blue from head to toe. And St. Patrick’s Day? Don’t even get me started on St. Patrick’s day (and the woman’s Jewish for God’s sake!).
In other words, when it comes to jewelry, I don’t go for cute, or even representational. Give me a set of coral beads, or an antique cameo set in gold and I’m happy. Which is why I was so surprised to be seduced by these little trinkets by Fabiana Fusco I saw at the Mercato Monti on Sunday. I’ve passed up many a zucchini or pumpkin necklace over the years, even though I’m a ‘foodie.’ But somehow, these little creations, full of pots and pans, forks and knives, and even colanders won my heart. Maybe it was the display: half submerged in little sugar filled demitasse and egg cartons. Or maybe it just made me nostalgic for my old doll’s house.
333 943 6799
Sunday, February 27, 2011
I’m always getting asked about flea markets in Rome. I think that somehow people have in mind the great flea market of Paris, and think there is some equivalent in Rome. The closest thing we have to that is Porta Portese. I know a lot of people love wading through humanity for the thrill of finding some quirky trinket amid all that junk. Or maybe they’re just hoping to find a replacement for their car radio that got stolen that week (and if very likely for re-sale there. ) Whatever. It’s just not my thing.
Instead, I like finding the smaller markets that pop up every now and then. A semi regular one is the Mercato Monti, that is about a year old. They usually take place one Sunday a month, and most times happen in the basement of the Hotel Palatino in Monti. Every so often they take over the much swankier space at the Radisson hotel, just off Piazza Vittorio. The markets were started by a trio of friends in the Monti neighborhood, as a way of bringing together creative, interesting vendors on Sunday, when Monti is usually pretty quiet.
This month’s market was at the Radisson, and was called The Box (not sure what this means) and it was an extremely cool collection of mostly vintage vendors selling everything from jewelry to sunglasses, tables to shoes. My friends Petulia and Amina were selling vintage clothes and shoes to benefit a charity in Pakistan, which is one of the reasons I went. And my friend Claudia’s daughter, DJ Flavia Lazzarini, was spinning the right music. And there was even a brunch going on. You can get on their mailing list, or follow them on Facebook to find out where they’ll be next month.
Friday, February 25, 2011
I think that I can officially declare an American bakery trend in Rome. How many places does it take to start a trend? Who knows, but when you’ve got a half dozen cupcake joints in a city as small as Rome, I’d say you’re on your way.
The newest (or at least the newest that I’ve visited) is Officina Dolce. A few friends had told me about this place, located in Parioli, but I hadn’t gotten by until a few weeks ago.
I wrote a round-up of American Style bakeries in Rome recently. And, like Sweety Rome, Perfect Bun and Dolce Roma, Officina Dolce leaves behind Roman tradition, and embraces muffins, brownies, pound cake and - of course - cupcakes.
But Officina Dolce goes one step further. Rather than stick to the tired and true recipes Monica (the owner and chef) starts each morning with a blank slate, and whips up variations according to whim. Brownies are studded with pistachios and hazelnuts, apple season brings mini versions of crumble and cake. Don’t expect to find the same goodies each time, since pastries are made fresh every day and change accordingly.
They do special order cakes, for birthdays and parties, and usually have a selection of gluten free sweeties.
Recent favorites included a selection of mini tartlettes: apple crumble, crema di riso and sour cherry, and sacher. I love their tea cakes, which range both to the sweet (pumpkin spice) to the savory (capers and sun dried tomatoes.)
The space, which used to be a mechanics shop, has a pleasingly retro feel. The kitchen is open to the store, with large steel and glass windows, and the cabinets are all restored industrial display cases. Let’s hope they take advantage of the extra space and add a few cafe tables to enjoy the sweeties in this cozy space. Let’s start a petition here.
Via Savoia 52
Thursday, February 24, 2011
One of my weirdest food memories from when we lived in Rome when I was a child is the grass my mother would make. I remember the plate of grass coming to the table, and we were allowed to dress it ourselves, with as much lemon juice and olive oil as we liked. Since I loved the chance to squeeze lemon juice onto anything, this seemed to me the perfect food.
Once we moved back to the States, I eventually forgot about this ‘grass’, and when I did think about it, I thought I must have imagined it. I mean, really, we ate grass?
All that changed when I finally moved back to Rome as an adult and rediscovered ‘grass.’ As it turns out, my mother had been cooking up agretti, which I happily found all over the markets in Rome, starting in late February. Grass!
Because it does really look like grass. Or seaweed. Or some sort of plant that is more suited for ground cover than table cover.
Agretti are also called Barba dei Frate, or Monk’s Beard. (I guess because they look like whiskers?) They are succulent, and grow in small little clumps. In the market they are sold in bunches, usually with the roots still attached. To clean them you just break off the thick root end. Or better yet, buy them already cleaned.
I’m tempted to use them raw, with their slightly sour, green taste. But I usually just boil them briefly in salted water, drain and then dress them with olive oil and lemon juice. In other words, grass, just like mommy used to make.
But this past week I’ve been trying my best to make good use of my over-ambitious shopping spree at D.O.L. A dozen eggs, and WAY too much cheese made me think maybe a frittata was in order. Also, I’d been having delicious frittatas made with greens lately, at L’Asino d’Oro and also at Vino e Camino.
Frittatas can often be boring, I find. I know it’s an egg dish, but the frittatas I like are always more about the non-egg ingredients. So I try to keep the eggs to a minimum, just enough to bind the mostly veggie/cheese mixture together.
The choice of cheese is tricky too, especially when using such a delicately tasting green as agretti. The frittata at L’Asino d’Oro included ricotta, which is a great idea. Instead I used Cacio Magno, an oragnic raw sheep's milk cheese, aged for only 30 days. It was a bit tangy, but soft and very creamy. Almost like taleggio, but sheepier and richer. Cut into small cubes it melted just enough to make the frittata deliciously decadent, and was the perfect contrast to all that grass. I mean agretti.
Two bunches of agretti, cleaned
120 etti / 4 oz of Cacio Magno (you can substitute Taleggio or Brie)
salt & pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Bring a large pot of water to boil, add salt, and boil agretti for about 4 minutes, till just wilted. Drain well.
Beat the eggs in a bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the cooled, drained agretti and stir.
Cut the cheese into small cubes, about 1/4 inch. Add cheese, stir well.
Heat a 10 inch non-stick saute pan, and add olive oil. Swirl to coat, and add egg mixture. Turn the heat to low, and put lid on. Let cook gently, without stirring, till almost set.
Carefully hold the pan and lid with an oven mit, and flip the pan over so that the frittata is now resting on the lid. Gently slide the frittata back into the pan, so that the top is now on the bottom. Although this sounds difficult, once you do it a few times, it’s really quite easy. And if you mess up, and the frittata breaks apart the first few times, don’t worry. It will still taste great.
Once you’ve flipped the frittata it only takes about one more minute to cook.
Serve warm, or at room temp.
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
I’m never one to waste food. My old bread gets made into croutons and bread crumbs. Leftovers usually end up in soups or salads. And when I use a few egg yolks for baking, we usually end up having meringues.
But extra egg yolks are another thing. What do you do with a couple of egg yolks if you don’t feel like baking? This happens more often than you’d think, since I’m partial to cocktails made with egg whites. One of my favorites is a recipe I picked up from Food & Wine’s Ultimate Cocktail Guide. I love it since it mixes some of my favorites - Pisco and Campari - and froths up really nicely. (I also get to use the limon di picas I have growing on the terrace.) It’s called a Parasol, and is as pretty as it is tasty.
After having whipped up two delicious Parasols I was left with two lonely egg yolks. Bright and cheery, organic and free range, they were part of the bag of goodies I picked up at D.O.L. over the weekend.
I had already planned our dinner: Cacio e Pepe. Vincenzo had sold me a chunk of Pecorino that he swore made the best Cacio e Pepe. In fact he stocked it primarily for this purpose. Since several other ladies in the store seconded his opinion, I decided to follow everyone’s advice. I had also bought some fresh taglierini, specially made for DOL with whole wheat Senatore Cappelli flour.
So, in theory, there was no place in this dish for eggs. Eggs were for Carbonara, not for Cacio e Pepe, right? But then I thought, “Hey! who says I can’t put eggs in Cacio e Pepe?!” (I was already half way though my cocktail at this point and may have actually been talking to myself).
And so I boldly broke with tradition and added my two little egg yolks to the Cacio e Pepe. And you know what? It was a fantastic idea, if I do say so myself. It made the dish just a tiny bit creamier and richer, but not overly eggy. This was not a cheesy, guanciale-less carbonara. It was something new.
Cacio e Pepe (with egg yolk)
400 gr/1 pound fresh pasta
120 gr / 4 oz aged pecorino, grated
2 egg yolks
2-3 tsp freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta.
In small bowl beat the egg yolks with the egg and pepper, just until mixed.
When pasta is done, drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.
Place pasta in large bowl, and add egg mixture, stirring quickly to coat the pasta.
Add handfuls of cheese, mixing as you go, and alternating with a bit of cooking water so it doesn’t get dried out. Keep doing this until you have used all the cheese. You want to add the cheese slowly so it doesn’t all melt and clump up.
Grate a bit more fresh pepper on top and serve.
(From Food & Wines The Ultimate Cocktail Guide)
1/2 oz fresh lemon juice
1/2 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
1 oz Pisco
2 oz Campari
1 egg white
Add all the ingredients, except the ice and bitters, to a shaker. Shake well, for 30 seconds. Add ice, and shake again. Strain into glass and top with 4 drops of bitters. Use a toothpick to swirl them around, to look pretty.
Monday, February 21, 2011
I’m just finishing up the App for eating in Rome, and as I near the final edits for version 1.0 I keep telling myself : basta! Enough. I can always add in more in the second version. At some point I’ve just got to stop and get it out there. Right? Wrong. Obsessive compulsive me wants to check out one more restaurant, one more gelateria, one more food store.
So, of course, Saturday saw me heading out in the Smart to Centocelle to visit a new alimentari. For those of you who don’t know Rome, heading out to Centocelle to visit an alimentari is sort of like saying I’m heading to the South Bronx because there is supposed to be a really great deli there.
But I had a good reason to suspect this would be worth the trip. I had been hearing about D.O.L. for a while. This stands for Di Origine Laziale, and the store sells only products from Lazio. Well, ok. But a lot of the farmers markets are selling local stuff these days, so I wasn’t quite convinced.
But while attending the pizza making class with Bonci I realized that almost all the amazing toppings that were going onto our pizzas were coming from D.O.L. Guanciale Cotto nel Vino was a aged guanciale cooked slowly in white wine. Conciata di San Vittorio was a raw cow’s milk cheese, aged in a crust of 15 herbs for 90 days. Now maybe you can understand why I wanted to chat with the owner , Vincenzo Mancino, and see what his store was all about.
I usually find writing about things I love pretty easy, but finding the right words to describe just how incredible this place - and Vincenzo - is, is surprisingly hard. Vincenzo is one of those guys who is so committed to what he is doing, and that what he is doing will make the world a better place, that it takes your breath away. He takes the concepts of sustainability, local culture and traditions, social awareness and civil responsibility and somehow ends up with some of the best things I’ve ever eaten. Ever.
Vincenzo has gone around Lazio and worked hard to find traditionally made cheeses, cured meats, olives....you name it, and bring these products to Rome in a way that makes sure they are affordable for everyone. He acts as an outlet for these food artisans, cutting out any middle man and mark ups. These are the kinds of foods that usually don’t make it much beyond their villages, much less into Rome.
The result of his exhaustive sourcing and minimal mark up is - I can safely say - some of the most absurdly delicious food in Rome at almost ridiculously low prices. For those of us used to paying through the nose at La Tradizione or Volpetti, you will be shocked.
But you’ll be just as blown away by the tastes.
It’s hard to point out just a few things that I loved, but I’ll try. Certainly the Conciata di San Vittorio that I had during the pizza class, but sadly that won’t be available for a month or so. The Guanciale cotto nel Vino? Food of the gods. Susianella is a very rare salame made from liver, heart and other organs, not dried but cooked, from near Viterbo. One of my new obsessions is the Caciotta di Buffala crusted with herbs and oddly goat like.
I could go on and on, but better if you just go out for a visit. We left with four huge sacks full of goodness. Cheeses, salame, pasta, bread, eggs, olives....it was hard to stop. When he added up our bill, I was sure he had made a mistake. But no, the prices are just that low.
When I asked him why he was located out in Centocelle, and not closer to the center of town he responded “Why, you don’t think the people here deserve to eat well too? And look at you, you made it out here. If people want to come to the store, it’s not that hard.” And really, it isn’t if you have a car. If you are taking public transport, it’s a bit more complicated. But let me tell you, it's worth it. Go. Now. If you are visiting Rome, and want to stock up before you leave, this is the place to do it and well worth the taxi fare.
As we were leaving the store, one woman said to us “Actually, I wish he would move away. It’s just too dangerous having this store right down the street. The temptation is way too strong: I’m here every day!”
Lunch back on our terrace.
Via Domenico Panaroli 6
Sunday, February 20, 2011
I’ve been cooking for a long time. As child, growing up in St. Louis, some of my best and strongest memories involve baking with my mother and with my older cousin Kathy. These were special treats which alternated with experimenting on my own with my Easy Bake Oven.
I guess it must have been while I was in junior high, in Greenwich, that I began cooking for the entire family. Finally, in High School, when I started driving and could control the weekly trip to the supermarket, I completely took over. My mom seems to recall me spending hours in the library, looking up exotic recipes. I do remember preparing 8 course Chinese feasts, and being particularly attached to my Time Life World Cooking series. While my mom was working, I would head to A&P, stock up, then spend hours preparing dinner. (Not quite sure when and how I fit in homework).
Friday, February 18, 2011
I’ve been an artichokaholic since I was a child. One of the biggest treats I can remember, growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, was my mother coming back from Bettendorf’s with a bag of big, round artichokes. She would rinse them, boil them for an hour or so, and then we’d each get one, with a small bowl of melted butter and lemon juice on the side. My sisters and I would gently tear off the leaves, dipping them in to the butter, before scraping off the flesh with our teeth. Finally, we’d get to the heart, which I would proceed to chop into little pieces and dump unceremoniously into the lemony butter, scooping it all up together with a spoon. It was as much about the fussy process and butter as it was about any sort of artichoke taste. I mean, these artichokes came from California, I guess, so any sort of ‘freshness’ was probably long gone.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
Lately I’ve been trying to work oranges into all sorts of dishes. Pasta with Sardines. Green Bean Salad. I’ve pretty much been grating orange rind directly into everything, using it like I would parmigiano.
Why? I guess it’s partly due to the winter doldrums. Everything gets so dreary in February, and a bit of citrus sunshine just seems like a good idea. Also, it’s tarocco season. That would be blood oranges from Sicily that are only now coming into Season. And when tarocchi are good, I can’t seem to get enough of them.
While I usually buy most of my fruit and vegetables at the various farmers’ markets around town, I’m almost always disappointed with the oranges. I think it has to do with there not being any great oranges that come from Lazio. The really great ones come, of course, from Sicily. And tarocchi are my favorites.
And the very best ones that I’ve been able to find are from my local fruttivendolo, Titta, on Via dei Serpenti. About this time every year she gets in tarocchi directly from Sicily. They are always more expensive than the rest of her oranges, and come wrapped in cheerful tissue paper (I’m always a sucker for the wrapping) to protect them.
So, in my effort to work citrus into every course, you know it was only a matter of time before orange met cocktail. I’m not a big fan of the orange/vodka or orange/prosecco combos. So I went straight for the campari and gin, with a bit of limon di pica from our terrace. Bright and cheery. A perfect orange cure for the February blues.
1 oz gin
1.5 oz Campari
3 oz fresh blood orange juice
1/4 limon di pica (or one small piece lime)
Pour gin, campari and orange juice into glass. Squeeze in lime, and stir.
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
In theory I love trying out new restaurants. And of course I do this a lot for my work, but also for my pleasure. I say ‘in theory’ because of course I’m like everyone else I know. Those reservations you made weeks ago, to go to the newest, hottest restaurant across town seemed like a good idea at the time. But come 7:30, after a full day of work, all you really want to do is walk around the corner to your neighborhood trattoria. Not only are you known and loved, but you also know and love what will be on your plate. Am I right?
That’s why I was out-of-this-world thrilled to learn that L’Asino d’Oro has moved to Monti. In theory it’s a ‘new’ restaurant, at least for this neighborhood. But I’ve been going to Lucio Sforza’s restaurants ever since he first opened La Volpe e l’Uva in Orvieto in 1990. He opened L’Asino d’oro soon thereafter and one of our favorite trips from our house in Todi was to drive to Orvieto for lunch. I was sad when he closed shop, but encouraged that he moved to Rome. But since the restaurant was way up in Montesacro, I never made it. (Somehow a forty minute drive in the Umbrian countryside is easier than heading across town in Rome.) So when I realized that I could try a 'new' restaurant, that wasn't even 'new' and around the corner from my house? Perfetto!
I’d been hearing rumors that L'Asino d'Oro was moving to Monti, but Sforza wasn’t answering any phone number I had. Since I knew that the space on Via Boschetto (formerly Colors, more recently Gens) was available, I figured that was where he would land. I was praying this was true, and not just a rumor. While Monti may have some good places to eat, which I know and love, it's lacking in terms of slightly adventurous - can I say sophisticated? - dining. Which is why I was so so happy to run into Sforza last week as he was putting the final touches on the completely renovated place on Via Boschetto.
He just opened Monday, but since he’s been doing this for quite a long time, I had no ‘new restaurant’ qualms. Sforza brings his extremely professional and friendly staff with him where ever he lands.
The menu will be familiar to anyone who has followed Sforza. His meticulous attention to ingredients and his adventurous mixing of tastes and textures delivers traditionally prepared dishes that venture into completely new territory.
The menu is extremely affordable, especially for a place of this quality. The most expensive dish is only 15 euros. I'm sorry, but I have to admit that I didn’t even look at the wine list, since I was so excited to order a beer. He carries about 30 excellent craft beers. We started off with a Cluviae from Maiella.(always fun to try something new, especially since it was so good.)
Before we even had a chance to order, a small slice of frittata arrived. Although it looked so so, the tastes blew us both away. Packed with chicory and ricotta, it was moist and almost souffle-like. A scattering of pecorino flakes and just a drizzle of bright green olive oil. This was soon followed by a plate of cinta senese prosciutto, hand cut and full of rich, creamy fat. Both dishes combined rustic tradition with intense flavor and expert preparation, which continued through the entire meal.
Domenico ordered - at the suggestion of the waiter, Stefano - Tagliolini con Calamari e Blu di Percora. Yes, that would be squid with blue cheese. Sounds odd, but wasn’t at all. The bits of calamari were soft and tender, and bathed in the rich, creamy, earthy blu cheese.
I went for the Zuppa di Fagioli e Castagna. I’m usually not a big fan of savory dishes with chestnuts, so I wanted to see if Sforza could convert me. He did. The soup itself was full of big, pink beans and the ‘broth’ was just sweet enough with chestnuts. The Lardo topped crostino floating in the middle was flecked with candied orange, a nice touch.
The menu is divided into Fuoripasti, Primi and Secondi. The waiter explained that the Fuoripasti could be ordered either as antipasto, or - if you weren’t so hungry - as a smallish second course. Great idea! Since that portion of the menu contained so many things I wanted to try I ordered a combo plate. Baffo alla Salvia e Aceto was gently sauteed slices of guanciale, just crispy enough at the edges but still chewy in the middle, bathed in vinegar and topped with bits of fried sage. The Fegatelli alla Muffa Nobile provided me with just enough of something you just don’t find that often: pork liver. And to provide a bit of non-pork, I ordered a side of orange roasted finocchio, which was extraordinary and I will be trying to replicate at home. At Stefano's suggestion we stayed with Birrificio di Maiella, but changed to Matthias, darker, richer and perfect.
By the way, the space is great. I’m willing to put up with crowded trattorias with bad acoustics and lighting as much as the next girl. But sometimes it is just such a total pleasure to find a restaurant like L’Asino d’Oro that actually goes out of its way to provide soft lighting, comfortable chairs and - you’re not gonna believe this - expertly chosen jazz in the background. Yes, this is Rome. Sforza has transformed the formerly dark and dreary space into light and happy dining room, replete with primary colors and wooden floors.
We didn’t have room for dessert, regrettably. But we’ll certainly be coming back, not to worry. For dinner, for sure. But also for lunch, which at 12 euros for a fixed menu will probably turn out to be one of the best and most delicious deals in town. They also have a special ‘merende’ menu from 5-7:30, featuring small plates. Pretty cool, right? And since Monti is so centrally located, no one has any excuse not to come.
Via Boschetto 73
Monday, February 14, 2011
The thing I love about Rome is that there is always something interesting or fun to do. Actually, come the weekend, there is usually too much to choose from. There are of course movies, plays and exhibitions. Restaurants to try, dinner parties to go to.
And since Rome is a mecca for creative types, there are always readings to go to or artists studios to visit. I'm very involved with the American Academy, (I started Friends of the Academy three years ago) and am often there, for lectures, shows, concerts and studio visits.
Last Sunday was the first of a new series of artistic events that my friend James Barron is organizing this year in Rome. Rather than do something on a grand or public level, he decided to develop something much more personal and intimate. He had the extremely clever idea of starting a program he is calling “Conversations.” James is a private art dealer, who has been living in Rome for the last 8 years or so. He’s decided to start a sort of mini-fellowship program, where he invites an artist to come and stay in Rome for 6 weeks, and work. At the end of the period he hosts a salon, giving us all a chance to see what the artist has been up to. The “Conversation” refers not only to the conversation that the artist has with Rome - and the resulting works - but also a more formal Conversation that James has with the artist, during the salon as well as the conversations that we are able to engage in with the artist.
The first artist was Dawn Clements. I’d been an admirer of her work for a while, ever since I’d seen two of her drawings in James’s apartment. During her stay here she worked on two drawings, both of which were on display.
Dawn’s drawings are huge, taking up a good portion of the wall. But she actually makes them in small sections, either folding the paper as she goes, or assembling them after she is finished.
In fact, the drawing that I loved was done in black ink, over a period of six weeks. She painted hyacinths as they bloomed, and drew only a small square section each day. Only when they were all completely finished, did she tape them together and hang them on the wall to see her final work for the first time.
James Barron Art