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
Here is a dish that was inspired primarily by chilly Fall evenings and the abundance of fresh pumpkin showing up at all the markets here in Rome. You may remember the pumpkin risotto with clams we sampled a few weekends ago at La Quercia on an especially chilly and rainy Saturday. Pumpkin finds its way in many Roman dishes from Soups to Stuffing for Ravioli. In fact this puree, thinned out with chicken or vegetable stock is really delicious as a soup the next day. Continue reading Stuffed Pork Loin and Pumpkin Puree
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 the picture galleries we headed downstairs and out the back into a wonderful courtyard to view the perspective colonnade by Borromini. The rain was pouring but nothing could take away from this fascinating three dimensional perspective. Be sure to check it out here: http://www.artbabble.org/video/ngadc/empire-eye-magic-illusion-palazzo-spadas-corridor-part-5
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.
The following is my interpretation of the cabbage soup from last weekend in Puglia. I decided with Autumn in our midst that some crisped pancetta would make a nice addition to this dish. I already consider cabbage an Autumn food so why not play that up? Enjoy!
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.
This is a dish that really puts the homemade tomato sauce in a previous post to perfect use. This recipe was inspired by a dish I had a few weeks ago for lunch in Sorrento. Like so many Italian dishes the ingredients are simple but combined with care and finesse. Here you will see that I have used only one large eggplant which really makes more than enough for two people as a side dish. However you can easily alter the proportions to serve as many people as you need. Just bare in mind that you will need enough cheese and tomato sauce for each layer of eggplant that you add to this recipe. If you have any leftovers it is wonderful at room temperature or warmed with a salad of Arugula. Continue reading Baked Eggplant with Mozzarella
Following is a recipe for a very basic tomato sauce that was inspired by some strange torpedo shaped tomatoes I found earlier in the week at the market in Campo di Fiori. The vendor explained that these tomatoes were from Naples and ideal for making tomato sauce. If you feel that basic tomato sauce is not worth your time you should really reconsider and give it a shot. The wonderful thing about this sauce is that like all basic sauces it is really the foundation for whatever additional ingredients you would like to add depending on the final dish you are preparing. One further note is that I did not peel the tomatoes as I used a food mill to process the cooked tomatoes which pretty much eliminates the peel. If you are using a blender, which is perfectly acceptable, you may want to peel the tomatoes first. Otherwise just puree and pass the final puree through a china cap strainer or fine mesh strainer.