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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

When I tell people that I spent the fall in Rome, the question I’m asked most frequently is, inevitably, what I miss most about Rome now that I’m back in the U.S.. And, just as inevitably, my answer is: the food.

But really, how could it not be? If you ask me what type of restaurant I want to go to tonight in the states, I’ll almost always say Italian. So being in the country where my favorite type of cuisine originated from was pretty much a dining fantasy for me.

I did learn, however, that may of the things we take for granted as being “typically Italian” when we’re at an Italian restaurant here in the U.S. are actually “typically American-Italian.” As any Italian will tell you, there’s a big difference.

If you’re taking a trip to Rome anytime soon, here are some things I picked up while eating (a lot) in Italy that I think are helpful to know before you sit down for your first meal:

Bread isn’t a warm up for the first course
Sure, your waiter will most likely bring over a basket of bread after you’ve ordered. But, it’s not free (usually the cost is around 1-2 Euro/person) and it’s not going to come with olive oil, or even butter, for you to dip it in. All those fancy Italian places you’ve been to in the U.S. serving fresh-baked artisinal bread accompanied by fancy olive oil? That won’t happen in Rome. Most likely, the bread will be nothing special taste-wise. It’s actually just a vehicle to mop up extra sauce when you get your entree. As a result, you’ll rarely see Italians nibbling on bread while they’re waiting for their meal; they’ll wait to “fare la scarpetta” (or make a little shoe) to soak up the remnants with when they’re done.

Soup isn’t considered an appetizer
As a soup lover/fantatic, this killed me. Soup is generally considered a primi, which is also the area of the menu where pastas fall. So, ordering say, pasta e ceci soup to start, followed by bucatini alla carbonara and passing on a secondi of meat or fish is kind of a faux pas. Some waiters will let you get away with it (while making it a point to let you know how gross they think it is), but some will just flat-out tell you no.

Meatballs don’t come with spaghetti
One of my favorite Italian words is the word for meatballs, polpette. It makes them sound so delicate and tiny, no? Anyway, if you want to order polpette, by all means do – they are delicious – but be warned: they will come covered in sauce, accompanied by nothing else. Combining them (a secondi) on one plate with pasta (a primi) is just not done. By the way, you’ll never see chicken parmesean either. Another Italian style dish created in America!

Menus don’t read like a “greatest hits” of Italian cuisine
I’ve been to so many Italian places in the U.S. that feature a wide variety of Italian staples: dishes like risotto Milanese, Tuscan white bean soup and spaghetti Bolognese are offered side by side. In Rome, you’d be extremely hard-pressed to find a non-tourist trap restaurant that mixes Italian dishes from different regions. Many menus serve only the Roman classics like cacio e pepe, carbonara, amatriciana, etc. Sure, there are a few Tuscan restaurants in Rome, but they’re serving a menu of only Tuscan dishes, and likewise for any other regional restaurant you might find. There’s no mixing and matching.

These are the kinds of things I think of now when I eat at Italian restaurants in the U.S. (oh, what a curse, I know!) Whenever I’m wondering what is truly “authentic” and what’s not, I smile and think about the cooking class I took in Rome. We were getting ready to bring the amatriciana out to the tables when a student asked the chef if we should top it with some julienned parsley. Our instructor asked him to repeat himself, as if he couldn’t believe what he just heard, stared at him and said, incredulously, “But there’s a bay leaf in that sauce!” Ah, we Americans have so much to learn about Italian food.

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I know a lot of bloggers do weekly round ups, and I’m a huge fan. Typically published on Fridays, they get me excited for the weekend, and it’s always fun to catch up on things I’ve missed online during week. If there’s one person who never wants to miss anything on the old internets, it’s me.

I thought I would jump on board and start doing round ups, but I got to thinking about how Mondays are the day when I actually need the most motivation and distractions. Everyone knows Monday is the worst day of the week (sorry, Monday), so I thought it would be more fun to put together some things to look forward to for the week ahead.

Here we go!

I read Bon Appetit’s Southern issue yesterday, and it includes some seriously awesome looking recipes. I’m trying this one for Chicken & Dumplings tonight. It involves making your own gnocchi, and I can imagine that you could use them as a base for dozens of other dishes in the future. I’m also dying to make their Potlikker Noodles with Mustard Greens, Chickpea Stew and Stir-Fried Lettuces with Crispy Shallots, among many, many others. Bon Appetit is so good lately, do you agree?

This Sunday is Super Bowl Sunday! I am beyond excited that the Giants are playing. With my husband being from Indy, and me being a huge Peyton Manning fan as a result, we’d initially hoped to go to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis and watch the Colts play this year, but it wasn’t meant to be. But, let’s be serious: I’m from New York, so I’m just as pumped about Eli and the Giants being there. On Sunday, I’ll be making this recipe from Smitten Kitchen for Scallion Meatballs with Soy-Ginger Glaze and trying not to freak out, have a heart attack and die during the game.

From the above, you may be starting to think that I all I think about is food. You’re pretty much right, but in an effort to be a more rounded (and skinnier) person (the months in Italy took a toll, people!), I’m trying to get into a running routine. I set up my Nike+ account this morning, and I have to say: it is so cool! I have the Nike+ iPod sensor, which fits into a slot in the bottom of my shoe, and it makes running outside SO much easier. It syncs with your iPhone and a little voice alerts you to each mile you’ve completed as you listen to music (in my case, all 90’s jams). I was mapping runs using MapMyRun prior to this, and using the Nike+ sensor is just so much easier. After you finish your workout, you can upload the details to Nike’s website, where they save all the info on how far you’ve run, plus you can set goals for yourself and create a tiny avatar of yourself running and saying motivational things (see mine above). I highly recommend it. Disclaimer: you pretty much do need to have Nike shoes with the slot for the sensor in them for this to work. Luckily, there’s a Nike Factory store in NOLA, and they had some really affordable running shoes.

Lastly, here are a few more links to things around the web to spice up your Monday afternoon:

How to defriend people in real life.

Paula Deen has been getting so much flack lately that I kinda feel bad for her even though I am very turned off by her diabetes-announcement-strategy thing. I don’t want to pile on, but this slideshow from Complex showcasing her 10 Deadliest Recipes is worth a gander. They’re pretty gross (cheeseburger with donuts for buns or deep fried butter, anyone?).

There are so many great new restaurants opening in New Orleans it’s getting hard to keep track. Next on my list to try are the French-Vietnamese restaurant Tamarind at the new Hotel Modern and Manning’s, Archie Manning’s new restaurant in Harrah’s.

Speaking of Mannings, if you’ve been following the drama regarding Peyton Manning’s future in Indy, this article from yesterday’s New York Times is worth a read (sob).

I love the Best American Short Stories anthologies. The 2011 one is out and I can’t wait to finish it this week.

And, J. Crew has some awesome colored jeans. It’s important to wear bright colors, so people know you’re alive.

Happy beginning of February! Hope everyone has a good week.

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I was pleasantly surprised about how good the food was in Vienna. As I mentioned here, the street food was excellent, seriously every restaurant we went to was delicious (post on this to come shortly), and to top it off, it’s home to Naschmarkt.

Naschmarkt is Vienna’s most popular food market. It’s a small strip of food vendors quite close to Museumsquartier, and within it, you’ll find food vendors galore: everything from fresh fruits & vegetables to freshly caught fish, butchers, cheese shops, spice shops and wine and beer stands.

Quite simply, it’s heaven for food lovers. You can find anything your little heart desires.

It’s the kind of place that makes you want to buy whatever produce looks the best and rush home and cook up a feast immediately. Plus, mixed in within its stalls are gourmet restaurants and an antiques market on Saturdays.

We had lunch at a posh restaurant spot called Nemi. Given how much Italian food we’ve been downing, is menu of Israeli and Middle Eastern specialties was super refreshing.

My only regret? That we didn’t have more time to explore. I could have spent weeks here.

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Ok, maybe it’s kind of embarrassing to host a taco night in Rome. We should be eating all Italian food, all the time while we’re here, right? Before I arrived, if you’d asked me that question, I would 100% answer yes. But the reality is that sometimes I’m hit by some serious cravings for other flavors.

As good as Italians are at making their own cuisine, ethnic food is not their strong suit. We’ve had good Asian food at a couple of places (namely, for sushi, Take on viale di Trastevere and SOMO on via Goffredo Mameli, and for Chinese food, a place I cannot figure out the name of or find online, labeled Ristorante Cinese on via Florida by Largo Argentina), but decent Mexican cuisine is seriously hard to come by.

When we hosted some friends at our Roman apartment last week, the number one request we got was for food other than Italian. No problem. I had brought some Old El Paso taco seasoning packets with me from the states, and I figured it would be relatively easy to find ground beef, tortillas, tortilla chips and the ingredients to make my own salsa and gaucimole. And with all the farmers’ markets nearby, I thought that all the fresh ingredients would go a long way towards boosting flavor.

4 supermarkets, 2 specialty shops, 2 farmers’ markets and approximately 7 miles covered on foot later, I’ll tell you: it was not that easy. I was able to find basics like hard shell tacos, soft shell tacos, salso con queso and tortilla chips, but they were not cheap. The soft tacos alone ran me 4 Euro per package! And cheddar cheese? Finding it in Rome is nearly impossible. Luckily, after googling several word combinations, I ended up at Franchi in Prati, near the Vatican, and bought the biggest chunk of cheddar cheese they had. For 19 Euros. There’s a reason why people eat local, my friends.

Man, I missed cheddar cheese. I had no idea how much until I snuck a bite while I was grating it. Anyway, a couple of big lessons learned from taco night abroad:

1 – Uncle Ben’s makes tortilla chips and salsa. They taste about how you’d expect. Passable, but I just wanted a Tostito.

2 – The imported Old El Paso goods found in specialty stores here is not imported from America. The salsa con queso was basically inedible!

3 – Avocados found in farmers’ markets in Italy are not as flavorful as those in the US (sounds obvious now, right?) I found this out the hard way when the fresh lemon juice called for in Ina Garten’s guacimole recipe completely overpowered the avocado taste, even when I used half the amount.

4 – Taco night abroad still gets weird. I may still be hungover. That is all.

 

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I took a cooking class at a restaurant in Trastevere in Rome today. I loved it so much, there really aren’t too many words for the experience aside from that. So, I think I’ll let some pictures do the talking, ok?

In class, we homemade pasta (first time for me)! And tiramisu, and tomato pesto, and fried pumpkin flowers.

The class, which I signed up for upon the advice of two of my fabulous readers (check out their blog about food & drink in New Orleans here) is taught by Chef Andrea Consoli, at his family’s restaurant La Fate Ristorante.

You, and a group of 11 others, make a four course lunch under Chef Andrea’s direction. Then, you sit down to eat it, along with wines paired with each dish.

All of the ingredients were local (in keeping with the zero kilometer philosphy, or what we’d call locavore in the states).

We started with fried pumpkin flower blossoms two ways: stuffed with fresh mozzarella and eggplant and stuffed with fresh mozzarella and proscuitto.

Fried in sunflower oil, they were delicate and creamy and meaty all at once.

One of the biggest revelations of the day for me was the southern Italian style tomato pesto sauce they were served with. Cherry tomatoes, basil and walnuts were the only ingredients, and it was unbelievably tasty.

Revelation No 2: I must get a pasta machine when I return to the US. Homemade pasta was surprisingly easy to make, and of course, even easier to eat.

One of Rome’s most famous pasta dishes, all’amatriciana, is so simple, yet so flavorful.

In Rome, meatballs are never served with pasta. They are a secondi, and that is it. And they are way smaller than you see in America.

Chef Andrea insists on using fresh bread soaked in milk for meatballs, and it made a huge difference texture-wise.

 Rolled in flour and then simmered in tomato sauce, they were so tender.

I’m not a dessert person (except for gelato, of course). But this tiramisu was to-die-for.

I actually think I may be able to make this at home.

Bottom line: I highly recommend this class for anyone visiting Rome for more than a few days. It’s such a fun break from sight-seeing, and Chef Andrea and his wife, Erica, are truly passionate about food and are wonderfully friendly and informative.

Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go take a long nap. Recipes to come.

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I had such a glorious lunch on Thursday. The kind of lunch that you might want to get on a plane and come to Rome just to eat.

To tell you how I got there, you must know that since arriving in Italy, I have become obsessed with carbonara. I’ve never liked the dish in America (too creamy and alfredo-like most times I’ve tried it), but here, I could eat it at every meal. The sauce is so light and velvety and meaty and delicious, even at restaurants where the food is otherwise disappointing [Update: I’ve since had a very bad version of carbonara in a restaurant with a very good reputation, making good carbonara an even better find.]

Naturally, though, since I’m in Rome, I wanted to take my carbonara experience to the next level. Being the internet lover that I am, I started searching all over for what was considered the best place to get carbonara in Rome. One restaurant repeatedly came up: Roscioli, a salumeria near Campo de’ Fiori.

So I tried to go for lunch two days in a row, successfully scoring a table on my second try. I was seated with a cheese case on my left and a wall of assorted wines on my right, which if you know me, means I had already died and gone to heaven.

It gets better.  As a “welcome,” my waiter (clad in a beautiful pair of Gucci pants) brought me a plate of goodies from the salumeria/cheese counter.

As I was seated face to face with the cheese counter, I’d already observed that the cheeses ran sometimes up to 95 Euros/kg, so I was truly excited to get to try one. It did not disappoint. Note to self: go back here to pick up meats & cheese to serve to out of town guests and pretend I eat like this all the time.

Then my carbonara arrived, and I can tell you that without having taken a bite, I knew I would agree with all my internet friends out there who’d sung its praises.

It’s made with all gourmet ingredients from their salumeria, the merits of which I could not even begin to tell you about besides that they are completely and totally delicious. The guanciale is cubed and super crisp and undoubtedly the most memorably fantastic part of the experience.

Lastly, my glamorous waiter capped off the meal by bringing a plate of cookies with a side of  hot, melted chocolate.


Roscioli is probably not the kind of place you take yourself out for lunch on a random Thursday. The service is impeccable and I’ve heard they have a gorgeous downstairs wine cellar that you can dine beside. So it’s actually a really elegant choice for a date night. But don’t worry: I’ll be doing that too!

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Dreamy Photography

My husband is taking a photography course in Rome. He’s become really good at photography and it’s so fun to look through his pictures.

For his class, he’s been taking a series of photos using an old fashioned Holga camera. It’s duct taped together, has no flash, uses old school film, and you can’t tell when it’s done – you have to count the number of photos you take in your head so you don’t print over old photos in the roll. It’s sounded like a hassle to me, but he just got some photos back from our trip to Sperlonga, and aren’t they dreamy? I love.

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