Oct 25, 2016

Chestnut soup

Autumn has officially become my favorite season.

Porcini mushrooms, antioxidant and smelly brassica, aromatic truffles, plus pumpkin and chestnuts all start making their appearance on market stalls all over in Italy. Cheeses made with summer pasture milk are reaching their 3-month maturation period, which means flavor pangs and rich texture in each bite. Grapes and olives are being harvested, fireplaces are crackling and the air is crisp enough to bury our chins in favorite wolly scarves again.

With crunchy fallen leaves underfoot and a precise seasonal shopping list in mind, I negotiate the trek to my neighborhood market, mentally going over what fall recipes I can finally start making again.
The first thing to catch my eye at Luisa's stall is a crate spilling with plump shiny chestnuts that seem to be popping out of thier thorny urchins.

Chestnuts are a very versatile food that can be eaten in a variety of ways: fire roasted, boiled, oven baked and dried to make flour, plus candied for marron glacé, or made into a creamy spread, or crafted into mont blanc cake.

Thoughts of castagnaccio, necci pancakes, poultry stuffing and other delightful chestnut-based treats danced around in my head. Then I remembered about soup.

500 g (1 lb) fresh chestnuts
2 slices crusty homestyle bread, cubed for croutons
2 celery ribs
1 whole leek
1 carrot
1 white onion
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper

Score the skins of the chestnuts with a paring knife – this prevents them from exploding during cooking. Place them in a large pot covered with cold water. Any that float to the surface should be discarded.
Cook the chestnuts for approximately 20 minutes from when the water starts to boil. Drain and once cooled off enough to handle, peel them making sure to remove the inner husk too. 
Prepare a light vegetable broth with approximately 1,5 liters (about 6 cups) of water and chopped leek, onion, carrot and celery, boiling for about 20 minutes. I don't add salt at this point but you may be accustomed to seasoning broth earlier than I do.

Add the peeled chestnuts to the broth and cook over medium heat for another 20 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and whir them in a food processor or blender. Should the cream be too thick you can filter the broth and add some of it to dilute the chestnut cream. 
Adjust seasoning.

Place the cubed bread in a single layer on an oven pan drizzled with a thread of olive oil and a sprinkle of your favorite fresh herbs. Grill in the oven for a few minutes, until barely golden. 

Serve the hot chestnut soup with a few croutons, a thread raw olive oil and a few more turns of the pepper mill.

Buon appetito!

Last photo courtesy of lacucinaitaliana.it

Oct 19, 2016

Where to eat in Ostiense, Garbatella and Portuense

After exploring the eastern suburbs of Rome, let's push further in the working class districts of the eternal city, focusing on lesser known, authentic dining destinations.
Here are my favorite suburban dining destinations in the southern periphery of Rome; Ostiense, Garbatella and Portuense – three very interesting districts of Rome.

Continue Reading ➔

Oct 15, 2016

Where to eat in Centocelle, Quadraro and Torpignattara

Suburbs are considered reservoirs of conformity, but not in Rome. Peripheral, working class and trendsetting, the outlying eastern districts of Centocelle, Quadraro and Torpignattara are setting some of the highest dining standards in town. Here are 18 of my favorite places.

Oct 6, 2016

Mercato Centrale opens in Rome

If you've been reading this blog for some time you'll be aware of my feelings in regards to markets. City microcosms condensed in a modern day agora. With food to boot. What could be better?

The big news is Rome is adding one more item to its slew of city "mercati". The best part is that this won't be just any market.

After the success of Florence's 2014 Mercato Centrale, the doors to a brand new space have opened in Rome, on via Giolitti 36 in the Termini train station. Much like the one in Florence, Mercato Centrale Rome will act as a cultural meeting place with a completely different, modern and forward-thinking identity.

The market is housed in the former railway workers recreation center and cafeteria, brought back to life after a long period of abandonment. The launch of the Mercato Centrale Roma space also hopes to requalify a neighborhood with a negative reputation.

The focal point of the market is the Cappa Mazzoniana, an enormous Portuguese marble chimney hood designed by architect Angiolo Mazzoni in the '30s. Thanks to Mercato Centrale Roma, this impressive masterpiece will finally be returned to the city. 

The 1900-square meter area includes – in addition to the 15 food vendors on the ground floor – also an upstairs restaurant guided by chef Oliver Glowig, a pantry-like grocery store developed by Salvatore De Gennaro, of renowned Vico Equense gourmet deli La Tradizione. On the second floor is also a wine and beer salespoint, and a small coffee shop. On the third floor spaces will be available in the future to host cultural events and seminars. 

The shops and the craftsmen are the true soul of the project Mercato Centrale Roma. 
This is a gourmet destination which – despite being called a "market" – is clearly more set up for on-site eating than strictly for product purchase.
Here are a few images captured during yesterday's press preview opening and lunch.

Each shop has a display area and a kitchen for preparing and cooking the foods express. Visitors can buy and taste the bread, cakes, pizza al taglio and focaccia of Panificio Bonci; meat and select charcuterie of breeder and butcher Robero Liberati; fresh fish of Antica Pescheria Galluzzi dal 1984, tasty pizza pockets filled with Roman cuisine at the Trapizzino module copyrighted by Stefano Callegari and exported overseas by Paul Pansera. 

I also appreciated the crisp fritti fried foods at the Pastella stall, and the fresh hand stretched pastas of Egidio Michelis. Gorgeous artichokes normally sold at Alessandro Conti's market stall in Campo de’ Fiori, and mushrooms picked by Gabriele La Rocca in his Oriolo Romano property are pared, cooked and served with bread.

I had a hard time staying away from the Steiner chocolates from Massa Carrara and drooled over the raw milk cheeses from Piemonte and Sardinia paired with pane carasau, chickpea farinata, necci and testaroli from Lunigiana sold at the MCR branch of Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi with partner Antonio Menconi (formerly co-owner at Dall'Antò). Cremilla is the all-natural gelateria, which churns and serves 18 different natural gelato flavors made with no artificial additives and 100% organic farmed Italian milk.

Some of Florence's shops will also have a Rome branch at Mercato Centrale Roma, for example Luciano Savini's truffles, Marcella Bianchi's vegan-vegetarian cuisine, as well as Chianina burgers by Enrico Lagorio. Carmelo Pannocchietti showcases sweet and savory Sicilian specialties, while Romualdo Rizzuti bakes very good pizza pies in two wood-stoked brick ovens.

Under the imposing Cappa Mazzoniana, at the heart of Mercato Centrale Roma, is a beer station and a coffee bar, brewing single origin and blends of potent espresso. One particular blend was developed exclusively by local Rome roaster Franco Mondi of MondiCaffè for Mercato Centrale Roma, and there's talk of filter coffee extraction adding on to the java offer.

Access to the market is from Via Giolitti 36 and from inside the station for travelers passing through. 

For more info, go ahead and scan the Facebook Messenger bot below

Sep 26, 2016

His favorite lunch

And so it begins.

My ten year old boy did not hold my hand this morning on our way to school. The dramatic Italian mamma in me is shattered. The pragmatic, forward thinking American half is trying to be all cool about it.

It's an automatism. His hand reaches for mine when we walk side by side, no matter the context. It's always been that way ever since he could walk.


Initially it was support to compensate wobbly toddler legs. Then it was the comfort of protection. Crossing the street. During a long walk on the beach. On the way back from the grocery store. A thing that moms and kids do. At age four holding my hand made him feel safe; at age six his cold fingers spelled that inexplicable knot at the mouth of the stomach that comes with attending grade school. At age nine he held my hand because he was proud to be walking with me. He sometimes even clasps his little sweaty palm to mine while chasing Pokémon.
This morning I let my hand dangle next to his, like I always do.
And nothing happened.
I reached for it and felt no reciprocity. I felt discomfort. There was a touch of embarrassment.
I let it go and chuckled.

"Have we grown out of this now?", I asked. He slanted a sheepish smile and looked away.

The rest of the walk to school was silent. I, oddly heartbroken, aware that the end of something was happening right there and then. He, apologetic. Something quietly tearing inside him? Holding hands for us, I want to make this perfectly clear, is A. Big. Deal. A nonchalant given, yet still a big deal.

I noticed him peering over his shoulder a few times during the walk. Maybe a little girl he likes was walking behind us, or maybe the courtyard bully, and in either case he didn't want to be seen holding his mother's hand. I don't know. I did not turn to look. He's very reserved and hardly ever speaks of his feelings.

I understand now that this is where the slow and painful detatchment begins. It starts with your little boy no longer holding your hand in a routine situation. Coming to terms with it takes lucidity. And stronger coffee than I had this morning.

We climbed the stairs of the school building and he routinely walked in front of me and held the door open for me at the top. As we traversed the large empty atrium, rubber shoes squeaking on the marble floor, I felt his hand slip quickly into mine. A split second. A squeeze and it was gone. His way of saying, 'I feel your pain Mom, but it's time I grow up.'

At the bottom of the large staircase, where I always stop to kiss him good-bye I leaned in for our morning peck. He offered his cheek.
"I'll see you at one", and I watched him lug his big blue backpack filled with bricks and anvils and waved, as always.

At one, when I pick him up, we won't talk about this. I won't say what I'd like to, which is, 'My hand will always be there.'
At home I'll have his favorite lunch ready, risotto and creamed spinach.
Will he notice? Will he say something? Am I exaggerating?

I don't know. We'll see.

Parenting is a mysterious learning experience. You understand things in the strangest circumstances. I just learned my almost-eleven-year-old only child is growing up, and – like growing up kids do – there is no forewarning, it just happens, period. Deal with it, Mom.

The things I took for granted – like holding your kid's hand – are no longer a given.
Better go get that risotto going, or it'll never be ready by one o'clock.