Rome, Del Frate


There is little doubt that the most wonderful pool in Rome is situated in the Foro Italica complex. The complex, a premier example of Fascist architecture was actually not constructed until some years later for the 1960’s Olympics. The walls and pool deck are all decorated with marble mosaics and the basin itself is completely clad in white Carrara marble. Membership can be obtained for no fewer than five days and up to one year. If you are planning to be in Rome for a long enough stay and are a serious swimmer it is by far the best place to swim. Be prepared with a doctor’s note stating that you are physically fit for swimming or you will not be admitted.
Tablesetting

On our last swim we headed over to one of our favorite restaurants, Del Frate. It is technically a wine bar and is connected to a shop specializing in wine and fine spirits. The actual bar and restaurant serves an eclectic mix of classical Italian fare as well as some slightly French and Asian inspired dishes. We have been for both lunch and dinner and it has never disappointed.
Cheese Plate
We started with a sampling of two cheeses, a Blu del Monviso from the Piemonte region and Quartirolo from Lombardie, and two glasses of Borolo, Prunotto 2011. The Blu del Monviso is very reminiscent of a french Roquefort style cheese. The Quartirolo, textured somewhat like a goat cheese, had an appealing array floral and fruity notes. The cheeses were served with a condiment of Orange Blossom Honey, pickled watermelon rind and a basket of fresh bread.

For one of our main dishes we ordered the risotto cooked in red wine with Parmesan cheese. It was deliciously garnished with crispy bits of sausage and fresh Thyme. For our second main course we decided to try the chicken cooked in a Wok. The chicken was cooked with an assortment of julienned carrots and zucchini and served in a rich aromatic broth of soy sauce and sesame oil with a sprinkling of fresh ginger. The carrots were perfectly cooked, retaining some of their crunch while the zucchini was soft and mellow but not mushy as can often be the case. It was a startling and very delicious combination of dishes! With friendly service, great food and wine this is a sure bet for lunch, aperitif, or dinner.
www.enotecadelfrate.it

Alba, La Libera

LaLibera
After a long day of travel, 4 hours by train and 1-hour car ride, a slow relaxing dinner was exactly what we wanted and La Libera did not disappoint. It is the perfect place to relax and enjoy some of the best food the piedmont region has to offer. To begin we ordered the white truffle ravioli stuffed with spinach and ricotta. To our surprise there was also a whole quail egg seductively placed within the stuffing. A shaving of white truffles over the top of the ravioli was the final touch of excellence to this first course.


We proceeded with another regional specialty, the veal with tuna sauce. The tuna sauce is pretty much a puree and is divided squarely into two camps: one prepared with mayonnaise and one without. Traditionalists are definitely in the latter camp. The veal was beautifully presented; sliced thin with a dollop of the tuna sauce and a sprinkling of capers. This dish is peculiar in its mix of ingredients and flavors but its complexity and depth of flavor far outweigh that.
VealwithTunaSauce

For our main dishes we ordered the veal steak with capers and slow cooked lamb with thyme and roasted potatoes. The veal was served with impossibly thin potatoes that had been compressed and baked pave style and then sliced into one very compact cube. The lamb was tender and deliciously scented with the thyme. The potatoes were nicely browned and slightly crunchy on the outside but very soft and creamy on the inside.
VealSteak

Instead of a traditional dessert we opted for a dessert wine, providing the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
www.lalibera.com

 

Cannellini Beans and Pasta

Referencing the blog I posted a couple of weeks ago about a local restaurant here in Rome that serves typical Roman dishes I have provided here a recipe with some variations on the same theme of beans and pasta.  I am sure this sounds strange, or at least it did to me when I first saw this on menus here in Rome.  But in fact the two work quite well together.  The misconception lies in the fact that the pasta does not share equal billing with the beans.  Essentially the pasta’s role is more about being a vehicle for the sauce as well as adding a layer of texture that would otherwise not exist.   I don’t consider the pasta to be a  key figure in the flavor profile of the dish.   Having said this I highly recommend you try it in the dish before opting to leave it out on the first try.  I have now made this several times and frankly can’t imagine the dish without the addition of pasta.  Almost any type of pasta works as long as it is a small one.
This dish could be served as an appetizer in a small portion or larger portion as a main dish.

One thing that is also really nice about this dish it’s very adaptable to a wide range of herbs and spices to transform it into a totally different dish. It also works well as a base for meat as well as fish.  I have provide a few alternatives at the end of this post to the basic recipe provided below.

Cannellini Beans with Pasta

8 oz. cannellini beans fresh or dried. If dried soak in salted water overnight.

1 small carrot chopped finely

1 small onion chopped finely

½ a stalk of celery plus any leaves attached chopped finely

2 tbs. of tomato paste or tomato sauce

1tbs. or more of chopped fresh Rosemary (or other fresh herb)

Instructions:

1). Cook the beans on medium heat in enough salted water to cover the beans by half in a pot. Add water as needed during the cooking process.

2). When the beans are tender remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Cooked Cannellini Beans

3) Meanwhile sautee the chopped ingredients in olive oil until soft and tender. It’s fine if they brown slightly.

4) Drain the beans and add only the bean’s cooking liquid to the sautéed vegetables.  Allow to simmer with more water if necessary until the vegetables are tender. Puree in a blender or blitz with a hand held blender and return puree to the pot.


5) Add the beans and the tomato paste and chopped fresh rosemary and allow to simmer very gently. Add salt as needed.

6) If using fresh pasta chop into bite size pieces and add to the beans and liquid. If using dried pasta it is recommended to select a very small pasta such a small macaroni or small penne for this recipe. Cook separately and add to the beans when the past is cooked al dente.  It will continue to cook and absorb liquid in the liquid of the beans.

Other variations:

1) Add a meat ragu as a topping. (left photo)
2) Add chopped zucchini to the beans and past and allow to cook on medium high heat for about 10 minutes. Serve with seared salmon in a shallow bowl.(right photo)
3) Replace the rosemary with fresh thyme, lemon thyme, sage, or oregano. Could change out any of these for your favorite fresh herb.
4) Add crisped bacon or pancetta as a topping.
5) Can also be made with different beans. Here in Italy it is often prepared with chickpeas. I have it a couple of times with cranberry beans and the results are delicious and earthy.

Venice…and then Murano!

VeniceFeatureImage

We became tourists; Cara enlisted as guide a midget Venetian nobleman to whom all doors were open and with him at her side and a guide book in her hand, she came with us, flagging sometimes but never giving up, a neat, prosaic figure amid the immense splendors of the place.

The fortnight at Venice passed quickly and sweetly—perhaps too sweetly; I was drowning in honey, stingless. On some days life kept pace with the gondola, as we nosed through the side-canals and the boatman uttered his plaintive musical bird-cry of warning; on other days with the speed-boat bouncing over the lagoon in a stream of sunlit foam; it left a confused memory of fierce sunlight on the sands and cool, marble interiors; of water everywhere, lapping on smooth stone, reflected in a dapple of light on painted ceilings; of a night at the Corombona palace such as Byron might have known, and another Byronic night fishing for scampi in the shallows of Chioggia, the phosphorescent wake of the little ship, the lantern swinging in the prow, and the net coming up full of weed and sand and floundering fishes; of melon and prosciutto on the balcony in the cool of the morning; of hot cheese sandwiches and champagne cocktails at Harry’s bar. [Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited]

We were in Venice a month or so ago. It is a magical and mysterious place to visit with all the seemingly endless canals and a labyrinth of narrow streets. This with a intriguing  mix of Byzantine influenced architecture and Renaissance palaces are a heady combination.
St.Marks Square

It can also be maddeningly crowded.  But there are the other lagoons to visit and I highly recommend this.  We opted for Murano as Geno Seguso, had invited us for a private tour of his family’s glass workshop, Seguso Archimede, http://www.aseguso.com. The tour  included a  museum of sorts with examples of the workshop’s early works as well as current production items.  Everything from tableware, mirrors, chandeliers, to figurines and bathroom accessories were on display.  The visit ended with a brief visit to the hot ovens to experience first hand the fabrication process.
MuranoglasschandelierI

After the tour we decided to stay on the lagoon for lunch. We had already spotted, what looked to be, an interesting Osteria on a brief walk through the center of town before our tour.  Osteria Acqua Stanca, http://www.acquastanca.it mainly specializes in freshly prepared seafood dishes.  There desserts are also made in house and are well known for a delicious lemon tart which was unavailable the day we visited.
AcquaStancaMurano
AcquaStancaInteriorI
We started with Shrimp that had been wrapped in shredded phylo and fried until crispy. Served with a mildly spicy mayonnaise they were crisp, fresh and flavorful.

Other dishes included seared tuna with a zucchini cream to which a drizzle of very flavorful olive oil was added. Italians love the combination of oil drizzled into creamed vegetables and so do I.  The combination of textures, oily and at the same time creamy offers a much welcomed complexity to what could otherwise be flat and unappealing.

ScampiPastaMurano
One dish that stood out was the spaghetti served with prawns.  This was a simply prepared dish; fresh prawns, house made spaghetti, all dressed with a light broth and a high quality olive oil. The scampi were sweet and tender while the pasta, sturdy and the sauce slick on the palate.

DessertMuarno

For dessert we ordered an apple pie with cinnamon ice cream. Not a bad way to end our excursion to Murano.

This dish recalled one we used to order from a trattoria which was dangerously located only a few doors down from our apartment in New York.  Their version included radicchio along with the prawns. Radicchio is a variety of chicory that is quite popular here in Italy.  I used this as an opportunity to combine Osteria Acqua Stanca’s version with what I remembered from the trattoria in New York.   I  have also included a small amount of home made tomato sauce to feather out or transition flavors from sweet to bitter. So basically the dish is built around the sweetness of the prawns and tied together with a small amount of acidity in the form of tomato sauce and then delicately laced with the bitterness of the radicchio.

The procedure for this dish may seem like a lot of work and prep for a pasta dish. Really, I think it is worth the effort.  The flavors are more complex than your typical run of the mill pasta with seafood dish.  Feel free to replace the prawns with shrimp; rock shrimp would be a great option.  You can certainly use dried pasta that will cut down on some of the prep time. The rest is just preparing a quick tomato sauce and broth that will be used to bind the scampi with the pasta.

Prawns with Spaghetti and Radicchio

ScampiII

1 dozen whole fresh prawns

1/4 head of radicchio roughly chopped

1/2 -3/4 cup of tomato sauce, preferably homemade

spaghetti, fresh or dried

For the Scampi Broth

1 dozen heads and shells from fresh prawns

1 small onion, roughly chopped

1/2 stalk of celery, roughly chopped

1/2 carrot, roughly chopped

2 stems and leaves of parsley, roughly chopped

salt and pepper

Instructions:

For the Scamp Broth

1). Remove the heads and shells from the flesh of the prawns.  Keep the meat of the prawns in a bowl covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator until needed.  Reserve the heads and outer shells in a medium size pot filled with cold water.

2). Add the chopped vegetables, salt and pepper and more water to sufficiently cover the shells and vegetables, bring to a medium boil.  Once it reaches a medium boil reduce the heat to keep the pot between a simmer and low boil for 25-30 minutes.

3) Strain the broth and discard the solids. DO NOT try to press the solids in an attempt to extract more liquid or flavor.  With fish and shellfish stocks or broth this will result in a cloudy and murky broth in both appearance and flavor.

Prawn and Radicchio Assembly

1).  In a medium sauté pan sauté the prawns in olive oil until opaque and reserve in another bowl.

2).  Deglaze the pan with a few splashes of white wine and then gradually add about 1/2 cup of the prepared broth.  Bring to a boil and allow to reduce slightly.

3).  Add the chopped radicchio and allow to wilt on medium heat.  It will turn quite dark which is normal.

ThreePlusComponents

4).  Gradually add about 1/4 cup of tomato sauce and reduce slightly.  Add 1/2 the sautéd prawns and allow to simmer and reduce slightly.  The prawns will break down but will also start to intensify the flavor of the sauce. From this point on work back and forth between the broth and tomato sauce until you reach the desired thickness. Note in the photo that in my version the tomato sauce is barely present on the pasta.  You may only need the 1/4 cup of tomato sauce depending on how much broth you add in the intervals. Check and rectify the seasoning with salt.

5). Meanwhile prepare the spaghetti keeping it al dente to taste.

6). When the spaghetti is done add it to the sauce in the pan and toss to coat the pasta.  Serve and garnish with remaining prawns.

Sauced