Thursday, April 30, 2015

More Reasons To Fall In Love With Rome

Roman doorway
No other city in the world tugs at me the way Rome does. Yes, New York is electric, Paris is romantic, and London is hopping. But Rome....well, Rome for me is in another whole category. It may not have the wide boulevards of Buenos Aires, the orderliness of Singapore or the canals of Amsterdam, but none of that matters.
Porta Settimiana
Yes, it's got graffiti-splattered walls, high rents and a Byzantine bureaucracy if you're trying to get any official work done. 
graffiti in Rome
 But walk anywhere in the central part of Rome and you're assaulted by sights, sounds and flavors that I wouldn't trade for anywhere else in the world.
arco degli'acetari
Walk by an open air market on a Spring morning and find three different kinds of artichokes, flavorful strawberries the size of a baby's nail, or a cappuccino to swoon over. 
Roman artichokes
While you're on your jaunt, you might easily step outside your 18th apartment building and walk by some ancient Roman columns from the first century B.C., into a piazza decorated with a 16th century baroque fountain, before stopping to say a prayer in a 15th century Renaissance church. You're practically tripping over layers of history throughout the city. They all have a unique beauty that could easily jade local residents, but that never fails to make me wish I were once again living in Rome. 
statue inside entryway to apartment building on Via Arenula
Although I'm not a resident now, I consider myself extremely lucky to travel to Rome occasionally, including last week. In the past, I've posted some of my favorite things to do and eat in the Eternal City that you can click on here. 
Ponte Sisto and St. Peter's
You won't find places like the Vatican, the Colosseum or the Forum on the post --  they're too obviously at the top of most visitors' list, as well they should be, for me to write about. Don't miss them. But aside from my "Twenty Reasons To Fall In Love With Rome," I'm giving you now a few other suggestions of places to eat that are a little lower on the radar to first time visitors.
Rome reflections
Aside from the tangible, physical, evidence of Rome's beauty, it's also the Roman people who draw me in as well. Like the vegetable seller who always remembers your name, and throws in a couple of stalks of celery and a few sprigs of parsley for free. Or the goldsmith who demonstrates how he hammers the 21-carat gold chain he's making, then shows you pictures of his adorable grandchildren. Or the chef who allows you into his kitchen, then showers you with sample after sample of extra dishes you didn't even order. 
tagliolini with truffles at Le Mani in Pasta
So here are just a few more of my favorite places to stop for a bite to eat or drink in Rome. Buon Appetito.

La Prosciutteria
Oozing with atmosphere, it's great place to grab a panino or a board of salumi and cheese. Located in Trastevere on via della Scala, it's been in Florence for a while, but is fairly new to Rome. The porchetta sandwich I ate at La Prosciutteria beat any I'd ever eaten in the past, hands down, including in Ariccia, a town outside Rome known for its porchetta. I considered it my duty to return to La Prosciutteria the night before departing Rome to buy one for the plane ride home. It was late at night and they had run out of my favorite round foccaccia bread. "Oh Dio," I said. "Isn't there even one more foccaccia hidden somewhere?" I asked. The salesgirl pointed to an already prepared prosciutto crudo sandwich and said "That's the last one." After I mustered up the nerve to ask her if she could take out the prosciutto and replace it with porchetta, she winked at me and complied. Let it be noted that the tray of "food" offered by United Airlines was left untouched as I inhaled my porchetta sandwich instead. Via della Panetteria, 34A.

porchetta panino

at La Prosciutteria


Panella  
I have Beatrice Ughi of Gustiamo.com to thank for learning about this place. Her friend Antonio suggested it to her years ago and she finally met him there last week, and invited me to come along too, since she was in Rome at the same time I was. Panella has been in business for nearly 100 years and it's not only a fabulous resource for breads, pastries and specialty foods, but a great place for "happy hour" with its prolific buffet dishes, ranging from chickpea farinata to fried zucchini flowers. It's in the Esquiline neighborhood, not too far from the church of San Giovanni in Laterano. Via Merulana, 54.

buffet at Panella

Fish Market
This recent addition to Trastevere's dining scene is an informal place for seafood with a hip vibe, but it's not just 20-somethings who eat here. You'll feel comfortable no matter what your age and there's indoor and outdoor seating. You can pick out the fish you want from the counter for a simple preparation, choose a cone of fried calamari or shrimp, or one of the several more elaborately prepared dishes. Gaze at those painted arches inside too, and stop to wonder how many centuries they've been there. Vicolo della luce, 4/5
Inside "The Fish Market"
Da Enzo
Another casual and tiny Trastevere restaurant that seats only about 25 people. It's tucked away on a small vicolo on the east side of Viale Trastevere - away from the noisier, more trafficked part of the neighborhood. If it's artichoke season (and it is still is for a very short while), make sure to order them, either fried alla Giudia, or seasoned and in oil, alla Romana. Both were exceptional, as was their pasta alla gricia, made with guanciale. Via dei Vascellari, 29

artichokes alla Giudia and alla Romana at Da Enzo

Le Mani In Pasta
I almost hesitate to mention this place because it's my favorite restaurant in Rome and they're always lined up to get in - with good reason. The food is exquisite and the waiters are terrific, even while working at breakneck speed. They're known for their pastas, and rightly so, but the other dishes are fabulous too. I always order the mussels and clams sauté as a starter, the best anywhere. This time I also ordered the steak served with a green peppercorn sauce, a perfectly cooked piece of tender beef, resting in an unctious puddle of winey goodness. If broccoli romano is on the menu, it's the perfect accompaniment, and is perfectly prepared, with a hint of peperoncino. If you can, reserve the table near the window facing the kitchen. It's practically theater! Chef Ivano will keep you mesmerized with his deft skills, when you're not sighing over the unbeatable food delivered to your table. Watch the short video below and you'll see what I mean. Via Dei Genovese, 37




Nonna Vincenza
I can't resist a good cannolo when I find one and once I stumbled onto Nonna Vincenza a few years ago, I thought I had found the mother lode. There are a couple of locations in town, including one near the campo dei fiori. It's elegantly appointed, with beautiful armoires displaying pastries, cookies, and almond and pistachio pastes in jars for sale. As much as I love cannoli, I can't resist digging into Nonna Vincenza's mini cassata, covered in a layer of marzapan. You can have your purchases boxed to take home if you like, but they've also got a few tables and serve coffee if you want to sit and linger. Two locations in Rome - at Arco del Monte 98 (near campo dei fiori) and Piazza di Montecitorio, 116.


Le Levain 
Caffé Giselda
 Yes, the name Le Levain is French. Yes, they serve French croissants and that's why I love the place. The owner, Giuseppe Solfrizzi, is originally from Puglia and studied with celebrated chef Alain Ducasse. Italians eat cornetti with their breakfast, and while I like them, to me they don't hold a candle to the crunchy, buttery croissants that the French are famous for. Everything here is excellent, from the croissants with walnuts to the small domed pastry dipped in white icing, to the multi-grain bread. 
Stop in for a few croissants, then take them down the street and around the corner to Café Giselda, where you can order an espresso and sit down, assuaging any guilt you may have had about betraying your Italianness with a French croissant. 
My friend Kathryn, who's living in Rome and is the writing teacher for our writing retreat in September, "Italy, In Other Words," (still some spaces left, so join us in dreamy Varenna on Lake Como!) introduced me to both places on this trip, and I was grateful every morning when I dug into that croissant that's unparalleled in Rome, accompanied by my wake-up cappuccino from Caffé Giselda. 

pastries at Le Levain
Cafe Giselda itself, at the corner of Viale Trastevere and San Francesco a Ripa, will also impress you with its own pastries, cakes, and salumi. Unlike most caffés, you don't get charged extra for sitting at a table rather than standing at the bar. And the cappuccino goes down easy. 
 Le Levain - Via Luigi Santini, Giselda, 22 Viale Trastevere, 52

Caffé Giselda
Have enough ideas for your next trip to Rome? I hope I've enticed you to visit this beautiful corner of the world. I could go on and on about my love for the Eternal City, but as the saying goes, when it comes to discovering Rome's treasures, "Non basta una vita" - meaning "One life is not enough."
Temple of Hercules Victor



Thursday, April 23, 2015

Lemon Olive Oil Cake with Raspberries and Pistachios


 
I know olive oil cakes are ubiquitous these days, but here's another one to add to your repertoire, and it's a keeper.
My dad's wife Rose made this for me a while ago and I've been meaning to post it for a while.
She's a great baker, and my dad's a terrific cook, so every time I visit I can be assured of a wonderful meal, including a delicious dessert.
The red raspberries and green pistachios give this cake a particularly festive look.
You might want to remember this one for the Christmas holidays. But try it as fresh, local raspberries start appearing in the markets.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - along the shores of Italy's Lake Como. Step outside your room and enjoy this gorgeous view and gardens. Click here for more information.





Lemon Cake with Raspberries and Pistachios
from Bon Appetit magazine


Ingredients
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  •  cups all-purpose flour
  •  teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs
  •  cups plus 2 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon plus ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (about 4 oz.)
  • 3 tablespoons chopped unsalted, raw pistachios


PREPARATION

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Coat a 9” diameter cake pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat eggs and 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. With mixer running, add vanilla and 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, then gradually add oil, mixing just until combined. Fold in lemon zest and dry ingredients.
  • Scrape batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Scatter berries over cake, then pistachios and 2 Tbsp. sugar. Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 45–55 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, bring remaining ¼ cup sugar and remaining ¼ cup lemon juice to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar; let lemon syrup cool.
  • Transfer hot cake (still in pan) to a wire rack and immediately brush with lemon syrup (use all of it). Let cake cool completely in pan.
  • DO AHEAD: Cake can be made 2 days ahead. Store wrapped tightly at room temperature
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Friday, April 17, 2015

Milena's Sweet Swiss Chard Tart



Regular readers of this blog know that I'm part of a group of women who meet once a week to chit-chat in Italian. The meeting takes place at a different home each week and while we converse in Italian about anything and everything - we also eat. And every one of the women is a good cook, so we look forward to our gatherings for several reasons.
 I'm not able to attend each week, but when the group meets at Milena's house, I'm really  loathe to miss it.
Milena, who hails from the region of Liguria, is one of the best cooks in the group, and not surprisingly, taught cooking classes for a while. Whenever the group meets at her house, she makes an array of different dishes to tempt us, some tried and true, and some new ones too.
This tart is one of the offerings (among many) that she served recently at her home. The recipe contains a bit of sugar, so you could serve it as dessert, but it's not overly sweet, so if you're yearning for a more traditional dessert, better stick to chocolate cake.
 In that case, it would be equally delicious served with a glass of wine as an appetizer too.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - along the shores of Italy's Lake Como. Click here for more information.




Sweet Swiss Chard Tart

3 cups flour (minus three Tablespoons) or 300 grams flour 
1/2 cup butter or 125 grams butter
about two bunches of Swiss chard without the stems, or 500 grams Swiss chard
3/4 cup sugar or 150 grams sugar
1/3 cup pine nuts or 50 grams pine nuts
1/4 cup or 30 grams white raisins
2 eggs, separated
salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon, to taste

On a wooden board (or a bowl), make a well with the flour and add 3/4 of the butter (cut into small pieces), half the sugar, a pinch of salt and the egg yolks.
Incorporate all the ingredients until you have a soft and smooth dough. Cover it with a dishtowel and let it rest for two hours in a warm place.

Put the raisins in a bowl with some tepid water and let them soak in the water for at least 15 minutes.

Wash the Swiss chard, removing the stems, and place it in a covered pot with only the water that remains on the leaves. Let it cook on low heat until softened. Remove from the pot, squeeze out any remaining water, then give the swiss chard a rough chop. Add the remaining butter to a saucepan, put the Swiss chard back in, and stir, seasoning with salt and pepper.

Put the chopped Swiss chard in a bowl and mix with the remaining sugar, pine nuts, raisins (that have been drained), a pinch of nutmeg and a pinch of cinnamon.

Divide the dough in half and roll out each half to fit a 9" pie pan that has been buttered and floured. Place one piece of the dough into the pie pan, cover it with the Swiss chard mixture, then place the other piece of dough on the top, closing the borders with a pinch.

Beat a little of the egg white and brush over the top of the  tart. Bake at 350 degrees for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until golden.
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Monday, April 13, 2015

Lemon Pasta With Shrimp


 While in Las Vegas last fall at Giada's restaurant, I ordered a dish of lemon spaghetti with shrimp. To say it was a disappointment is an understatement. The shrimp were well cooked, although there were few of them (two maybe?) But even worse, the pasta was dry and in some cases, the gummy strands were stuck together and had an insipid flavor instead of with a nice lemon zip. What had sounded so promising left much to be desired. There had to be a better way.
When I saw this bag of artisanal, Italian-made lemon pasta at Claudio's, an Italian specialty food shop in Philadelphia, I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it.
Giada's pasta with shrimp was in for a makeover.
This lemon-flavored pasta may have taken it over the top, but the dish, with plenty of lemon juice and lemon zest, would still be delicious with regular spaghetti (if possible, use an artisanal brand, not the commercial, supermarket variety).
Drain the pasta from the cooking water before it's done, since it will cook for a couple of minutes in the sauce too. But save some of the cooking water, in case you need a little more liquid. After you put in the white wine and cream you'll want to reduce it a bit, but keep in mind that once you throw in the parmesan cheese (off the heat), it will thicken somewhat. Add the parsley and basil just before serving to maintain its fresh color and flavor.

If you live anywhere near Philadelphia, do stop by one of the specialty food shops on South Ninth Street and pick up some of this wonderful pasta made in Gragnano.  Claudio's and DiBruno Brothers are two places any lover of Italian products - pasta, cheeses, salumi - shouldn't miss. If you don't live nearby, click on the links to order online. If you are in the neighborhood, however, there are two stops for pastries that shouldn't be missed: Isgro Pasticceria at 1009 Christian Street and Termini Brothers 1528 South Eighth Street for the best cannoli and Italian pastries this side of Naples.

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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - along the shores of Italy's Lake Como. Click here for more information.


Lemon Shrimp Pasta
printable recipe here

serves two to three

1 T. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. butter
1 medium shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
about 14 shrimp (or 1/4 pound)
1/4 cup white wine
red pepper flakes
salt, pepper
juice and rind of 1 lemon (about 1/3 cup juice)
1/2 cup cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
handful of minced parsley
handful of minced basil
1/2 pound pasta
pasta cooking water, if necessary

Cook the pasta until almost al dente, but drain from the water before it reaches that point. Save about a cup of the cooking water.  In a separate saucepan, melt the butter with the olive oil, and cook the shallot until nearly softened, then add the garlic for a few minutes at medium heat, making sure not to burn it. Turn the heat to high, then add the shrimp and cook for a minute or two on each side. Add the white wine, also at high heat, but turn it down to medium and season the shrimp with red pepper flakes (to taste, don't go overboard), salt and pepper. Add the cream, lemon juice and lemon rind and let everything cook together for a few minutes on medium heat to reduce a bit. Don't let it thicken too much because the parmesan cheese will also thicken it a little. Turn off the heat and add the parmesan cheese, the basil and parsley. If it looks too thick, thin it out with a little pasta water.
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Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Honey Baked Ham with roasted grapes


I know this would have been more useful had I posted this ham recipe before Easter, but it's still perfect anytime you've got a crowd coming. Kentucky Derby party in your future maybe? 
 It's a great dish for company, especially when you don't have time to fuss. And it tastes so much better than those store-bought pre-sliced honey-baked hams sold at franchises.
This big ole' ham was also purchased pre-sliced, but I normally buy one that isn't. I just happened to be at a Costco before Easter, when the pre-sliced ones were all that was available. Throw out any seasoning packet that may have come with your ham. You can do better, without using artificial ingredients or flavorings.
Mix some melted butter, honey and light corn syrup together, pour it over the ham, occasionally baste with it while it bakes and you've got a lip-smacking ham that everyone will love and that serves at least 15 or 16 people. 
I added some roasted grapes at the end too, just because roasted grapes have become my new favorite ingredient for adding to recipes. 
Use the leftover ham bone and bits of ham to make this bean soup recipe.

Honey Baked Ham

1 large bone-in ham (mine weighed about 12 pounds)
1/3 cup butter, melted
8 oz. honey
1/8 cup dark corn syrup

Roasted grapes are optional, but if you want to add them, roast them on a Silpat or parchment lined baking sheet for 15 minutes at 425 degrees. Set aside. (You can do this the day before)
Place the ham flat side down and bake, covered with aluminum foil, for one hour at 250 degrees fahrenheit.  
Melt the butter together with the honey and corn syrup. 
Remove the foil from the roast, raise the temperature to 350 degrees fahrenheit, and reposition the ham so that the fatty part is on top. Cook for another hour, basting with the butter/honey/corn syrup mixture several times.
If using the roasted grapes, add the cooked grapes during the last minute or two, just to heat them through again.
Slice, swishing the slices through the honey glaze as you put them on the serving platter.
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Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Bay Leaf Pound Cake



Bay leaves are one of the unsung heroes on the spice/herb shelf. They sit there in jars turning paler and paler with each passing year, and find their way into the occasional stew or soup. When they reach that point, where they're insipid in taste, it's time to throw them out and buy new ones.
I've had a fascination with bay leaves since the year I lived in Italy, where I encountered hedges of bay leaf plants everywhere, tempting me to pluck a leaf or two whenever I needed it for a recipe.
 If you're in Italy during college graduation season, it's common to see newly minted graduates around town wearing laurel wreaths encircling their heads, a tradition started at the University of Padua, one of the world's oldest universities. 
For you word nerds out there: The Italian word for graduation is "laurea." 

Ovid with a laurel wreath

I've since bought my own bay leaf plant, although it's not hardy in the harsh New Jersey winters. Instead, I've pampered it indoors for a few years and reluctantly used its leaves the first year or two. Mostly, I just admired it and drew of a sketch of it in my "nature journal."
I have used some of the leaves in the past for a wonderful appetizer with ricotta cheese, but when I saw this bay leaf pound cake from David Leibovitz' "My Paris Kitchen,"  I knew my now thriving, four-year old bay leaf plant was in for a pruning.

David says you can use either dried or fresh bay leaves for this recipe, but since I had the fresh, I thought, "why not?"
 There are at least two types of bay leaf plants by the way - California and Turkish. What you find in spice racks at grocery stores is mostly the dried Turkish variety. Each of the varieties is highly aromatic, but from what I've read the Turkish, or Mediterranean variety (my plant) has a subtler flavor, with floral overtones. Some sites even claim that the California bay leaf has a "medicinal" taste and is more suited to making wreaths (or crowning Olympic champions) than to culinary purposes because of its strong flavor. If any of you readers has ever cooked with a California bay leaf, let me know.
For this recipe, start by buttering a 9" x 5 " loaf pan, and place a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom. Butter the parchment paper. Line the bottom of the pan with bay leaves. 
As part of the recipe, more bay leaves are steeped in melted butter for an infusion, lending even more herbal flavor. 
Pour in the batter (I tucked a bay leaf into each of the long sides of the pan also) and dot with butter across the top.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the thickest part comes out clean. The recipe says to bake 45 to 50 minutes, but I had to leave mine in closer to 55 minutes. 
It's done when the cake releases slightly from the sides of the pan and is golden.
Flip it over and admire the bottom of the cake (that no one will see, but the flavor the leaves impart is definitely perceptible).
I used a bay leaf and small branch to decorate, but a lemon or orange glaze would be nice too.
Dust heavily with powdered sugar and carefully remove the leaf.
Slice and serve, being careful to remove the bay leaves on the bottom and sides before eating.
The cake has a tender crumb and a subtle, aromatic flavor that's hard to pinpoint. It's a nuanced, perfumed taste that would also pair well with a tumble of berries, or a bit of whipped cream.

 Or just enjoy as is.

Bay Leaf Pound Cake
from David Leibovitz' "My Paris Kitchen"
printable recipe here

Ingredients
  1. 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon butter, sliced; at room temperature
  2. 8 - 10 small to medium sized bay laurel leaves, fresh or dried
  3. 1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  4. 1 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1 teaspoon baking powder
  6. ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  7. 3 eggs, at room temperature
  8. ½ cup crème fraiche (or sour cream)
  9. Powdered sugar
  1. Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a small saucepan. Take the pan off the heat and add 3 bay leaves. Let steep 1 hour; remove bay leaves and discard.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a standard loaf pan with some butter; dust the pan evenly with flour and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper (easiest way to do this is to place the pan on the paper and trace all around the bottom edge with a pencil; use scissors to cut it out).
  3. Dab one side of the remaining bay leaves in a bit of butter and lay them evenly along the bottom of the loaf pan, buttered side down.
  4. Whisk the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
  5. Combine the eggs, crème fraiche, and melted butter in a medium bowl; gently stir into the flour mixture just until the batter is smooth, without over-mixing.
  6. Scrape batter into the pan carefully over the bay leaves. Put the remaining butter in a small zip-top bag and snip off one corner. Pipe the butter in a line down the center of the batter; bake 45 – 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  7. Remove from the oven and cool 10 minutes; run a knife around the edge of the pan, then turn the cake out onto a rack to cool completely. Dust top with powdered sugar.
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Join us for a writing retreat in September in one of the most beautiful places on Earth - along the shores of Italy's Lake Como. Click here for more information.




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