Archive for October, 2011

Happy Halloween

From this evil cat who lives on my street. He’s spending the day curled up in a beach chair. What are you doing?

Also – doesn’t this cat totally look like he’s going to kill me at some point? Just saying.


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I was looking through some Rome pictures this morning, and I realized I forgot to tell you about my afternoon at Villa Borghese earlier this month. It was so green and peaceful and such a respite from the loud, crowded city that Rome can sometimes be, espeically during tourist season.

I walked up the Spanish Steps to get there, and was treated to yet another gorgeous view of the city from a hilltop.

And Piazza del Popolo too. Not sure what all the balloons were for, but they they made the view look more fun, I think.

People were reading, picnicing, taking leisurely strolls. I felt like I was seeing such a different side of the Romans I normally see in my neighborhood – bustling through the piazzas, smoking outside a bar, etc. Everyone seemed so healthy and carefree.

It was such a relaxing way to spend an afternoon. I absolutely need to get there before the weather turns cold and rainy.

How fun would it be to rent one of these bike carts if you were a kid (or me, in the present day?)

At 5pm, we visited the Galleria Borghese for the last appointment of the day. It had such a good audio guide!

And gorgeous gardens in the back.

It was dusk as we left the park to walk back down to Piazza del Popolo.

It was one of the best days in Rome.

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Pasta e Ceci Soup

Full disclosure:  I am abnormally obsessed with soup. Once I start eating it, I can’t stop. It’s a (delicious) problem.

So far, I’ve been surprised about how few soups are on menus in Rome. I guess that’s more of a Tuscan thing. The one soup that I have been seeing around, however, is Pasta e Ceci Soup (pasta & chickpeas). There’s a restaurant near my apartment, Ristorante Paris, that makes a very good version of the soup. I’ve been going there a few times a week to get my fix.

To feed my addiction, I’ve decided I should try to be better about making my own soup at home. It’s hard, though. A lot of recipes for soup out there end up turning out really bland, don’t you think? And, I’m bad at making my own stock, so I guess that adds to my difficulties as well.

Before I left for Italy, I remembered that I’d seen a recipe for Ceci e Pasta Soup in Williams Sonoma’s “Rome” catalog, so I decided that I should at least try to give that a whirl. Then I looked at the comments. They were about 75% negative. I tried to find another recipe, but there were so many conflicting versions on the internets. Also, a lot of them added pancetta or guanicole, and I was sure that the version I loved at Ristorante Paris had neither.

So, I winged a recipe for the first time in my life, and it turned out to be really tasty! I’m really excited about it, so I wanted to share it with you:

Pasta e Ceci Soup
Serves 2 or 3 as an entree (2 if one person dining is a soup freak)

1 can chickpeas, 1/3 pureed (I crushed these with a fork since I don’t have a food processor or an immulsion blender here)
1 1/2 – 2 cups, chicken or vegetable broth, depending on how brothy you like your soup
1 tomato, diced
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 clove of garlic, diced
1 parmsean cheese rind
Handful of fresh parsley, chopped finely
1 fresh rosemary stalk, chopped finely
1 pinch dried thyme
1/2 cup pasta of your choice
1 T olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated parmesean cheese for serving, if desired

Heat olive oil over medium high heat.
Add onion, and a pinch of salt & pepper and sautee until soft, about 8 minutes
Add celery and carrots and continue sauteeting, about 10 more minutes
Add tomato, garlic and half of the parsley and continue sauteeing, about 8 more minutes
Add broth and chickpeas and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta to al dente. Save the pasta water.

After you’ve brought your soup to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for 20 minutes.
Add pasta and some of reserved pasta water, if your soup needs more broth.
Add remaining parsley, remove parmesan rind and serve.
Top with freshly grated parmesan if desired.

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Our hotel in Prague offered breakfast each morning, and I was happy to take advantage of it. I get really grumpy when I’m hungry, and that’s no way to spend a day sightseeing. The specialty of the house was the “Toastie” aka grilled cheese with ham, and who was I to say no? I loved them.

My husband, on the other hand, is not a breakfast fan. One morning, I’d filled up on toasties and wasn’t ready for lunch until well into the afternoon. We stopped in a little French bistro in Old Town called Au Gourmand for him to grab a late breakfast so we could get on the same schedule.

This is what he ordered.

Why? In his words, because the best part about being an adult is being able to order chocolate cake for breakfast if you feel like it. And chocolate milk. And a chocolate chip cookie.

Even for a non-sweets lover like me, all were delicious. I thought the chocolate milk was so clever too. You can add the amount of chocolate you prefer by dipping your chocolate stick in the hot milk.

So, bottom line, if you have a sweet tooth and you’re in Prague’s Old Town, stop here. It’s worth it.

Au Gourmand
Dlouha 10
Praha 1

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I’ve always been a fan of street food. Sometimes you’re just plain hungry, and you’re not in the mood for waiting for a table, waiting for your food, then waiting for the check at a restaurant. And, with street food, the product is usually on display so you kinda know what you’re getting into.

The street food (actually all of the food) in Vienna was surprisingly delicious. There were sausage kiosks, Asian noodle stands, and pizza vendors, amongst others. I was a huge fan of the sausage stand in front of the Albertina Museum, Bitzinger Wurstelstand.

Its menu was entirely in German, which was kind of tough, but everything that we got was so good, that in the end, it didn’t really matter. They’ll serve your sausage in a hollowed out bun or sliced, with a small fork/tooth pick. And their pretzels are fantastic, as well. They were firm and flavorful, and totally different from the squishy, doughy ones you sometimes get at a baseball game in the U.S.

As an added bonus, it’s across the street from the Vienna Operahouse, Staatsoper, so you could stop in for a snack before or after a performance. Don’t worry – you can still class it up if you’d like – they serve Moet.

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I’ve mentioned before how I am totally having a moment with window boxes. I’d completely forgotten about them in the states, but I see them everywhere in Europe and am 100% in love with them.

So when I walked past the building above – the Goldman & Salatasch building – I stopped in my tracks. It’s so pretty! And I just love the red flowers against the white background. The building is right across from the Imperial Palace and it made me happy each time I walked by it. 

Apparently the Emperor of Austria, Franz Josef, had a different reaction. He thought the building was so ugly that he refused to look it and had the curtains drawn on the windows in the palace that faced it. The window boxes were actually an addition, tacked on to improve the building’s aesthetic. Prior to that, Austrians referred to the building as “the woman with no eyebrows.”

So mean! But, adding the “eyebrows” was certainly a good idea.

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Pizza al Taglio

When I look back on my time in Rome, there’s a good chance that the first thing that will come to mind is my obsession with pizza al taglio (pizza by the slice). I may as well have a sign that reads “will walk for pizza.” Because that’s what I do most days for lunch: pick a place that serves pizza al taglio, walk there, eat pizza, then get to doing whatever other business is on the docket for the day.

I just love the whole concept of pizza al taglio. You walk up to the counter, survey the available pizzas, then tell the person behind the counter how much of it you want. He then slices it off from the pie, using his giant knife like an axe, weighs your selection, and then one of two things happens: either he’ll fold it over and wrap it up in parchment for you or he’ll heat it in the oven, cut it into strips with scissors and serve it to you on a tray.

It’s hard to say which way I like better. Mainy because both serving methods seem so nice, as silly as that sounds. Service in many restaurants in Rome is gruff, at best. But when you get your pizza al taglio, it’s almost like the person working the counter is making a thoughtful gesture as he serves you your slice. When it’s served in parchment, I feel as if he’s wrapping the pizza up like a little present. A present which makes it much neater for me to eat.

When it’s snipped into (big) bite sized pieces, I’m always reminded of a mother slicing a meat dish for a child in a restaurant. Thanks, counter guy, for making my pizza-eating experience so much easier!

Here are my favorite places for pizza al taglio (so far).

Pizzarium serves creatively topped slices by Rome food celebrity Gabriele Bonci. He’s known dramatically as the “Michelangelo of pizza,” and he offers a 2 day pizza making course for 170 Euros. A bit rich for my blood, so I’ll stick to buying his pizza for lunch.

Zaza is right near the Pantheon and has tables! Sounds like a ridiculous selling point, but most pizza al taglio spots are standing room only. It’s also right across from the famous coffee bar Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe.

Forno Campo de Fiori is one of the most famous pizza al taglio spots in the Eternal City, and there’s always a line out the door. It moves quickly, and it’s worth the wait. Plus, it’s fun to check out the farmers’ market in Campo de Fiori afterwards.

Antico Forno Roscioli is the bakery arm of the Roscioli family, who also runs a nearby restaurant, Roscioli, which you may remember that I love. It’s a very reliable bet for an excellent slice of pizza.

If you have any favorites for pizza al taglio in Rome, please comment.  I will walk anywhere to try it!

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