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Archive for the ‘Rome’ Category

We were lucky to have several sets of visitors with us in Rome during the second half of the trip. By November, my husband was calling me “the travel agent,” and I’d gotten pretty good, if I do say so myself, at leading an introductory walking tour of Rome from our apartment in Trastevere to the Villa Borghese.

But, embarrassingly for a fledgling tour guide, it wasn’t until the end of November that I realized where I should have started my Rome tour all along: the top of the momument to Vittorio Emanuaele II, or the “typewriter” as Romans not-so-affectionately call it.

For 7 Euros, you can take an elevator at the back of the building up to the top floor. Sounds like a rip off, but when you get to the top, believe me: you’ll see one of the best, if not the best, views of Rome possible.

Using the printed skyline guides, you can figure out where everything you’d possibly want to see during a visit to Rome is. It’s so helpful to start with an aerial view of a city when you’re beginning your trip, I think. You become familiar with where things are in relation to each other, and you can start to map out an order for the sites you want to see that makes sense.

And, most importantly, above all the traffic jams and the noise, you can truly step back and take in the beauty of Rome. With that brief but powerful refresher of why you came to Rome in the first place, I guarantee that despite your jetlag, you’ll be energized for the trip ahead.

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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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Thanksgiving in Rome is tricky. On one hand, there’s no acknowledgement of the holiday whatsoever, which really makes you want to celebrate it in some way, but, on the other hand, it’s a lot of work to pull together a meal resembling an American Thanksgiving dinner. To try or not to try? That was the question.

In the end, we compromised. We threw together an American Thanskgiving lunch, and went out for a fancier than usual Italian dinner.

From the picture above, you may be wondering if we actually were able to procure a turkey in Rome. The answer is no. Our Italian oven has a height of, at most, 8 inches. After several animated conversations where we mostly spoke English and the butcher mostly spoke Italian, we learned that it would be impossible to find a turkey small enough to fit in our oven.

So, we picked out a nice looking chicken, and said yes when the butcher asked if we wanted him to clean it out for us. This meant chopping off the head and feet in front of us, and offering us the eggs which were still inside the chicken. Things got a bit too real for me in that moment.

We picked up some bread, sausage and veggies for the stuffing at the Testacchio Market, and were on our way.

I have to say, the stuffing was my favorite part of the meal. No surprise there, since this is true for me in America as well, but it was super moist and flavorful.

We made our own breadcrumbs, which was a first for me, and cooked them with browned sausage and sauteed onions, carrots and celery.

We were unable to find brussels sprouts at the farmers’ market, so settled for cauliflower. Sauteed with olive oil, garlic and white wine, this dish turned out to be another (accidental) favorite.

As for the ambiance, importantly, we’d been given a turkey centerpiece by a friend’s mom, which took center stage on our small table.

The Italian sports channel kindly played an American football game (the previous Sunday’s Pats-Chiefs game).

Complete with naps on the couch and too frequent checks to see if the turkey (aka chicken) was done, it almost felt like home.

Because of the size of our oven (see above), we abandoned any attemps to create a pie and settled for a dessert of macaroons I’d picked up in Paris earlier in the week.

All in all, I have to say: I think the lunch was a success.

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Disconnected

My apologies, internet friends. I know it’s been a while.

A big part of the reason for my prolonged absence from the web is that the internet connection at our humble abode has been inexplicably broken for two weeks now. Apparently our phone line got crossed with a neighbor’s, disabling the wi-fi and causing us to receive numerous calls from Italians looking for a lady named Gabriella. It’s been fun.

But, more fun than that, we’ve had a bunch of visitors in town, and I’ve been spending my days playing tour guide and pretending I know everything about Rome. I visited all of the city’s major sites again, and eaten a lot. Walking everywhere is no longer preventing my pants from becoming tight.

And, in between those visits, I spent a few days in Berlin and Paris.

Needless to say, there’s lots to share about the past few weeks. Here’s to hoping the internet connection is restored today, so I can leave the coffee shop and do it from the comfort of my couch, in my pajamas, like a real blogger. Fingers crossed!

 

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Southern Style Pesto


I’m still dreaming of this Southern-style pesto sauce we made in cooking class last week. It was so bright and fresh, and better yet, it’s really, really simple to make. There are only six ingredients, and with the help of an immersion blender or mini food processor, all you have to do is buy the ingredients and blend them together. 

 

It’s great to use as a dipping sauce for any kind of fried starter (which is what we did in class), or as a sauce over your pasta, or even drizzled over some fresh mozzarella.

Basically, an excellent and deceptively simple way to impress guests while doing hardly anything at all. I love deceit! A win-win for everyone!

Southern Style Pesto
(courtesy Chef Andrea Consoli)

Three handfuls, cherry tomatoes
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Handful of almonds
Pinch of salt
2 garlic cloves
A few leaves of fresh basil

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor.
If the sauce is too liquid, add some parmesan cheese and blend again.
Bow. Serve.

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The Flower Truck

I know I write a lot about flowers, but they make me happy. I can’t help it.

I’ve been seeing a bunch of flower trucks around Rome recently. They are so adorable! The driver will either drive around making deliveries, or park on a street corner and sell to passersby.

It’s one of those things that’s just so incredibly simple and beautiful and European. It always puts a smile on my face.

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Time Out

Usually, I try to be pretty positive in this little corner of the internets. At the moment, I’m taking a siesta from work, living in Rome and traveling around Europe, eating good food, drinking good wine. I know I’m lucky. Life is very good. So let’s be real: I don’t have that much to complain about. And, really, no one would want to hear about it if I did.

That being said, I hope you’ll offer me this one small minute and allow me a brief venting session. A little time out, if you will.

Sometimes life in Italy is just hard. As I often hear from people here, la dolce vita has two sides.

The food here is, for the most part, excellent. But the service? It generally ranges from indifferent to flat out hostile. Many waiters seem genuinely annoyed that you’re at their place of business, expecting them to take your order and bring you food in exchange for money. Yesterday at lunch, I waited 45 minutes for someone to offer me a menu or a glass of water. Two hours later, when I got my check, it had a “cover charge” on it (aka a charge just for sitting down at a table, in addition to the service charge which is included). That’s been illegal in Rome for years, but no matter, I’m not an Italian, so charge me anyway if you please!

Even worse, over the weekend, we went to a restaurant with a Michelin star, and waited close to an hour for a waiter to come over and take our drink order. When he did approach the table, it was with a fake smile (really, more of a sneer), that he said “I suppose you know everything you want, now?” Yeah. We did. We’d been staring at the menu for an hour. Oh also? When we asked if we could order cocktails, the answer, simply, was “no.” Okay then. Onto wine it was. The food was good, but I was so disappointed. I’d been looking forward to going to the restaurant for so long. I thought surely if this place had a Michelin star, the service would be different than what I’ve become used to in Rome. Nope. The experience had totally been ruined, and I felt totally taken advantage of.

Also grinding my gears is Rome’s residential trash system. It’s insane. Yesterday, I went to take my trash out, and a guy on my street screamed at me in English, “What are you doing? Don’t you know it’s not time?!” Yeah, I did know that it wasn’t technically time to take my trash out (note: the appointed time is between 8:30-9:30am). But there are no trash cans outside for you to put trash in; you’re apparently expected to keep your trash festering inside your tiny apartment aside from the one hour window it’s allowed to be on the street.

And, to make it even more complicated, there are five different categories of trash and a different pick up day and trash bag you need to use for each. So, be sure to keep five separate trash cans inside your small residence. And, if you have organic waste to throw out (aka food), there are only two days a week, for a one hour window, that you can put it outside your apartment for pick up.

Does all this trash stuff sound too annoying for Italians to keep up with/care about? It’s because it is (at least in my neighborhood). My Italian neighbors leave their trash on the street corner whenever. It’s no big deal. But if you’re me, the American? Keep it inside, you idiot!

Lastly (this is it for now, I promise), these pictures I’m posting here? They may look pretty, but in actuality, I was kinda disturbed as I was taking them. Lately, around dusk, there have been massive swarms of birds zooming around the treetops, squawking crazily, and worst of all, pooping everywhere. You’ll see people walking around with umbrellas up. It’s not to keep them dry from rain. It’s for the bird s**t. And it’s black.

I literally got stuck in a sh**storm on Monday night. It seemed the perfect representation of how totally crappy I feel like foreigners are treated here a lot of the time.

But, I spent all day today in cooking class. Tomorrow, I’m going to Naples pretty much just to try the pizza. I’ll be ok. And I hope you’ll forgive me for this bratty tirade. Grazie mille.

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