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Archive for December, 2009

Just when you think you can’t eat or drink anything else, someone has a party.  That’s just how the holidays are.  Yesterday, we invited a few friends who are leaving Rome today to have a low-key dinner with us.  I planned to make those cabbage-wrapped pork meatballs I wrote about recently.  Then, we got Nick’s invitation to join him and Rena and 15 others for a party the aim of which was to finish off the wild boar stew he’d made for Christmas dinner.  We decided to move the meal to our apartment, right next door, for reasons having to do with sleeping children and baby monitors. And then, we ran into Jason, who said he’d bring down his leftover rabbit stew.  Meat fest!

Sensing, perhaps, that this would be a meal of small restraint, our guests showed up with cookies, cheese, and panetone, and copious bottles of wine, Cointreau, limoncello, and scotch.

And I had decided that the dry little biscotti in the cupboard, however tasty on an abstemious day, would not stand up next to such a feast, and so I made chocolate mousse.

This is all that remains of a large bowl of the fluffy, dark, silky, luxuriant dessert:

To top it off, along with some light-as-air amaretti that Lisa and Philip brought, I whipped some Cointreau into the cream.  Oh, my!

The recipe I used was a doubling of this one from Bon Appetit, May 2001.  The sugar, eggs and milk were organic, and the chocolate 70% cacao.

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse

Start this recipe six hours to one day ahead.

Yield: Makes 6 servings

1/2 cup whole milk
2 large egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt

Whipped cream

Whisk milk, egg yolks, and 2 tablespoons sugar in heavy small suacepan to blend. Place over medium-low heat and stir until mixture thickens enough to coat spoon, about 7 minutes (do not boil). Remove from heat. Immediately add chocolate and whisk until smooth. Whisk in vanilla. Transfer mixture to medium bowl; cool to lukewarm, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Beat egg whites and salt in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold whites into cooled chocolate mixture in 3 additions. Divide mousse among 6 goblets or transfer to serving bowl. Refrigerate until cold and set, at least 6 hours. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and keep refrigerated.)

(Actually, I’d recommend making it a day ahead. The texture is better the second day.)

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The day after Christmas: rain, cleaning up all done, children melting down, boredom, no hot water for a cathartic shower (again! really! what’s up with that?)….

For the fifth time today, Jack whined, “Mommy, I’m hungry.”  I looked around the kitchen—not much there.  Then I remembered the orange trees.  Let’s go pick an orange to eat!  Jack was ready for any kind of outing, so we put on our rain boots and rain coats and hoods, and walked out to the tree, which, from a distance, seemed to have no more fruit.  But when we got up close, and I crouched down to Jack’s height, I saw the clusters of ripening, reddening Tarocco oranges—the common Italian variety of what we call “blood orange.”  The pulp is not as red as that of its Spanish cousin, Sanguinello, and the fruit not as large as the most common variety in the U.S., Navel.  Threads of read are shot through the center of the deep orange fruit, and the juice is deliciously sweet.

Because of the structure, with little mini-sections in the center, I decided to juice it instead of peeling it and parting it and wasting the juice in the process.  Jack guzzled a cupful in seconds.  And then, within seconds, he was gone, having just received an invitation shouted up through the open window from the driveway below to come down to Lulu’s for hot cocoa.

I juiced the other orange we’d picked, poured it into wine glasses, and topped it off with the prosecco left in the fridge.  Wow!

You may remember my post on fruit/sparkling wine cocktails.  Now there’s a new one to add, and I’ll have to say, it definitely wins out over the Puccini and the Mimosa.

(Note to others in the AAR community: I only took a few. Really!  If you go too, leave some hanging to ripen, so the RSFP staff can make us the traditional Sicilian salad of Tarocco orange, sliced fennel, olive oil, and parsley… or so that Alessandro can mix up some perfected epitome of sparkling citrus cocktail, as he’s been known to do.)

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pre-party

Wow.  There are so many potluck festivities ahead.  Top (and all over, really): dairy essentials for the next few days of children’s snacks.  Middle: chilled essentials for the next few days of parents’ drinks. Bottom: six local, hormone- and antibiotic-free chickens ready for roasting.

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That’s the name of the butcher’s shop where I’ll be buying the chickens for the Christmas potluck.

I love it there.  It’s the only place I can think of where amidst carcasses, I feel a sense of comfort.  The older couple who own it do everything with care and friendliness.  While his wife chats with shoppers who are also friends, the grandfatherly proprietor grinds the meat or slices the prosciutto by hand.

Everything he sells is local (or at least from Italy) and/or organic.  No Brazilian beef here.

We’re getting ready for a giant potluck dinner on Christmas day, and I find that I’m the event organizer, against all former inclinations.  I’ve been sending out slews of emails, mixing up cookie dough, entertaining kids in my kitchen while they cut the cookies and wait for them to puff up in the oven, and forgetting essentials at the supermarket.  For all these reasons, and the fact that Jack’s on vacation, my blogging pace has slackened.

Let me just tell you about a snack I like: wheaty long looped breadsticks with hot pepper flakes throughout.

Another thing I’m excited about?  Our Christmas tree, which is a rosemary bush.

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Of activity, that is.  (The real flurries are more like blizzards, falling on friends and relatives all up and down the east coast.)

But life here has been moving so fast, and what do I have to show for it? No photos of food, anyway.  The food has disappeared before the camera reached it.  Friday night they served latkes with dinner, and many of us ate three or more.  They were just so good!  Crispy crunchy on the outside, soft and hot on the inside, potato goodness throughout.  Our Saturday lunch was another bonanza of flavors.  The risotto, in particular, was impossibly delicious.  Lemony, smooth, perfectly toothsome.  That evening, yesterday, we hosted a pizza party.  Twenty or so friends filled our living room, bringing beer, wine, chocolate, good stories and loud laughs, and I somehow managed to keep serving hot pizza in defiance of the size of our oven.

(I’ve actually done some roasting, baking, and pizza making in it.  My grandma used just a toaster oven for years….)

The pizza came from our local favorite, Pizzeria da Simone.  People are constantly coming in and out of this pizzeria on Via Carini, at all hours of the day.  Pizza rossa for breakfast?  No problem.  We got a whole range of toppings last night: zucchini blossoms and anchovies, sausage with cheese, sausage with mushrooms, spicy sausage with tomato sauce, mushrooms with tomato sauce, prosciutto with cheese, mortadella with artichoke hearts.  It was all devoured before I thought to take a picture.  I love Roman style pizza.  The crust is like what we’d call flatbread, but isn’t completely flat, and the toppings are combined in moderate twosomes or threesomes.  None of this deep dish everything nonsense.  (How will we ever reacclimate?)

This morning, Peter and I, along with Ramie, Rena, and Lisa, ran the 10K “Christmas Run” in Villa Pamphili.  The scene was a fascinating cultural tableau.  We were some of the only Americans in the crowd of 400.  The race was set to begin at 9:30, but the organizers and pace-setters lingered in the cafe adjacent to the “Punto Jogging” for an extra 15 minutes of leisurely cappuccino sipping.  Finally, after we had been jumping up and down in the 28-degree air (that’s Farhenheit!) waiting, the pace-setters, who wore color-coded balloons, took their places and the race got off to a silly, stumbling, good-hearted start.  Some of the runners, being typical Italians, talked the whole while.  Except on the uphills.   The course, like the balloon-following, was whimsical, winding through forest on narrow, muddy trails, and up grassy hillsides sparkling with frost, past fountains and the chestnut-lined avenue on this awesome piece of land that until recently was a massive chunk of private property on one of the prettiest hills in Rome.  I ended up running in a pack of middle-aged men, who were yelling and laughing to each other the whole time, (Ciao, bello!  Buon Natale!  Attenzione! along with much commentary on the mud puddles) and one other woman, who wore a set of red antlers.  Some people were dressed up as Babbo Natale (that’s Santa to you) and many wore the elf hats they gave us at registration.  It was a fun-run with decidedly Italian inflections of the good life: the cafe at the finish was mobbed with sweaty people sipping espresso, talking loudly, and gesticulating heartily.  The men wore tights, and the women’s black eyeliner was unmussed.

Back home, Peter and I polished off the leftover pizza, and I cooked some pasta for these elves:

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In the past two days I’ve been to two good old Roman basic restaurants that served delicious meals and a whole bunch of good old Roman basic tourist spots. (My parents are visiting.)

Last night: Il Galeone, in Piazza San Cosimato, just down the hill from us: either take the bus down the S-curves of Via Dandolo, or take the path through the grass to the two twisting staircases.  It’s one of those places that you really can’t judge from the outside.  Does it just look authentic, or is it really good?  I wouldn’t have tried it without the recommendations of numerous friends, who all said to order the fish soup.  OK.  But what do they mean by “mezzo” (half)?  Here’s what:

These sea creatures have as much dignity in this dish as the octopus wrestling with  Neptune in Piazza Navona:

Other fun things about this restaurant were the service—or was it just that the gentleman loved Jack, who ate a lot of spaghetti carbonara?

—or was it that he made a show of choosing the right glasses for the low-price-range vino rosso we chose?

(which turned out to be quite good.)

And the walls in our dining room, made of old liquor boxes, as if they were packed in a ship’s hold:

The tuna, before and after:

The coziness:

And the walk home past the Fontana di Aqua Paola:

This meal topped off a day of serious ancient-Rome tourism.  We went to the Capitolino, and saw Constantine’s giant digits, Diana of Ephesus’s many breasts, and Hercules’s manly pecs.

We also saw the Forum and waited out a rainstorm.

And we happened upon a Ferrari parade.  Holiday sale?

That was yesterday.  Today, we did the Vatican Museum, Via Cola da Rienza, Piazza del Popolo, Via del Corso, Piazza di Spagna, the Trevi Fountain, and more, in the rain. We found a warm spot and a surprisingly delicious lunch at Il Fagiolo Magico, (the magic bean) off of Via del Corso.  I had pasta cacio e pepe—cheese and pepper. The consistency is hard to get right, but they did it.  Very restorative with the vino rosso della casa on a damp day.

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Last night’s dinner was a celebration.  The meal marked the inauguration of the American Academy in Rome as a Slow Food Terra Madre Community.  Terra Madre is a network of food producers, purveyors, artisans, and consumers committed to making food sustainable for human economies and communities and for the planet.

The event started at 4:00 in the afternoon with the children.  First, they all went out to the garden to gather carrots, radishes, and fennel for what turned out to be a radically simple salad of these three vegetables washed and simply sliced, with no accessorizing flavors or sensations.

After that, the children followed the kitchen interns to one of the dining room tables, where a half dozen large cutting boards had been dusted with flour and set up with a ball of dough.  The task: to make orrechiette, or little ear-shaped pasta.  It was an interesting display of manual and cognitive development.  The 2-4-year-olds loved the feeling of dough in their fingers; they were happy to manipulate the soft irregular shapes, and completely disregarded the goal of shape.

The 8-10-year-olds worked with the manual confidence of seasoned chefs.  Confidence, that is, not skill.  They rolled the dough into snakes as fast as that, then chopped the snake into bits with fast loud chops, and squashed those bits into bowls as big as clamshells and as small as fingernails, quick as they could, talking Star Wars and Legos all the while.

The result (of their efforts and of those of the kitchen staff) was delicious: tender pasta tossed with pork sausage, chopped braised kale, and just enough red pepper flakes.

This meal, including arugula salad and a semifreddo with tart orange granita, culminated in speeches by the presidents of Slow Food Italia and of Slow Food Roma, and with the presentation of a certificate recognizing the efforts of the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and naming the Academy a Terra Madre Community.

Then, we drank “after dinner drinks” and decorated the Christmas tree.

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