Dec 30, 2012

Pizza with potatoes

Yes, exactly what the title says: a true carb fest. I can hear you moaning, "overkill!" – but no, this is a simple and delicious combination. As far as pizza sold by the slice goes, Rome is unbeatable, and in matter of toppings a classic is pizza con le patate, pizza with potatoes. Unlike the round pies normally served in pizzerias, pizza al taglio is baked in electric ovens in large rectangular or oblong shapes, which are then cut in squares and sold by weight.


I've recently had the opportunity to organize a series of food talks with dining business entrepreneurs, and on one of these occasions, I had the chance to make the acquaintance of one of Rome's top pizza gurus, Gabriele Bonci. Inventive and outspoken, Bonci has revolutionized the Rome pizza scene with his gourmet creations, sold in his minuscule Pizzarium pizza shop near the Vatican, and now busy with several other enterprises, like the No.Au. eatery, and a newly inaugurated bread and pastry bakery Panificio di Bonci. While researching his profile for the interview, I came across his published book, and in it I learned many things, above all I found the formula for making awesome homemade pizza.

What I was baking before was okay, but something else... it somehow never excelled beyond either a doughy fluff, or an often too crisp focaccia flatbread, that would inevitably sog under the wrong combination of moist ingredients, and that once baked in the oven, changed the nature of the pizza entirely.

After reading Bonci's book, and learning about kneading properly, leavening, folding and leavening again, and how to prepare the dough for the oven (plus a variety of different toppings and techniques ) a new universe of pizza making (and eating!) opened up. The paramount importance of basic doughs, the variation in results that different flours yield; and most of all, how natural yeasts and lievito madre sourdough starters, weather conditions and mood can affect a pizza, have trained me to bake homemade pizza in a whole new way.

This is Bonci's recipe for pizza with potatoes, and it differs from what is normally found in most pizza al taglio joints (see photo above). Very few, good ingredients create the topping, and this allows the flavor of the dough to really shine through as a main ingredient, and not merely as an edible starchy surface where toppings are laid. The potatoes are not sliced and roasted, rather are pre-boiled and crumbled on the top. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Here it is: a wonderful, melt-in-your-mouth potato and mozzarella pizza. Warning: the procedure for the  preparation of the dough is long and labor intensive, but well worth it. Trust me.

For the basic dough:
1 kg (2.2 lbs) flour type "0" (Manitoba)
700 g (scant 3 cups) water
40 g (3 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
20 g (2 tbsp) salt
7 g (1 1/2 tsp) dry active yeast

Look at those gorgeous alveoli...
For the topping:
250 g (2 cups) mozzarella, shredded
500 g (1lb) russet potatoes, boiled with skins (or any variety whose flesh is compact and not moist)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

In a large mixing bowl, mix flour and yeast with a wooden spoon. Slowly add the water and start mixing with your fingers. Messy and sticky, but keep going. Only when the dough has transformed into a solid mass, is it safe to add salt and olive oil (salt offsets the effectiveness of yeast). Don't worry about clumps, during the first rise period, leavening will take care of these naturally.

You'll need a numer of clean mixing bowls, grease the next one with olive oil and place the dough ball in the middle, cover it with a kitchen towel and leave to nap for about an hour.

After this restorative rest, the dough needs to include a little more air. This can be done by folding the dough over and over, possibly on a wooden surface that's been well dusted with flour. Flatten the dough and fold over the corners, flatten again, rotate and fold over, flatten, rotate and fold over... Do this at least three times at 15-20 minute intervals in the course of an hour. This stabilizes the dough and will give it that particular airy tissue.

During the second, lengthier rise, the dough will double in volume, so your next bowl will have to be quite large. Grease it and place the dough-ball in the middle, gently caresse the surface of the dough with some olive oil and cover with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Place in the mild temperature compartment of the fridge for 18-24 hours, and be patient.

The next day, take the raised dough out of the fridge and let it sit for about 10 minutes at room temperature. Given that the pizza dough has now developed in mass, you'll have to plan out quantities wisely. For an average oven pan, you'll need to cut up the dough in 350 g sections (13 oz). Use a dough cutter and avoid handling the dough with your hands too much. Another 90 minute rest and you'll be ready for the trickiest part.

You've nurtured and cared for the dough for the past 24 hours, ruining it now with violent moves, rips and tearing of the gluten tissue would be a sin. Generously flour your work surface and start working the dough gingerly, using only your fingertips, by molding it into a rectangle or whatever the shape of your oven pan. Delicately place the dough in the greased pan, and drizzle with a thread more olive oil, (always a good idea, regardless of the topping).

Preheat your oven – it must be hot to bake the pizza properly – at 250°C (480°F).
Break up the mozzarella in shreds, pat it dry with a paper towel, and sprinkle evenly on the pizza dough.
Peel the boiled potatoes and once cool enough to handle, crumble them coarsely with your fingertips over the shredded mozzarella. You can add a few rosemary needles, if you like.

Bake in the oven at 220°C (430°F) for 25 minutes, adjust with salt and apply to face.

Photo by Elisia Menduni

Nov 20, 2012

Food Trucks in Rome

I first started hearing of construction site–meets–Hollywood film set roach coaches turned into gourmet gatherings in L.A., by friends and family who raved about top chefs going mobile, and mouthwatering tweets that informed hungry patrons at which corner the best Asian taco truck would park that day. The food truck buzz was too loud to ignore, so taking advantage of my nephew's wedding in Texas this past July, trip that included some quality time in California, I decided to investigate the US food truck scene in the only way possible. Eating my way through it.


First up I hit Dallas, and found an astonishing street food scene. Not all fried green beans and ribs, here I tasted some of the best Korean fusion and tacos north of San Luis Potosì. If the term "kimchee fries" says nothing to you, look up ssahmBBQ.com. Austin showed some pretty nice food on wheels – can't forget the fried chicken, shrimp and avocado coated in an almond, sesame seeds, cornflakes and chili panure – as did Houston, with it's superlative Tex-Mex and sensational food-truck meetups advertised in the lifestyle section of the paper.

Then it was San Francisco, with its illuminated food culture and eating activism. The city's food trucks went beyond fusion and value meals, these put actual white tablecloth restaurant chefs on the expandable/collapsible kitchens for some serious high-end, gourmet mobile eats, like the former organic farming students that run a rotisserie truck that serves 
heritage pork, free-range chicken and local lamb. Awesome! 
At the Monterey weekly farmer's market, the tandoori oven on wheels fed flocking crowds some of the best chicken and chapatti I've had in a long time. Next in line I checked Los Angeles, another epiphany: Reuben sandwich trucks, breakfast food trucks, bacon-with-everything trucks, fried chicken and waffles trucks, BBQ burger trucks, cold stone ice cream trucks, thai-mex trucks, lobster sandwich trucks, sustainable trucks running on vegetable oil, dumpling & samosa trucks... each selling all kinds of awesome grub. 

Every single pop-up wheeled enterprise I tried, offered great food that was cooked well, and cost reasonably little. Each business I ate at had a Facebook page, a Twitter account, QR codes and catering gigs lined up 'til 2014. These people understand the importance of communication, image and hard work: they dish out an average of 300 lunches a day, and besides creating a new food trend, they keep their clientele informed and happy, raise good cash, and most importantly, are bringing people back to dining.

photo © www.cousinsmainelobster.com
I began to feel a little envious. Seriously, why can't we have that here? Can't we replicate this genius phenomenon in Italy too, where food can be good but lacks international variety, the economy is in a down-pointed vortex, and any food fad tagged USA is a sure hit (well, except for Starbucks)?

Does the average Italian Joe that lunches out need to necessarily sit at a table, read his meal off a menu (albeit scribbled on a chalkboard) and perforce use silverware? Is the food truck concept too alien for Italians? Might the idea of a mobile cuisine be scary to the locals, who tend to associate it with the dubiously painted and hygienically–challenged panini-gelato-pizza carts that charge €5 for a bottle of lukewarm mineral water, and that Roman rodents are so fond of? Or can present day Italy, habitual to street food and regular historic invasions by foreign cultures, actually become the next food truck frontier? Mauro Uliassi, a cheerful Michelin-starred chef from Senigallia, is probably the first trying to make it happen, with his mobile food caravan.


photo © dissapore
At Torino's recent Salone del Gusto - Terra Madre world food extravaganza, Uliassi, who wisely focuses his efforts on street food, parked his little "StreetGood" kitchen cart in the middle of Lingotto's Padiglione 2 and sold fried morsels and gourmet sandwiches to the audience. All food coma and festival stupor aside, I think his was one of the best ideas present at the Salone del Gusto. He proved that good, affordable food can be brought to the many, and be available via roving kitchens.

I interviewed a friend and fellow expat foodie living in Rome who dispenses wine pleasures with her Vinoroma wine tasting venture, and that is strongly invested in the Rome food scene. When I asked her opinion on food trucks having a chance in Rome, the response was more than enthusiastic. It sounded like a business pitch. This got my metaphoric glands salivating.

So here I am calling out to you, my fellow expat friends living in Rome, with an idea. I'm looking for partners in a crazy venture. I want to start a Rome food truck movement, in a moment in which Italian food is in dire need of a revolution.

I am speaking to you. You who will sell a limb for a decent burrito. Yes, you right there stubbornly believing Rome will one day deliver a properly toasted bun for that 25% fatty burger you crave. You, with the Asian noodle fetish, and you there, in constant unfulfilled Rome ethnic food lust: if you haven't surrendered, come to me. Let's pool ideas, let's get serious, brainstorm, talk Kickstarter and buy that old Airstream van in the Cinecittà scrap heap. The required start-up capital should be minimal. Let's get this Rome food truck scene moving, and let us "stranieri" give Rome the dream. Starting with fulfilling our own, down in the streets.

foto © allbarnone

Nov 4, 2012

Dinner with Alice Waters

I received and invitation by my darling friend and dining guru Katie Parla a few weeks ago that I could not turn down, simply because it involved good food and the promise of an intimate conversation with Alice Waters.
The founder and mastermind behind the Berkeley cradle of food revolution Chez Panisse Restaurant, activist of the locavore movement that has been shifting food education and eating habits across the nation, and ultimately the Rome Sustainable Food Project, was coming to Rome for a benefit hosted by the very American Academy Rome kitchen miracle she performed 6 years ago, and I was going to be a part of it.

The American Academy Rome and Alice Waters appointed executive chef Mona Talbott, sous chef Chris Boswell, and a varied team of cooks and interns, to provide tasty and healthy meals for the Academy's fellows and scholars using fresh, organic, regional and seasonal produce and herbs grown for the kitchen on the Academy property. Before this, the Academy's food was historically a nightmare. After 5 years since the birth of RSFP, Mona decided to return to New York, leaving Chris Boswell in charge of the well-oiled kitchen. One of the reasons I support the RSFP by signing up as a Friend of the Academy (an annual donation of €75) was so that I could attend the many events hosted here, but mostly to enjoy the labor of love of Mona, Chris, Mirella and the rest of the kitchen staff on those weekdays when Friends (and friends of Friends, up to 10!) can come eat a buffet lunch composed of garden produce cooked with love for only a handful of Euros.

Back to the dinner. So here I am, climbing the Janiculum Hill under a full moon, and entering the candle-lined path of Villa Aurelia, a sage-smelling trail that will ultimately lead me to being in the same room with one of the women that mostly influenced my way of foraging, cooking and providing healthy meals for my child. My heart is fluttering, and it's not because of the uphill workout. Well, that too.

Cocktails are served in a beautiful frescoed room of the second floor, lit by ginormous chandeliers, soft notes waft from a grand piano and I immediately spot Ms Waters chatting with another guest. While I sip on a very good drink made with whiskey, ginger ale and rosemary, I glance over to the table that's been set for us in the main dining room.

Ok, not as intimate as we had expected, but still, breathtaking. Candles flicker and fruits from the AAR garden adorn the table, place cards are hand drawn, picturing seasonal veggies. Almost too perfect.

The bread baskets overflow with Roscioli buns, wines are poured generously and the meal is nourishing, prepared by no other than Mona Talbott, who has come back to the AAR just for this occasion, what a lovely surprise to see her there! Pictured below is the evening's menu.

The seating arrangement is decided on a draw, I happen 2 seats from the guest of honor and next to me is a lovely young lady named Luisa, who works as photo editor for the NY Times and is now living in Rome with her husband, a graphic design fellow at the Academy and their 4 year-old son. To my other side sits Vikki of In Rome Now, a helpful online resource I often use. Small world.
Between courses, Alice Waters addresses the guests and speaks enthusiastically of Italy and its food education, habits and values. Her soft-spoken, slight Southern drawl clashes with the iron principles she so stubbornly stands for, but I guess that makes sense. She has only words of praise for Italy, the Slow Food movement founded by Carlo Petrini, and all the wonderful options we are given here.
Except, I'd like to say something, but I don't dare. I'd like to whisper that it's not really a bed of roses, that way too many supermarkets and bad eating habits are common here too, not only overseas. I'd like to say that the image of this dolce vita lifestyle, with nonna's recycling of leftovers and solid morality in the grocery shopping list is sadly not happening. The average family does not have all that much choice. Sadly there is no chance to forage wisely, no trace of the community gardens Alemanno promised Waters during her last visit 2 years ago... nor of the edible schoolyards purportedly commissioned in every public school of the city. Niente. I'd like to say it out loud that it's still brutally expensive to shop at the farmers markets and Italian CSA equivalents because mass distribution is killing us... I should say something (bites nails)...
But I don't. I remain silent because I'm hopeful. Maybe the revolution brought in the kitchen of the American Academy will spread like a sweet virus, and all discount supermarkets, antibiotic-spiked animals, dioxin-rich mozzarella and Monsanto will magically disappear in a cloud of vapor. I see Katie squirming in her seat, I'm sure she feels the same conflict. I take another sip of Sagrantino di Montefalco and let Alice Waters finish her speech without interruptions.

Vervain tea and biscotti are served in the inner sanctum: the library of Villa Aurelia. I loved the Nuciata c'addauru, a Sicilian candy bar that's like a walnut brittle made with honey and spices, but pressed between two bay leaves, which are eaten whole. I'm trying to capture the awesome lingering flavor combo (while dislodging laurel bits from my teeth) when a gentle and prosperous Cecilia Tessieri takes the floor. In a charming broken English she poetically tells us about Amedei and her family's artisan craft in Pontedera... and the chocolate tasting trays are passed around. Yes, and Im in heaven.

Outside the library window is a terrace, and beyond that terrace, Rome blinks her million lights, proffering her black velvet décolletage. Spectacular, I feel so thankful to be here.
With far too many assorted alcoholic drinks in me and blood sugar three times over the decency level, I skip down the sage path and say my farewells.
I'm half way home when I realize I didn't say goodbye to Alice Waters.

All grainy iPhone photos taken by me, save for the opening portrait, courtesy of Chez Panisse

Oct 13, 2012

Sorry...

I apologize.
This blog has been inactive for a ridiculous amount of time.


I found 25 unmoderated comments and have been receiving emails form friends who complain the lack of updates. That is unacceptable!

Work and my life have really taken a toll on my blog time, but that's no excuse, especially when on the reading end are folks like you who are so affectionate, loyal and actually interested in what I have to say!

Take Debbie, for example.
Not only has she been on one of my foodie walks, awarded me with a trophy, she also likes to send things in the mail. Last month we received a box full of goodies and happiness, photos, clothes and love.

And Jeff? He's a keeper. When he last visited Rome he brought me some of his state's specialties, a toy for my son and he treated us to lunch in one of my favorite places.

Cannot forget to mention Geli, Rosaria, Eddie, Jim and Lori, among the first to follow this blog from its very beginnings in 2009. They have been a constant source of compassion, love and sound advice. I'd also like to remember the friends that are no longer posting, but looking over us from heaven, Renee and Tessa, along with Brian and Moannie, and the other angels I've had the fortune of crossing paths with thanks to this blog.

There are many of you that I'd like to thank for hanging in there and always supporting this blog. You have to trust me, I'll keep posting – and I promise it'll be more often.

So, this is not goodbye, it's a loud and ebullient arrivederci!

Aug 3, 2012

100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go - 2nd Edition!

I am so proud to announce that Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino is in the new edition of 100 Places in Italy Every Woman Should Go, in the new Online Resources section, in great company among author Susan Van Allen's favorites!


Time ago I shared a chapter from the previous edition which focused on women–owned wineries in Italy.
This coming fall, why not indulge in a true Tuscan vineyard experience, with views of olive groves, villas and distant castles in the company of Susan herself during a week of bliss between November 3 and November 10, 2012?


Learn more about Susan Van Allen's Golden Week in Tuscany: For Women Only!

Jul 29, 2012

How to make coffee with a Napoletana pot


Sure, the piping hot cup you get at the coffee bar in Italy is something else. With its trademark froth and energetic kick, properly extracted espresso is superb.

But as far as homemade coffee goes, the Napoletana stovetop espresso pot historically delivers the best.

The flavor of the caffè is "round," longer and more complex than regular coffee made with a Moka.

Naples is a city often associated with pizza and spaghetti. But if you've ever tasted coffee in Naples, you'll agree it's probably the best you've ever had. Scholars hold the water responsible, others say it's the technique, some say it's magic. The Napoletana was invented in 1819, and is used less and less on a regular basis in Italian households. And that's because using a Napoletana is not easy: bizarre mechanics, empirical measurements and lots of patience are involved.

Here is a step-by-step tutorial on how to brew a little bliss with a Napoletana, a ritual more than a method.


Tip: Use only the best finely ground coffee. Coffee powder is best kept in an air-tight glass or glazed earthenware container, not plastic. And stored in a cupboard, not the refrigerator.



Tip: Don't skimp on the coffee powder. Compact it with the back of a spoon and then make 3 little holes in the surface with a toothpick.







Tip: Overturn the Napoletana in one quick, single move, holding it by both handles. During this movement water will spout from the escape hole, this is totally normal.


Tip: While you wait for the water to drip down through the filter, make a little paper cone called "coppetiello," and place it on the spout. This will keep the aroma form escaping the pot :)

Waiting times vary according to pot. Mine takes 15 minutes to full drip down, some are quicker. You'll have to figure that part out on your own.



Can't find a Napoletana (also called "maghenetta" in dialect) where you live? 
Buy one on my Amazon store and have it delivered to your doorstep!

Jul 14, 2012

Eating in Rome's outskirts: a smart choice

I often find myself escaping the usual culinary itineraries, and seeking delectable refuge in out-of-the-way spots you can frequently get to with public transport that is oddly abundant and quite dependable. Most of these periferia places will give you a far warmer welcome than any Rome city restaurant, and surprisingly good food.
Continue reading ➔

Jul 6, 2012

My Edible City!


Lovely Marie Asselin of Food Nouveau kindly asked me to contribute to her series Edible Cities. Every week, the popular blog features one of Marie's favorite bloggers, who tell readers about a city that left a big impression on them, and which dish they loved the best when they visited.
Thank you Marie for asking me to participate in this fabulous series!

Read my contribution in which I tell of my love story with Positano.

Jun 11, 2012

Sightseeing and Snacking in Rome

If you're sightseeing in Rome, make sure you know where the good wine, gelato and pizza are first!


 History, archeology, art, food and wine — Rome is generous with its variegated goods. The only real risk is overkill. The wise thing is to alternate sightseeing with food breaks.
But where to pause the cultural spree with some well-chosen snack nosh? Here's my shortlist of favorite places for smart (and tasty) intervals, arranged by sightseeing neighborhoods.

Continue Reading ➔

Jun 6, 2012

Cibando ~ give in to the urge

The restaurant-finder app and content company I work for Cibando has launched its first advertising campaign. Take a look at this fun promotion we recently shot on location in Rome...



This is the first of four ads in which Cibando employees play a different part, each humorous story tells of Cibando's love for food, our passion for fine dining, and the instinct that guides us towards each culinary excellence.
Cibando creates great informational content and a rich portfolio of mouthwatering photos for restaurants, cafes, pizzerias, delicatessens, pastry shops, even butchers and fishmongers in Italy.

Find your delicious dining destination, enjoy the image feed, taste the specialties... and let go of all inhibitions!

To find restaurants in Italy, you can download Cibando for iPhone HERE
Or download Cibando for Android HERE

Jun 2, 2012

Vino Roma

The sommeliers you'll love (and understand)

There's always a feeling of being underqualified when attending a wine tasting. I personally always fear I'll say the wrong thing, suggest the wrong pairing... I'm uncomfortable my instinctive approach towards wine will clash with the wine knowledge of sommeliers teaching and certified experts attending.

But on the other hand, I love wine. And I do try to learn things about it, and mostly how some wines can exalt the flavor of certain foods.

The best way to do this in Rome, in the care of knowledgeable wine stewards, is to head over to Vino Roma, a fabulous wine studio in the Monti neighborhood where you can learn everything about Italian wines at various types of guided tastings and seminars.

In the comfortable setting of a large communal space, under a vaulted brick ceiling, with the benefits of the on-site thousand year old cellar, and seated at a table laden with goodies and bottles, you can follow one of many interesting wine events held in English (German, Japanese, Italian and Turkish are available upon special request).

Tastings at Vino Roma are designed to inform and entertain everyone, guests will learn something new no matter what their level of wine knowledge is. The folks at Vino Roma don't believe in wine-snobbery, so any wine tasting panic is not an issue here, since no question is ever laughed at.

There are very popular wine tasting events going on at Vino Roma, my favorite ones are the ones that involve lots of food too! I recently attended a Wine & Cheese Lunch, and it turned out to be so much more than I expected. It was a wonderful chance to chat comfortably at the table with interesting fellow guests, sipping wine, nibbling great bread, cheese and salumi, and learning about wine regions, grapes and winemaking with the great team of wine lovers that work there.

If you're traveling to Rome, I suggest you absolutely book a tasting with Hande, Maurizio, Irene or Theo. They will be happy to pour a little happiness in your glass. It will be one of the highlights of your stay in the Eternal City.


Vino Roma
Via in Selci 84/G (minutes away from the Colosseum or the Termini central station; right by the Cavour Metro stop on blue line B)
Tel. +39 328 4874497

May 31, 2012

It's that time of year again...

Aglio Olio e Peperoncino is back.

It's like a tradition, it's become a yearly custom.
Come the end of May the domain name "aglioolioepeperoncino.com" expires without forewarning and I have to spend a ridiculous number of hours on the phone with evanescent Google representatives, and aggravated hosting company technicians, trying to reactivate it.

~ the dreaded screenshot - year 2 ~
This blog holds over 3 years of my life, along with several thousand photos of my city, my child, my kitchen; laced with successful recipes and epic intervals between posts; personal accounts relating to my culinary triumphs and romantic failures; it contains the loving and warm comments left by unknown followers and old friends, even friends who are no longer with us. I hold the contents of this blog very dear.

I don't know what will happen this time next year. You may find yourself here again, reading my post-reactivation rant. To avoid that, and break the annual tradition, I could switch to a new web hosting and publishing platform. Who knows, I may even change the damn domain name. I promise to warn you, whatever my decision will be.

One thing is sure, I won't ever take this site down. I care about this blog and its readers.

I hope you do too.

Buona notte,
Eleonora


May 10, 2012

Expat Writers Book and App Fair

It's happening in Rome, Saturday May 12 at 3pm! Hosting this great event are the delightful The Beehive Hotel and freshly launched Gemelli Press.
The program will be featuring expat writers in Italy of books, e-books and iPhone apps. This is a great opportunity to meet and chat with expat writers in the heart of Rome on what we hope will be a gorgeous spring day!

Drinks and snacks will be available for purchase.

The event will take place in the garden of The Beehive Hotel conveniently located near Rome's Termini train station, closest Metro stops Termini or Castro Pretorio.


The current list of writers is as follows:

Terry Bhola (Searching for Wild Asparagus in Umbria)
Flaminia Chapman (Rome Insider's Guide app)
Mary Jane Cryan (Etruria: Travel, History & Itineraries in Central Italy)
Erica Firpo (Rome Select)
Arlene Gibbs (The Rebirth of Mrs. Tracey Higgins; Jumping the Broom)
Linda Lappin (The Etruscan)
Mark Leslie (in absentia) (Beyond the Pasta)
Francesca Maggi (Burnt by the Tuscan Sun)
Gillian McGuire (Rome for Expats app)
Katie Parla (Rome for Foodies app and National Geographic Walking Rome)
Sara Rosso (How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy; The Unofficial Guide to Nutella)
Pamela Sheldon Johns (Cucina Povera: Tuscan Peasant Cooking)
Barbara Zaragoza (in absentia) (The Espresso Break)
Eleonora Baldwin (Frommer's Rome Day by Day, 3rd Edition; Holiday Goddess Handbag Guide)

During the event we'll be raffling copies of books, promo codes to Apps, and the chance to win a lunch on May 19th with a creative writing instructor at a private home in Vetralla (a lovely town about an hour north of Rome). This is an exclusive chance for anyone interested in writing to enjoy local food specialties, and meet & exchange ideas with Teresa Cutler-Broyles, a published author and instructor of Creative Writing at the University of New Mexico.

I will be there talking about my experience in writing for major corporate editorial proprietors, focusing on the differences with smaller, independent publishing companies.

I look forward to seeing everyone there, finally meeting in person authors and friends I've only interacted with via web!

For details and RSVP - go HERE.

May 4, 2012

Favorite spring vegetables

Getting a taste of beloved deep-fried carciofi alla giudìa notoriously means taking advantage of the pesky February-to-May window in which the quintessential Roman artichokes are in season.

But with all the focus on supermodel artichokes, other versatile vegetables, also in season, tend to get short shrift.

Take agretti for example...
Continue Reading ➔

Apr 18, 2012

Book Cafe ~ Favorite Cookbook Reads

I've decided to start a monthly series inspired by one of Rachel's latest posts. I love reading cookbooks as literature, and not merely to follow instructions when preparing someone else's recipe.
So every month, or so (I'm not good with deadlines and calendars, see my defunct newsletter) I promise to write about a favorite cookbook, and the inspiration it provided beyond the kitchen stove.




I'll be kicking off this series talking about a dear volume, one I treasure on a par with dearest family heirlooms.

"The Talisman of Happiness" is a well-known Italian cookbook originally published in 1929, written by magazine editor Ada Boni, updated with a gazillion editions, and commonly found in most Italian households. It is believed to be the first Italian cookbook specifically targeted to housewives. And despite women's emancipation since then, the classic manual's sales still surge mostly in springtime, in wedding season. This characteristic seasonality in purchases, according to Italian food network and magazine Gambero Rosso, is a clear sign that Il Talismano della Felicità is still very much a gift frequently bestowed upon newlywed brides.

The monumental tome presents more than 1100 recipes, and under 100 color plates. Ada begins each recipe listing ingredients, followed by a brief and concise method. Dianne Jacob, writing coach, cookbook editor, talented blogger and personal guru of mine would probably object to Ada's hiccuping use of exact quantities in her recipes, but Italians, who are used to seeing q.b. (quanto basta, meaning 'just enough') for an ingredient in modern day recipes, don't blink at her approximations.

I love that the recipes are simple and results unfailing. Her ossobuco recipe covers half a page, and the one I make following her instructions has always been a success. I love leafing through the yellowed pages of the old edition (I have two, one published in 1968) and finding old, forgotten recipes my Nonna used to make on a daily basis. And that retro 60's vintage photography, isn't it lovely?


I love that sometimes Ada contradicts herself (don't we all?) in her beliefs and directions, and I appreciate how she informally addresses her readers, yet maintaining a stately prose.

Il Talismano is my go-to resource when I have no idea what to make for dinner, my problem solver if I only have 3 ingredients in the fridge, and a reliable place for a last minute recipe accuracy check.

I have many favorites in this book, so it was a difficult choice to single out just one. This particular recipe I'll be sharing today sits in a narrow column, among stains and food splotches, in the rich pastry "dictionary," that prologues the dessert chapter.
In Italian, the name of the recipe is Mandorle Diablées, whose suitable translation could be, "Deviled Almonds."

Here it is, in an amateur translation by yours truly, with the cheek of trying to mirror Ada Boni's writing style.


DEVILED ALMONDS
For 100 gr (1/2 cup) of shelled almonds - 100 gr (1/2 cup) egg whites - salt - Cayenne pepper

Soak the almonds in cold water, which you'll then bring to a gentle boil. As the water trembles just before boiling, remove the small pot from the stove, let cool and then peel the husk off the almonds.
After drying them, heat almonds lightly in a mild oven, stirring and turning to brown evenly on both sides.
Transfer to a plate to cool. Break the egg whites with the tines of a fork and wet the almonds, mixing with your fingertips. Dust with a decent amount of salt mixed with Cayenne pepper, and mix to coat the almonds completely.
Spread them again on the oven sheet and allow them to dry at barely perceivable heat.

I use these as aperitivo nibbles, thrown in a salad or in bold mushroom and seafood pastas, or to spice up a boring soccer game. Chilled craft beer and freedom to belch aloud, mandatory.

Image © Live to Eat

Want to learn more about Il Talismano della Felicità? There's a thorough article on Ada Boni and her 'Happiness Talisman' written by friend and fellow blogger Frank, at delightful 'Memorie di Angelina.'

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"There can be no true happiness if such an essential part of our daily lives as eating is neglected. "            ~ Ada Boni"

Apr 11, 2012

Writing and Snacking in Rome

Image © Raimund Kutter
Though most of my work is published on the web, I'm an old school pen-and-ink gal. I have a callus on the pen rubbing side of my middle finger. I like to scribble and keep notes in a bulging, dog-eared Moleskine notebook. I also have a passion for sending handwritten... postcards. Yes! Remember those?

When it comes to work, I hardly ever compose my stories directly on my laptop. Instead, I almost always start with a ballpoint outline. Besides the comfort of the seating and folklore in the faces, it's the nosh that most galvanizes the drafting...
Continue Reading ➔

Apr 5, 2012

Best Picnic Baskets in Rome

It's that time of year again.
Time to pack the hamper with delicious foods, sparkling wine, and get out into the warm Roman sun. Whether sprawled on blanket, dampened by grass, or lazily camped in the shade of monumental umbrella pines, picnics are the ideal springtime solution for families with kids, frugal travelers, and anyone in need of a little romance.


The article I contributed to The Travel Belles, and a comprehensive post on Food Lover's Odyssey, both provide useful listing of locations, purveyors and typical picnic foods for a true Roman holiday.
But if you're feeling lazy and don't want to shop and prepare your own snacks and sandwiches, and much less assemble bulky picnic paraphernalia, there are restaurants, caterers and cafes that can organize everything for you, and take the hassle out of bucolic.

Here is my shortlist of where to find Rome's best picnic baskets.

GiNa Roma
This trendy restaurant and Rome VIP hangout prepares elegant wicker hampers filled with lovely china plates, long-stemmed wine glasses, classic checkered tablecloth. Baskets come complete with delicious fresh sandwiches, quiches, bruschettas, soups, pasta salads, vegetable dishes, homemade desserts, fruit, a bottle of your favorite wine, and a thermos of piping hot Italian espresso. Favorite panini include ciabatta stuffed with brie, prosciutto and truffle oil; or focaccia with pesto, cherry tomatoes, feta cheese and walnuts.
To order your basket contact info@ginaroma.com, or Tel. +39 06 6780251 – Via San Sebastianello 7/A (Spanish Steps)


Vivi Bistrot
Rome's #1 eco-friendly restaurant, located in a refurbished 1800s barn at the heart of lush Villa Doria Pamphili –– one of the city's largest public parks –– entertains guests for breakfast, lunch, high tea, happy hour and candle lit dinners. Vivi Bistrot however best shines in its stellar picnic planning. Five menus to choose from, catering to kids, vegans, and locavore "Km-0" campers, and whose produce, meat and eggs are 100% certified organic and cultivated in nearby farms, all packaged in fully biodegradable materials. For a romantic date or for a special occasion with your significant other, you can reserve the Deluxe wicker basket: for €50 you get a plush blanket, ceramic plates, wine chalices, flatware and napkins, and the daily newspaper. Fares include a choice of pasta, savory quiche, salads, chocolate brownie, water and white wine, for two.
Reach Vivi Bistrot via the park 
entrance on Via Vitellia 102
 – Tel. (+39) 06 5827540 – info@vivibistrot.it

Pic Nic
This cute little green kiosk in the heart of the heart-shaped Villa Borghese park was built in 1915, and has since then served refreshments and snacks to park-goers. While you wait for the staff to assemble your hamper with the foods of your choice, you can sit at one of the tables in the shade for a drink, or read the paper on the cushions and throw pillows in the relax area under the magnolia trees. Goodies may include prosciutto and melon, mozzarella, tomato and fresh basil Caprese salad, bruschettas, burgers, pizza and sandwiches; paired with copious amounts of gelato, wine, bubbly and candy.
Piazza delle Canestre, at the corner of Viale Fiorello Laguardia, by the Pincio – Tel. +39 336 44699011 – eventi@picnicroma.com


Beautiful picnic ideas and inspiration at Around My Table ~ The Party Dress ~ La Tartine Gourmande ~ HEMA ~ Home Sense ~ The Vintage Home

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