Archive for the ‘pasta’Category

Corn ravioli with Australian black truffles

Corn and truffle ravioli
I received a shipment of truffles from the Truffle and Wine Company (truffleandwineusa.com) early this month. The truffles are spectacular, but it’s not like I can tuck them away to use weeks from now. They have to be eaten quickly, which means developing a bunch of ways to use them with summer produce. For the last 10 days, Pat and I have been cooking with black truffles, repeating some favorite dishes and trying to create some new ones. We’ll be posting new recipes in quick succession in case you want to order some truffles yourself before the season ends next month.

When I was working on the Robb Report story, I spoke to a number of American chefs who exulted in using the Australian black truffles with summer dishes, but few were as passionate as Craig Strong of Studio at Montage Laguna Beach, who says that the combination of sweet corn and black truffle “just explodes in your mouth.” Then he told me about the corn agnolotti he served last summer….

I knew I couldn’t possibly replicate the dish that Strong had made at Studio, but it wasn’t too much of a stretch to follow his principles to create a home version. In this case, I stuffed the ravioli with a mix of lightly sauteed onion and fresh corn kernels, cooled and mixed with a soft but tangy goat cheese and shaved black truffle. The sauce, following Strong’s concept, was a corn foam, which is easier than it sounds. In the picture, it’s topped with a sprig of basil. For a good overview of making ravioli with a power mixer and a ravioli tray, see Julie Deily’s demo on YouTube. The rolling process is exactly the same with a hand-cranked pasta machine, which I prefer for the additional control.

CORN RAVIOLI WITH BLACK TRUFFLES AND CORN FOAM


For pasta

190 grams flour (about 1 1/3 cups)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 large eggs, room temperature

For filling and sauce

6 ears corn
1 yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon butter
2/3 cup milk
1 tablespoon cornstarch
black truffle (20 grams)

Make pasta by placing flour in a mound on the counter, and making a well in the center. Add salt and olive oil to the well, then break eggs into the well. Using a fork, mix liquids into the flour, gathering up stray bits before they get away. Knead on counter until earlobe texture, divide into thirds, and roll through pasta machine until thin enough to drape over a ravioli form. Dust lightly with flour and reserve.

Cut kernels off the cobs. Reserve one cup and add the remainder to heavy duty frying pan with onion and butter. Cook on low heat until onion is translucent and corn is tender.

Place reserved kernels in saucepan with milk and bring to a simmer. Meantime, scrape the corn cobs to “milk” them and add this essence of corn to the simmering kernels. When corn is tender, remove to blender and puree. Dissolve the cornstarch in a little water and add to the puree. Blend briefly to mix thoroughly.

Grate truffle with microplane grater and add to corn and cheese mixture. Fill ravioli forms and drape another sheet over the top. Roll with rolling pin to release a dozen square ravioli. Repeat to make three dozen ravioli in all. (Save any leftover filling for an omelet.)

Bring large pot of water to boil. Add generous amount of salt and hold at vigorous simmer while preparing the corn foam.

To make foam, strain the corn-milk-cornstarch mixture to remove excess fiber and bring to a simmer in a small, deep saucepan, stirring constantly so it doesn’t stick. When the mixture has thickened, beat vigorously with an immersion blender, a whisk, or (my favorite) an old-fashioned egg beater. (The egg beater whips the most air into the mixture, creating a stable foam.)

Turn up the hot water to a vigorous boil and cook ravioli about three minutes after they float to the top.

Remove from water, drain quickly, and serve with hot corn foam.

17

07 2015

Peddling truffles with Simon Friend

Tagliatelle with truffles at Cafe DiStasio in Melbourne, Australia
When I researched the Robb Report story on Australian truffles, I had the pleasure of meeting Melbourne-based Simon Friend and his partner Bryan Burrell. They do business as Friend & Burrell (friendandburrell.com.au), but they might as well be called The Good Tastes Guys because they’re Australia’s go-to suppliers of gourmet mountain hams from Spain, Giaveri caviar, and big tins of Iranian saffron. The two former tennis professionals are also major distributors of black truffles from the Australian Truffle & Wine Company.

Simon Friend with trunk full of truffles As the Melbourne Truffle Festival was about to start last July, I joined Simon Friend on his sales and delivery rounds in Melbourne. The state of Victoria has its own truffle industry, but production is dwarfed by the Manjimup farm, a four-hour plane ride west. We stopped at the airport to pick up a shipment and headed straight to Queen Victoria Market. Two newspaper articles about black truffles had appeared that day. One of the gourmet produce dealers had called to say that Friend was right: He should have ordered more truffles a few days earlier. Could Friend bring some by?

Simon Friend selects truffles We puttered around the busy market until a parking space opened up and we could dash in with a box cooler, a gram scale, and an invoice book. When Simon opened one of the plastic boxes in the cooler, the vendor and I both let out involuntary grunts of appreciation as the aroma wafted out. Each truffle was rolled in a fresh paper towel to absorb any excess moisture, and as Simon unwrapped them, the produce man approved each with a nod. They were small truffles, perfect for selling to chefs more interested in taste than appearance. Friend selected seven that weighed out at 156 grams. He promised to return a few days later with a new batch of bigger truffles that Melbourne foodies would be requesting once the festival publicity hit.

We spent much of the morning popping in kitchen doors to schmooze with a few chefs and talk about their truffle dinner plans during the festival. Finally, we came in through the kitchen to have lunch at the bar at Café DiStasio (31 Fitzroy St, St. Kilda; + 61 (3) 9525 3999; distasio.com.au), one of Friend’s very good customers.

Simon eating tagliatelle with truffles at Cafe DiStasio in Melbourne “A couple of bowls of pasta,” Friend requested. “And here’s a truffle to shave over them,” he said, pulling an unpretty but highly aromatic small truffle from his pocket. The waiter suggested a glass of Barolo each, and we concurred. By the time the dish arrived, so had Mallory, one of the two owners, who insisted that we have a green salad as well. Then she topped up the glasses. The tagliatelle were perfect, just slightly toothy and sauced with an emulsion of cooking water and superb Australian butter. The truffle was sliced so thin that it was translucent.

“That’s the key,” said Friend. “You want to maximize the surface exposure to get the best aromatics.”

And it doesn’t hurt to smother the pasta with those paper-thin slices of gustatory heaven.

Here’s my version of the dish pictured at the top of the post:

TAGLIATELLE WITH BUTTER AND TRUFFLE

Makes 2 generous servings

2 cups all purpose flour (plus extra for kneading and rolling)
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons butter
20 grams thinly shaved black truffle

Mound flour on the counter and make a depression in the middle. Place salt and olive oil in depression. Break eggs into depression. Using fingers—or a long-tined fork and a bench knife—combine the ingredients until the eggs are fully incorporated. Knead briefly until dough takes on texture of an earlobe. Divide into six pieces and roll out to desired thickness with hand-cranked pasta maker. Cut into 1/4-inch noodles.

Cook noodles in boiling, salted water for about two minutes until al dente. Drain and toss with butter in bowl, adding a little pasta water to make sure noodles are moist and well-coated. Divide into two bowls and top with shaved truffle. Enjoy with a glass of Barolo. Or two.

21

05 2015

Tortellini in brodo is a Modena treat

tortellini en brodo at Hotel Ristorante Pizzeria Parco in Palagano
Before I visited Modena, I kept seeing references to the city as the home of stuffed pasta. It made little sense to me, but when I arrived, I discovered that the signature pasta of the region are those diminutive stuffed crowns known as tortellini. Tortelloni and tortellini(They also serve tortelloni, which are much bigger and go better with tomato sauce.) Specifically, the classic dish of Modena is tortellini in brodo: the little pastas served in a strong chicken broth. Every home cook has a family recipe for the broth—and most people just go to the market and buy terrific fresh tortellini from local producers like Doremilia (www.doremilia.it).

I got a chance to see Doremilia’s pasta factory in the hill village of Monchio di Palagano, about 45 minutes west of Modena. Alas, because I couldn’t risk trying to bring a fresh meat product back to the U.S., I wasn’t able to bring home any of the splendid, handmade tortellini. But I did have lunch with one of the owners at a wonderful restaurant in the larger hill village of Palagano, Hotel Ristorante Pizzeria Parco (Via Aravechhia, 27, +39 333 594 8124, www.hotelristoranteparco.it), where we proceeded to enjoy some tortellini in brodo as one of several courses. I recommend you do the same if you’re ever in the neighborhood. Palagano sits on the Dragone river in the foothills of the Appenines, and the area is crisscrossed with scenic hiking and cycling trails. It’s also well within the district for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, so you get lots of great flavors with the natural views.

chef Tagliazucchi Chef Vittorio Tagliazucchi did Doremilia proud, serving a special batch of the tortellini that had been made with 36-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano in a clarified, very intense roasted chicken broth. While I couldn’t bring any of the products home, I did manage to pick the chef’s brain about his broth and got Massimo Ceci, the pasta company owner, to give me a rough idea of how to make the tortellini filling. It took a little practice, but here’s a fairly authentic tortellini in brodo to make at home.

TORTELLINI IN BRODO

Makes 6-8 servings

Tortellini filling
1 tablespoon butter
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces lean ground pork
2 ounces prosciutto, finely diced
2 ounces mortadella, finely diced
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
1 large egg

In a large sauté pan, heat butter and oil over high heat. Add ground pork and lightly brown, breaking up pieces with a spatula. Add diced prosciutto and mortadella and continue cooking a few minutes, stirring to mix thoroughly. Remove from heat and let cool.

Add nutmeg and black pepper to meat mixture and process with steel blade in food processor until the mixture is very finely ground (about 2 minutes). Add grated cheese and process about 30 seconds until mixture is well blended. Add egg and process until smooth.

Pasta
2 1/2 cups (350g) all-purpose flour plus extra for kneading area
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Place flour in a heap on the counter and make a depression in the middle. Crack eggs into the depression and add oil and salt. Using a long-tined cooking fork, stir the flour in a folding motion until eggs and oil are absorbed into a sticky dough. Knead for 3-4 minutes, using extra flour as necessary to keep from sticking. When ball has texture of an earlobe, divide into eight pieces.

To make tortellini, roll a ball of dough out one notch thinner than you would for fettucine.

Lay out flat dough on counter and using a knife or rolling cutter, cut into 2-inch (about 5cm) squares.

Place a slightly rounded 1/4 teaspoon of filling mixture in the center of each square.

Make tortellini by folding pasta corner to corner to form a triangle and pinch edges to seal in filling.With one corner pointing up, roll bottom up one-half turn. Using tip of little finger in the middle, fold over one corner. Then fold over the other, tucking point underneath into center area. Remove little finger and pinch to make sure ends stick. Here’s a really good video of the process on YouTube.

Set tortellini aside and cover with dish towel to keep from drying out. Repeat process until all the pasta is used up. If any filling is left over, freeze for another day.

For broth
3 pounds (1.5kg) chicken necks, backs, and wings
2 medium onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 carrot, thinly sliced on diagonal
2 stalks celery, diced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1 tablespoon salt
6 cups water

serving tortellini en brodo Set oven to 450°F and arrange chicken parts in shallow pan. Roast 30 minutes until browned.

In stock pot, place roasted chicken pieces and remaining ingredients. Bring to boil and lower temperature to simmer. Cover and simmer 2 hours. Let cool and strain, discarding solids.

To serve, boil tortellini in salted water for about 10 minutes or until done to taste. Heat broth separately. Spoon tortellini into bowl and spoon broth over. Pass grated Parmigiano Reggiano to sprinkle on top.

18

04 2015

Pomodorina belies canned tomato image

Spaghetti with Pomodorina and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese Pomodorina is tomato sauce rethought, and it’s my most unexpected find on a recent research trip to Modena. We’ve already written about “What to buy in an Italian grocery store,” but here’s a product I’d definitely add.

Pomodorina has been the best-selling product of one of Italy’s best food factories, Menù, since it was introduced in 1967. It’s made only during the roughly six-week tomato harvest season and combines freshly harvested and cooked tomatoes with celery, carrots, onions, fresh basil, and some olive oil. Menù sells it as a base ingredient for sauces, but I discovered that some restaurants consider it good enough to sauce pasta on its own. That’s spaghetti sauced with Pomodorina above, and it was delicious.

Pomodorina sauce can Menù (http://en.menu.it/) is based in Medollo near Modena and launched as a salami factory in 1932. In 1941, the company branched out to make a ragù meat sauce and moved into a variety of ready-to-eat foods for the catering industry by the mid-1950s. Today it sells more than 450 items from its catalog to more than 30,000 customers that range from small catering companies and restaurants to large institutions like school systems, corporate cafeterias, and restaurant chains. Pomodorina is shipped to the U.S. for the food trade but not for retail sale. But in Italy, home cooks can have it too. You’ll find Pomodorina on the shelves of supermarkets, sometimes in the can (pictured here) and sometimes in a glass jar holding 750 milliliters, or about 28 fluid ounces.

I brought home a can and one night when we were in a hurry for dinner, I heated up the contents with absolutely no additions, tossed in some freshly cooked pasta, and served (as above) with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. It was good enough that I’d serve it to company.

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07

04 2015

Remembering Italy #4 — pasta with prosciutto & tomato

San Daniele pasta with tomato and prosciutto The last time I was in San Daniele del Friuli, I was traveling with the restaurateurs of Gruppo Ristoratori Italiani (GRI) on one of their annual pilgrimages to Italy to research products, find new sources, and generally take inspiration from the regional products. Since we were a fairly large group, we booked a meal at Prosciutterie DOK dall’ Ava (via Gemona 47, tel. 0432-940-280, www.dallava.com, open daily 10-10), one of the town’s full-service restaurants with a prosciutto-oriented menu.

DallavaIt’s a funny place, since it’s outside the main village and near one of the prosciutto factories. It looks like a tourist trap, to be honest, and bus groups stop here. But the service and the food are both terrific and the prices, while not cheap, are pretty reasonable for top-quality prosciutto. We shared lovely plates of sliced prosciutto, prosciutto and melon, and prosciutto and asparagus, and we each ordered a small individual plate. Mine was as simple as it gets – fresh pappardelle tossed with prosciutto and hastily sautéed tomatoes.

Normally I reserve this dish for the summer months when I have a surplus of sweet, fresh tomatoes. I dip them in boiling water and slip off the skins, then chop them coarsely, and sauté in a little olive oil with shredded prosciutto. Tomatoes this time of year are nowhere near as good, so I’ve taken to using the Pomi brand of boxed diced tomatoes instead. A 750 ml box drained and three slices of prosciutto works out just right for two people. (Save the juice for making minestrone.) To make a really easy dish at home, I like to use Colavita brand dried pasta. The rigatoni 31 cooks up nice and plump to support the tomato and flecks of ham.

22

12 2012

Tomato glut #2: Miradoro’s roasted heirloom tomatoes and pasta

One of the most deceptively simple tomato dishes we enjoyed in the Okanagan Valley was served at Miradoro, the glass-walled restaurant hanging off a hillside at Tinhorn Creek Vineyards along the Golden Mile in Oliver, British Columbia. Winemaker Sandra Oldfield makes some terrific wines from the steep vineyards, but the folks at Tinhorn Creek sensibly went into business with restaurateur Manuel Ferreira, who also operates the celebrated Le Gavroche in Vancouver. Executive chef Jeff Van Geest’s menus mate perfectly with Sandra Oldfield’s wines.

Pat was looking for a light dish at lunch and Manuel suggested that she try the garganelli with charred heirloom tomato, basil, lemon, and asiago. It was … a revelation. It’s hard to believe that such simple ingredients could create such a sophisticated dish. As Manuel explained, the tomatoes are quickly roasted in a hot oven, then topped with fresh hot pasta, a few basil leaves, a squeeze of lemon, and some shavings of Asiago cheese. It really doesn’t need a printed recipe.

The diner gets to participate in completing the dish. Pulling the skin off the tomatoes creates a sauce that coats the pasta. We’ve been trying it with various pastas and various tomatoes. A firm-fleshed, dead-ripe tomato works best, and a delicate pasta (no whole wheat!) lets the flavors sing. We enjoyed the dish at Miradoro with Sandra’s Oldfield Series 2Bench Rosé, which she makes from 100 percent Cabernet Franc grapes. It’s a real West Coast rosé, fresh and crisp with striking strawberry notes. At home we opt for a Pinot Grigio delle Venezie that’s harvested a little early to preserve a bracing acidity.

07

09 2012

Bowties with tomato trimmings

We’re in the midst of the tomato and basil harvest–lots of Costoluto Genovese tomatoes and lots of Genovese basil. Most nights that means slicing up some fresh mozzarella cheese and enjoying giant plates of insalata caprese.

But what do you do with the tomato shoulders and irregular bits left over when you make a pretty plate of caprese? We took a little inspiration from Sicily and added lemon and ground pistachio nuts for a solid pasta plate that takes full advantage of the harvest.

FARFALLE WITH TOMATOES, LEMON, AND PISTACHIOS

Serves 2 as main dish, 4 as pasta course

Ingredients

2 cups farfalle (bowties)
1 1/2 cups peeled, chopped tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, grated
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup pistachio nutmeats, coarsely ground
1/3 cup chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
extra Parmigiano Reggiano for the table

Directions

1. Heat 4 quarts salted water to a boil. Add farfalle and cook al dente (about 10 minutes).

2. While pasta is cooking, carry out other steps. Place chopped tomatoes in sieve and toss with salt. Let drain over bowl, reserving liquid.

3. In heavy-duty skillet, heat olive oil until smoking hot. Remove from heat and add grated garlic and grated lemon zest. Stir until lightly browned.

4. Place skillet back on medium heat and add lemon juice. Cook until reduced by half. Add juice that has drained from tomatoes and reduce by half, stirring frequently to emulsify and get creamy texture.

5. When pasta is done, add to juice mixture in skillet. Add ground pistachios and stir well. Add chopped basil and stir well, cooking about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in grated cheese.

Serve with additional cheese for the table.

18

08 2012

Recapturing a great flavor of New Hampshire


Our latest book, Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire (Globe Pequot Press), just arrived two days ago and it brought back fond memories of the research. One of our favorite meals was at the Bedford Village Inn, when Benjamin Knack, fresh from a season on Hell’s Kitchen, had just take over the dining program for this romantic destination property.

It so happens that Ben makes a killer gnocchi, which he claimed was so simple that even his then 4-year-old daughter could do it. There are a couple of secrets to getting just the right texture. The potatoes should be cooked so they “squeak like Styrofoam when you squeeze them,” he says. And they should be pushed quickly through the sieve so the potato remains warm while you’re making the gnocchi.

That particular night we ate the gnocchi tossed with duck confit, but they’re equally good dressed in a light sauce made of roasted tomatoes, olive oil, salt, pepper, and nothing more. We managed to get the Bedford Village Inn into Food Lovers’ Guide to Vermont & New Hampshire, but the gnocchi recipe arrived too late to make the first edition. Next time, maybe. In the meantime, here it is in all its glory (and simplicity).

GNOCCHI WITH ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients

3 russet potatoes
1/3 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1 pinch pepper
1 egg
1 cup flour

Directions

1. Bake the potatoes until they are soft (about 45 min) in a 350-degree oven. While still warm, cut in half and, using the skin, push through a sieve or tamis onto a table top.

2. Sprinkle cheese, salt, and pepper over potatoes and cut in with bench scraper. Break egg on top and cut into potato mix until well incorporated.

3. Add flour and cut in until it is fully incorporated. Knead gently until a ball is formed. Flatten dough to about 3/4 inch.

4. Cut dough into 3/4 inch dowels and cut dowels into 1/2-inch pieces. Toss uncooked gnocchi in flour and allow to dry for 15 minutes.

5. Set 6 quarts water, well salted, to boil in large pot.

7. Drop gnocchi into boiling water and cook until they float. Then allow to cook for 2-3 more minutes.

8. Toss with 1/4 cup canola oil and store covered in refrigerator up to 48 hours until ready to serve.

ROASTED TOMATO SAUCE

Ingredients

5 vine-ripened tomatoes
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, divided
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Set oven to 350F.

2. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Toss with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place in roasting pan and cook 25-30 minutes.

3. Remove tomatoes from oven. Separate skins and discard. Purée tomatoes until smooth. Add 1/4 cup olive oil while blending and add salt and pepper to taste.

from Benjamin Knack, executive chef at the Bedford Village Inn

All menus lead to Rome

Ultimately, we did visit the amazing museums at Vatican City—and here’s our sneaked photo of the Sistine Chapel ceiling to prove it. (Yeah, like we were the only ones….) But we have to admit that we were originally waylaid by Rome’s greatest gourmet food shop. And who could blame us? Gastronomy is Italy’s other art. Or maybe its other religion.

When we’d finished eating lunch at Franchi (see previous post), we decided that it was a good time to stop in at Castroni (Via Cola di Rienzo 196, Tel: 06-68-74-383, www.castronicoladirienzo.it, open Mon-Sat 8am-8pm), reasoning that since we were already stuffed, we would be immune to the lures of the merchandise. It was only next door, and we’d still have plenty of time to get back to the Vatican.


The legend over the door reads Castroni Droghe Coloniali, but like some pop stars, the place is famous enough to go by a single moniker. And Castroni is indeed a name to conjure with. Since 1932 the flagship store in the Prati district east of the Vatican has proved that all gastronomic roads lead to Rome. On seeing the walls lined 15 feet high with gourmet goodies, David pleaded, “Do we have to go to the Sistine Chapel today?” Pat gave in, and we postponed the museum trip by a day.

Many ex-pats swear by Castroni for the tastes of home—the full line of Twinings teas, for example, or a broad range of Fauchon products from Paris, or good smoked Spanish paprika. But all the flavors of Italy also find their way to this wonderful shop. This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy, and while north and south, right and left seem no closer to real unity than they have been since the days of Vittorio Emanuele II himself, Castroni brings all the regions together for a gastronomic love fest.

There’s a modest bar with some casual food, so it’s possible to pop in for lunch and then to spend an afternoon just shopping. (Or drooling.) Bins hold virtually every variety of dried bean or chickpea grown anywhere on the peninsula. The store’s own brand of dry pastas include bags with mixed Roman monuments (maybe the ultimate gastronomic souvenir), and Castroni’s own coffee (whole bean or ground) makes an authentic-tasting Roman espresso—dark and syrupy with some high, almost lemony notes that suggest a lot of East African coffees in the blend. If you find the flavor addictive, the shop also sells a coffee concentrate passed off as an energy drink.

Had we demonstrated the foresight to bring an empty suitcase from home, we would have stocked up on all kinds of goodies that U.S. Customs would let us bring in, including the dazzling array of pestos from Abruzzo made of ripe Leccino olives, of asparagus, or of radicchio. Just add hot pasta and you have a stupendous meal. We also would have loaded up on duck liver and orange pâtés and the jars of small green peppers stuffed with duck liver mousse, not to mention hot-pepper-inspired salsas from Sicily and white truffle and porcini salsas from Umbria.

But since we were traveling light, we limited ourselves to squeeze tubes of tomato paste, mushroom cream, black olive puree, and mixed vegetables. (A squirt of the mixed vegetables paste into chicken broth makes it taste like minestrone.) We find them amazingly versatile in the kitchen, allowing us to add a dollop to eggs, salad dressing, soup, or a sauce to shade the flavor one way or another. (They also make great gifts for friends who cook.) In fact, the only thing we expected to find at Castroni but didn’t were the truffle products of Acqualagna in Le Marche, where the local motto is ”truffles all year long.” More on that next time….

24

06 2011

Bites worth standing for

It’s easy to get a good, quick lunch in Rome. Usually we opt for a couple of slices of pizza in whatever pizzeria is closest when we’re hungry. But for even more variety, we sometimes head to a tavola calda—an amazing array of hot and cold dishes ordered at a counter, served up quickly and almost always eaten standing up. One of the best in Rome is found at Franchi (Via Cola di Rienzo 200, tel. 06-68-74-651, www.franchi.it.), which is also one of the city’s most extravagant alimentari (local food stores).

Outside of meal time, this is the spot in the Prati neighborhood to buy sliced cold cuts, cheese, and cooked dishes to take home for dinner. But at lunchtime, the shop is swarmed with office workers (including those from the nearby Prati courthouse) who order from the daily selection of dishes on the tavola calda. The chefs are known for their arancini: breaded and fried balls of risotto drooling with mozzarella inside. But they also make other good things, such as a cold rice salad studded with shrimp and layered with slices of cured salmon, deep-fried cod fillets, oven-roasted vegetables drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, creamy pools of polenta and melted cheese, manicotti….

The scene is a bit chaotic. You place your order, return to the cashier to pay, grab a tray and wait for your food, then hope you can score a tall table or bit of counter space to balance your food while you eat standing up. (Be careful who you elbow aside—the courthouse guards are packing.) Our last visit was a reward for shuffling in the long and pointless lines to visit St. Peter’s. We needed the break before plunging into the crowds at the Vatican museums. The rice balls did not disappoint, the slice of lasagna was as good as any we’ve eaten in a white linen dining room, and the slab of polenta was rich and cheesy.

19

06 2011