Designing the menu for my cooking classes is part of the fun. Like selecting an outfit for the grand ball, it all has to go together, you don’t want to be too fussy or complicated, and at the end, you want to look spectacular.
And so for an antipasto, I go back to a simple recipe I learned from a chef and restaurant owner in Rome several years ago.
Praline di caprino e noci con miele (little goat cheese balls adorned with walnuts, honey, parmigiana-reggiano, and balsamico) have been the starter for many meals in my home since then.
The best part is how easy and foolproof they are to make, and how wonderfully they complement a glass of prosecco, an important part of the overall design.
I’m often asked about Halloween in Italy. Do they celebrate it? Well, sort of. Do the kids dress up? Many do in mostly sweet costumes -not many ghosts and ghoulies walking around. Do adults dress up like the walking dead and decorate their homes with cobwebs? Not as far as I know.
Italy has its own customs though going back long before anyone ever took a knife to carve a pumpkin face, and, not surprisingly, many involve food.
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It’s a problem. You go to Italy and fall in love with the food. Then you come back home, and you don’t know where to start. That’s when you have to think like an Italian: ingredients and simplicity.
Recipes are easy to find on the internet, on TV, or in cookbooks. But mine are all from chefs and home cooks, those mentors in Italy who opened up their homes and kitchens to me and changed my life through food, one dish at a time. Now that I’m more often at home in the US rather than in Rome, I like to pay it forward by bringing what I’ve learned over the past 25 years of eating my way through Italy—with unabashed gusto and shameless greed!—to others.
Flavors of Rome’s first in a series of cooking classes and presentations featuring the products of Gustiamo is scheduled for November 12 here in South Florida. In deference to the millions of you who won’t be able to attend, I offer one of the recipes we’ll use in the class, and my favorite of all the classic Roman pasta dishes—Rigatoni All’Amatriciana. Read more >>
Romans love their pasta e ceci so much they’ve figured out a way to make this cold weather comfort food work for them in the heat of the summer. They call it pasta e ceci freddo, the same dish served, well, not exactly cold, but at room temperature.
With that in mind, one 90-plus degree day here in Florida, I decided to cook up a pot of this classic Roman soup using the bag of Umbrian chickpeas I had just ordered from Gustiamo, my go-to purveyor of Italian imported foods.
At the end though I couldn’t wait for the cool down and ate it steaming hot.
Like many soups, pasta e ceci gets better as it sits, and so the next day I just took the chill off in the microwave, topped with a dollop of EVOO and grated parmigiano-reggiano and went at it like a Roman. The flavors were even more intense and satisfying in this “cold” state.
Call them ceci, chickpeas, or garbanzos, if you look at these little legumes (or pulses) closely, you’ll see that they resemble little ram heads which is how they got their Latin name, cicer arietinum, from aries, meaning ram.
Sixteenth century seafarers brought the tomato seeds from South America to the shores of Italy. Italians thought they made lovely ornamentals on their verandas, but it took another 200 years before they had the nerve to eat them. Those early tomatoes were not the big red plump variety of today but were cherry sized and yellow. In fact, the Italian word pomodoro translates to yellow apple in early Italian.
Fast forward to modern times and no food is linked to Italian food more than the tomato. And no part of Italy grows better tomatoes than the Amalfi Coast where the tragic and terrifying eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD laid a carpet of lava rich soil on the land.Mamma Agata grows tomatoes in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast If you’ve been to one of her cooking classes, you’ve surely eaten them, you may even have picked them off the vines – and so you know. If not, allow yourself to remember how tomatoes tasted right from the garden – if you’re old enough to complain that nothing tastes like it used to – or imagine the most intensely flavorful tomato you’ve ever had at some point in your life. Now…you can have that taste in a jar, direct from Mamma Agata’s garden to your door.
To order – or simply to look at the mouth-watering photos- go to http://bit.ly/1iNZKjr.
When ordering, please mention Flavors of Rome.
They’re the most Roman of all vegetables – the seductive carciofi romani – those round purple tinged, delicious down to the stem Roman artichokes that take center stage in the outdoor markets and pride of place on menus throughout the Eternal City this time of year.
And these artichokes are the reason, to sate the lust in my soul, I go to Rome every March.
Except for this year
It’s not easy to break a 20 year-old habit. There is no patch, no 12-step program, no Dr. Drew to take away the pain and longing.
It does helps to flip through old photos, remembering how the woman who went to Italy for the first time in 1991 in pursuit of Botticelli and Piero della Francesca was hit by a colpo di fulmine (a lightning strike, Italian style) in Rome’s Piazza Navona within minutes of entering the gates of that city. There began my obsesssion with Rome and with the food of the country of my ancestors, an obsession that provided the balm I ultimately needed while adjusting to Life After Long Marriage.
Back then I hooked onto my relationship with Italian food like a starving wolf. So many wonderful things to taste, to learn, not only at the table, but about myself.
PLINY THE ELDER wrote about the sacred fig tree in the Roman Forum in early AD, and the Romans have been loving those blessed figs ever since.
Squash one of the luscious end of season figs called settembrini inside a warm slightly salty pizza bianca from the famed Forno Campo de Fiori and you have pizza fichi, food for the gods as well as the rest of us.
Figs come and figs go, but in Italy there’s always a seasonal food to get all worked up about. More on this and other bits and bites of Italian food info in How To Eat in Italy…If Chicken Parm is Your Favorite Italian Dish.
And you can have that caffe’ (which means coffee, specifically espresso) in a bar which may nor may not serve anything alcoholic. The coffee culture is so strong across Italy that they’ve managed to do with Starbucks what they never could against the barbarians, and that is keep them from invading their country. So when you travel around Italy, forget about your favorite frappuccino, latte, or venti and allow yourself to experience what the Italians are so addicted to – the simplicity of a deeply rich caffe’ (espresso) or a creamy cappuccino.
So then what happens when you get back home, hopelessly longing for that la dolce vita caffeine fix? You can do what I do. I get my caffe’ con crema (that foamy stuff you see on top which is the mark of a perfect espresso) using Sant’Eustachio coffee beans from Gustiamo in my Philips Saeco espresso machine.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN A RABID ROMAPHILE IS LURED BY THE SONG OF OTHER SIRENS?
The waterways of Venice…
The river Arno flowing under the Ponte Vecchio in Florence…
The seas and canals and rivers, like all the roads, lead back to Rome.
Rome loves a party. And this year, Carnevale in Rome — though not approaching the decadence, debauchery, and downright tomfoolery that took place during the pagan forerunners of this Christianized celebration — has been pumped up with various forms of street revelry, most notably a parade of costumed Romans on horses and chariots beginning at Piazza del Popolo and following the ancient route down Via del Corso.
So what will everyone be munching on during these festivities? Not popcorn, not soft salted pretzels, not Buffalo wings, or corn dogs on a stick. The traditional “you can’t eat just one” Carnevale treats in Rome are frappe, fried ribbons of dough copiously dusted with powdered sugar, temptingly displayed in every pastry shop window – and, oh, so easy to love.
My dear friend Daniela Del Balzo, owner of Daniela’s Cooking School in Rome, just sent out her recipe for these pre-Lenten treats along with her words about these delectable delights:
“In Italy the best-known Carnival pastries are Cenci (rags), or Frappe – Chiacchere (gossips), and Nastrini (ribbons), or with more poetic words “Lover’s Knots”.
Each regions has its own version and different names according to the place they come from.
If you try one you won’t be able to stop eating them!
Be careful they are quite addictive!
One tip…is to melt dark bitter chocolate and dip the Frappe inside!!!!!!!”
500 gr plain flour
50gr softened butter
eggs (2 yolks and 1 full egg)
1 tbsp sugar
50 gr brandy liqueur (Rum or Grappa)
100 gr approx. white wine, as required
pinch of salt
peanut oil for frying
icing sugar for dusting
On a board, make a well in the flour and pour the eggs into it. Add the remaining ingredients (except for the wine) and mix together, adding the wine gradually. Stop adding the wine when the dough is firm but elastic, and doesn’t stick to the surface. Knead for about 15-20 minutes.
Wrap in cling film and put in the fridge to rest for at least an hour.
Flour the surface and roll out the dough to a very thin sheet, flouring the surface if required. It is important that the sheet is very, very thin.
Using a pastry wheel cut the dough into strips as long as your palm and two fingers wide. Make a cut down the middle of each “cencio” (so as to obtain two strips joined at the ends), twist the side strips without breaking them.
To make “frappe” shape: cut the dough into strips (approx. 5×10 cm) and then make three vertical incisions on each strip.
Heat the frying oil in a deep pan. When hot (but not too much) fry the dough until lightly golden. It is important that you do not fry them for too long. As soon as you see the colour turning light golden, scoop them out and drain off the oil on kitchen paper. Sprinkle generously with icing sugar. Serve warm or cold.