Jan 22, 2013

4 years of blogging

This blog's birthday is coming up. Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino turns 4 years old on January 24th!

Thanks to blogging, and all that has happened since – and perhaps thanks to – that fortunate night when I wrote my first post, a lot has changed in my life. Through blogging and my activity on the social media, I have
  • changed careers, transforming my graphic design and showbiz past into a sweet memory. Now I'm relying on a steady income, and doing exactly what I love: writing about food and life in Italy
  • I have published 370 posts to date on AO+P alone, which gain a good average of daily pageviews (despite long periods of laziness)
  • positively improved my life pattern, which now includes plenty of playtime
  • as recipe tester and restaurant reviewer, I have upped my weight by several hundred pounds (working on reducing those figures)
  • as a food docent, I take foodies around Rome on delicious walking tours of my city
  • I have written scores of articles, guest posts and features on other websites other than my own
  • I have a column on a great online magazine
  • I was hired to write 2 guide books, and a travel handbook
  • I have written 2 manuscripts, working on a third
  • launched the Roma Every Day photoblog, the Forchettine blog and the Rome City Guide for Kids blog
  • garnered 2950 followers on Twitter
  • connected with 1400+ Facebook friends, and 7300 following my public updates
  • I recently purchased a second hand DSLR camera and a smartphone, through which I am learning the rudiments of photography
  • received press mentions on, and was interviewed by, some of Italy's major newspapers and international web platforms
  • starred in a web series in which I interview celebrity chefs
  • above all, I have built wonderful connections with hundreds of fellow bloggers, readers, fans and followers
think I deserve to take the day off to celebrate. 

This will probably happen in the company of my son, the inspiring muse behind all my food and lifestyle writing. Had it not been for his extraordinary eating requests, and his extensive naps, I never would have started blogging in the first place. 

Barring rain, I will be spending Jan. 24 outdoors and then seated at a table, eating spaghetti aglio olio e peperoncino, as a tribute to the luck this long and unpronounceable recipe name has brought me. 

Although the best spaghetti AO+P are the ones made at home, in the old grubby frying pan with the good olive oil, young garlic and the chili peppers from Calabria, I won't be cooking it on this blog's birthday, though. When I say "day off" I mean it. I'll decide where to dine on perfectly slippery, spicy, garlicky spaghetti on the day, with only a lazy stroll between me and the eatery's doorstep.

There are good trattorie that occasionally make this dish, but since it is one of those homestyle fixes everyone knows how to prepare (even Italian men!), it's hardly ever a restaurant menu item. Good thing is no trattoria or other informal osteria will ever raise eyebrows if you ask for a plate of AO+P, they might not even charge you for it.

This is just a small list of places where I can usually score some good Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino in Rome. Feel free to add names.
  • Da Lucia – Vicolo del Mattonato 2/B – Tel. 065803601 (Trasevere)  
  • Da Giovanni – Via della Lungara, 41/A – Tel. 066861514 (Trastevere) 
  • Da Francesco – Piazza del Fico, 29 – Tel. 066864009 (Navona) 
  • Agustarello a Testaccio – Via G. Branca, 98/100 – Tel. 065746585 (Testaccio)
  • Lo Scopettaro – Lungotevere Testaccio, 7 – Tel. 065757912 (Testaccio)  
  • Da Roberto – Via della Magliana, 763 – Tel. 066550662 (Portuense)  
  • Trattoria Ponte Mollo – Via Tor di Quinto, 11 – Tel. 063333608 (Flaminio)  
  • Hostaria Da Edmondo – Circonvallazione Clodia, 90 – Tel. 063701272 (Prati)  
  • Dar Pallaro – Largo del Pallaro, 13 – Tel. 0668801488 (Campo de' Fiori)  
  • La Capanna – Piazza Dante, 23 – Tel. 06730369 (Esquilino)  
  • Pommidoro – Piazza dei Sanniti, 44 – Tel. 064452692 (San Lorenzo)  
  • Cul de Sac – Piazza Pasquino, 73 – Tel. 0668801094 (Navona)  
  • Buccone – Via di Ripetta, 19 – Tel. 063612154 (Piazza del Popolo)  
  • Armando al Pantheon – Salita dei Crescenzi, 31 – Tel. 0668803034 (Pantheon)
  • Li Rioni a Santiquattro – Via Dei Santi Quattro, 24 – Tel. 0670450605 (Testaccio)
  • Fontanella al 30 – Via del Pigneto, 30 – Tel. 0670613871 (Pigneto)
  • Osteria La Quercia – Piazza della Quercia 23, – Tel. 068300932 (Campo de' Fiori)

Happy Birthday, Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino!

Jan 15, 2013

Vegetarian restaurants in Rome

Rome is a city of meat-eaters. But some top-notch vegetarian spots are beginning to make a mark.

Photo © Andrea Di Lorenzo
The average Italian is a carnivore, Romans in particular. Veal and beef are the norm as main courses and in pasta sauces. But the city also has plenty of vegetarian options, mainly because mainstream Italian cuisine, which hasn't changed much since the 19th century, leans heavily on vegetable, pasta and dairy products.

So vegetarians visiting Rome don't need to worry... Continue Reading >>>

Jan 8, 2013

Lardo di Colonnata | Pork fat nirvana

Belonging to the municipality of Carrara, considered the world's white marble capital, and the place where Michelangelo used to shop the raw material for his sculptures, Colonnata is a small village perched on a ridge between two marble quarries in the Tuscan Apennine Apuane Mountains, which is mostly known for another kind of white marbling, the one in the lardo.
Lardo di Colonnata © Massimo Zivieri
This smooth and delicious cured meat should not be mistaken with lard. What in the English-speaking world is commonly referred to as 'lard', is a rendered white paste that's used for cooking as a shortening, and named strutto in Italian, and sugna in the south of the peninsula.

Some folks are still nervous when it comes to eating fat. I personally am more suspicious of whoever rips the white part off prosciutto, but that's me. Lardo di Colonnata is a delicious cured "affettato" that should not be eaten with distraction. Each morsel of silken pork fat is a precious, melt-in-your-mouth, mystic experience, and the complexity of its flavor should be savored religiously.

Until recent times, lardo in northern Tuscany was considered a poor-man's meal, that cavatori –– the marble quarrymen of the area –– would stuff it in crusty homestyle bread sandwiches, along with sliced onions and tomatoes. This humble panino was prepared early in the morning before the men went off to carve statue staple out of the Apennines at 6200-ft altitude, a snack that had to last them all day. The calorie content, along with the vegetables and a nice flask of local wine, assured the necessary sustenance in the long and strenuous shifts at the quarries. In time lardo has become an exquisite gourmet item, and a highly sought foodie must.

Lardo di Colonnata is a beautiful white –– or sometimes pinkish –– slab of thick pork fatback, which is cured with a mixture of salt, spices, herbs and minced garlic. In the curing process the salt extracts moisture from the fat, creating a brine that preserves it from air and bacteria, and flavors the tissue. 

Alpi Apuane © Lucarelli
According to a local legend, Michelangelo could have never managed to extract his own marble or even sculpt his statues, were it not for the local lardo, of which he had grown very fond of during his stay in the Apuane.

Marble conca © lardodicolonnata.net
The procedure to make lardo dates back to Ancient Roman antiquity, and the secret has been handed down through generations. The seasoning magic happens in vats of various sizes called conche, carved out of marble blocks commonly stored in caves, or in underground cellars. The concas are initially rubbed with garlic, and the bottom scattered with sea salt, black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, sage, bay leaves, rosemary and more garlic. The trimmed fatbacks are placed in the conche and layered with more salt, herbs and spices, and so on; and closed under a wooden covering for about a week. Then the concas are flooded with a salt-water brine, sealed with a marble lid, and the lardo is aged in the brine up to 6 - 10 months. The natural humidity of the caves, and the porous surface of the marble basins create a perfect habitat for the lardo's maturing process. Chemical and bacteriological tests on the lardo have determined that the ancient curing method is extraordinarily efficient and safe, and the pork doesn't require any chemical treatment, nor preservatives.

Image @ culinarytypes
Thin slivers of lardo arranged casually on warmed slices of bread... see it melt slightly, before tasting the life-changing goodness. Perfection.

A glass of wine, a view, some pig fat on bread. Life is good.

Some like to wrap thin slices of lardo around filet mignon, go overboard with foie gras pairings, or prefer it employed in novel seafood recipes. Tuscans use the leftover lardo rind as a flavor booster in hearty soups and minestrones.

On one of my regular shopping spree trips to Colonnata, I learned a wonderful new way of enjoying lardo. Here is the recipe that –– besides the star ingredient –– also employs leftover polenta, and lightly seared radicchio.

radicchio tardivo
Leftover polenta, cut in thin slices
1 head of radicchio tardivo, ribs separated
Lardo di Colonnata
Olive oil

Film a skillet with olive oil and lightly wilt the radiccio ribs.
Place the polenta slices on a greased oven pan, or on the grill, and toast 5 minutes on each side.
Dress the toasted polenta crisps still hot from the oven, with a generous amount of thinly sliced lardo. It will go translucent and melt beautifully.
Top with the grilled radicchio, uncork the vino rosso, and relinquish all inhibition.

To learn more about Lardo di Colonnata visit lardodicolonnata.net

Jan 3, 2013

Pasta butter and anchovies, or I take it all back, Baccano.

Summer. It's hot and muggy in Rome. The baby sitter is late and I have limited cab fare in my wallet, but I have to attend a new restaurant opening in Trevi for a story. The horde crowding both entrances is ridiculous. We make it inside, pushing through throngs of puffy lipped wannabe tv presenter girls and UVA tanned blokes with plucked lady eyebrows. It's 9 pm and it's hot, too damn hot to be this crowded.


I grab a glass of white wine from a roving tray, but can't make the oyster platter in time: a million hands reach forward and I've never had long arms. I manage to sieze a fried mozzarella ball from an abandoned corner of the bar, and bump into a couple of frazzled friends. So I find out the reason the place is so packed is that it's serving two social events in one night: a birthday party of a young actress (attracting fauna mentioned above); and the actual opening of the restaurant (attracting multitude of foodies, bloggers, journalists and dining celebs elevated to stardom status).

The decor is French inspired, and quite nice. Waitresses are all pretty, dressed like 1940 chamber maids, sporting LBDs, black pumps and a white sexy apron. The fourth wall in the kitchen is made of glass and overlooks the dining room. The tiles, newspaper racks and leather booths spell bistrot without italics. Despite the attractive ambiance, thanks to the chaos, I make a mental note to never come back here again.


This was the first impression Baccano made on me. But it was silly of me to think I could understand the true nature of a place on its opening night. Too over capacity, too soon in the trial stage, and too damn hot. On my first visit I hadn't tasted the food, I did not have a chance to really get a feel for the place, I did not peruse the wine list, I didn't even get a chance to take a look at the menu!

Today I have to strike that first impression, erase it completely. One because it was based on all the wrong elements, and two because on my second visit I actually ate well.

So here I am at 1pm, willing to rectify my bad judgement, with a reservation at Baccano. Reason is I absolutely have to taste the place's forte: pasta with butter and anchovies. "Burro e alici" is a classic Rome cucina povera snack: a morsel of crusty bread meets a curl of butter and an anchovy that's been steeping in olive oil. That's when life suddenly smiles at you. 

So when browsing the restaurant's lunch menu online I read that Baccano's signature dish – besides juicy 7oz burgers, eggs with shaved truffle (in season), salads, sandwiches, and daily specials that include foie gras, bollito misto and tripe – was tagliolini with Échiré butter and Spanish salted anchovies from the Mar Cantábrico, I had to go back for a second opinion.

Creamy, savory and perfectly al dente. I sopped my plate with bread and it returned to the kitchen clean. It was so good that I had to replicate it immediately at home. It turned out great.
I've been silent on this blog for 6 months, and now 2 recipes in 4 days. Don't say I don't spoil you. Two recipes in 4 days. I must be crazy.
Here is the recipe.

Tagliolini burro e alici like you find at Baccano
320 g (10 oz) fresh tagliolini (you can make it from scratch with this recipe)
8 oil-packed anchovy fillets + 1 for garnish on each plate
120 g (1 stick, or 1/2 cup) unsalted butter
Extra virgin olive oil

Once the pasta dough has rested and is ready to be rolled, dust your work surface with some flour or polenta (cornmeal) and use a well-dredged rolling pin to work the dough to a thickness of about 2 millimeters (about 1/8 of an inch).

Now roll up your flattened dough like a burrito and cut 1/2 cm slices, about 1/4 of an inch. Unravel the coils, dust with a bit more flour or polenta, and shape into nests the size of an egg. Allow a couple hours to dry.

Cook your fresh homemade pasta in plenty of lightly salted water at a jacuzzi-type rolling boil. Stir with a wooden spoon or a long fork quite often. This will ensure the pasta to remain springy and not clump together in clusters during cooking.

In a large saucepan melt the butter with a drop of olive oil and the 8 anchovies over very low heat. The butter has to slowly melt without ever bubbling, while the anchovies render a savory, creamy texture to the flavor.

When the pasta is al dente, drain it saving plenty starchy pasta cooking water, and pour the noodles straight into the condiment saucepan. Stir over mild heat to blend well, slowly adding a ladle of cooking water, to obtain even more creaminess.

Plate and garnish with an anchovy fillet on each heap.
Yields 4 servings.

Images © Andrea Di Lorenzo