Sunday, August 15, 2010

EAT PRAY LOVE: All In One Place

E-mailJulia Roberts goes to Rome, and then all the way to India and Bali.  I never got that far. I did it all in Rome.

I loved Elizabeth Gilbert's book.  We even had mutual friends in Rome - Depression and Loneliness.  Like her they followed me around, sat next to me in restaurants, and often spent the night.

But that's not how it began.  In the early days of my love affair with Rome, I didn't know those guys.  Back then, 18 years ago, I was Donna Reed (or Carol Brady if you don't remember back that far), traveling with husband and daughters, the Griswolds doing Italy.

More than the David, the gondola rides, and  the Colosseum, more than anything,  my first meal in Rome (ordered by Roman friends- I knew nothing about Italian food back then) ignited a fire that kept pulling me back to Italy- to eat and to learn all I could about this spectacular cuisine in the land of my grandparents.

And when the earthquake hit, when the walls collapsed around my snug little world...
the food of Italy kept me alive.

Monday, June 21, 2010


 Of course, zucchini are available all over the world throughout the year.  So why are my Roman friends all atwitter (in the old sense of the word) over zucchini now?

Well, there is such a thing in Italy as zucchini season - just like artichoke season, fava season, or porcini season - and in Rome it's happening right now. This versatile vegetable, all grown up naturally on its own without the help of hothouses or other artificial agricultural measures, takes center stage at the Roman markets for at least a few more weeks.

Although I'm not in Rome now, but here in Florida, I'm remembering a dish prepared for me by a Roman chef.  So in honor of him and the zucchini, I offer the following recipe.


3 T olive oil
1 # shrimp
1 large garlic clove diced
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 medium zucchini, about 2 cups diced
1 1/2 cups halved grape or cherry tomatoes
1 small chili pepper (peperoncino) or red pepper flakes, to taste
Salt to taste
1 # linguine

Place large pot of water on stove to boil.

Wash, peel, and de-vein shrimp.  Chop about half of the shrimp into small bits.

Combine and toss chopped shrimp, parsley, and garlic.

Place olive oil in wide bottomed skillet over medium-high heat.  
Add cubed zucchini, tossing to coat.
When almost soft, add tomatoes, stir for a few minutes. Add salt.
Then add  chopped shrimp, parsley and peperoncino.  Cook and stir so shrimp doesn’t stick, over medium heat. 
At the very end of the process, add whole shrimp, turning from side to side quickly so they don’t overcook.  Check for salt.

In the meantime, add salt to pot of boiling water (adding salt to cold water slows down the boiling time), and cook linguine to al dente stage. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water.

Add linguine to sauce in skillet and stir to completely coat with sauce, adding pasta water as necessary. NOTE: Be careful to not add all the pasta immediately.  You want the linguine to remain silky and not soak up all the sauce even with the addition of the pasta water. 

Plate and place several whole shrimp on each portion, sprinkle with more chopped parsley, and serve.

Buon appetito!

Monday, May 31, 2010

PASTA E CECI: Hot & Cold

Romans love their pasta e ceci so much they’ve figured out a way to make this cold weather comfort food work for them in the heat of the summer.  They call it pasta e ceci freddo, the exact same dish served, well, not exactly cold, but at room temperature.
With that in mind, one very hot day here in Florida, I decided to ignore the 90 degree temperature outside and cooked up a pot of this classic Roman soup  using the bag of ceci I had just brought back from Rome.
At the end though I set the AC at 65, threw on a jacket, and ate it steaming hot. The next day - because it really does get better as it sits - I just took the chill off in the microwave, topped with a dollop of olive oil and a few spoons of grated parmigiano-reggiano, and found the flavors to be even more intense and satisfying in this mildly warm state.

Call them ceci, chickpeas, or garbanzos, if you look at these little legumes (or pulses) closely and use some imagination, you'll see that they resemble little ram heads which is how they got their Latin name, cicer arietinum, from aries, meaning ram.

If you're not going to Italy any time soon, you can order exceptional Umbrian chickpeas (they really are better than what you'll find in your grocery store) at Gustiamo.

(pasta and chickpea soup)
2 cups dried chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 large garlic cloves, one whole, one minced
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 anchovy fillets, minced (optional)
2-3 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves
1 cup canned plum tomatoes, chopped
8 oz. (or slightly less) dried pasta (spaghetti broken in pieces or quadrucci)
1 chili pepper (peperoncini) (optional)
salt to taste
Cover chick peas with cold water and baking soda and soak 8 to 12 hours.
Drain and rinse chickpeas.  Put chickpeas in large pot with about 6 quarts water and one whole garlic clove.  After it comes to a boil, lower heat, partially cover and cook until tender, about 2 hours. Drain chickpeas and reserve the cooking water for later.
Puree about 3/4 cup of the cooked chickpeas.
Return pot to stove, add olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, and minced anchovies and saute gently over medium heat, being careful not to burn - about 2 minutes.  Add tomatoes and one cup of cooking water. Add the peperoncino and a few teaspoons salt to taste and cook until tomatoes are softened, about 15 minutes.
Add chickpeas, the pureed chickpeas, and enough cooking water to just cover the ingredients.  Stir occasionally while cooking for about another 15 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook only until it becomes al dente.  Check for salt, adding more if necessary.
Pour into individual serving bowls, top each portion with about 1 tablespoon olive oil and grated parmigiano-reggiano to taste.
This soup is even better the second day - or even the third - hot or cold.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Sicilian Import: Filippo La Mantia at the Hotel Majestic

Ingredients are Sicilian (minus garlic and onions), ambience is modern hotel elegance, buffet lunch an ensamble of Chef Filippo La Mantia's own creations.

While Lo Chef and Raul Bova (star of Under the Tuscan Sun) were chatting by the window, Susan Van Allen (author of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go) and I, unfazed by such luminosity,  had one of everything.

Here a seasonal favorite, and on the menu of almost every restaurant in Rome at this time of year, fava beans presented as a thick luscious soup.

Sicilian desserts truly take the cake in my book for best Italian dolci.  On my plate - and it was all mine -torte di mele (apple cake), strawberry frappe, cream of pistachio (consistency of pudding), a true cannolo, and then the mini cassata - veramente la ciliegina sulla torta.

Now I can only imagine what it must be like in the evening for dinner.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Though not from Rome, Caravaggio, who spent much of his life and achieved his status as an artist here, belongs to Rome.

This exceptional exhibit at the Scuderie del Quirinale brings it all together:  his ground-breaking use of light, the intensity in those faces and bodies which seem to strain to break off the canvas, his ability to take a scene such as the Annunciation or the Supper at Emmaus  painted by artists before him many times over, and bring it to another dimension.  Once seen, never forgotten.

The story goes that Caravaggio once was arrested  over a plate of artichokes that weren't prepared to his liking.  Whether he threw them at the waiter or smashed them in his face, police records verify the incident.

 I know exactly how he must have felt. Though never having resorted to violence, I've often sulked when my Roman artichokes weren't just perfectly done.

Sunday, April 25, 2010


Many, many years ago, before re-cycling came into being, ancient Rome solved the problem of what to do with all those empty amphorae used to hold olive oil being brought into port.  They dumped them in a heap which in time became a hill of about 135 feet.  Flavio al Velavevodetto is built right into one side of this mountain of crockery, visible through a panel of glass.

But that's not the reason to come to this stylish up-scale trattoria.  You come for the ravioli di primavera with fresh herbs, ricotta, and grape tomatoes, or the maialino arrosto con patate (baby piggy & mashed potatoes),  and you finish with semifreddo with zabaglione and deep dark chocolate drizzles.  

And then after you figure out how to pronounce "velavevodetto" like a Roman, you tell your friends about it, and when they in turn thank you for giving such a great recommendation, you say " I told you so" which is, after all, more or less, the meaning of "velavevodetto".

FLAVIO AL VELAVEVODETTO, Via di Monte Testaccio 97/99, Rome, ph. 06 5756841

Saturday, April 24, 2010

CUL DE SAC in Rome: Wine with a Side of Dinner

What do you do in a walking city like Rome on a blustery rainy night?

You seek warmth and shelter and find comfort in a bowl of zuppa di lenticchie (lentil soup) at Enoteca Cul De Sac in Piazza di Pasquino.  Pasquino is the most famous of Rome's "talking" statues placed around the city so disgruntled Romans could post their lamentations and outrages against authority, whether government or papal.

The food is good here, but the wine shines.  Over 1500 bottles listed alphabetically by place of origin from all over the world.  As busy as this place is, especially on a weekend, the staff are courteous and helpful with the selections.  Our wine, a 20 euro bottle of Nebbiola Langhe, fortified us for puddle jumping back home.

But before we did, we registered a complaint about this never-ending rain to Pasquino who will undoubtedly bring it to the attention of Zeus, whom every Roman knows is in total control of this kind of thing.