Posts Tagged ‘Rome’

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

Stuffed tomatoes from Roman pizzerias

Like many Roman visitors (and many Romans, for that matter), we took advantage of the city’s many pizzerias for quick meals or snacks. Once our Zone 6 garden swings into production around mid-July, we hope to revisit the subject of Roman pizza for the myriad of vegetable versions.

But it was in the pizzerias that we stumbled onto another quintessentially Roman dish: stuffed tomatoes on a bed of roasted potatoes. Tomatoes stuffed with rice are a standard dish in a lot of parts of Italy, but Rome was the first place where we had seen them served with a big batch of potatoes. The simplicity of the single combined dish appealed to us, as it clearly does to many Romans getting an inexpensive casual meal. It took only a little experimentation at home to come up with a viable recipe for this starchier, heartier version of stuffed tomatoes.

ROMAN ROASTED STUFFED TOMATOES AND POTATOES

When served with potatoes, the tomatoes are relatively unseasoned. But if you want to serve the stuffed tomatoes alone as a first course, leave out the eggs and add three finely chopped anchovy fillets and a 1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese to the mixture before stuffing.

Ingredients

3 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch dice
1/4 cup olive oil
6 large tomatoes, ideally with stems intact
1 teaspoon sea salt, divided
1 cup water
2/3 cup Arborio rice
1/4 lb. ground veal or pork
large bunch flat parsley, finely chopped
2 eggs, beaten

Directions

Combine potatoes and olive oil and spread evenly in roasting pan. Roast in 350F oven for 25 minutes.

Cut 2-inch diameter cap from tops of tomatoes. Scoop out pulp, seeds, and jelly and place in strainer, add 1/2 teaspoon salt, and let drain to separate juices. Reserve juices and reserve cap.

Add remaining salt to water, add rice and boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and drain.

In frying pan, crumble ground meat and cook over medium heat until browned. Add reserved tomato juices and fistful of parsley. Stirring regularly, continue cooking until liquid is mostly reduced.

Mix meat mixture with rice, remaining parsley, and eggs. Stuff mixture into tomatoes and set caps on top. Place tomatoes on top of potatoes in roasting pan, raise oven to 425F and continue roasting for 30 minutes.

27

05 2011

And then there was amatriciana

While Tsatsu Nicholas Awuku was teaching us to make bucatini cacio e pepe (see below), Alessandro Sillani, the chef of Ristorante-Caffe di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon 8/9, 06-686-9097, www.ristorantedirienzo.it), demonstrated the equally popular and almost as simple sauce for bucatini all’amatriciana. Tradition holds that this sugo (sauce) originated in Amatrice, a town in the mountains of Lazio on the border with Abruzzo. Many families from the region settled in Rome, adding this dish to the capital’s own cuisine.

Sillani heated olive oil in a large frying pan, sautéed sliced onion until it was soft, and then added a thick pinch of hot pepper flakes and a handful of diced guanciale — cured pork cheek that is similar to pancetta but typically leaner. He kept cooking until the onion was golden and the guanciale well cooked. At this stage, Sillani tossed a serving of bucatini into the fryer converted to pressure cooker, then returned to making the sauce.

The rest of the sauce went swiftly: He ladled in pureed tomatoes and kept stirring the sauce over high heat until the bucatini was cooked (about 9 minutes), then added the drained pasta to the sauce.

It could not have been simpler or more delicious — and it’s just as easy to make at home.

BUCATINI ALL’AMATRICIANA


We have adjusted this recipe to serve four as a pasta course or two as a main course.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
3 oz. guanciale (or pancetta), cut in 1/4” dice
1 lb. bucatini
3 cups pureed (”ground”) tomatoes
freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese

Directions

Saute onion in olive oil in large frying pan. When onion is soft, add pepper flakes and guanciale and saute over high heat until onions are golden and guanciale begins to brown.

Add pasta to boiling water.

Add tomatoes to frying pan and continue heating over high flame.

When pasta is cooked firm (about 9 minutes), drain and add to sauce in frying pan. Toss to coat.

Twist mixture tightly with a large fork and transfer to serving plates. Serve with Pecorino Romano cheese.

11

05 2011

Learning Roman pastas (#1)

Much as we love Trastevere and its restaurants, one of our other favorite eating establishments is right on one of Rome’s most tourist-thronged plazas—just the type of location that we usually avoid at meal time. But when we stopped for coffee one morning at Ristorante-Caffè di Rienzo (Piazza del Pantheon 8/9, 06-686-9097, www.ristorantedirienzo.it), we struck up a conversation with Marianna Di Rienzo, whose father opened the restaurant in 1952. She even invited us to come back at dinner time so that the chef could show us how to prepare some classic Roman pasta dishes.

Chef Alessandro Sillani has been with Di Rienzo for 15 years. When we returned around 6 p.m., he and his assistant Tsatsu Nicholas Awuku were not even breaking a sweat sending out dishes to early diners. They decided to demonstrate two of the simplest, but to our minds, most delicious of Roman preparations, cacio e pepe (or cheese and pepper), and amatriciana (tomato and lardons of cured pork cheek). They made both with the thick tubular pasta with a tiny hole in the middle called bucatini. In fact, the restaurant uses Barilla dried pasta, widely available in the U.S. The specific size that seems to be used all over Rome is Bucatini No. 9. Like many restaurants that serve a lot of pasta, Di Rienzo had converted deep-fry vats to boil salted water. The chefs could simply toss the portions of dried pasta into the fryer baskets, lifting and draining in a single motion when the pasta was al dente.

Awuku handled the cacio e pepe. He melted a gob of butter in a skillet, then mixed grated Pecorino Romano cheese and black pepper together in a stainless steel bowl. He poured in the melted butter, mixed well and checked the consistency. When it seemed a little dry, he added a drizzle of olive oil. Once the pasta was al dente (Romans prefer their pasta very firm), he added the hot pasta to the cheese mixture and tossed to coat. He twisted the unruly and springy pasta very tightly to form a nest, transferred it to a plate and then sprinkled on more cheese.

We ate our pastas at an outdoor table, looking at the classic facade of the Pantheon and listening to jazz being played by street musicians. It could not have been more charming, or, for that matter, romantic. And the pasta was delicious. We supplemented our meal with white wine and the superb breads and gelati that Di Rienzo makes in-house. It was humbling lesson that sometimes you can even get a terrific meal on the square with a tourist attraction.

BUCATINI CACIO E PEPE
We have adjusted this recipe to serve four as a pasta course or two as a main course.

Ingredients

1 lb. bucatini
1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
olive oil as needed
extra Pecorino Romano to taste

Directions

1. Cook pasta about 10 minutes in salted water.

2. While pasta is cooking, combine black pepper and grated cheese. Melt butter and add to cheese mixture, stirring well to combine. Add olive oil as needed to create a thick cheese sauce.

3. When pasta is cooked firm, drain and add to bowl of cheese sauce. Toss to coat.

4. Place on plate with large fork, twisting mixture tightly. Add extra cheese to taste.

30

04 2011

We love Roma in the springtime…

The point of this blog is to discover food that we enjoy when we are traveling and to learn enough about it that we can recreate the flavors at home. But we have learned that some dishes are so special at a particular time and a particular place that we have to enjoy them on the spot and not worry about bringing them home. The best place to spot these seasonal specialties is often the fresh food market. Since we were in Rome in early April, all the vegetable stalls at Trastevere’s daily morning market in Piazza San Cosimato were overflowing with beautiful globe artichokes. It meant that the season was perfect to try carciofi alla giudia, the traditional fried whole artichokes made famous in Rome’s Jewish ghetto.

There are a lot of terrific eateries in the Trastevere neighborhood, and, as it turned out, artists recommended the two that we liked best. The glass artists at Studio Forme (via di Santa Cecilia 30B, www.vetriforme.com) told us that we could get a ”real Roman meal” at Trattoria da Teo (Piazza Ponziani 7A, 06-581-8355). We stopped by late one morning to investigate. The staff was busily prepping dishes for both lunch and dinner but happily invited us into the kitchen to see. Not only did they have nothing to hide, they were proud of the quality of their ingredients. One young man out front was patiently stuffing zucchini flowers (fiori di zucca) with cheese and anchovies. Later they would be dipped in batter and deep-fried. Others in the back were cutting tuna steaks and trimming beautiful artichokes.

We were skeptical that we would need a reservation at this out-of-the-way trattoria, but we went ahead and made one. When we returned at our appointed hour, the street was filled with eager would-be diners. Anyone who lacked a reservation was turned away as every table in the small dining room and smaller patio filled immediately. Once we were seated a few waiters hastily took everyone’s orders – the menus were superfluous. Everyone largely ordered whatever was special that night. Antipasti began flowing out of the kitchen, soon followed by pasta plates, with our white-shirted waiter holding them over his head as he wiggled his hips through the crowds. The wine list, by the way, was studded with little gems. We stuck with a superb, well-rounded verdicchio from Le Marche. And we could resist neither the stuffed zucchini flowers nor carciofi alla giuda.

The other excellent recommendation came from Sara Fradiani (www.filogiro.com), a jewelry artist we met at a pop-up store. She excitedly claimed that the best spaghetti carbonara in Rome is served at Antica Osteria Ponte Sisto (Via di Ponte Sisto 8, 06-588-3411), just at the end of the Sisto bridge over the Tiber. Utterly charming and old-fashioned, Ponte Sisto proved as good as she had suggested, with classically robust Roman pastas and a good wine list of reasonably priced bottles. Because it has outdoor seating just steps from the river, it attracts as many tourists as locals, but neither the menu nor the prices seem slated to capitalize on that.

And about those artichokes: Carciofi alla giudia include a large portion of the artichoke stem, which has an especially earthy flavor that is a nice contrast to the sweetness of the choke itself and the crispy potato-chip-like crunch of the fried leaves. They are a tasty treat, but the flavors would go murky if the artichokes were not perfectly fresh and deep-fried at a high temperature. So we will leave the preparation to the trattorie and osterie of Roma in the springtime.

24

04 2011

Roman holiday

With a chance to spend a week in Rome, we decided to book an apartment so we could live more like Romans than transients. A recommendation in the guidebook Pauline Frommer’s Italy led us to Worldwide Accommodations, where we found an apartment in Trastevere, the 13th century neighborhood across the Tiber from the Jewish Ghetto and the ruins of ancient Rome. Overlooked by the 19th and 20th century modernization of the centro storico, most of Trastevere remains a colorful and intimate place stretched out between the Gothic churches of Santa Cecilia and Santa Maria in Trastevere.

Adding to that neighborly feeling, our landlady Carla Conti welcomed us with a simple tube cake that became breakfast for the week when we topped pieces with sliced fresh strawberries and blood orange segments that we purchased at the morning market in Piazza San Cosimato. When we left, she even gave us the recipe (see below).

We enjoyed the cozy apartment with a spacious bedroom, a modern bath, a pleasant sitting room, and a compact but functional kitchen. The neighborhood was so full of good trattorie and osterie that we never did get around to cooking dinner, but we did make breakfast. More to come on some of our favorite restaurants and recipes for typical Roman dishes.

CARLA CONTI’S HEALTHY ROMAN CAKE
Carla makes this simple cake as a welcome gift for renters in her Trastevere apartment. Her version comes out as a large, slender ring. Since that kind of pan is hard to find in the U.S., we decided to cut the recipe in half and use a small (6.5 inch) Bundt pan. Like most cakes and pastries, this one works best if you weigh the ingredients rather than relying on volume measurements. Because it uses vegetable oil and yogurt, Carla calls it a ”healthy” cake – but she often drizzles it with chocolate fondant to make a more decadent dessert.

Ingredients

115 grams white flour
8 grams baking powder
2 small eggs
125 grams superfine sugar
60 grams vegetable oil
75 grams yogurt (plain or fruit)

Directions

1. Heat oven to 350F. Grease and flour small Bundt pan.

2. Sift together flour and baking powder. Set aside.

3. In medium bowl, beat eggs until frothy. Beat in sugar, a little at a time to make sure it dissolves. With mixer running, add vegetable oil and beat until mixture takes on consistency of soft mayonnaise.

4. Add alternating portions of flour mixture and yogurt, beating well after each addition. Pour mixture into Bundt pan. Bake 25 minutes or until toothpick inserted into cake comes out clean.

5. Cool on rack for five minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely. Slice and serve with fresh berries.

19

04 2011