Dec 6, 2018

Amari, the latest craze

It's not amaretto (a sweet Italian liqueur flavored with the pits of stone fruits) nor should it be confused with amarone––which is a rich Italian dry red wine from Valpolicella––amaro, Italian for "bitter," is a herbal liqueur gaining increasing attention overseas.

Amari in Italy - Tasting amari

Unlike bitters like angostura, that mixologists add a few drops of to season cocktails, amari (plural) are commonly consumed on their own as an after-dinner digestif.

With their bitter-sweet flavor, a texture that goes from inky to syrupy––and an alcohol content that ranges between 16% and powerhouse––bracing and often challenging amari are now widely popular with palates all over the world. But bitters are no recent trend. Historically, post-prandial bitters date back several centuries.
Amari in Italy -

Like many of the world's alcoholic beverages, amari were first created hundreds of years ago in monasteries, historically the repositories of herb lore. Intended as a way to preserve herbs and spices, these bittersweet tinctures were also consumed for their medicinal use.

Bitters are typically produced by macerating herbs, roots, flowers, bark, or citrus rinds in alcohol, mixing the filtered product with a sugar syrup, and allowing the mixture to age in aromatic casks or bottles.

In the Middle Ages, thanks to the Arab domination, Italy acquired improved infusion and distillation techniques. Then in the 19th century the invention of column distillation made elixir production more efficient and which led to purer, better tasting spirits. It was at this point that the production of amaro moved out of the apothecaries and into the mainstream.

Dozens of varieties are commercially produced, the most commonly available brands are Averna, Ramazzotti, Fernet-Branca and Amaro Montenegro––all started as family businesses that later grew into acclaimed international industries. However, that homespun nature of the beverage has endured over the centuries. Many Italian families in fact still make their own homemade amari.
Amari in Italy - Genziana bitter made with gentian root

In addition to an assortment of botanicals, alcohol and sugar, all amari contain what is known as a "bittering agent," which gives them their distinctive bitter zing. Genziana is a bitter made with gentian root, one of the most-used bittering agents in the production of amari. Gentian root, which is found in the mountains of central and southern Europe, in addition to lending intense bitterness, also aids with digestion, making it a common ingredient in after-dinner digestives. In central/southern Italy, genziana liqueur is also enjoyed on its own. Many other bittering agents include wormwood, rhubarb root, aloe, and mugwort.
Amari in Italy - Ratafià liqueur made with cherries and wine

Italian amari are closely linked to their terroir, employing local ingredients in their blends. Think Ratafià, representative of Abruzzo. This sweet, juicy and fruity liqueur is made with whole or pitted sour cherries, red wine (usually Montepulciano d'Abruzzo), alcohol and sugar. But many variations of ratafià exist across Italy, with different botanicals depending on the peasant recipes. Black cherries are used in Piedmont, for example, with grappa as a starting point. In some areas of the Lazio region (of which Rome is the capitol) it's common to serve ratafià with few drops of coffee. Another example is Centerbe, among Italy's oldest and most powerful amaro. This particular bitter is still prepared in monasteries and homes throughout Italy, and particularly in the mountainous regions of Molise and Abruzzo. The recipe, probably related to the Roman centum erbis that Pliny the Elder raved about, varies from monastery to distillery, but usually includes sage, rosemary, laurel, basil, parsley, chamomile flowers, peppermint, juniper berries, cinnamon and cloves.

Amari in Italy - Nocino liqueur made with unripe walnuts

Digestives can also be produced from single ingredients, like universally renowned limoncello. Nocino is made with unripe walnuts; Mirto, typical of Sardinia, is produced with wild myrtle berries. Another example is mandarinetto, a Sicilian specialty made much like limoncello but with mandarin orange peel instead of lemon. Amari can be made with virtually every plant, bark, root and spice.

Amari in Italy - Amaro tasting

Not properly a bitter, but equally distinctive of the country's digestivo history and culture is rosolio. This is a type of liqueur made with rose petals that became popular during the Renaissance, especially at the court of Catherine De Medici. Widespread throughout Italy, it became representative of Sicily in the 19th century, where it was customarily produced at home and offered to guests as a sign of hospitality. If you've read Tomasi di Lampedusa's The Leopard, you're surely familiar with rosolio. Over the centuries the liqueur lost its acclaim, but fortunately Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto, made in Piedmont with Calabrian citrus, recently revamped its popularity.

Amari in Italy - Italicus Rosolio made with bergamot citrus

We Italians believe that digestion greatly influences a person's mood. Amari are typically enjoyed neat or on ice, poured into small shot glasses, sipped slowly after coffee at the close of the meal, offering an excellent excuse to linger at the table. This has given amari the nickname ammazza-caffè (coffee-killer). In restaurants, hosts will place a bottle of digestivo on the table of special guests for free, as a gesture of gratitude for ordering such a big meal.

amaro sul tavolo

A few favorite amari for you to try. The majority of these are distributed overseas.

Acqua di Cedro – Bassano del Grappa (Veneto): citron infusion. Move over, limoncello.

Amara – Misterbianco (Sicily): bitter orange and secret herbs.

Amaro Abano Luxardo – Padua (Veneto): tastes of anise, clove, cinchona, orange peel, fennel, cinnamon.

Amaro Ciociaro – Lazio: powerful orange peel and cinnamon.

Amari in Italy - Amaro dell'Erborista

Amaro dell’Erborista – Marche: aromas of smoke, honey, collard greens, dry mustard, spearmint, caramel, dust.

Amaro dell'Etna – Catania: bitter orange, vanilla, licorice, spice, smoke.

Amari in Italy - Amaro dell'Etna

Amaro del Sole – Lombardy: black pepper, rhubarb, eucalyptus, saffron, orange and lemon peel, vanilla, cardamom.

Amaro Lazzaroni – Saronno (Lombardy): burnt sugar, crème brulée, peppermint, chamomile, bitter greens.

Amaro Lucano – Matera (Basilicata): tastes of bitter orange, grapefruit, anise, fennel, cinnamon, cocoa.

Amaro Nonino Quintessentia – Bassano (Lombardy): orange, rhubarb, cinnamon, licorice, tamarind.

Amaro Santa Maria al Monte – Genoa (Liguria): mint, jasmine, orange peel, ginseng, menthol, gentian.

Amaro Sibilla Varnelli – Macerata (Marche): honey, gentian, smoky oak, sandalwood, honey, dried chamomile flowers, cinnamon, pepper, juniper.

Amari in Italy - Amaro Tosolini
Amaro Tosolini – Udine (Friuli Venezia-Giulia): fresh fennel, roasted rhubarb, bitter orange, cinchona, cinnamon.

Averna – Caltanissetta (Sicily): licorice, citrus peels, chocolate.

Amari in Italy - Bràulio

Bràulio – Bormio (Lombardy): gentian, juniper, wormwood, yarrow, chamomile, pine, menthol.

Cynar – Milan: artichoke plus 12 other herbs and plants

Fernet-Branca – Milan: myrrh, rhubarb, chamomile, cardamom, aloe, saffron, menthol, eucalypthus.

Amari in Italy - Gagliardo Bitter Radicale

Gagliardo Bitter Radicale – Vicenza (Veneto): balsamic, spicy and a long, bitter aftertaste

Meletti – Ascoli Piceno (Marche): orange peel, caramelized sugar, saffron, chocolate, licorice, cardamom, cinnamon.

Rabarbaro Zucca – Milan (Lombardy): rhubarb, heavily charred wood, mint, citrus, cardamom.

Vecchio Amaro del Capo – Capo Vaticano (Calabria): fennel, licorice, peppermint, mandarin orange peel, coriander, anise, juniper, chamomile.

What's your favorite after dinner amaro?

Nov 30, 2018

What to pack for winter in Italy

While most people travel to Italy in the warmer months, savvy travelers are more likely to take advantage of the sales available during winter. I'm a big supporter of traveling to Italy in the off-season. The only issue with this is packing – bulky winter clothing takes up lots more room than sandals and T-shirts.

I am a carry-on-luggage-only kind of gal, so my travel attire must fit in my packing cubes and cabin size trolley. I have become somewhat of an expert on cabin-size packing and often help friends and family with tips on how and what to bring in their luggage when they travel. Today I’ll be sharing my advice for packing for winter trips to Italy.

You know me and my love for lists. When I travel, I work with a checklist that I keep in my luggage. The list helps me plan out outfits as well as keep track of items throughout the journey.

what to pack for winter in italy

One master packing list that will work for every Italy traveler is utopia: there are too many variables to take into consideration. What region of Italy? If traveling in the Alps, whether skiing or not, you’ll need specific snow wear. If traveling to Sicily––even during winter––you may regret not having brought your bathing suit and sunscreen. Whether you'll be visiting Italy couchsurfing or ticking off all the country's 3-Michelin star restaurants will obviously affect what you'll be packing in the suitcase.

What this is, essentially, is a set of suggestions based on the few key pieces I've found useful on my trips, and that frequent Italy travelers should never come to the Bel Paese without.

what to pack for winter in italy

The first thing to consider when packing for Italy is the winter season's climate.

Winter in Italy is mostly chilly and wet. So what you want to pack should first of all keep you warm and dry. Since cold-weather clothing is far bulkier, if you have the budget for it this may be the time to splurge on travel clothing in high-tech fabrics that keep you warm without volume, and that dry quickly. I say that because in addition to traveling light, I am also an advocate of doing laundry during travel, including hand-washing items and drying them in the apartment/hotel where I’m staying. This reduces space in your bag (I hate the fact of having a section of my luggage occupied by soiled garments as travel days progress); cuts down on weight and shortens that dreadful back-home-from-travel laundry routine. For this reason, I always pack a clothesline with pegs; and when I arrive at my destination, I make it a point to purchase liquid laundry detergent for washing shirts, or a block of Marseille soap for my unmentionables.

So with no further ado, let's get started on your Italy winter packing essentials list:

what to pack for winter in italy

Warm, waterproof coat

A coat that's both warm and water-resistant is a staple of Italian winter travel. I worked 15 years in the film industry, shooting in all weather conditions, so I am partial to Gore-tex, but having a shell jacket that will shrug off the rain as you walk from monument to museum is equally effective. Something with a hood is helpful, too. That said I would avoid a big bulky down parka: learn instead to layer with thermals, long-sleeve shirts and sweaters and have that waterproof lightweight (yet warm) jacket be your water/wind breaker. Mostly, bring a coat you love and feel confident in. Patagonia, The North Face, Dubarry and Columbia are all reliable, durable brands.

what to pack for winter in italy

Waterproof shoes

How annoying are wet socks? Imagine walking around the Roman Forum all day with wet feet? Don't let a little precipitation dampen your Italy travel plans, though. Unless you're traveling to Venice during high-tide season, I wouldn't go as far as packing rubber rain boots, but do consider investing in a reliable pair of shoes that will protect your feet from water when you're sightseeing on a wet day. I would avoid white sneakers, and rather pack only one pair of shoes that's both functional (comfortable for walking around in) and nice enough to wear to a restaurant. Properly Scotchgard-treated Blundstone ankle boots are what I wear when leading walking tours on rainy days. Feet stay warm and dry for hours. Caterpillar hiking boots are also very reliable, but chunkier. 

what to pack for winter in italy


Denim is bulky and takes forever to dry––two things that count against jeans when traveling in wet weather––but I always bring one pair of blue jeans because they’re also sturdy and fashionable. Stretchy legging-type jeans that can be tucked into boots are also a great idea. One thing I do recommend is wearing them on the plane (that way they won't take up too much room in your luggage) and bringing another pair of non-denim pants to wear while your jeans have a chance to dry out if they get soaked. These can be tech material cargo pants, a fun pair of dungarees, or Chinos. 

what to pack for winter in italy

Wrinkle reisistant

I'm not a fan of the roll-up packing method because it leaves my clothes too wrinkled. Brooks Brothers, Land's End, Nordstrom's, Talbots and Foxcroft sell button-down shirts and blouses that don't need ironing and which work well with layering. 

Cardigans vs. bulky sweaters

I highly recommend bringing long sleeve tops and cardigans rather than thick sweaters, because these take up too much space and are not good for layering. Bringing 3-4 is sufficient for a week. I also recommend bringing one thinner fleece that can be worn on its own for warmer days and double as an additional layer under your coat on colder days. 


High quality thermal underwear (long johns) base layer wear is a smart winter travel move. I pack 2-3 doubles and wash them on rotation. They dry super quickly, so you always have a warm, clean pair every day. 


Pack one set of long-sleeved comfy pyjamas. If nightgowns are more your thing, consider flannel, not fleece, which tends to cause static with often centralized the heating.

what to pack for winter in italy


Umbrella – a small, lightweight but sturdy collapsible umbrella with a protective sleeve and a loop attached to the handle is the best purchase you can make for Italy winter travel.

Handbag – The bigger my bag, the more I tend to fill it. But the Longchamp Le Pliage lightweight hold-everything purse fits everything in its roomy interior and has long handles for comfortably wearing it over your shoulder. 

what to pack for winter in italy

Scarf – I'm a scarf-lover. No matter the season, I tend to bring a pashmina-style shawl with me whenever I travel. It's perfect on planes now that every airline charges for blankets, and in the winter it doubles as a scarf to keep me warm. This is where I throw thrift to the wind and go for good quality cashmere, which is warmer and softer than anything else.

Hat – My nonna's mantra was, "If your head's warm, you'll never be cold." As soon as temperatures drop, my collection of beanies and berets gets put to good use. I prefer models that cover my ears. Again, choose non-itchy wool and avoid angora which is pretty but sheds, ending up caught in your eyelashes.

Gloves – While I encourage you to look up from your phone and take in the beauty of Italy through your eyes, phone-dependant travelers may want to invest in a pair of texting gloves that allow your fingers to still work on a touch screen.

Socks – Don't be cheap: pack a dozen pairs of warm, comfortable, snug-fitting merino wool socks. Avoid cotton (which makes your feet sweat)! 

what to pack for winter in italy

Undergarments – I normally pack 7-8 panties and 1-2 bras per week. It's good to have extras!

Noise canceling headphones – Don't underestimate the power of a good pair of headphones for air travel. Beats Solo3 Wireless headphones are comfortable and lightweight, packing 40 hours of battery life, ideal for long-haul travel, but they do come with a detachable headphone jack so I also use them for in-flight entertainment.

Adapter, power bank & lightening cable – Travel power adapters are essential for your trip, be sure to purchase ones that work in Italy for Type F power sockets. I like to sleep with my phone on my bedside, so a long cable to charge my phone is essential at rentals and hotels that don't have conveniently-placed wall sockets. To never run out of battery juice while on the go, be sure to pack (and remember to charge up) a portable power bank.

Will you be traveling to Italy this winter? Want to join me on a tasting tour in Rome?
Readers of this blog get a 10% discount on a 3-hour food tour in Rome.
When booking, use the #AOPwintertravel code, valid until February 28, 2019.

Disclaimer: I do not receive a commission on any of the items listed and linked, they are products I normally use, and that I think can be helpful to you.

Nov 16, 2018

My 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome

"There is a reciprocal relationship between cheese and its customer: every cheese waits for its client, poses in a way to attract it, with attitude and haughty grain, or on the contrary dissolving into surrendering abandon" 
In his novel Palomar, Italo Calvino describes the subtle relationship (and slight exhilaration) of finding oneself in front of an overflowing cheese counter in a Parisian cheese shop.

That same embarrassment of riches is how I feel when, disoriented, I make my way to the front of the shop and peer in the overflowing cheese display. Not only am I tugged in several directions––torn between a soft-ripened bloomy rind robiola and a voluptuous and nutty Alpine toma––I am also reminded with every bite, that cheese is the result of dedication, hard work, passion and love.

Behind each cheese there are in fact OGM-free cereals, rolling pastures, fragrant meadows, green grass and transhumance, and also sets of sturdy (and often heat-chapped) hands, obstinance and secrets handed down over the centuries, superstition, patience, tradition, prayer and for many, livelihood.

Rome has its fair share of cheese shops. The ones listed below are some of the usual places where I normally am found, lost in contemplation, tasting slices carved from old classics, or discovering new incredible products.

I like to linger and chat with the cheesemonger, ask about where the cheese was made, who the people behind each wheel are, what wine pairs well with the cheese, what bread pairs well with the cheese... The conversation often goes on for hours. I know you understand.

Here are my 10 favorite cheese shops in Rome.

Conciato di Rebibbia at ProLoco Dol

ProLoco DOL
In the Centocelle suburb, Vincenzo Mancino and his "family" of loyal Lazio food purveyors operate in the number one location for regional culinary specialties. Cheese occupies large portion of the offer, with stars like rare Caciofiore whose curds are made with soaked thistle, soft Cacio Magno, or the herb-rubbed Conciato produced by the female inmates of the Rebibbia prison. There's also a wide selection of cave-aged pecorinos, caciocavallo and buffalo cheese produced in the nearby Pontina marshland. Cured meats and cheeses can be enjoyed seated along with house pizza in teglia and a handful of succulent entrees. Reservations recommended. especially on the weekend.

Alpine cheeses at La Tradizione

La Tradizione
Owned by Roberto and Stefano and a passionate team of cheese lovers, the shop boasts one of Rome's widest cheese selections. The display case (and the caveau downstairs) conceal a vast assortment of cured meats and more than 400 kinds of cheese from Italy and abroad. Barrel-matured and cave-aged Caciocavallo, ricotta Seirass, plus Cheddar and Stilton. There's a special display reserved for only for blues, gorgonzolas and roqueforts. Shelves of goat milk cheeses, caciocavallo, taleggio, Sicilian ragusano, and the unique Conciato Romano of the Le Campestre farm that's aged with herbs, spices and wine in special terracotta anforae. All the extravagant shopping here is paper-wrapped with a ribbon and handed over with a smile.

Bloomy goat cheeses at Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi
Beppe Giovale comes from a family of cheesemakers who produce, age and cure cheeses made with the milk of their own goats, cows and sheep. The spacious shop located in the Jewish Quarter sells mostly Piemonte and French raw milk regional cheeses sourced exclusively from free-range, pasteur-raised cattle farms. The cheeses can be both purchased or enjoyed at one of the tables in the back, along with a glass of wine, whole-grain breads, terrines, extra virgin olive oil, edible flowers, nuts, pomegranate berries and fruit jellies. Reservations recommended at peak aperitivo time (6-8pm).

The blue cheese display at La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti

La Formaggeria di Francesco Loreti
At stall number 26 of Mercato Latino in Piazza Epiro, Francesco and Donatella carve wedges out of toothsome wheels, handing them with a smile to awe-struck customers. Conversation is followed by a glass of wine and more cheese. This is totally normal here, transactions come later. The stall sells only artisanal products sourced at small creameries and family-run dairy farms, and not usually found at farmer's markets. The goal is removing from our daily food shopping cart items commonly available in big chain grocery stores, providing instead valid, high quality alternatives, sold at totally democratic prices. The market is open Mon-Sat, 6:30am-3:00pm.

The glorious stinkers sold at Salumeria Roscioli

Salumeria Roscioli
Bread and cheese go hand in hand. It's no surprise then that Rome's leading baker should naturally expand its offer to include bread-loving foods like prime cured meats and stellar cheese. The manic selection of quality products is in the hands of brothers Alessandro and Pierluigi Roscioli. Gracing displays are soft discs of robiola, bloomed and washed rind cheeses, moldy blues like rare White Stilton Gold, made in only 6 creameries and containing actual flecks of gold. There's more: think rare Bitto, elastic pecorinos, or Caciocavallo Podolico made in Puglia between May and June with the milk of an endangered cow breed. Reservations mandatory.

Signor Roberto and Signora Anna at Antica Caciara Trasteverina

Antica Caciara Trasteverina
The smile on Signor Roberto and his wife Anna's face lights up with every customer that walks in the door of this historical Trastevere cheese shop. This is where Romans come for authentic Pecorino Romano DOP (made by Fulvi with Lazio milk) and sheep ricotta sourced at sustainable creameries. Other delights include oven-baked ricotta, formaggio di fossa (cheese matured in sealed 6-ft deep tufa stone pits), toma del Piemonte, variably aged regional cheeses, plus Norcia cured meats like guanciale, corallina, coglioni di mulo and other goofy-named local salumi.

Antipasto situation at Salsamenteria

Roberto Mangione runs a small deli (salsamenteria, in old Italian) and you'd be content just purchasing silken slices of prosciutto San Daniele or a precious sliver of gooey Gorgonzola, but you'd be missing out on Rome's best kept secret. After the sun goes down, Roberto pours the bubbly and serves fine cheeses and top cured meats with impromptu seating on foldable chairs and tables opposite the display cases. I come for the refined culinary delights like beer-flavored Ottavio cheese produced at Fattorie Fiandino, or Alpine Beaufort. All paired with Roberto's elegant selection of Champagne (200+ labels), Italian and French wines, craft beers and liqueurs. Given venue size, call ahead to let Roberto know you'll be stopping by.

All the French cheeses at Va Sano

Va Sano
After moving to Rome from their native Paris, David and Laurène travel back to France regularly to source their high quality French products. Think creamy Camembert Fermier, or delightful Comté aged 24 or 36 months, wines from Bordeaux, Bourgogne, Alsace, Languedoc and the Southwestern wine regions, plus spectacular Champagnes. In addition to the gorgeous cheese and wine selection, accoutrements include foie gras and macarons, croissants, pain au chocolat, pain d'épice and gourmet jams. Wine and cheese tastings are held weekly.

The window display at Casa dei Latticini in Rome

Casa dei Latticini
Family-run since 1898 – not a typo – Antonio Micocci's treasure trove of all things moldy, funky and crumbly continues the family tradition: providing the elegant Sallustiano neighborhood residents with top-notch cheese and dairy. Shelves are chock-full with 500 different types of Italian cheese and some French highlights. The selection of toma piemontese wheels is staggering, and the delicious mozzarella di bufala is delivered twice a day from Paestum (Barlotti, Vannulo, etc). The staff always has a small selection of tastings out on the counter for walk-in clients and devoted aficionados.

Roberto Liberati in his historical butcher shop in Rome

Bottega Liberati
Take the orange A metro line and get off at Giulio Agricola. The 1960s historically acclaimed Liberati butcher shop is now in the hands of Roberto. Sold in addition prime Maremmana, Piemontese, Chianina, Charolais and Bue Grasso di Carrù beef cuts are select herbs, bottled sauces, jarred legumes and bronze-extruded pastas. Romans also flock here for Liberati's phenomenal cheese selection. Prime quality products hail from high altitude pastures and grass fed cattle. I can't last too long without goat's milk robiola Le Ramate, Cau & Spada cheeses, and his sublime burrata. Bottega Liberati is furthermore the only place south of the Alps where I can find the delightful Eggemoa cheeses.


Nov 7, 2018

Vellutata recipes

With the first chill of November, heaters are turned on in Italian apratment buildings, and soups are brewed all over the boot-shaped peninsula. My favorite kind of soup is vellutata.

Vellutata is one of those perfect Italian words.

noun, fem. 

Gastronomic term – Vegetable puree combined with heavy cream, starchy legumes or egg yolks rendering a creamy, and––as the name implies––velvety consistency.

Growing up, my son––who loyal readers of this blog know as Mr E––loved vegetables. He's always been daring and tried all the food I presented him, regardless what color it was. His kindergarten, and then later grade school peers, did not eat anything green.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

Then at around 6, he started pushing away the bowl of minestrone. My industrious mother, who may have pulled this trick with me too at some point in my growing up, started pureeing soups with an immersion blender and serving them to him as velouté. That silly exotic word (with an actual completely different meaning) has remained in our family lexicon. We actually normally refer to vellutata as velouté.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

The most popular velouté in our household is one made with zucca (pumpkin) given the abundance of it in markets and on autumn tables. But this creamy soup can be made year round with a wide range of other seasonal crops. During summer, vellutata is a bounty of zucchini, peas, asparagus, peppers, etc. Now I'm going crazy with broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, leeks, carrots, squash, leafy greens and apples, even. It's the trickiest way of serving children a whole lot of vegetables, shielded behind a voluptuous texture and a mysterious name.

I like to mix my vellutata soups up with other kinds of vegetables and spices, topping them with croutons, toasted nuts and seeds, sautéed mushroom, fried onions or crispy pancetta. 

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

The beauty of this dish is that it can virtually be made with what's available in the fridge that day. Take vellutata di patate e porri, for example: this creamy leek and potato soup is made soft and creamy by adding a boiled potato to gently simmering leeks. The potato gives the mixture a rich, velvety texture. More thickening helpers for your vellutata can be chickpeas, lentils, a spoonful of flour, egg yolks, aquafaba, beans, ricotta, cooked chestnuts... you name it.

If I can, I'll avoid using heavy cream as the liquid element in my vellutata. A trick is swapping it with coconut milk, bone broth, yogurt or sour cream.

zucca mantovana for vellutata soup

The first vellutata of the season I made this year was with roasted zucca mantovana, which is a sensational candy-sweet pumpkin. I pureed it with turmeric, coconut milk and canned chickpeas for thickness. It was to die for. 

After a particularly rainy rugby training last week, my son and I came home under a torriential downpour craving something warm and comforting. I blended together steamed cauliflower, a can of cannellini beans, a pinch of curry and used vegetable broth I had made in advance and froze in an ice cube tray. I topped our steaming bowls with toasted almonds and we ate on the sofa under a pile of fleece blankets while binge-watching Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on Netflix.

I recently received wonderful porcini mushrooms from my neighbor's campagna. I immediately made vellutata di porcini, or velouté rather. I made it gluten-free so my little sister could have some too in case she decided to stop in for dinner after work.

vellutata - velvety vegetable soup

300 g wild porcini mushrooms
1 white onion, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Fresh sage
500 ml (17 fl oz) vegetable broth
50 g (1/4 cup) rice flour
400 ml (13 fl oz) whole milk, chilled

Clean the mushrooms by scraping the stems and leaing the caps on, then shave them using a mandoline. Save a couple for garnish.

Sauté the chopped onion with 3 Tbsp. olive oil and a clove of garlic. Add a sprig of sage and the shaved porcini. 

When just lightly wilted, add all the broth. Season with salt and pepper to taste and gently simmer over moderate heat for about 6 minutes. 

In the meantime, work on the thickener: in a plate and using a wire whisk, mix the rice flour with the cold milk, then pour the obtained mixture into the mushroom soup. 

Cook covered for about 15 minutes, remove the sage sprig and pour in a blender to puree until creamy. Add more broth if it's too thick.

Heat the soup briefly, then serve garnished with raw porcini slices and one last turn of the peppermill.

Buon appetito!

Nov 1, 2018

Abruzzo featured on AmexEssentials Weekend Guide

When American Express Essentials magazine approached me to write about a lesser known place in Italy, capturing the spirit of the region with tips that would appeal to a wide range of interests, I happily suggested featuring Abruzzo, a place I hold very dear in my heart.

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I've mentioned Abruzzo in many posts on this blog. 
I shared a photo essay on my first (of many) weekend escape to Abruzzo

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I shared an account of the chilling night of the earthquake

I added a 2009 diary from set entry; 

@EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

©EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

I have gone on and on, waxing poetic and how to make arrosticini

I shared my discovery of vino cotto, cooked wine must.

©EleonoraBaldwin Abruzzo

Abruzzo is where I discovered that size does not matter. Where I celebrate all my birthdays. The place where my son and I unplug and spend long moments hypnotized by the crackling fireplace, enjoying the silence and restoring importance to the little things. Abruzzo is the place where I have met some of my dearest friends. 

It's a special place, and I was happy to "give back" and show gratitude for all that it has given me, by mentioning some of my favorite things about it in a widely read magazine.

The link to the article is here: Weekend Getaway Guide: Abruzzo, Italy

I hope you enjoy reading it.

American Express Essentials Weekend Getaway Guide: Abruzzo, Italy

Oct 25, 2018

Top 10 favorite Rome restaurants I can be spotted at

I often get asked what my favorite restaurant in Rome is, or which are in my top 3. This is very difficult to answer, obviously. Pizza, fine dining, informal trattoria-style… there are so many types of restaurants, prices and formats to choose from. I have a number of favorites for each category.

But don't be fooled into thinking that my list of usual Rome hangouts is vast and varied. To the contrary. I rely on only a handful of trusted venues. Despite the excitement surrounding new openings and the food scene in my city, I have to also take into account wallet and––well, life. Reality is not like it often appears on Instagram.

real life, not Instagram

I'm an entrepreneur, journalist and television host, but the laundry's not going to hang itself. Food shopping, cleaning the house, making exciting and nutritious meals for a rugby-playing, hormone-busting boy and working three full-time jobs take time out of my restaurant reporting. Driving to and from school/work/errands takes big chunks of time out of my potential venue-scouting. Not to mention trying to find a parking spot. All this is quadrupled when it rains in Rome, or when workers go on a transportation strike. Raising a teenager as a single parent requires furthermore dedicating time and attention to sometimes small yet important things. There are times when my son needs help with homework. Sometimes he just wants to cuddle (God bless him for still having moments like that!). There are other times when he needs me to just listen.

family first

There are days when I fall asleep in my clothes on the sofa at 8 pm. I have to put alerts in my phone to remind myself to drink water, take a bathroom break, go out for a walk. Trying to squeeze in press events at new restaurants and staying out after 11 pm on a school night can be overwhelming if not downright impossible. And what if the place turns out to be disappointing? All that precious time I could have spent with family gets wasted on bad finger food and watered down Spritz.

And that's why I'm a creature of habit. That's why when I actually do carve out a night to dine out with girlfriends, or when my son and I manage to peel ourselves off the floor on Fridays, we tend to not stray from the well-known, from the comforting welcome we're reserved at those places where we’re considered regulars.

These are my tried and true places, the ones where I feel welcome. Where it's OK to occasionally drop in without a reservation, or where I am perfectly comfortable eating at a table for one.

What follows is a list of the 10 restaurants in Rome, divided by category, where I can be most often be found at, enjoying favorite seasonal dishes, or trying out new menu suggestions, alone or in the company of someone special.

Bistro-style dining

Salumeria Roscioli
I love sitting at either the bar counter or the small tables set up against the cheese counter, with prosciutto legs jutting over my head. This is a place where I feel at home. I always order the same thing: burrata with semi-dried tomatoes, a plate of pata negra Joselito 5 Jotas, and chef Nabil Hadj Hassen's stellar carbonara. I wipe out the entire bread basket (baked at the forno around the corner) and I finish off with un caffè at the owner's coffee bar next door.

Carbonara at Roscioli in Rome

Proloco DOL
This Centocelle deli-meets-restaurant is the brainchild of Vincenzo Mancino, an epicure who has made it his mission to scout out the region’s best ingredients. This means that the front of the shop sells prime quality cured meats, cheeses, bottled sauces and canned goods, wine, craft beer, bread, pickles and jams, organic eggs and flour: all from Lazio. The the dining room adjacent to the shop is a superb restaurant whose menu changes with the seasons. I always order a plate of pasta (the amatriciana is out of this world, as are the ravioli, sourced at Pastificio Secondi) but meals here always open with a ridiculous charcuterie board, considering how Vincenzo knows what I like, and indulges me (be sure to ask for the homemade mortadella). In the evening I always have one of Simoneìs pizza in teglia, that is baked in tin pans and served sliced.

ProLoco DOL appetizer de rigeur

amatriciana at ProLoco DOL in Rome

Fine dining

Young Spanish chef Alba Esteve Ruiz has fully immersed herself in the flavors of Rome. Her kitchen offers both steadfast Rome tradition in beautifully presented surprises, and creative Iberian digressions. Click here to read about a recent meal I had at Marzapane.

Tasting menu at Marzapane in Rome

Rome hosts a variety of acclaimed Michelin Star restaurants. When I set budget aside in favor of a unique luxury experience, I head over to Metamorfosi. Colombian chef Roy Caceres presents an eclectic style that’s––like the name implies––in constant evolution, so the creative offer is never the same. I love to let the staff choose what I’ll be eating that day, with the exception of a handful of evergreen dishes, like the glazed eel and the mushroom and hazelnut risotto “wrapped” in a thin edible veil.

Metamorfosi Michelin star restaurant in Rome

Pizza and street food

I could eat Trapizzino's triangular pizza pockets filled with cucina romana every day of the week. In particular, the chicken cacciatore is my absolute favorite. Just writing about it makes me salivate. The supplì rice balls are also amazing. Remember when a decade ago Rome's best loved street food franchise offered two Trapizzino sizes? Now you can find Trapizzino in New York's Lower East Side.

Trapizzino street food

Natural "mother" starter, whole-grain stone-milled crusts, organic and strictly seasonal ingredients in the toppings, pies served sliced: a pizza format that actually revolutionized the classic pizzeria concept in many ways. Starterd in Bologna by two Calabrians, the franchise now has 8 outlets in Italy and 2 in London. I'll take their "margherita" topped with mozzarella di bufala from Caserta any day, but my heart belongs to their pie topped with 'nduja from Spilinga (spicy spreadable sausage), fiordilatte and tomato.

Berberé pizza in Rome

Wine bars with food

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi
I like the way fourth generation cheese maker Beppe Giovale thinks: essentially, cheese needs wine and wine needs cheese. That’s why this place can’t be defined as simply a "wine bar" or a "cheese shop." It's a lot of both things, offering sensational raw milk cheeses, many of which are made by Beppe; phenomenal butter, great Piemonte products, including foie gras, hazelnuts, white truffles (in season now), cured meats, heritage breads, as well as a fine selection of wine.

Beppe e i Suoi Formaggi in Rome

Enoteca Bulzoni
My family started purchasing wine and spirits from this family wine merchant in the Sixties. I’ve watched brothers Alessandro and Riccardo raise their grandfather Emidio's legacy to what Bulzoni is today: no longer just a very well-stocked neighborhood wine shop, but a superior quality beverage resource as well as a fine dining venue. I love to walk here after work for hearty aperitivo, which––given the number of small plates served along with my glass(es) of wine––becomes early dinner by Rome standards. My go-to pintxos include crostini with smoked burrata and blistered tomatoes, and Fiocco della Tuscia cheese melted over seasonal vegetables drizzled with cooked wine must. Great wine list, notable natural labels and a fine Bulzoni brand too.

Enoteca Bulzoni in Rome

Out of town

Sora Maria e Arcangelo
I don't like the word favorite, but this is pretty much the place I could eat at every day of my life, if I could. I discovered this delightful restaurant in Olevano Romano in 2011 and have been coming here regularly since. I even filmed a Lazio episode ending of my show here. We were so relaxed and at ease after the meal we ate that we actually drank all the wine and in the episode ending you can see us all laughing, tipsy and happy. Giovanni Milana is one of the kindest, most passionate cooks I know. Aided by his mother in the kitchen, Giovanni interprets local ingredients and recipes with respect and admiration. Every time I come for lunch, I always order at least one portion of the giant signature cannelloni.

The cannelloni at Sora Maria e Arcangelo in Olevano Romano

Giovanni Milana, chef and owner of Sora Maria e Arcangelo in Olevano Romano

Osteria Iotto
The masterminds behind this sensational Campagnano restaurant open since 2005 are Marco Pasquali and his wine Ines Cappelli. Their own farm supplies the kitchen with fresh, seasonal ingredients, that go into simple, wholesome and delicious dishes. Always on the menu, in addition to seasonal rotations, is an excellent gricia (pasta with cured pork jowl, pecorino and pepper), lamb with roast potatoes, meatballs with a mix of veal and pork, as well as very good braised oxtail. I always have the giant fritto platter, which features potato croquettes, apple and pear fritters, potato and mortadella balls, cubed and breaded mozzarella, and the best onion rings on the planet.

Osteria Iotto in Campagnano

If you see me in any of these restaurants, do come say hello!

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