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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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It’s rainy, school’s out, and everything’s closed for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  We made pizza for lunch, and now Jack is busy with various projects involving wooden trains, plastic tractors, blocks, legos, paint, and books.  I’m drinking espresso, listening to Let It Be, and reading various things on the Slow Food website.

This week, Slow Food’s Terra Madre project will have a worldwide celebration of eating locally and sustainably.  Here’s their description of the Terra Madre network:

In 1999, Slow Food launched the Presidia project which has since involved thousands of small producers across the world, strengthening local economies and saving cheeses, breads, vegetable varieties and breeds from extinction. The worldwide Terra Madre network was launched in 2004 to give a voice and visibility to these farmers, breeders, fishers and artisan producers, and to bring them together with cooks, academics, youth and consumers to discuss how to improve the food system and strengthen local economies. Today the Terra Made network is made up of more than 2,000 food communities.

Here at the American Academy, we’re going to celebrate by making the family dinner, on Friday night, a Terra Madre feast.  Mona has done an amazing job over the past few years of connecting with farmers and food producers in the area, and this meal will also mark the birthday of the American Academy’s Rome Sustainable Food Project as a Slow Food Community.  I like how the Terra Madre poster explains the impetus behind this event: “Animati dall’entusiasmo di Mona Talbott….”  Yes! Many great things that happen here have been animated by the enthusiasm of Mona Talbott.  I’m excited for this meal, as is Jack, because he gets to help, with the other kids, to make orecchiette and harvest lettuce from the garden.

A bunch of lucky school kids in Rome will get to go to the Italian School of Film Animation to watch Ratatouille and Totò Sapore e la magica storia della pizza. (Sounds fun. I’d like to see it.)  There are also compost and juice-making workshops for ragazzi e bambini.  Ooohh, fun!  Dirt and fruit, sticky hands, making messes!

I highly recommend reading Slow Food International’s Seven Pillars.  This is where it’s at.

For other Slow Food items of interest, you can check out their website.  And here’s a description of the Terra Madre celebrations.

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I haven’t actually been making or eating as many meatballs as it may seem from the frequency of their appearance in these posts.  But last night I did make a new (for me) variation on an old theme: meatballs that were halfway between Lions Heads from Shanghai cuisine and Milanese, with some of my favorite flavorings thrown in.  The dish was inspired by a cabbage-wrapped meatball meal the RSFP kitchen cooked for us about a month ago.

In the morning, at the market, I bought some pork which the butcher ground on the spot.  I love that they do this.  Then they show it to you, as if to say, “is this to your liking?”  I bought a big cabbage and some parsley, and started to plan the process in my head.

While shopping, I also bought a city bus and admired some chocolate tools:

Harry, Jack, and a serious toy

Dolce Desideri has fun with chocolate

Prep:

Then, the meatballs: ground pork, breadcrumbs, 1 egg, salt and pepper, a generous pinch of freshly crushed coriander seeds, and small pinches each of ground cumin and cinnamon. I rolled them into a generous size—something between a golf ball and a billiard ball.  I browned them in the pan, while the cabbage leaves blanched.  Then, when all was cool enough to handle, I wrapped each ball in a leaf and set them on a plate while I deglazed the pan, randomly, with sweet vermouth.  (It was the only non-quaffable alcohol in the pantry, and turned out to be the best secret ingredient!)  Then, I put in the meatballs and poured in some stock, covered them, and simmered for 15 or so minutes.  Meanwhile, I cooked some pasta and tossed it with olive oil and parsley.

We took a break from mask-making to eat.

Jack & Felix

swaddled polpette

Then, we got ready for dancing.

Felix, Jack, Pio

Who are these masked dancers?

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Last night, the RSFP kitchen did it again.  They had us swooning and stuffing our bellies and calling out for more.  This time, the dish was fish-n-chips.  One of the kitchen interns, Camilla, had been homesick for Scotland and this specialty, so she and the crew fried up a massive amount of fish and potatoes.

She began the meal by suggesting we end with whiskey, and by reciting a Robbie Burns blessing: ”Some hae meat and canna eat, And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat, And sae the Lord be thanket.”

Some in this crowd were so happy to eat good fried food, they went around scavenging from plates the kids had abandoned.  There was homemade tartar sauce and homemade ketchup, malt vinegar, and beer.  One friend said, “whatever we have to do to make this meal local and sustainable [the goals of the RSFP], so that we can have it all the time, let’s do it.  Put in a fish pond in the Bass Garden!”

And then, when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite, out came the toffee cake—the most moist decadently delicious burnt butter sweet sugar whipped cream confection imaginable.  (Camilla, will you give me the recipe?)

The couches in the salone soon became the meal recovery center.

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