September 2010

Full moon = la luna piena

On a Thursday night in Rome, I had the delight of dining at the home of a former New Yorker – a woman who has lived in Rome for some 23 years. Patricia has this fabulous house (yes house!! — it was probably a stable centuries ago) with a garden.   Beautiful,  che bella!

We sat outside in the garden listening to Miles Davis and some kind of Hungarian tango music under an avocado tree — all illuminated by the full moon.   La Luna Piena.

The evening was organized by Patricia and my closest friend in Rome:  Nina, a lovely Finnish woman with a wicked sense of humor.  Patricia fixed us aperitivi of olives,  a Parmigiano-like cheese from the Castello,  grapes and Italian bread sticks to dip a soft cheese she mixed with a culinary concoction invented by her daughter’s boyfriend.  Sidebar note:  HE was described as a young man who could both build a house and invent a mix of eggplant and garlic that would replace aphrodisia for the gods.

You know how you can fill up on “starters” only to have the cook announce “dinner is ready”?  Oh, dear.  The wine flowed as we made our way from the garden to the dinner table inside.  The meal of braised chicken thighs with shallots and peppers over a bed of couscous with sultanas garnered a culinary standing ovation.  Limoncello and biscotti for dessert.  Are you kidding?   Burp.

The entire meal experience in a private Roman home was a highlight!

I followed the meal with a long passeggiata.  While on this stroll, I took a picture under the sienna moonlight, and wondered at the romantic street names.  In NYC its 13th Street.  Or, Fifth Avenue.  Here: Via del Neofiti and Via del Madonna dei Monti — hanging vines and all!

On a crystal-clear,  sunny morning,  I headed once again to one of my favorite spots in Rome:  the Campo dei Fiori.  Though it has all the characteristics of a piazza, it doesn’t have that name because it was once the spot where they executed infidels and the like.  I recall reading once it couldn’t be called a piazza because executions weren’t allowed in a piazza.  Sounds a little bit like a myth.  I’ll have to research that one and get back to you.

Anyway.  Campo means “field” as in field of flowers — oh and right in the middle of the square is the statue of some guy who was executed in that “field” not piazza “of flowers.”

The Campo is now home to all manner of vegetation besides flowers.  It is the site 6 days a week (taking a rest on Sunday) to a wonderful farmers market.  Filled with familiar and not so familiar veggies.  All sorts of curious greens.  And industrious vendors.  I saw a man today patiently cutting the ends off green beans — about 4 at a time — and tossing them into a bowl of water.  Dinner for some busy Roman mama who doesn’t have the time to string her own.

I picked up my breakfast at the Forno Campo dei Fiori: pizza bianca, and walked one square over to the Piazza Farnese.  You mght recall my story of the sudden rainfall (down a little bit from this post).  It was in Farnese.  On this day,  I sat with my pizza on the benches of the Palazzo Farnese,  watching the Italian mamas and their little ones nibbling on THEIR Bianca with a flock of birds flying in a wild formation, and nuns scuttling through the square.  In the background I heard someone yelling “Guido. Guido”.

Yes,  it’s true — open up your eyes, ears and heart a little in Roma, and you too will find yourself in a Fellini-film moment.  True magic!

I can find the Pantheon in Rome practically in my sleep.  That is, until I want to visit.  I wander and wander and wander, and still no Pantheon.  That’s often my experience when I travel:  I hit upon my favorite places merely by happenstance.

Several hours after my tortelloni lunch and a visit to another exquisite Caravaggio (Madonna of Loreto at the Church of Sant’Agostino),  I figured it was time for the day’s dessert (likely instead of gelato — though maybe not. The day is, after all, only half done).

Anyhoo — the dolce di giorno was granita di caffé — from the Tazza d’Oro near the Pantheon.  It is a sweetened coffee icey confection, layered with unsweetened whipped cream.  I’m pretty sure when you read about the ambrosia of the Gods: this is It!

I would go so far to say that if you had to choose (only under threat of death) between gelato and this heavenly iced dessert,  you’d be better to choose the granita.  You can always find good gelato in the States, but you have to come to Rome for the granita di caffé.

That makes it a pretty expensive treat (air fare included).

It was a beautiful,  warm yet slightly overcast Wednesday in Roma and I tried some new experiences.   I caught up with a couple of my beloved Caravaggio paintings (Crucifixion of Saint Peter and Conversion of Saint Paul — both incredibile), and then thrust myself right into the 21st Century.

I visited Maxxi:  the new truly modern art museum, designed by the great Iraqi architect: Zaha Hadid.  The museum was — as the kids say — waaaay cool.  An interesting exhibition of the work of Luigi Moretti , the dude who designed grandiose spaces for Il Duce as well as the Watergate complex.

Afterwards,  I set off to find an intimate ristorante on a little side street.  The trattorias are, of course, all over the cittá of Rome.  I found this place called Osteria Margutta.  And, devoured a wonderful lunch of Tortellini stuffed with ricotta and walnuts — though they claimed it was zucca: pumpkin.  All covered in a luscious cream sauce.  Fabulous!!!   Or, as they say about food: squisito.

I’d show you a picture but oops I ate it all before I had a chance to take the snap.

Such is the wonderful adventure of looking for something new.  And finding something squisito!

What can I say.  When in Rome:  eat it.  Every day.  At least once.  Sometimes twice.

If you get my list of must-do”s in Rome (and if you’re coming to Rome even if you don’t know me, you’re required to get that list) always sempre always on the List is the pasta dish called Cacio e Pepe.   Simply it means ‘cheese and pepper’.  In practice, it takes a gifted hand in the kitchen to turn pasta and some of its water with parmigiano reggiano and black pepper into one of the best pasta dishes ever!

The first time I ever saw it is at this little hole in the wall Sora Margherita in the Jewish Ghetto.  In Rome, of course.  I watched as plate after plate of it came steaming out of the kitchen and knew right then and there:  I wanted it!

I was – for some odd reason – too intimidated to ask.  So I figured it had to have the word “parmigiana” in it, being so cheesy and all.  So,  I mumbled parmigiano and ended up with some red-sauced dish I suspect was Eggplant Parmigiano.   Certainly, not the steaming plate of pasta with the mound of cheese I was expecting.

Right up there with pizza bianca and my daily serving of gelato comes the pasta of my dreams: cacio e pepe.  Want it.  Gotta have it.  And,  I do!  Every trip is a return trip to Sora Margherita.  A place, by the way,  you can barely find, hidden as it is behind the fall of red ropes at its door.  The sign outside is new.

You know how you’ll run into an Italian restaurant in the US, and it has some kind of Italian name that may not necessarily make sense to Italians but it sounds so, well, Italian.

Okay so this is a stretch as a food theme.  Work with me here (poor is saying hey! You used to write this stuff on me!).  Anyhoo.  In the neighborhood where I’m staying there is a shop that sells Nikes and other sneakers.  Tiny little place I walk by every day on the way to the main stretch of Via Nazionale.

They call the store Beaverton.  How funny is that.  Here we are: girl from Marion Street in Albany, Oregon in Rome happens upon an Italian store — selling sneakers invented in Oregon — and named after a Portland suburb.  Well, in fairness, there is a Nike connection but the Italians don’t know that.  They probably just find the name clever!  Or, should I say ingegnoso.

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