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Posts Tagged ‘American Academy in Rome’

It’s cold, rainy, and February.  But with a fire in the fireplace, an amazing Indian lunch, and a handful of confetti, we brightened up this dismal day.

Jon and some of the kids went out to the Triangle Garden to gather some dampish wood.  It lit… and smoked and hissed… but also blazed, and had the kids alternately staring entranced at its flames and running helter skelter calling out for hot cocoa.  Lulu lolled, and Jack fanned the flames.

Mona and the cooks made the best Indian meal I’ve ever had, with curried chicken, dal, spiced rice, papadum, raita, two chutneys, and sauteed greens.  Everyone went back for more, and then we noticed the cake—a fluffy almond cake infused with toasted, crushed cardamom seeds.  With a dollop of tangy yogurt on the side, and a perfectly pulled esspresso, this dessert went down in history.

What an inspired culinary performance!

And despite the rain, Carnevale goes on.  We’re saving most of our confetti for tomorrow, when the sun will shine, but I sprinkled a handful down from the window on Jack, for whom the simple pleasure of watching brightly colored snow fall is close to ecstasy.

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I went on a walk this morning, after a doppio cappuccino didn’t help my concentration.  Down the steep steps, around the curve of Via Garibaldi, through some narrow Trastevere streets, across Ponte Sisto to Campo di Fiori, where Giordano Bruno presides over the messy mosaic of the open air market.  I stopped in some shops with “Saldi” signs—holiday sales still going on.  (Found a rust-colored viscose-velvet skirt that has a nice swing to it.)  I walked by Roscioli and didn’t go in, for once.

I took lots of pictures of architectural angles that struck me, and found, on my way back up the steps to the Janiculum that the door to the courtyard where the Tempietto stands was open.  This is a symmetrical, serene little place.  A tiny round temple that somehow feels proportionally perfect inside the plain block of a cloister courtyard, it was designed and built by Donato Bramante around 1502.  All of my new architect friends have me thinking about how the treatment of space translates—and translates into—emotions.  The dignity and simplicity of the Doric columns, the details, down to the rainwater drain, made me feel a subdued awe, peace, calm, as if the world, for a moment, had some harmony.

Tempietto seen through the entrance arch.

rainwater drain

Soon, though, I realized that the two guys in easy conversation at the gate, jingling their keys from time to time, were waiting for me to leave.  We all laughed when I finally caught their eye and hurried out.

After my brisk communion with commerce, architectural curves, and sacred spaces, I arrived just in time for lunch at the Academy.  It was one of those days when everything was good—especially the baked scamorza in a spicy tomato sauce, the farro roasted with lemons and fennel, the ricotta al forno, and the dessert: torta mimosa.  This cake would be perfect at a wedding. It is white, fluffy, with citrus hints and intensities in its delicate layers of crumb and buttercream.  The frosting on the outside is dusted with crumbly crumbles of the cake’s delicious crumb.  Of course I didn’t get a picture, and when I looked for one on google, all I found were these, which are vulgar, garish, impostors of the angelic dessert we ate today.

If you’d like to see my pictures of some architectural history and whimsy that’s at every turn in Rome—like this curvaceous facade—go to my Flickr page.

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This distinction, between red and white, is an important and ubiquitous one in Roman society.  Well, at least when it comes to snacks and drinks and—if you’re talking to children—dinner.  There’s, of course, red or white wine.  (But these are just the most basic distinctions.  In addition to the great array of differences based on geography and terroir, there’s also the difference of fizz. But fizz, we’ve found, covers the spectra of bianco through rosato to rosso, and of seca to dolce.  In other words, it’s possible, and a pleasure, to find a dry fizzy pink wine and a sweet fizzy red wine.)

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I thought moving to Italy would expand my son’s diet into the far reaches of foreign flavors and textures.  He already liked olives and peppers.  We seemed to be on the right track.  But for some reason, living in Rome has contracted his taste.  His favorite choice, when it comes to dinner, is pasta bianca or pasta rossa.  And usually, he’ll choose the bianca: pasta with olive oil and grated parmesan.  He seems to have given up green things, which drives me nuts, because there are so many more wonderful green things here than there have been anywhere else he’s lived—except Berkeley, where he lived when he was just cutting teeth.  Green leaves with cheese, green leaves with nuts, green leaves with sweet onions, green leaves with grains, gazillions of great greens!  He won’t have any of it.

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The third important category of the rossa/bianca divide is pizza.

Pizza rossa is a thin, tasty crust spread with savory tomato sauce; each good forno will have its own sauce, some more salty or herbaceous than others.  Pizza bianca is a bubbly pizza crust topped simply with olive oil and salt.  Again, each forno’s dough has its own taste and consistency, and is topped with more or less salt.  You can also order pizza bianca morbida (soft) or dura (hard-crunchy). My favorite place to buy both is Panificio Beti, in our neighborhood.  The lines are always long, and the family behind the counter always bustling and full of banter.

These Roman basics serve as snacks or sides at any time of the day.  Italian life is riddled with rules, but, as far as I can tell, pizza rossa and bianca exist in a looser realm.  As a rule, Italians don’t eat on the run the way Americans do.  Even to-go coffee is a very rare sight.  But pizza rossa can be eaten with dignity while one is walking along the sidewalk.  The pizzeria guy will cut a piece in half, slap the parts together sauce-side-in, and wrap the bottom half in a piece of paper—a process that takes about a second and a half—so the snack is ready to eat as soon as it passes from his hand to yours.  I’ve seen people eat it for breakfast, for elevenses with beer,  for a late afternoon snack, and for dinner.

Last night, still satiated from the big Saturday Academy lunch, we had salad, pizza rossa, and vino rosso, for dinner.  Jack had the white ribs of the lettuce, pizza bianca, and milk.  I wish he’d broaden his taste at least to complete the color combo of the Italian flag.

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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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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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Last night, the RSFP served ossobuco.  The platters came out piled with hunks of glistening meat and bone.  Something about about the primal nature of this meal brought out the sillies in us.  We started trying on each others’ glasses.  Some began eating with their fingers.  There was quizzing on food and sex.  And then the marrow sucking began.  While this was going on, there was laughter, of course, which caused a fleck of marrow to fly, projectile-style, from one man’s lips to another man’s shirt.  (You know who you are, friends….) He wore the badge of grease for the rest of the evening, which ended with grappas, noccinos, and amaros.  I wish I had a picture of my friends holding greasy bones up to their puckered lips.  And they, I’m sure, are glad I don’t!

The vegetarians may have been horrified, and luckily for them, were not at our table.  The combination of disgust at the finger-licking sensuality of this unabashedly carnivorous meal, and the ethical divide would be enough for some harsh condemnation of the bacchanalian scene.

Is it enough to say that we know, because of the dedication of Mona and Chris to finding sustainable, local food, that these animals we ate were raised and killed with care and humanity?  Many prefer not to think about this, but when you’re sucking the marrow out of leg bones, the fact of your dinner’s other form as a cute little calf is hard to avoid.

Another way to think about it is as veal shanks braised in stock and white wine and garnished with gremolata—a simple dressing of parsley, garlic, and lemon.  Another perspective is health: a quick google search suggests that bone marrow is nutritious and may even help to account for the low incidence of heart disease in offal-loving societies.

It was, then, a most basic and most complex feast.  And it was delicious.

Since I don’t have any pictures, I’ll direct you to this video of Mark Bittman and Fergus Henderson roasting bones and then spreading the “jiggly” marrow on toast.

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No.  I’m not talking about that mystery conglomeration “corn dog” that masquerades as meat, but meatballs, served cocktail-catering-style on little wooden skewers.  We took Jack to a cocktail reception last night, and his favorite items were the polpetti, or, meat lollipops.  (My favorite was the split date posing as a dish for gorgonzola and a walnut quarter.)

The reception, here at the Academy, was for the new American ambassador to Italy, David Thorne.  Alice Waters was also there, having come from a big Slow Food event, and planning to stay in Rome through Thanksgiving.  I think you can guess which dignitary I was most excited about meeting.

This morning, Jack said, “Mommy, can you make polpetti?”  Yes! And you can help!  So, after dropping him off at school, I stopped at the Super Carni—a little butcher’s shop owned by a grandparently couple, which sells lots of organic products—and asked for “del bovino per polpetti.”  Probably not very correct, but he understood.  Remember how I mentioned that Italians are always, in a tacit and politely bossy way, telling you the proper way to do things?  Well, I had asked for beef, but after half-picking up a piece of beef, he set it down and reached instead for the chunks of veal, which he then put through the old-fashioned meat grinder twice, making sure the texture was to his satisfaction.  I love the immediacy of this operation.

And of this one:

For the recipe, check out this post.

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