Cakes are popular here in Italy. I am not sure I realized the few times we had come to Italy that they held such high esteem in the culinary rubric. But they are a mainstay at most cafes; usually perched on one end of the bar or even tucked behind the counter where only those in the know can ask for a slice. These are not typically layered cakes. They are most often baked in a decorative mold or a simple spring form pan. I have most often seen them with no icing though occasionally one turns up with a light glaze of some sort. They also tend to be less sweet than what we are accustomed to in the States. A particular favorite of mine is the Apple cake. Certainly this time of the year is the optimal season to make it. Here is one such recipe that I that I have adapted, through some trial and error, from a recently purchased cookbook, Roma in Cucina. Enjoy!
We have been blessed with fabulously gorgeous weather here in Rome. But there is no denying it Fall has arrived. The nights and mornings are chilly and the afternoons warm and sunny. Great weather to be out and about in Rome.
Today we went to a restaurant in one of the more touristy areas of Rome, just off Piazza Navona. Actually I am not sure where in Rome isn’t touristy but more about that in a future blog. Anyway we went to a restaurant that we tried with a visitor a couple of weeks ago. She raved about the ravioli and I raved about the broccoli soup with fish which sounded terrible and I hedged on ordering it. With some encouragement from our waiter I went for it and did not for one second regret it. What came to the table was an intensely flavored tomato based soup with chunks of cauliflower and broccoli with a hint of seafood in the background. Today I was really craving this soup or really any soup done up like the broccoli number so we headed over to Virginiae to give it another try.
Our waiter started us with freshly prepared artichokes Roman style which means whole roasted in olive oil and white wine and garnished with mint or parsley. They were tangy, tender and perfectly seasoned.
The soup of the day was bean and pasta. A really great dish and a very Roman one. I have recently purchased two cookbooks specific to Roman cookery and both have some version of bean and pasta soup in it. It is what I think of as home style cooking; relaxed, earthy and unpretentious. This one too was basically a tomato base with beans and small thin triangular pieces of pasta evenly dispersed in the broth and beans. I will be preparing this for a future post this coming week.
Via di Parione, 41, 00186 Roma
06 687 5150
I did not have a photo of the rice cake I mentioned in a previous blog about the lunch at All’Osteria Bottega so I figured that would be a good excuse to track down a recipe and share it here. As you will see it is really a simple recipe but does take some time in preparing the rice. After that it is really straight forward. This makes a really moist cake that is delicious for breakfast with coffee or tea or as a traditional dessert after dinner.
Rice Cake Recipe
1 quart of whole milk
4 oz. of arborio rice
3/4 cup of sugar
1/2 cup of finely chopped toasted almonds
1/2 cup of chopped candied fruit peel, **See note.
the peel of 1/2 a lemon
1-2 jiggers of Amaretto or other liquor (I used Brandy)
- Bring milk to a boil. Add the sugar, rice and lemon peel and reduce heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 45- 50 minutes. Make sure to stir periodically to avoid burning the rice.
- When the rice and milk mixture has thickened (the mixture should be completely thick with no liquid visible) remove from the heat and let stand to cool completely.
- When thoroughly cooled add one egg at a time. Stir in vigorously with a wooden spoon to make sure all eggs are well incorporated into the mixture.
- Add the candied fruit peel and the finely chopped toasted almonds and Amaretto. Stir until all is well incorporated into the rice batter.
- Butter and flour a 10″ x 10″ cake pan. I used a small pyrex dish and it came out fine.
- Place in a preheated oven at 325 degrees for one hour (mine took about 15min. more). Check the center with a toothpick. If the toothpick comes out clean remove from the oven and allow to cool before trying to remove from the cake pan.
- When cooled remove from the cake pan and slice into small cubes.
***Note: If you can’t find candied fruit peel you can always substitute with the zest of your preference. Also the cake I had at the restaurant used Amaretto but you can use whatever type of alcohol you prefer. I did not have Amaretto so I used Brandy.
A short jaunt to Bologna for two nights at the week’s end offered a quiet respite from the intensity and chaos of Rome. This town, situated in the Emilia Romagna region, boasts some of the best food to be found in all of Italy. Barely mentioned in the Rick Steve’s Italy guide it also seemed to have fewer tourists than say Venice or other more tourist trampled cities in Italy. Yes, as stated in a recent article published by the New York Times, it is admittedly scruffy and has a patina that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. But it is hard not to appreciate the passion for food, design and style that is at every corner turned in this medieval city about two hours northeast of Rome.
We arrived at around noon and were pretty hungry from an early morning commute. After checking into our hotel, lunch time, Italian time, was quickly approaching.
We headed out to find All’Osteria Bottega; a restaurant that we had wanted to try for dinner but was fully booked. We figured that for lunch we might have chance at getting in. Finally after about a 10 minute walk we arrived at 51 Via Santa Caterina; an unassuming place that was at once discreet and welcoming. We stepped into what looked like an almost empty dining room where we were pleasantly and wholeheartedly greeted by the owner and his wife. The empty tables would soon become a thing of the past as the place slowly began to fill with mainly local Italians who were obviously regulars as they were courted by the owners like old friends. There were only two other tourists who sat patiently outside waiting for an available table.
Our waitress was very accommodating. We started by ordering a bottle of Manaresi Duesettante wine which is comprised of Sauvingon, Chardonnay and Pignoletto grapes. The Pignoletto is the grape that makes it specific to the region even if it has been recently matched by DNA to another grape with Umbrian origin. It was smooth and dry with light earthy tones that paired nicely with the Bolognese cooking.
Our waitress recommended a sampling of regional cured meats, Parmesan cheese, and of course Mortadella which originated in Bologna. Shortly thereafter a platter of thinly sliced Mortadella, Prosciutto and Culatello, an exclusive type of Prosciutto from a black pig that is found in these parts of northern Italy, along with a small but ample sampling of Parmesan. We were instructed by the hostess to start with the Mortadella and the Prosciutto and work our way around finishing with the Culatello. I think luxurious is the best word here for describing these wonderful samples of local specialty meats. They were both robust and silky in texture; emphatically fatty…yes, luxurious.
For our main courses we ordered ravioli stuffed with rabbit and pigeon served with cannelloni beans and a meat and wine reduction. The ravioli were light and delicate little pillows filled with a stuffing that had an amazing depth of flavor that was augmented by the rich sauce.
Following we ordered the baby pigeon served over a bed of slow cooked turnip greens and a red wine and balsamic vinegar reduction. The pigeon breasts were incredibly delicious and somewhat sweet which contrasted nicely with the welcomed bitter undertones of the sautéed turnip greens and balsamic vinegar.
For dessert we decided reluctantly on the rice cake which is regional dessert. We were, I guess, skeptical as rice cake has never been one of my favorites. After some debate we decided to go for it and whow…were we ever surprised by this delicious light and moist cake that had been flavored with toasted almonds. This gave the cake a decidedly new life with a welcome change in texture to that of the mushy rice cakes I have eaten I in the past.
All’ Osteria Bottega
via Santa Caterina, 51