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Posts Tagged ‘locavore in Rome’

My dissertation, that is, is done.  Sadly, so is our packing.

We’ve been saying goodbyes to good good friends here in Rome, and will leave on Thursday.  It’s an anticipated sadness and loss, so it’s one that ebbs and flows, comes and goes at unexpected moments.  Life goes on, too, as do the food and wine discoveries. Why did it take 9 months for me to learn about this vino vivace I’m sipping right now?  Monsupello, an off-white slightly fizzy wine made with Pinot Nero grapes (skins taken out), from the Pavia region in the north of Italy.  The reason I didn’t know about it sooner is that Jeannie and Valeria, friends and moms of Jack’s friends, discovered it at our local enoteca—wine shop—and bought it all up.  But with the new season, new caseloads have come in, and we’re all drinking it.  I had it first on Jeannie’s balcony in Trastevere while Jack and Nico “went fishing” with coat hangers over the edge.  Then I had it two nights later at Valeria & Andreas’ apartment.  Two Roman veterinarians, they told us about their dreams of opening a restaurant in London or Berlin that serves good basic Roman cuisine.

Late, too, I found out about Necci, a wonderful little cafe that does everything from breakfast pastries to toy-swaps for the kids with aperitivi for the parents.  Jeannie, Sarah, and I went to Pigneto, a Roman neighborhood outside of the city center, last week, on a mission to taste the artisanal cornetti (Italian croissants).  The chef, a British guy named Ben, is one of those admirable chefs who uses only local and seasonal ingredients and who is reviving old ways of making things.  Jeannie and I had chocolate cornetti and agreed that they were the best we’d tasted in years.  Light crunch to the pastry flakes—dark, warm chocolate within.

Necci is a fun place with great deck seating, kid-friendliness, a sense of humor, and delicious food.  Some pictures.

Jeannie & Sarah

banana flush pull

After a long, leisurely hour and two cappuccini at Necci, we walked down a central neighborhood street that has an open air market during the morning.  I bought a melon, a bagful of cherries, and susine plums.

Then we wandered with our fruit-heavy bags back to Sarah’s car, stopping in little shops along the way.  One of them was a funky second-hand store, with everything from a vintage Singer sewing machine—from the 1910s—to Pokemon cards.  Now, if I had known then what I know now, I would have bought a huge handful of those cards.  For the past few days of goodbyes Jack has been cathecting all of his mixed emotions onto his carte di Pokemon.  I buy a pack for him (and they’re exploitatively expensive!) and he gives them all away as regali.  Or his more cunning friends convince him to trade 4 for 1.  I tell him I won’t buy him anymore, and he cries and says he doesn’t want to go to school or see his friends again.  I say, “I know you’re sad that we’re leaving. Let’s talk about what you like about Rome” and he’ll say, “I like the buses and the carte di Pokemon.”  It’s been a sad time for him, because he’s had such a wonderful year.  He learned Italian and finally feels comfortable with his Italian friends and teachers. He loves his school.  He loves life here at the Academy where there are always friends available right next door. So he channels his emotions into the things he can grasp at and consume until we go away (friends are too complicated for these operations): Gormiti (little Italian elemental action figures), Pokemon cards (which, he doesn’t know, are everywhere), and ciambellini (the mini doughnuts they make at the Kosher cafe we stop in almost every morning before school).  We all do it.  I’m drinking more coffee because I know I won’t taste coffee like this in the New World.  I’m putting one more slice of mozzarella on my plate because it might be my last for years. I’m getting a cup of pistachio gelato even if Jack doesn’t want any.  We’re trying to squeeze in one more coffee-date, playdate, late-night conversation with the wonderful friends we’ve made here.  And I’m trying to drink in the views and sounds of Rome so that I won’t forget any of it, so that it won’t become muted and hazy when we get back to “real life.”

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Not a mis-spelling of burrito, no.  Something much, much better.  Exquisite, even.

While I sit here waiting for my Byron chapter to print out, I find my mind drifting back to dinner last night with Tess and Jessie (interns at the Rome Sustainable Food Project and co-producer—that’s Tess—of the must-see Food Inc.) and David (a documentary filmmaker and husband of Jessie), at a tiny table in a teeny apartment in Trastevere, where, while we sat around the burrata like worshipers at a sacred font, Jack jumped on the bed in the other room.

http://danamccauley.files.wordpress.com/2008/12/burrata.jpeg

Oh, my!  This is how burrata, a soft, fresh mozzarella with liquefying cream in the middle, looks at the store.  When you take it home to serve, our Italian associates in food-loving tell us, you put it in a bowl, pour a bit of your best extra virgin olive oil over it, slice it with a spoon, and eat it—preferably with a spoon.

Burrata is my new love.  It’s better than gelato.

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After one of the more fantastic of Saturday lunches at the Academy—which included my new favorite twist on panzanella (big olive-oil—or was it chicken fat—soaked bread chunks, radicchio, fennel, pinenuts, and raisins, with it’s delicious balance of bitter and sweet), and chocolate cake topped with whipped cream and violets—Jack felt like sticking around with the kitchen crew.  First, he just wandered from here to there, munching an apple.  Then, Mona asked him if he wanted to help Josh in the garden.  Oh yes!

What are we planting? Cilantro.  Oooohh! That bodes well for spring meals from the RSFP!

I love the little garden house out back here by the olive trees.  The phone actually works.  Now, there is a sense memory from my early childhood—rotary dialing.

New leaves are popping out on the olive trees, and the apple and plum trees are blooming.

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Walking through Rome the other day, I had two missions: get a pizza lunch at Roscioli, and try on some shoes from the list of brands my doctor gave me. It became an emotional journey, with it’s own motifs and atmosphere of ironic pathos that is captured so well in that Dylan song, (which I love in The Band’s rendition) “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” that came to mind when I walked past this scene.

Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble;
ancient footprints are everywhere.
You can almost think that you’re seeing double
on a cold dark night on the Spanish stairs.

This road repair was on the way to Campo di Fiori, where I stopped at the market stall that is the humanized, de-DIY-ified version of what we call “the bulk section.”  The man who runs this stall is a virtuoso of Eur-Anglo languages and regional Italian sauces.  Every time someone stepped up with a bag of herb-pepperoncini mix, he would ask “Inglese, Francais, Espanol, Deutsch?”  I heard him explain in three languages what kind of sauce should be made, and when to add the herbs to the tomato base.

herb blends for sauces

other "bulk" items

From here, I took my prematurely ancient footprints the few blocks to Roscioli, where I saw its sign rising like a beacon on the horizon (and creating a great color juxtaposition with those shutters):

Most days, I eat at the Academy, because it’s right at home and the food is regularly extraordinary.  But sometimes I just get the craving to carry out a sandwiched slice of Roscioli pizza.

My favorite kind is the sauteed, garlicky, salty spinach and mozzarella.  It’s simple, and exquisite, folded in a piece of brown paper.  Often, people stand around these cask & board tables to eat their quick bite.  12:30 was too early for the average Roman, though.

table outside Antico Forno Roscioli

I limped with my lunch toward the Corso, passing on my way the scaffolding-covered Pantheon. (Glad I saw it before those went up.)

And finally, I began my hunt for a better shoe, based on my doctor’s list of brands.  Some of these are quite chi chi, with snooty salespeople to match.  As soon as I was done in the Geox store, for example, having decided that they were all either too stiff for my feet or too flashy for my taste, I became a despicable object of scorn to the saleswoman.  And her store is nothing special next to Hogans, where the staff is even more disdainful, the sequin-studded leather even more attitudinal. I tried on probably 12 pairs.  Someday, I’ll make a decision.

Someday everything’s gonna be different,
when I paint that masterpiece…

When I finish that dissertation? No, I’m not that delusional.  Speaking of that behemoth document, though, here’s my favorite recent piece of Byroniana (which might just be the unintentional irony of the shopkeeper’s name… but I don’t think so).  Right next to the Keats-Shelley museum, in Piazza di Spagna, whose name looms larger than life?  Lord B’s, of course.

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Last night, Chris and the kitchen crew cooked a delicious meal which included Tuscan beans slowly braised in terra cotta pots in the fireplace.  The beans had an extra depth of flavor that was set off by the sprinkling of fried sage leaves the cooks put on top before serving them.  A perfect, woodsy combination.

Chris, tending the coals

low-tech crock pot

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Sunday morning was spectacularly sunny, and warming up quickly.  We had our first spring day (followed by more rain today).  It was perfect for our walk—with Anna, Jon, Lulu, Jesse, Rena, Nick, and Zoe—down the hill and across the Tiber to the old Jewish ghetto where one special forno makes perfect doughnuts.

When we got to the octagonal tower next to the old Cenci palazzo, we could smell the sweet warm scent of baking dough.

There was a line out the door, as expected.

(Those cakes in the window are ricotta-chocolate chip and ricotta-cherry tortes, with their crumbly, not-too-sweet burnt sugar crusts.)

Jon went in with a handful of change, and came out with the last 4 doughnuts.  Just in time!  These kids would have been inconsolable.

These are the antithesis of Krispy Kremes: dense, chewy, and just slightly sweet.

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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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We’re in the season of Carnevale, the forty days before Lent, which used to be, for Italians, one long party, when masquerade meant license.  (For some of Lord Byron’s lines on this tradition, check out my fritter post.)  Speaking of fritters, frappe—a crispy, ruffled kind of fried dough topped with a blizzard of powdered sugar—is now in all of the forno windows, beckoning people with its simple mix of sweet, fat, once-a-year bliss.  On our way to the market this morning, Ramie and I stopped at Dolce Desideri (as usual).

There are all kinds of other traditional Carnevale pastries, too, some of which are variations on what we call “doughnut holes” and Italians call “bombe.”  (I have to admit, I sometimes give in to Jack’s whine on the way to school, and stop at Caffe Tazza D’Oro, where I get a cappuccino and he gets “una bomba piccola,” a little ball of sweet, sugar-crusted dough small enough to fit in my fingers’ OK sign.)

From Desideri, we went to the market to stock up on delicious seasonal greens. I bought a little head of treviso radicchio that looks like an overblown dark rose.

The presence of limes at this stall made us realize there is a complete lack of limes in Italian cooking—at least around here.  Why?  Every other citrus fruit grows in abundance, in the gardens here, in the playground at Jack’s school, in courtyards all over the city.  But this is the only place I’ve ever seen limes.

This is also the place to get ginger root, dried fruits, bulk nuts, and spices.

From there, I went to my favorite local forno to get some pizza bianca.

I also bought some puntarelle, which I later tossed in the traditional Roman way with lots of garlicky vinaigrette and chopped anchovies.  Puntarelle are the hearts of a tall chicory variety, sliced lengthwise and soaked in cold water, which makes them curl and takes off some of their bitterness.

The recipe at epicurious.com suggests substituting endive, if you can’t find any chicory.  (I’ve adjusted the amounts a bit from their recipe):

  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry
  • Large pinch of coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 large heads of Belgian endive (about 1 1/3 pounds), halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into thin strips

Mix garlic, anchovies, and salt in small bowl. Mash with back of wooden spoon or firm spatula until paste forms. Whisk in oil, vinegar, and mustard. Season dressing to taste with salt and generously with pepper.

Place endive in large bowl of ice water. Refrigerate 1 hour. Drain well. Place in clean bowl. Toss with anchovy dressing and serve.

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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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This is a seasonal pleasure. Clementines daily. Jack using his baby-Italian to exclaim “mandarino piccolo!”  The way the fresh scent stays on your fingertips—zest from the peel.

As an early afternoon, pre-Thanksgiving dinner drink, they served “Puccinis”—prosecco with freshly squeezed mandarin (clementine) juice.  This is free association at the service of the endless plethora of unnamed drinks.  Taxonomies of tipsiness.  Puccini’s Turandot is a Mandarin princess.

Who can melt her ice?

But why, then, are Bellinis (prosecco and peach nectar) called Bellinis?  Did he have something to do with peaches?  Not exactly, but this is an associative tipsy taxonomy, so the explanation arrives accordingly.  According to Wikipedia: “Because of its unique pink [?] color, which reminded Cipriani [the Venetian bar owner and namer] of the color of the toga [?] of a saint in a painting by 15th-century Venetian artist Giovanni Bellini, he named the drink the Bellini.”

This, of course, is not the eponymous saint, but the Madonna, in a triptych we saw in Venice and which now hangs in postcard form in our studio.

https://i1.wp.com/www.lib-art.com/imgpainting/9/0/6809-frari-triptych-giovanni-bellini.jpg

https://i0.wp.com/www.wga.hu/art/b/bellini/giovanni/1480-89/2frari/134frax9.jpg

Beautiful illusions of paint.

Then, there was another cocktail, recently.  Lauren asked Alessandro to make a drink he enjoyed making.  We all heard the shaker.  It was frosty and pale orange.  Others ordered the same.  I asked him, “What’s it called?” and he said “Seedecara.” Hmm… that must be some Italian artist I don’t know.  Then, I heard Luca pronounce it, with slightly less inflection: “sydecara.”  Oh!  It’s a sidecar! Brandy, Cointreau, lemon juice. Thank goodness I skipped that one.

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