Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SETTEMBRINI: A Flavor of Rome

Summer is fading, giving way to the coming of fall and a farewell to those sweet succulent figs, one of my favorites of the many flavors of Rome. The last of them are called settembrini, and perhaps because they'll soon be gone, are to me the best of all.

So it was with bated breath and fear of disappointment that I rushed into the Forno di Campo de Fiori to find, much to my greedy delight, pizza e fichi, Rome's white pizza stuffed with figs, and, in this case, also prosciutto.

It's impossible to describe the flavor, the lusciousness. You think you know how good a simple little ripe fig can be until you've had a Roman fig, and then, like many things in life, nothing else will do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


One beautiful moonlit evening several years ago, I was invited to an event at the Belgian Embassy, the terrace of which offers an exquisite view of the Roman Forum. Amid the chatter and the ciaos of both- cheek- kisses (Italians don't air- kiss like we do), I was introduced to Susan Van Allen, a writer from California. We ended up having dinner together at Ar Galletto in Campo de Fiori, and after a couple plates of pasta (what kind, I can't remember), we began a friendship as fellow writers, Romaphiles, and Italian-Americans discovering the land of our grandparents.

Since then, we've sometimes managed to replay our pasta dinners in Italy, but since we live on opposing coasts of the U.S, our friendship been sustained by phone calls and emails - and by each of us being Head Cheerleader for the other.

Susan's book "100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go" will be released mid-October. I've read the book and the only "criticism" I have is that it shouldn't be restricted to the female gender. Susan's exhaustive research (most of it on sight), her enthusiasm for Italy as a land of enchantment, and her skill as a writer have resulted in a must-read for anyone going to Italy who has a soul. (Italians call this "anima" - it indicates someone of some sensibility and depth.)

So buy it, read it over a dish of pasta - any kind will do - and bond with the thought of planning that long-put-off trip to Italy.

Friday, September 11, 2009


This morning in my local newspaper, yet another food critic tagged an Italian-American restaurant as being "authentic Italian", listing chicken parmigiana, spaghetti and meatballs, and Caesar salad as evidence.

You won't find any of these dishes in Italy, no matter where you go, and it's partly why so many people visit Italy without understanding the food culture, cheating themselves out of one of life's greatest pleasures - the incredibly diverse cuisine of Italy's 20 separate regions.

Pictured here is an example of something that is authentically Italian, more specifically, authentically Roman: carciofi alla Romana, artichokes cooked in the Roman style. I normally write about carciofi in the spring when they're in season in Rome, but the photo was on my desktop, easy to use to make a point.

Friday, September 4, 2009

ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI...'ll never find meatballs.

Not in Italy anyway.

This most iconic of Italian-American dishes, spaghetti and meatballs, is considered a weird and laughable combination by Italians.

You can have your spaghetti as a primo (first course) and then you can order those meatballs (polpette as they're called in Italy) as a stand-alone second course in a variety of sauces and preparations.

The Manhattan location (300 Spring St in the West Village) of Rome's famed Sora Lella restaurant
serves this authentic version of polpette in white wine sauce --a wondrous example of doing meatballs as the Romans do.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

CELLAR 58 -Great Wine & Food Pairing

Maria, long time NYC restauranteur from Abruzzo, and Andrea Tiberi, chef extraordinaire from Umbria, have created a winning mix of food and wine with Cellar 58, an atmospherically cool East Village wine bar on 2nd Ave.

The wines are expertly selected (and well priced) and the food coming out of this authentic Italian kitchen, whether nibbles or the full monty, will thrill the palate and compliment the wines. Andrea does great things with black truffles, not the "essence of", but honest live shavings from his native Umbria.

Best of all, you'll think you're in Italy. You know, that country where they welcome with arms wide open and feed you with love and enthusiasm.

Cellar 58, 58 2nd Ave (between 3rd & 4th St), NYC, NY 10003 212 420-1300


Sora Lella opened in 1959 on the Isola Tiberina in Rome and became as famous for being owned by the sister (sora) of famous Italian actor Aldo Fabrizi as for the quality of its traditional Roman fare. It was here about 10 years ago that I ate the most wonderful abbacchio al forno (roast baby lamb with rosemary) against which I have since measured all others.

So, imagine my glee spiked with skepticism to learn the same
family had opened another Sora Lella, this one in the West Village in Manhattan. Disappointment was not on the menu. The flavors of Rome were there in every dish: polpettine (tiny meatballs) in white wine sauce, gnocchi all'amatriciana, abbacchio al forno, gelato al riso which was rice pudding supreme - and pictured here, the signature Parmigiana di Melanzane con ricotta, miele (honey), e noci (walnuts), the eggplant parm against which I will forever measure all others.

Brava, Sora Lella NYC!!!

Sora Lella, 300 Spring Street, NY, NY 10013