Dec 7, 2017

Dad's favorite dishes

I need to write. Writing is my preferred form of therapy. My father has flown away, and I still can't believe it's true.


I'm grieving and I have no idea how to do it. My emotions overlap and my heart aches. I can't make any sense of what's happening. FYI You're in the wrong place if you're expecting to read a cheerful post.

What follows is a moment of intimate reflection, of deep therapeutic writing that I'm putting out there in the universe (secretly, I'm hoping Dad will read it and smile, from wherever he is right now).


Although we did have time for our goodbyes, for whispered I love yous, and no remorse of anything left unsaid, there are so many other moments that I would have wanted to share with you, Dad.

I would have wanted to see the look on your face when reading the dedication of my first book to you.

Your reaction to the wink in the camera I gave as I joked about eating blue cheese (which you hated) on the gorgonzola segment of my show.


I would have loved E. to hang out with you more, and finally play that golf match you two have been talking about for years.

I so wanted to take you to the Navy museum in Anguillara on lake Bracciano, you would have loved it!


I wanted one more walk on the beach together. One more granita di caffè at Tazza D'Oro. One more impromptu softball game in Santo Stefano di Sessanio together. One more.


Just like this blog started eight years ago as a journal of thoughts followed by recipes, today I'm honoring the memory and the greatness of my Dad by assembling an ideal menu made up of all the dishes he loved, the majority of which were Italian––or so I like to think. I'm going to cook them all for him.

So here goes, Dad, I hope you enjoy it.


Antipasto
Prosciutto e Melone – Dad, you loved this classic Italian hors d'oeuvre. If prosciutto was unavailable, you'd sprinkle salt on your cantaloupe. This created the same perfect umami contrast. You often told a story of your Navy days in the Philippines. One of these memories was of you and a fellow officer riding on a boat to a local's house. It was a sweltering hot day. In the distance you saw the woman whose house you were headed to standing on the jetty, holding a jug of what looked like pulpy orange juice. You hated pulpy orange juice more than you hated blue cheese. A mix of disgust and fear of being impolite when declining to drink the beverage washed over you. Imagine your surprise when you soon realized the contents of the jug was crushed cantaloupe melon! You said you didn't let anyone else have much of it. Eating melon will never be the same for me. I will always smile and think of you with every bite.

Primo piatto
Anything al Pesto – You had this thing with pesto sauce. When you'd come visit us in Rome, this was always your first pasta choice. I remember this one time you came to visit when E. was 2 and for the welcome dinner I made gnocchi al pesto for you, a classic go-to and, modestly, a personal showpiece. Well, that night the gnocchi turned out to be a disaster: a collapsed, sticky mass sunken at the bottom of the pot. I fished it out and attempted dressing it with my homemade pesto sauce, which somehow had oxidized and looked dark gray instead of bright green. You ate a full helping of it and feigned appreciation, but I could sense the effort each time you swallowed a bite. Maybe you would have rather eaten my pesto lasagna. Damn, I wish I had baked that for you instead.


Secondo piatto
Scaloppine al limone – I think these were your favorite over saltimbocca alla romana. Whichever veal cutlet recipe it was, the competition was close. I remember how you savored each bite, carefully cutting small portions with your knife and fork, eating them slowly in order to make the joy last.



Remember that great Christmas we all celebrated together in Rome, when Amy and the Anderson gang came over, and we celebrated Christmas Day all together ice skating and then dining in my small apartment? Well, the day you arrived from the airport we went out to eat at La Scala. I'm pretty sure your entree was scaloppine al limone that night.

Contorno
Insalata di finocchi e rucola – You taught me to enjoy shaved fennel bulb and arugula salad. You'd order this side dish at the restaurant, or enjoy eating it at home when you lived in Italy while married to Mamma. The simple condiment, a thread of extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sea salt and a few turns of the peppermill was all it needed. One side dish we would never dream of serving with lunch when you were in town was broccoli. In a later time of your life you actually did come around to eating broccoli, but as long as I can remember, you hated the stuff as much as you loved mangling its name, "brrrahcklee!"


How I loved your voice, Dad. It was deep and melodious. When I'd curl up on your chest as a little girl, scared or crying for some reason, you'd breathe out with a deep, vibrating hum. That sound was so soothing and calming. It was like Om, but better.


Bread
Focaccia – I'm so bummed that the restaurant Cesarina is no longer what it used to be in the Seventies. You always said how amazing the food was: authentic dishes from Bologna (a sad lack of which we suffer in Rome), courteous service, a legendary Felliniesque host and the balloon focaccia.


You loved that flatbread! Maybe more for the show than the actual taste. The large rolled out dough was baked so that it would puff up into beach-ball size and then swiftly sliced horizontally to obtain two large discs. What I'd give to see you working your way through one of those again.

Dolce
Ricotta e caffè – I don't know how you learned about this typical Roman dessert. It's not really a dessert, it's more of a snack for mid-afternoon merenda, but you loved to eat it at the end of the meal. You'd scoop a couple spoonfuls of fresh sheep's milk ricotta – a Rome specialty – and use a fork to mix it with powdered coffee and sugar. I have a image of you flattening out the resulting beige paste and leaving fork marks all over the surface, and then slowly lifting small bites of it. Sometimes there'd be bread involved too. Or cacao powder.


One thing you were on the other hand very swift at eating was gelato. You adored your Italian frozen delight, and in particular tartufo. Given the amount of tartufo you ingested during your time living in Italy made you a virtual shareholder at Tre Scalini. You ate gelato so quickly that you'd get terrible brain freeze and would moan in pain holding your temple with one hand while wolfing it all down with the other.


Vino
You were never a drinker. I remember you sometimes ordered non-alcoholic beer, but that fad didn't last very long. I don't think you ever drank liquor regularly. There's a story told in the family of when you went to ask my Grandfather for my mother's hand in a Paris restaurant. Waiting to approach the subject during the meal, table manners included sipping some wine. You were in France, what did you expect? When the waiter arrived carrying a 1955 bottle of Château Haut-Brion swaddled like an infant, you accepted a glass but before toasting poured half a pint of Evian in it to water it down. The waiter nearly fainted and I don't know how Nonno reacted. Mom may have kicked you under the table.


I'll end this meal with a treat I know you loved. I made it myself and E. whipped the cream, so there's snow-white spatterings everywhere, including on the kitchen ceiling. We froze the espresso coffee in a shallow tray and scraped it several times to the desired texture. It's not summer, but in heaven there are no seasons, so enjoy. Don't rush it, though.


Those interested in learning more about my Dad's amazing career, can read this beautiful obituary published on the Hollywood Reporter.

Buon appetito, Dad
your Doodah


Nov 22, 2017

House-hunting in Rome? Follow your palate

The Eternal City is spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing neighborhoods where romantic attics, flats, condos and apartments are in close proximity to fine eateries and food shops in town. Here are some of the best food-centric Rome neighborhoods to live in, based on favorite foods.


Centro Storico – Family-owned "botteghe"


The historic center of Rome is a gorgeous tangle of alleys, busy squares, Baroque cathedrals and Renaissance palaces. The romantic, ivy-draped sidewalks are full of small family-owned shops, cafes, restaurants and stylish bars, market traders and historic food shops. Above these, locals dwell in small to mid-size apartments. 


This part of Rome is a food lover’s dream destination. In this cobblestone-paved corner of the ancient city, Romans rely on quality shops that have been in business for generations. If your favorite Italian specialties include bread products like pizza al taglio, rustic loaves of Lariano bread, artisan gelato, and sweet holiday treats like chocolate, panettone, sfogliatelle and cannoli, be sure to peruse real estate located in the surroundings of Campo de’ Fiori, the small alleys around Piazza Navona, via dei Coronari, and the gorgeous (yet pricey) Pantheon area.


Jewish Quarter – Tradition!


The Jewish presence in Rome dates back to the second century BC. As the oldest Jewish community in Europe, this gorgeous neighborhood locally known as “the Ghetto” was established in a flood- and disease-prone 4-block area near the Tiber River. Its borders and discriminatory laws regarding what professions Jews could and could not carry out were defined in a Papal Bull issued by Pope Paul IV in 1555. 

Though the neighborhood now holds some of the highest property prices in Rome, the original Jewish Ghetto was walled-in, crowded, enforced a curfew, and life was quite grim until the Ghetto was demolished and the ancient perimeter walls were torn down in 1888. Over the years the rebuilt area has grown into a beautiful neighborhood filled with great restaurants, churches, and synagogues and where a strong sense of community is still palpable.


Lovers of Roman-Judaic specialties such as carciofi alla giudìa (Jewish-style fried artichokes), unique pizza ebraica pastries, plus classic dishes such as concia (marinated zucchini) and aliciotti e indivia (a baked casserole of grilled anchovies layered with curly endive), should be house-hunting in the area surrounding the ancient via del Portico d’Ottavia, piazza Beatrice Cenci, piazza Mattei, via Arenula and via Santa Maria del Pianto.


Testaccio – Quinto Quarto at the Mercato


The Testaccio neighborhood is a working-class area of Rome that's wildly popular with locals who value traditional cucina romana and the Fifth Quarter (nose to tail) as much as they love the AS Roma soccer team. That alone should be enough of an invite to seek lodging here. But it's the area's small-town charm and laid back vibe that makes it feel like home. 


The neighborhood's pulsating heart is the Testaccio market, which is first and foremost a meeting place where neighbors catch up on daily news, sports results and gossip, and where the actual food shopping and transactions happen later. Testaccio is the place where locals source some of the freshest meat and seafood, and where they pick up trendy street food and fresh pantry basics. A good place to start looking for a flat in Testaccio is the grid streets and avenues surrounding the ex-slaughterhouse – now a reclaimed exhibition space housing art exhibitions and cultural events – and the Monte dei Cocci, an artificial hill made of ancient Roman amphorae clay shards.


Parioli – Michelin stars, museums and merchants


Conservative and 'old money' family-oriented Parioli is stately, elegant and safe. In fact, many governments have set up their embassies here. This obviously comes at a cost: homes in Parioli are bigger and are rented at higher prices. Quiet, refined, elegant and exclusive Parioli features a staggering number of supermarkets, markets, boutique grocers and assorted small merchants. 



Connoisseurs of fine wines and spirits, elegant delicatessens, Michelin-star restaurants and quality specialty stores should invest in an apartment located around viale Parioli, via Monti Parioli, piazza Euclide, viale Bruno Buozzi, via Civinini and via Giovanni Antonelli, as well as the more affordable via Salaria.


Collina Fleming – Posh pastries


The Tor di Quinto neighborhood, aka Collina Fleming is a hilltop residential district located just off the corso Francia boulevard in northern Rome, carved around the ancient Via Flaminia consular road. Elegant Collina Fleming is one of the most expensive residential areas of Rome.

From a fine food, drink and shopping perspective however, Fleming is becoming a foodie magnet. Elegant signoras traverse the city to Fleming to find some of the city’s finest pastries, cakes and other bakery products. There’s also a good choice of chocolate shops, gelaterias and organic juice bars on via Flaminia Vecchia, and sunlit apartments can be scouted in the surrounding tree-lined via Vincenzo Tiberio, via Achille Loria and via Alessandro Fleming.


Prati/Vatican – Elegant & tasty


Known for its elegant office buildings, courthouses and shopping streets, the Prati neighborhood is an equally interesting food hub. Located across from the Vatican's borders, the well-kept grid street layout contributes to an overall residential calm after office hours. Like in the rest of the city, a good meal is of crucial importance in Prati. So in the shadow of the dome of St Peter’s, lovers of fine baked products, fresh produce, rare cheeses and cured meats, sublime roasted coffee beans and all manner of delights sold in high-end delis, should be looking for a place to stay refining their search around via Trionfale, via Andrea Doria, piazza Risorgimento, Castel Sant’Angelo and via Cola di Rienzo.



Trastevere – Bohemian lifestyle


There’s never a dull moment in the winding alleys of Trastevere, busy 24/7 with a flurry of tourists, foreign students, street performers, and lovers of cacio e pepe. The formerly working-class district with a heady nightlife, now a charming medieval hamlet, is a reflection of its proud inhabitants: vivacious, temperamental and romantic. Lined with crumbling buildings, chipped paintwork facades and terracotta rooftops, the beauty of Trastevere lies in its contrasts: picturesque washing strung between buildings, and graffiti covering shutters and doorways. Despite the density of tourists, the bohemian "left bank" of the river Tiber River still retains its ancient charm.

Food-wise, Trastevere offers informal osterias tucked in secluded alleys, as well as critically acclaimed seafood restaurants, 3-generation family-run pastry shops, and local hangouts for food-loving insiders. Looking for the city’s best cheese, artisan biscotti and crisp supplì? Then look no further than the intricate labyrinth tangled around via San Francesco a Ripa, via della Luce, piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere, via dei Vascellari and piazza di San Cosimato.


Pigneto – Liberal literati & libations


Gritty and dilapidated Pigneto has become one of the city's most beloved, and most popular Rome neighborhoods. The triangular area sits between two main consular roads, via Prenestina and via Casilina. The suburb’s upbeat vibe and rainbow of resident cultures makes it one of Rome’s most hip and funky residential destinations. The eclectic bars, unusual eateries and popular bistros attract a young crowd of locals and expats.

The ultimate Rome destination for emerging artists is also the part of town where locals come for fine street food, craft beer and simple cuisine, and where it’s cool to lounge in leafy patios, sipping vino with locals. Seek out lodging in the neighborhood along pedestrian via del Pigneto, via Fanfulla da Lodi and via Braccio da Montone.



Disclaimer: This post was written in collaboration with Nestpick, a search aggregator that helps expats, travelers and students find mid- to long-term rentals. All opinions remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.





Sep 29, 2017

Pantaleo: food, wine, mixology in Rome


I missed the grand opening but I'm headed there this weekend.

The brand new cocktail bar-restaurant in Rome is called Pantaleo and by the looks of the photos I've seen on social media it's a definite must.


Located in a small square half way between Campo de' Fiori and Piazza Navona, Pantaleo is open all day long, until 2 am.

Divided on three levels, Pantaleo welcomes guests on the ground floor with the large bar and kitchen counters in plain view and a large social table in the middle of the room. The more lounge area with large velvet armchairs is located on the mezzanine. 

Downstairs is a glamorous party room fitted with a circular bar for more formal evenings.


The kitchen has three different menus: a raw menu featuring tartares and ceviches made with a selection of fine quality products; a hot menu with soups, meats and fish that are perfect for the colder months; and an exotic cuisine menu with aromas and flavors borrowed from the Mediterranean tradition, as well as from the cookery of Europe and Asia. 

I'm dying to try the scampi tartare with Septenber figs, as well as the mullet served with onions on a lime and cashew nut powder. The red and black Ceviche with goji mayo and tomato sounds equally tantalizing. 

From the raw seafood menu my curiosity was piqued by the Mazara prawns served with beet hummus, burrata and citron. 
 

The symbols of the restaurant are connected to the history of Saint Pantaleo after which the place is named. He was a doctor who was prosecuted under the emperor Domitian for believing in alchemy. 

On one of the walls of the ground floor bar room, the Saint is portrayed in a mural by artist Leonardo Spina. The features belong to Count Negroni, turn of the century viveur and creator of the famous cocktail. Also portrayed are the symbols connected to the passion and true soul of Pantaleo: the ancient alchemy symbol of lead, which recalls the elegant mixology department coordinated by Paolo Sanna; the Icosahedron which was one of the 5 Platonic Solids, regarded as a carrier of perfection and universal harmony, and the symbol of cold fire that represents the culinary offer played on complex and hot dishes, opposite cold, raw preparations.


The bar features an entire section on Martinis. The three-sip cocktail dear to James Bond is my favorite, so I know I will break my diet and have at least one Dirty Pantaleo, made with brined capers instead of olives.

Did I mention they serve oysters?


Pantaleo - Food Wine Mixology
Piazza San Pantaleo 4
Tel. +39 06 93572514
www.pantaleoroma.it

Photos courtesy of Pantaleo

Sep 11, 2017

School meals in Italy

One out of three Italian children under 12 years is overweight. While these rates are far behind those of the United States and the UK, Italy is working hard to reverse the trend.

Back to school season in Italy also means celebrating the "Mediterranean diet" in the school cafeteria.


Here's how Italians have joined the global fight against the rise of child obesity.

Continue Reading → School lunches in Italy: setting a healthy pattern for adult life as appeared on Gambero Rosso.

Sep 4, 2017

Casatiello

I'm long overdue sharing this recipe. I have been enjoying casatiello for many years, but only got around to actually making it from scratch last spring in Irpinia, during an episode shoot of ABCheese, my TV show.

Casatiello is an Easter dish from the region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital. Casatiello and Tortano are two rustic Neapolitan savory pies that differ only in how the eggs are placed. In casatiello the eggs are placed whole, in their shell, embedded in the top part of the bread dough, secured by criss-crossed strips of dough. In tortano the eggs are part of the filling. 

Casatiello is a pagan symbol of rebirth and celebration, but also represents a Catholic metaphor for the circular element of the crown of thorns worn by Christ on the cross. 

Casatiello is in fact normally eaten during the Easter festivities, served with fava beans, salumi and salted ricotta. Whatever is left over is usually packed in the Pasquetta (little Easter/Monday) picnic hamper.


The ingredient list of this rustic and savory bread includes rich and fatty chopped salami, cheese, pork cracklings, eggs and lard. Yes, lard.


The dough which will be the shell of the casatiello needs to be light and flaky, this is where lard comes into play.
This forgotten and now demonized ingredient (living a recent revival, however) is what our grandmothers used as fat in virtually every baked preparation. Inexpensive and stable lard is by no means "healthy" but it does have less cholesterol and saturated fat than butter, and unlike most vegetable shortening, it does not contain any trans fats. Moderation, obviously, is the key word here.
 
Because of its relatively large fat particles, strutto or sugna (rendered lard) is extremely effective as a shortening in baking. Pie crusts made with lard tend to be flakier than those made with butter or olive oil.
Lard, and shortening in general, work by coating flour particles and gluten strands in doughs (virtually "shortening" the strands, hence the term), and preventing them from forming a strong bond. The stronger the bond, the tougher the crust, and vice versa. Lard also has a higher melting point than butter.The picture above shows homemade rendered lard made from the kidney fat of healthy, free range pigs.


Here is the recipe for this sensational southern Italian Easter recipe.

Ingredients
600 g strong, bread flour*
300 ml lukewarm water
25 g brewer's yeast, melted in a small amount of water - or natural sourdough starter
225 g rendered lard
100 g pecorino cheese
150-200 g Italian salami
100 g pork cracklings
150 g sharp provolone cheese
Salt and pepper
4 or 6 eggs, depending on size, plus 1 yolk 

*Strong flour and bread flour generally mean the same thing: plenty of gluten which allows the dough to stretch and incorporate lots of air bubbles. The strenth of a flour is given by its "W" value. Bread flour varies between W160 and W310. This value is usually clearly stated on the packaging.

Start by preparing the bread dough. You're aiming for a wet, elastic dough.
Build a flour volcano. Add the yeast mix in the 'crater' along with 50 g of lard, then pour in the water a little at a time, stirring with a fork or your fingers. Keep adding the flour from the sides of the volcano. Only add a good pinch of salt at the very end (salt nullifies the yeast action). Knead to obtain a soft and elastic ball of dough. Add a little water if it feels too dry. It really all depends on what flour you're using.

Let the ball of dough proof in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap. The mass should double if not triple in volume. I usually place my dough to rise in the oven (turned off) with only the light on. This takes no less than 2 hours.

Move the dough to a flat work surface lightly dusted with flour. Deflate and roll it out to form a 1/2 inch thick rectangle. You could use a rolling pin, but the dough is fluffy enough to do this with your hands. Save a small amount of dough for garnish.

Now the fun part: adding the filling. Slather a third of the dough rectangle with 1 Tbsp lard (use your fingers or a spatula), sprinkle evenly with black pepper, scatter a third of the chopped salami and cracklings, and a third of the grated cheeses. Fold over the "dressed" part and repeat until you run out of filling. I folded over three times.
Roll up the whole thing, burrito-style.

Grease a ring mold with lard and place the rolled up casatiello in it, making sure to clasp the ends together to form a donut. Cover the casatiello and let it proof for additional 2-3 hours (time may vary depending on how warm your kitchen is, and how powerful the yeast is).

Wash the eggs under running water, pat dry and press them on the casatiello, pointy tips facing inwards. Roll the leftover dough into slender ropes. Secure the eggs by criss-crossing the dough ropes on each. Brush the surface of your casatiello with egg yolk. 

Heat the oven to 180°C (375°F) and bake for approximately 1 hour. Check doneness with a toothpick or a raw spaghetti noodle. Crank up the heat at the very end if the surface isn't browning enough.

Serve at room temperature. Who's uncorking the chilled Falanghina?

If properly wrapped in plastic wrap, it will last 3-4 days in the fridge. Mine hardly ever makes it past the day I make it.
 

My casatiello mentor, Patrizia.

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