Friday, December 12, 2008


Romans like them young, and they like them tender. Inveterate meat-eaters, Romans have a particular fondness for porchetta, that's "little piggy" to you.  Weighing no more than about 20 pounds, these baby pigs (I know - I don't like to think about it either) are de-boned, rolled, and then  oven or spit-roasted over beechwood and seasoned with fennel or rosemary, garlic, salt, and lots of black pepper.  

This was my dinner at L'Osteria de Memmo (Via dei Soldati, 22) in Rome, but you might want to head for the hills, to Ariccia (the town in the Castelli Romani just 15 miles from the Eternal City),  famous all over Italy for its porchetta.   Roadside stands dot the streets all around this town, where you can order up a few slices on a piece of paper to whet your appetite or perhaps a lunch of a porchetta sandwich - a pig in the blanket, Italian style.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008


Non ci sono parole, an Italian phrase that means "words fail" which certainly applies to the beauty of Ravello on the Amalfi Coast, a gem of a town all be-decked in color and sweet air and looking out to the Bay of Salerno.

Mamma Agata ( and her daughter Chiara offer cooking classes in their home in Ravello.  You'll finish up the day on Mamma Agata's terrace over-looking a spectacular panorama, sipping wine, and eating dishes such as pappardelle con peperoni e salsiccia (pasta with sweet peppers and sausage) and her lemon cake, unlike any lemon cake you've ever had because the lemons of Amalfi are unlike any lemons on earth and Mamma Agata is one amazing cook.

Saturday, October 4, 2008


You go along thinking you know all you need to know about tomatoes in Italy - Pachino, the small round sweet ones from Sicily, San Marzano from the soil around Mt. Vesuvius, Cuore di Bue shaped like a cow heart and common in Emilia-Romagna, and others as varied in size, shape and color as is possible within the pomodoro family. And then one day you're wandering around a market (in this case, the Testaccio market, my favorite one in Rome) and there in one of the stalls you see what looks like a bunch of tomatoes that should have been dumped a week ago.
I should have known - these love apples were shriveled up and wrinkled on purpose. Carmelo, the most renowned tomato expert in Rome, has a PhD in Tomato. (His stand in this vast market holds tomatoes, boxes and flats of them, and nothing else.)

So why, I asked him, do you do this to perfectly beautiful shiny skinned tomatoes? When you ask questions like this of Italians, they always make you feel a bit idiotic, like you should have been able to figure it out.

It seems that taking tomatoes at the peak of ripeness, setting them outside in certain climatic conditions, but away from the sun (we're not aiming for the sun-dried variety here), reduces the proportion of water and increases the level of sugar thereby creating the absolute best sauce tomato.

So there you have it. Sometimes being all wrinkled up is a good thing.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Truffles, those highly prized fungi, are available all year long in Umbria.  Ranging in color from inky black to creamy white, depending on the month, they are so abundant in this region that the canines who root them out are constantly on the go.  (Dogs are the truffle hunters of choice since they find but don't eat, whereas pigs will live up to their reputation and gobble up the bounty.)

This was lunch one day at the elegant restaurant in the Hotel Brufani Palace in Perugia - pasta fatta in casa con tartufi neri, homemade egg pasta with black truffles.  A gift from the dogs, if not the gods.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


Outside of Rome at this time of year, the hills are alive with an abundance of fungi, porcini and the less familiar ovoli. Referred to in English as Caesar's mushrooms because they were favored above all others by the rulers of ancient Rome, these orangish to straw-colored mushrooms with a white underside and stem are more delicate in flavor than porcini.

Inside the gates of Rome, restaurants offer a salad (can we call it a "Caesar Salad"?) of sliced ovoli, diced celery, shaved parmigiano reggiano, dressed only with extra virgin olive oil. And that's what I ate last night on a beautiful ottobrata (the last gasp of summer) evening in Rome. Superbus!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

BURRATA: It's Like Buttah

Hunting down great places to eat is what I do in Rome, but there are times when I need to grab a quick lunch or snack to enjoy on my terrace with the resident gabbiani (sea gulls) who think nothing of perching on the ledge and staring at me like vultures waiting for the remains.

The combination of two items right outside my front door in Campo de' Fiori, a warm slice of thin crust lightly tomato-ed pizza from the famed Forno Campo de' Fiori and a miniature burrata (burratini) from the adjacent latteria (a store that sells primarily dairy products), and those birds were salivating.

Burrata is a cow's milk mozzarella-like cheese from Puglia.  Shaped like a little bag, the treasure cache is its center filled with strings of the curd and leftover cream from the whey.  The Italian word for butter is burro, hence burrata.)

When it's cut into, the center reveals a buttery spread-able ooze that covers my pizza like a warm embrace.  My "invention" is not the classic use of burrata, if there is such a thing.  In Italy, it's most often served  nudo, standing alone and unadorned, or as a filling for ravioli as I had at the justly famous Rome restaurant Agata e Romeo. 

Of course, here in the States burrata begs being substituted for mozzarella in a caprese.  About the only "rule" that's immutable is it must be eaten as quickly as possible after production - to purists that would be within 36 hours.  It is possible to find  burrata outside of Italy.  I recently bought it in eastern Pennsylvania and it was fresh and delectable.  And to me, better than buttah.

Friday, February 1, 2008


Sushi Platter at Riccioli Cafe

If you're curious about what an oyster martini would taste like --and who wouldn't be?--and you find yourself in Rome yearning for your favorite sushi bar back home, head to Massimo Riccioli's new wine bar and casual dining spot called Riccioli Cafe. It's  trendy and relaxed  and you can order lunch or appetizers knowing that the seafood has been selected by the owner himself from the same source and with the same care as for his all seafood restaurant extraordinaire,  La Rosetta.

Riccioli Cafe, Via delle Coppelle, 13, Rome

Friday, January 18, 2008



My latest Flavors of Rome email newsletter created a run on fennel and blood oranges.  I received so many positive comments from this most simple of recipes that I've decided to repeat it here for the benefit of the blog world.  I'm always complaining that I can't find the same ingredients here in the States that are so readily available in Italy, but here's one of the exceptions.

And it couldn't be easier.   Quantities listed below are arbitrary; adjust according to taste and number of desired servings.


3 - 4 blood (or other) oranges, peeled and cut into bite size pieces
2 - 3 medium fennel bulbs, remove outer layers and cut inner part into small slices
3 tablespoons good quality extra virgin olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
handful of black olives, oil cured or other
coarse sea salt, to taste