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.

Aug 28, 2017

48 hours in Cilento

My friends in Positano report that this summer the town is so crowded that it's barely possible to move around. Hotels are fully booked, ferries and hydrofoils pour out hundreds of people several times a day. Restaurants cannot fill tables fast enough. The recent earthquake that hit Ischia has forced many to leave the island and flock to Positano, only adding to the chaos.

If you want to enjoy the beauty and unique character of that enchanted coastline, but have a hard time with crowds and noise, you may want to read further, to learn about one of Italy's best kept travel secrets.


The Cilento coast is a portion of the region that extends from the bottom of the Gulf of Salerno to the border of Basilicata. If you're the kind of traveler who is OK with total absence of designer boutiques and yacht slips, you'll find yourself in a part of southern Italy that has retained its authentic charm through low profile, yet is replete with historical and archeological destinations, wildly untamed nature and gorgeous beaches.

Ready for a dream weekend discovering the untamed beauty of Cilento?
Continue Reading → Weekend Escape to Cilento as appeared on Casa Mia Italy Food & Wine

Aug 21, 2017

Food writer on a diet

Working as a food professional, whether be it a home cook, food guide, journalist or food show host – coincidentally, my job description – poses nutrition challenges. 

The anatomy of a food writer is always put up against a grumbling stomach. The occupational hazard has to do with constantly testing recipes, cooking many dishes and visiting restaurants (for research!), plates upon plates that need to be described, photographed and ultimately eaten. All this concurs to an ever-expanding waistline.

Personally, the weight was always an issue. Even before I worked in the food world. Even before pregnancy. I was overweight before I stopped smoking, imagine after. 
I blame the quantity of gelato I downed to overcome broken hearts. 
I blame having been educated to clean my plate. 
I blame my slow metabolism. 
I now can blame pre-menopause.

What I never did was take responsibility and blame myself. My sublime ability to procrastinate was never the problem, it was something else.

Continue Reading → Food writer on a diet as appeared on The American Magazine in Italia.

Apr 28, 2017

Naples and Amalfi Coast travel tips

The urban sprawl of Naples can feel tattered, anarchic and forsaken. But look beyond the grime and graffiti and you’ll see a city of breathtaking beauty, chock with dramatic skies, panoramas and art. You’ll discover its elegance, engage in spontaneous conversations with locals and be surprised at the city’s profound humanity.


The Amalfi Coast and Sorrento Peninsula is one of Italy's most sought-after destinations. Famous writers have long waxed poetic about the curvy coastline that runs from Sorrento to Salerno. Swedish doctor and author Axel Munthe built a villa on Capri. Henrik Ibsen moved from Norway to Sorrento, where he wrote his renowned play Ghosts. Italy-lover Goethe called this sliver of southern Italy the "magic land of endless sun where lemons bloom." In the early Fifties American novelist John Steinbeck fell in love with Positano and begged people to keep the secret.


We've singled out our best advice and travel tips for traveling to Naples and the Amalfi Coast in 2017.

Continue reading our top 12 travel tips for 2017 ➔

Mar 27, 2017

Places in Rome for fine food and free wifi

Working in Rome as an entrepreneur without an office space requires two things: finding balance and discipline at home, and a handful of reliable spots with good wifi around town. 

I avoid frequent coffee breaks and fridge sweeps while pounding the keys of my computer in a corner of my living room, but it tests my self control and demands a well regimented routine. Finding a comfortable place to plug in my laptop to work in a relatively peaceful public environment presents an equally big challenge.


Your best options are places that offer a free password-protected connection that doesn’t require a registration with an email account or a local cell number. If on top of that you're looking for well-brewed caffeinated beverages, fine food and courteous staff, the selection narrows even further.

Continue Reading ➔ public spaces in Rome with reliable wifi, where it's possible to work while sipping espresso or munching on tasty food.

Mar 23, 2017

48 hours in Santo Stefano di Sessanio


The region of Abruzzo is one of Italy's best kept secrets. The Medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio, in the L'Aquila province, sits on the edge of the Campo Imperatore plain in the Apennine Mountains, within the breathtakingly beautiful Gran Sasso e Monti della Laga National Park.

 

Santo Stefano di Sessanio has ancient origins (paleolithic!) and a Medieval imprint, but it flourished under the Medicis in the late 1500s with agriculture contributing to the area’s economy mostly thanks to transhumance. This is the ages-old moving of herds of sheep from the valleys to high altitude mountain pastures in summer. Unfortunately in the mid-19th century the area suffered from extreme poverty leading to mass emigration. S. Stefano di Sessanio fell into abandonment.


The conservation efforts introduced here since 2004 spearheaded by Italo-Swede philanthropist Daniele Kihlgren to preserve the area’s cultural heritage, restored dignity to the pastoral culture that once inhabited these remote rural areas. Kihlgren purchased a portion of the village and maintained the smoke-blackened walls and original buildings intact. With a team of enlightened historians, architects and anthropologists, he re-purposed native materials and reconditioned ancient arte povera furnishings for his unique project: Kihlgern urged local authorities to leave Santo Stefano in its original condition.


In 2007 Daniele Kihlgren's "embargo" on building new houses turned into a legislative ban on the use of concrete. This has led to a complete turnaround: with a permanent population in the very low hundreds, today S. Stefano di Sessanio is a delightful vacation getaway for lovers of nature, fine dining and R&R. By encouraging investment in the traditional trades and crafts of the region, the village now boasts many shops that sell locally produced handicrafts like lace, woven fabrics, beeswax candles and artisanal soap. Others sell honey and jam, cured meats, olive oil, grains and cereals, local cheese, as well as the region's famous lentils.




Continue Reading ➔ my tips for spending 48 hours in Santo Stefano di Sessanio.

Mar 20, 2017

Anti-blues comfort food


Yes, it's the first day of spring.

But the grey blanket shrouding the sky, and the scarf wrapped around my neck as I type this suggests otherwise. This weather plays tricks on my mood.

When – despite what the calendar says – I need something warm to comfort me, I can always rely on these anti-blues winter recipes.

There are dishes that perform miracles, triggering memories. We ritually feed on tried and tested recipes that work as a Linus blanket. Others simply heal. Chunky soups, velvety pureed creams, court bouillon-based fish stews, consommés...

I have my own set of comfort food classics. They warm and pacify, and help me ward off the melancholy that nightfall brings on.

I once nursed a broken heart on a strict diet of passatelli in brodo, a cheesy-eggy dough that's forced through a ricer and then simmered in chicken broth. It worked wonders.

Continue Reading ➔

Feb 20, 2017

Quick market run and carciofi {video}

The morning was blustery and I needed a macchiato before hitting the market.

Never with a shopping list in mind, rather letting the goods for sale inspire the menu, I decided to make Carciofi alla Romana.

The wonderful globe artichokes have finally hit Rome markets, and braising them with garlic, olive oil and mentuccia is my favorite way to usher carciofo season.



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Ciao!

Feb 7, 2017

Madeleine moment

Children pottering in the kitchen is not uncommon in Italy.

The vibrant core of every Italian household is the stovetop. Both 18th century peasant hearth and sleek modern design cooking areas are where Italian families gather, share, truly talk and where relationships are made. These relationships are cultivated early on, and leave deep, important memories on young children.

My earliest recollection of food-making is tied to my Nonna, my maternal grandmother Giuditta Rissone. Titta, as everyone in the family called her, was not the average nana...

Feb 1, 2017

Mini-guide for families in Rome

Where do Romans go when their kids fire fusillades of questions, throw tantrums and complain with grumbling stomachs?

To a child's unaccustomed eyes art exhibits and museums are a haze of meaningless artefacts, complex dates and intimidating terminology. Thankfully Rome also offers an offbeat, less academic choice of fun, child-enticing activities. 

It's up to us parents to alternate the more scholarly museums––like the Vatican, for example––to the simply playful and educating, child-friendly cultural experiences.

Continue Reading "City breaks with kids: Rome" as appeared on The Guardian ➔

Jan 26, 2017

11 years


This photo was taken 11 years ago today. I had come out of the delivery room only a few hours before. I love Elliot's dazed look. His congested 9-months-floating-in-liquid complexion, glazed eyeballs and stupor of having just ingested his first meal straight from my unaccustomed breast is hilarious. He soon after fell asleep and snored in that same position, mouth open. He still does that, collapsing after eating. And snoring, mouth open.

I can't believe Elliot is turning 11 years old today. That little bundle in the photo is now a grown person. With his own opinions, peculiarities and body odour.

This is the last thing I'm writing today. I'll be tking the rest of the day off to be with him. After school we may go to an art exhibit, a movie, or not. We may stay in and order sushi. Whatever he wants, we'll do.

Having a birthday one month after Christmas sucks from a gift-receiving perspective. I try to be as original as possible with my presents. Cooking class, ice-skating party, kart driving... we may even steal away for a weekend somewhere we've never been. The plan is to not have a plan until the very last minute.

Happy birthday, topino. You are my love. My joy. My reason for living.






Ti voglio bene, Mamma.

Jan 11, 2017

Testaccio Market in Rome

Buzzing with activity, chatter and delicious aromas, the market square has historically been at the center of city life.


The Greek concept of agora – a term whose literal meaning is "gathering place" or "assembly" as the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city – later evolved to a place that also served as a marketplace where merchants sold their goods on stalls and small clustered shops. The agora marketplace brought people together to supply and provide sustenance for family and to foster communication, enhancing social interaction.


One of Rome's best examples of this cultural evolution is the Nuovo Mercato di Testaccio: a modern-day agora sitting on nearly two millenia of history.

Continue Reading ➔

Jan 7, 2017

Avanzi, Italy's glorious leftovers

You know me. I'm the one fixated with not throwing away food. I so firmly believe in recycling leftovers that I purposely cook in larger quantities than needed in order to have uneaten food to work with later.

After a sad few days of the BRAT diet (bananas, rice, apple, toast)––my son and I caught the stomach bug of 2016 late––I needed something to revive my depressed taste buds.

So for dinner yesterday I "made" two sensational Southern Italian dishes with avanzi. Made is actually too bold of a term, let's say I transformed leftover spaghetti into Neapolitan frittata di maccheroni and day-old green beans into Sicilian fagiolini alla muddica.


A week ago I made enough Puttanesca for 10 (there were 7 guests, 3 of which kids) so naturally I had a bowl of it sitting in the back of the fridge. The sauce made with this summer's pommarola, brined olives and minuscule capers from Pantelleria stuck to the noodles and was still fragrant. I didn't have to think twice: frittata di maccheroni. Every Neapolitan homemaker has this recipe in their repertoire.

I loosened the spaghetti from their bowl-shape and mixed in 4 beaten eggs.
I transferred the slippery mix to a heavy-bottomed pan with just a drizzle of olive oil and gently heated for about 5 minutes, until a delicious crust started forming on the bottom. My mother's trick is beating one more egg with salt and pepper and pouring it on the surface. This helps set the frittata.
I covered the pan for another 2 minutes, checking that the bottom didn't darken too much: browned frittata is dry and disgusting.
At this point of cooking frittata you have to be resourceful for the flipping portion of the recipe.
I use a lipless lid and good balancing skills to slide the uncooked side back into the pan.
On the whole, another plus is that this dish takes about 10-12 minutes to make. So while wisely thrifty, you're also budgeting time.

Cooking with leftovers — www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com

But my recycled carbs with high-protein needed a vegetal side. I glanced at the handful of yesterday's steamed green beans sitting suffocated under a plastic wrap cover. I reached in for the bowl and let the contents warm to room temperature on the countertop while I made the seasoned breadcrumbs.

I have a small fabric pouch where all my bread corners, broken breadsticks and uneaten slices fall into. This is what's known around the house as the Pangrattato Pouch. All the hardened bits of sourdough in there become breadcrumbs. I transfer the amount needed in a sturdy airtight plastic bag and arm myself with a rolling pin. I seal the bag and bash the hunks of bread to the desired powder grain. I prefer coarse. To the ziploc I then add powdered herbs, seasoned salt and a fistful of polenta (cornmeal) for crunch.

Cooking with leftovers — www.aglioolioepeperoncino.com

I toasted the breadcrumbs with olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic. A salt-saving, flavor-boosting trick is adding 2-3 oil-packed anchovies and working them into the crumbs with the tines of a fork. When the breadcrumbs clumped together to a crispy crumble, I added the green beans, tossing to coat and heat through. I didn't need to adjust seasoning, so I served immediately.

A tavola!

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