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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Instead of a traditional dessert we opted for a dessert wine, providing the perfect ending to a wonderful meal. www.lalibera.com
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Saturday was once again rainy and a bit dreary. But the upside is that the tourist stay in while we venture out. And, frankly, Rome not unlike Paris is actually quite beautiful in the rain. The cobblestone streets and sidewalks come alive; wet, shiny and reflective. The green of vegetation becomes exaggerated and enhanced creating a contrast to the otherwise gray smog stained buildings.
We took a nice walk over to Palazzo Spada and spent a few hours or so touring the picture galleries of this wonderful renaissance palace. Only one floor is open to the public but enough paintings and period furnishings to keep us occupied for the morning.
After spending some time photographing and pondering the genius of this architectural wonder we headed back out into the wet city. Not far from the entrance to the gallery there is a restaurant, La Quercia, that we have passed many times but had never tried. This time with so much rain and no other place in mind for lunch it seemed destined for a first try.
We were the first to arrive for lunch. This is typical for us. Somehow we have not gotten accustomed to eating lunch as late as the locals do. Lunch here does not really get started until at least one and really even later on weekends. The interior is very warm and cozy; the perfect place for this rainy day.
We started by ordering a bottle of Poggio Dei Gelsi. This was the least expensive bottle on the menu but the only white from the Lazio region which is to say a local vineyard. The wine was fairly dry and went well with everything we ordered; the perfect table wine.
Our waiter soon arrived with a basket of fresh Porcini mushrooms and suggested we try them in one of two ways; either sauteed or with fettuccine. We opted to share the sauteed version.
The mushrooms were sliced and diced into nice size chunks and sauteed in olive oil along with garlic and rosemary. Grilled whole wheat bread was nestled in for soaking up the sauce. These were really really good. So succulent!
Next we decided on one of the special dishes of the day which was risotto and pumpkin with clams. Again, a really delicious dish. The salty sea infused clams contrasted nicely with the creamy background of the pumpkin while the rice, cooked al dente, offered texture and balance.
The final dish we ordered and shared as well was the rabbit cooked with black olives. A beautiful presentation with glossy black olives and creamy puree of potatoes and again some bread nestled in for soaking up the sauce. The rabbit had been braised with herbs and garlic and was super tender and succulent.
All in all a wonderful rainy Saturday here in Rome.
Friday we boarded a plane bound for Bari and just forty-five minutes later we were driving across the southeast side of the “boot” surrounded by olive groves and almond trees. We arrived too early to check-in to the hotel which was located in the heart of the town just off the main piazza, Piazza del Popolo. Our room was not ready so we headed out for a walk through the small village filled with Trulli. These dwellings date back to the early 17th century and are a fascinating attraction in this area of Puglia. Remarkably, many are still inhabited today. We were able to visit one occupied by a family graciously excepting visitors.
After a bit of wandering through the winding roads looking at all the different features of these dwellings we headed back to the main piazza for lunch. We settled on Miseriaenobilta, a restaurant serving typical dishes from this region. We started with a calamari stuffed with ricotta and herbs and a delicious octopus salad on a warm bed of potatoes.
For our second dish (yes we ordered too much food but…) we ordered Orecchiette with sausage and zucchini and Strascicate with shrimp and scallops. Both pastas, which mean “little ears” because of their shape, were very good. I really preferred the Orecchiette with sausage and zucchini. The sauce on the Orecchiette was extremely light and tangy which paired nicely with the earthy flavors of the sausage. It was not over dressed with too much sauce or sausage. Mine on the other hand was a little heavy but super fresh. One note worth mentioning is that my pasta with seafood also had toasted walnuts in the mix which was unexpected but quite nice; adding an interesting texture to the dish. There are an abundance of walnuts in this region so it makes sense that they have found their way into all types of dishes including ones with seafood. We drank Punga Rosa, Cantina Rivera, a rose from the region, which went perfectly with both dishes.
After lunch we headed across the piazza to our hotel and checked in for a brief but badly needed afternoon nap. We were up just in time to catch the Territory Museum which is located in a group of connected Trulli. This museum covers the history of the town and some small exhibits of artifacts and photographs related to the area. After the museum and a little more strolling we were ready to call it quits and head for a glass of wine or two. Our dinner reservation was not until eight o’clock so we had some time to relax and get ready to go out once again.
Dinner was at a small restaurant, Favola in Tavola, situated on one of the main streets which divides the town between a tourist zone and a residential zone; both still populated with Trulli. We arrived a little early and were greeted by our hostess who was also our waitress. She seated us in a small intimate alcove with a fireplace all made of the local stone which resembles limestone. This was the perfect spot to unwind after a long day of travel. We both started with a smooth cabbage soup dotted with mussels and covered in a shroud of shredded celery and arugula. Both of us agreed this was really delicious. I will be sharing my verison of this dish shortly. Again, it is really simple ingredients but combined with care and attention to each one.
We then ordered sea bass studded with herbs over roasted beets and and a seared tuna with a chopped celery and herb mix. The tuna was the most successful of the two dishes. The sea bass was overpowered by the beets. We also both agreed that the two flavors, fish and beets, were not particularly great together. My dish was well executed in both flavor and preparation; not too rare and not too done.
We shared a bottle of “Il Selva”, Cantine Albea. This, is a local dry white comprised of Bianco Verdeca, Bianco D’ Alessano and Faino varieties paired nicely with both dishes.
Our meal at Favola in Tavola was a nice ending to a day of adventure and sites. We returned to the hotel and started planning our next stop in this beautiful region of Italy.
We spent much of our first morning wandering around the narrow tourist packed streets of the village of Sorrento. We stumbled onto a flea market which is always a pleasant surprise. After finding the perfect tablecloth for our terrace dining table we were able to muster up enough Italian to ask the vendor where we should eat lunch. She immediately suggested a place that, unless researched on the internet, we would have never chosen or even noticed. Oddly, there is nothing from the street side that would beckon any tourist to stop and consider the menu. The main event is much deeper into what is really an expansive indoor/outdoor restaurant with beautiful gardens well dressed with garden sculpture and fountains. It is worth noting that much of the exterior garden dining is really sheltered by arbors and lemon trees.
Don’t get me wrong; we soon learned that tourist are brought in for a tour which included bread and wine and an audio presentation by the matriarch of the establishment. This included an oral history of the place dotted with some amusing stories about the opening and origin of the restaurant. The restaurant takes great pride in being recognized in Wikipedia for being the inventor of the cannoli which is still served today using the original recipe. Thankfully, these interludes are short lived and frankly most of the tourists don’t stay for lunch. Also those coming in unannounced as we were are seated among the Italians, local or otherwise, who had either reserved or were known by the restaurant staff.
We promptly ordered wine and a bottle of sparkling. The traveler ordered the risotto with seafood (you may recognize a pattern forming here) and I ordered the grilled fish fillet with a side of baked eggplant and mozzarella. This last side dish turned out to be the real show stopper. Don’t misunderstand. The grilled fish was excellent and fresh and perfect for a hot late Summer day. The risotto, too was rich and delicious; filled and garnished with seafood.
All main dishes aside this eggplant dish was captivating. Many might just, as I did in the beginning, assume it was Eggplant Parmesan. However, the menu pointed in a slightly different direction when instead of Parmesan it called out Mozzarella di Bufala. The Mozzarella paired with the rich and tangy tomato sauce with a hint of Basil and then baked and served in its baking dish became a creamy tomato and eggplant dish to savor and remember for my own version at home. So stay tuned in the Recipe section for my version prepared in our kitchen in Rome.
Last weekend we were able to escape the vicious heat of urban Rome and head south to Sorrento where, though still quite warm, we were able to enjoy the sea and sea breezes that makes the late Summer heat seem a little more bearable. The truth of the matter is that we had always wanted to visit a modern icon in the arena of hotel design. So what a better time now that we are in Italy for an extended stay? The hotel, Parco dei Principi designed by Gio Ponti and build in 1961, is truly remarkable in its modernist design if not in its location. It is perched high above the sea imbedded in a cliff facing the sea on one side while the entrance side is surrounded by lush tropical gardens. The design of the hotel encompasses much more than just a modernist shell; it also has custom designed tiles, lighting and furniture throughout.
One very interesting aspect of the hotel is its famous pool and of course the diving platform.
Since our arrival here in Rome we have been blessed with wonderful warm sunny days (one might even say hot). However, Saturday changed all of that at least in part. We awoke early Saturday morning to downpours like we haven’t seen since leaving the States. So what better to do than duck into a museum and spend the morning inside while it rains and clears off outside? We headed for the National Museum of Rome which really far exceeded our expectations. The collection is divided into four main categories: Sculpture, Mosaics, Frescoes, and coins. We were able to easily and enjoyably take in the sculpture and most of the mosaics and frescoes before hunger and sunlight from the skylights got the best of us. We will definitely be returning to finish at some point.
Leaving the museum we headed over to one or our favorite spots for lunch, Osteria Gusto, which actually took more time than expected but it was good to be out and about as it was really turning out to be a beautiful day in Rome.
Osteria Gusto is one of our favorite places to lunch. We always start with one of the Fritto Misto plates to share. This time we tried the whole shebang which included fried zucchini flowers stuffed with cheese and anchovies, fried zucchini, and the usual fried shrimps and calamari. The zucchini flowers and zucchini were a little too heavily battered for my taste. The seafood on the other hand were fried in a light tempura style batter which was really delicious.
For our next courses I ordered the Tonnarelli with Pecorino and Pepper which is a very classic Roman pasta dish. The pasta is somewhat like a thicker spaghetti and of course is cooked al dente. It is a sturdy and very filling dish.
We then ordered a risotto with shrimp and lemon sauce that was very luxurious in texture and taste. The texture was not like so many risottos that are rich and creamy. The rice/risotto in this dish still had its own identity, cooked al dente, and the sauce applied much like a dressing. It rather reminded me of a pilaf instead of the more creamy risottos that I sometimes find a too creamy and mushy.