Romans truly eat by season. They get excited by what is only available at certain times of the year. Of course, all year, there are imported vegetables and fruit in Rome, but the Romans still find joy in the seasonality of fresh vegetables. And, it seems like chicory is always in season…
Cicoria (chi-CORE-E-ah) or chicory is “Italian dandelion” and is a bitter green leafy vegetable that looks a bit like spinach. If you live in the U.S. and want to plant some for your self, this farm sells the seeds.
January: puntarelle (puhn-tah-R-ALE-eh), or cicoria di catalogna or cicoria asparago (although no one in Rome uses these names) is in the chicory family but looks more like a thick stemmed dandelion. The Romans eat the white stems, cut to curl up, in a salad with an anchovy garlic dressing — like a zero-carb caesar salad. No cheese. In other parts of Italy, puntarelle are cooked. In Rome, only the trimmings are cooked as part of a general vegetable stew. But, the white inner stems are the treasure.
March: agretti, asparagi selvatici (wild asparagus), fava beans, and artichokes. Wild asparagus are slimmer and have a stronger taste. Agretti (Salsola Soda, opposite-leaved saltwort, opposite leaf Russian thistle, Roscano, or barilla plant) is almost unknown in the English speaking world, although recently becoming a bit of a thing with chefs.
April: Strawberries, agretti (monk’s beard), peas, beans, and small artichokes.
May: Peas, beans, spring onions, garlic chives, etc.
June: Apricots, peaches, green beans, potatoes, etc.
July: Melons, peaches, plums, nectarines, pears, lettuce, etc.
August: This was hard to figure out as most of the markets close in August… but at the back of the Trionfale market, there are still some zero kilometer farmers who sell their produce. So it’s all about peaches, cucumbers, pears, walnuts, water melons, cantaloup melons (called so because they were grown in Cantalupo just outside Rome), lettuce, grapes, nectarines, plums, and apples.
October: pumpkin, potatoes, gourds, squash, nuts, cabbage, lettuce, and peppers.
November: potatoes, clementines, and nespole/medlars.
December: puntarelle, artichokes, and clementines.
Every restaurant will have “seasonal vegetable” on the menu and it will always be cicoria/chicory greens. Very healthy. One of the nice things about living in Rome is that it is possible to eat pesticide free food and in a perpetual “farmer’s market” all year round. I have to admit that I’m excited for artichoke season after not having artichokes for six months.
Bologna is called “La grassa” or “the fat” city. The correct translation should be “the bountiful” as the fat represents richness. I learned this when on a food tour with Cook Italy.
The origin of the name comes from Bologna’s production of bologna, or as they call it here, mortadella. To be a protected status mortadella, there is a required number of fat squares in each.
Normally, to preserve meat, before refrigeration, is to salt, dry, or cover with fat. Bologna invented the boiling of this meat product and the city became famous for it. Hence why in the United States, mortadella is called bologna or boloney.
Bologna is also famous for its covered sidewalks, over 70 kilometers of them. Also, the red brick. But, mostly, Bologna is famous for being a foodie city. The city anchors the food valley (which is also motor valley) of Emilia Romagna.
Bountiful Bologna is often overlooked by tourists. That’s kind of nice. There are many foreigners in Bologna because Bologna has the oldest (still functioning) university in the world (started in 1088). True, the center of the town is a bit crowded but slip down a side street and you can soon imagine your own medieval scholarly wanderings. Or just shop.
So next time someone calls Bologna fat, you know that it’s bountiful. Enjoy it for yourself. More later about where to eat, shop, and stay in bountiful Bologna.
Looking back on Bologna, I see why people love Bologna. It’s a real city without pretension and it’s a foodie city.
I had an intro food tour with Cook Italy’s Carmelita, email@example.com. These are the shopping places she recommended. Carmelita runs food tours and cooking classes. In English. Carmelita has incredibly high standards. Hire her if you are one of those people who almost never find anything quite up to scratch.
Simoni, Via Drapperie 5/2a: the deli that still maintains the high standards of yore. They have several stores in the area.
Bruno e Franco – La Salumeria Bologna. Via Guglielmo Oberdan, 16: This is on many a food tour. (also across from a store that sells Reisenthal bags which is not part of the Bologna tour but I like their bags).
Eataly: the one in the bookstore.
Ancient Aguzzeria Horse, Via Drapperie 12. It’s a knife store that now sells all kinds of things for the kitchen. You want to go there. Trust me. The staff are incredibly nice as well.
Eats: I got many recommendations but these were Carmelita’s that I liked.
Impero, Via dell’Indipendenza, 39: bakery with great breakfast options.
Enoteca Italia, Via Marsala 2: wine and a light lunch
Sable Gelato, Via dei Mille 3a (behind the red newsstand): This gelato maker makes super creamy artisanal gelato and he is a renaissance man whose current passion is gelato (he said, “do you know what is the most beautiful thing? freshly made gelato”).
And where to stay (This I found on my own): Il Terrazzo Di San Colombano/la porta rossa, find them online for a good price. Or call them: 347 058 1371 . I found this place online and it’s a great find. It’s on a quiet side street, has a terrace, and for 25 euro per day, a parking spot in the underground garage. The cost is around 200 dollars per night but I think it depends if you pay cash or go through a booking service. The place sleeps six (two full beds in the same room and a queen in the other room). The artwork is too weird for my liking but other than that, I like it.
As for dinner or other places to eat, I wasn’t there long enough. I’ll have to go back. I didn’t like the place that was recommended to me by the apartment owner so I don’t want to recommend them (it was a place on Oberdan street). I have a list of places recommended by my Italian teacher so I’ll write about that another time. Clearly I’ll have to go back.
Eating at La Tagliata Fattoria (the slice factory) in Positano will make you feel like you are eating at the home of the Gods’ farmstead. Positano is a cute but touristy town on the Amalfi Coast. There is a walk on the coast called the Walk of the Gods. One can see why. (Another place that looks like a film location is the town of Ravello, famous as a wedding location. This is where they filmed Wonder Woman’s home planet, and one can see why when gazing down on the sapphire waters sparkling with the sun’s rays like gold dust).
One day, I was eating lunch with someone from Naples. When I mentioned that I was going to Positano, she mentioned that I should eat at La Tagliata (La-Tie-yah-tah) in Positano. She said to tell the family that she had sent me.
When we made the reservation through our hotel, we didn’t name drop. Normally the restaurant sends a car service because the road is switchbacks and treacherous, but that is only at night. We took a taxi. Everyone in Positano seems to know where this restaurant is located. The road was narrow, steep, and not for those with a fear of heights. We drove steadily (well, curvily) up and up and up. Finally, we arrived at La Tagliata Fattoria. The structure in front of us was wooden and it appeared to be mainly stairs. In front of the restaurant are some antique cars. Once we went down the first flight of stairs, in awe of the view that we could see, we arrived at a small square. There were more stairs but also an elevator! One of the staff was there and he told me to take the elevator. So I did. The restaurant is located down two levels and one pops out in the kitchen.
The restaurant is an open air wooden deck and wowza, is the view amazing. We were gobsmacked. How could anywhere be so utterly beautiful?
It turns out that this place is run by three generations of the family who grow, raise, slaughter, and produce all the food that they serve you. The grandfather who started this place was grilling steak on open flames and the grandmother was in the kitchen prepping everything else. We were warmly greeted by everyone. It was like eating with cousins. When we sat down, I told the waiter that my colleague had sent me. The whole family erupted with joyous, “oh, they are friends of…” We didn’t receive different treatment because of this connection. We were still treated like family.
There is no menu as they family cook whatever they are making that day but that is about 20 different dishes. We had wine that they make and the appetizer dishes involved eight or nine dishes of vegetables, rice salad, cheeses, and cured meats. Then we had pasta dishes, served family style. When we saw the size of the carnivores serving, the vegetarian thought she was going to get away with a smaller portion… not so! After the pasta course, was the steak, fries, and salad course. Then desserts. Then fruit. Then limoncello. Then espresso. The food can’t get more farm to table than this.
We were wondering how expensive this would be after a 150 euro tourist trap the day before, but for three, it was 100 euro total. I asked if I could buy some of the house wine. The middle generation waiter came out with two bottles. He presented one, holding it against his chest, and said, “from my father, my uncle, my mother, this is for you.” Then he took the other bottle and held it the same way and said, “from my son, from me, from our hearts, this is for you.” It was sweet.
It turns out that La Tagliata is famous. Alongside family photos of the first generation plotting out fields hanging on the sides of the cliffs, there are photos of former presidents and other famous visitors.
While we were there, the grandfather talked to us once in a while but I didn’t understand a word he said. It didn’t seem to matter. The grandson, a handsome youth, speaks English and guided us through most of the meal.
When you need a break from the food, you can wander through the family’s hanging garden of a farm. Not for the mobility challenged. But good if you want to meet the farm animals.
When I think of the wonderful experiences that I’ve had in Amalfi and Italy, this place still stands out as the THE REASON to go to Positano. Sorry to the rest of the town, but this is it! Oh, and a boat ride with Alessandro is nice (more about that another time). La Tagliata is a little slice of perfection.
Empty streets in Rome, lots of parking spaces, and shuttered businesses. Ferragosto, started by Emperor Augustus in 31 BCE (2050 years ago!), is a holiday now celebrated on August 15. The name, Ferragosto, is a combination of the Latin for “feasts + Augustus” so not only did the emperor name the month after himself, he also named the celebrations after himself. Supposedly, it was started as a way to celebrate the end of all the hard labor done during the summer harvest. Things ripen earlier than I’m used to in Italy so harvesting can be done in the summer. For example, I always think of pears as a fall/autumn fruit. Not here. They are optimal in July and August.
I know this because I was thoroughly enjoying my fresh zero kilometer peaches and pears a few weeks ago. Then August started. My zero kilometer farmers’ market and many other businesses close for the whole month of August! I wonder what happens to all that ripe fruit?
Then one day, I was having a wine consultation with a wine expert and she gave me a great insiders’ tip — some of the zero kilometer farmers sell from their own farm at the back of Trionfale Market. While the stalls are not as pretty and they are back by the fishmongers, at least I was able to buy produce grown from within 68 miles of Rome. To identify these stalls, the price signs will have “prod. prop.” or something like that written on them. It translates to “our own produce” or “we grow it.”
Also, did I mention that it’s melon season? I’ve only seen cantaloupe, net, and watermelon. I was hoping for honeydew but have yet to see it. Previously I preferred the melon without the proscuitto but with the summer heatwave, I completely understand the salty sweet wet combination that is a very Italian way to refill your electrolytes.
Now that I’ve had my first American visitors, they suggest that I write about what they noticed while in Italy. They noticed three very different things…
Adults making love to their gelatos: This is what they really noticed. They said that it was not normal in the United States to see a grown adult in business clothes “making love” to an ice cream, while walking on the street. I have no photos of this so instead I include a photo of a gelato that I ate… while on the street. As you can see, gelato melts fast so you have to eat it fast.
Note that my gelato has “panna” or whipped cream on it. This is normal in Italian gelaterias. Another thing that is normal is that no matter how small your gelato, you will usually get two flavors.
Swastika graffiti: On the walls. In the United States, it would removed or painted over fairly quickly.
Five inch platform mules: On women. I guess it should be ten centimeter platforms since this is in Italy.
As I have done in previous cities that I have called home, at some point, I write about the less than delightful things about daily life (Dhaka, Bogota, and Lima). For Rome, since the honeymoon is over (I’m no longer charmed), I’ve decided to write about a combination of surprising and annoying things. Mostly, it’s just surprising things.
Small breakfasts: Romans like an espresso and a croissant for breakfast. Or coffee with milk like a cappuccino. I’m surprised at how easy it becomes to getting used to drinking espresso (a “caffe” is an espresso by default), all day long. Most Italians use sugar so in a way it’s like a power bar every few hours. I prefer no sugar… just the bitter coffee…
Cookies: for breakfast. Even savory ones. It’s also easy to grow accustomed to eating a cornetto (croissant) every morning. Or a pizza, keeping in mind that pizza is not pizza as one thinks of pizza.
Pizza: pizza is doesn’t always have cheese, and pizza is a breakfast item.
Raw seafood and meat: on everything. Shrimp is the most “gringo friendly” but there is raw octopus, raw sea bass, raw everything on pasta. Even raw meat.
Greens: green vegetables that I’ve never heard of. And they all seem to be bitter.
Drinking fountains: are everywhere. They are called “nasone” (nay-so-neh) and most flow all day long. So you only need one bottle. The reason they flow all the time is to keep the pipes free of bacteria.
Cost of Internet: Under 30 euro for mine. Internet and cell phone service is not very expensive.
Bureaucracy: Getting service for anything from a bank account to setting up Internet and so on, can be a hassle.
Venetian blinds on the outside of the window.
Lack of public toilets: In Rome, you need to grab a coffee or eat at a restaurant to use the toilet. See my article about bidets to understand why you may find a bidet in every bathroom. One can flush the toilet paper in the toilet in Rome, but as you can see from the photo, sometimes, it’s best not to.
The crowds: Normally, there would be a few million people visiting Rome at any moment. If one lives in the tourist center part of Rome, one has to “go with flow” of the crowd when walking.
The customer service: one has to figure out how to navigate some places. The more touristy, the worse it is.
Tipping: One really doesn’t have to do it because it’s adding as a service fee. If you are American, they may expect you to tip.
Whipped cream: It seems like it’s on everything. But it’s not served in a pretty way, just applied with a spoon or spatula. I like that it’s offered at gelaterias.
So while the honeymoon period is over, it’s not all bad.
Tomatoes are juicy and red, Olive oil is gold and green, Mozzarella is creamy and white, And Johnny Madge is keen.
I felt inspired to write a cheesy poem!
Johnny Madge loves, lives, breathes olive oil. He even has “I Love Olive Oil” written on his van. Oddly, that is the least of the reasons to go on his olive oil tour. Sorry, Johnny. It’s not just about the oil.
If anyone is a natural at what they do, then it’s the legendary Johnny Madge. Taking an olive oil tasting class with him feels less like a class, and more like you just happen to have a wise friend who is an expert on olive oil… wild plants… wine… life? There are some professors and tour guides who seem scripted in their style of teaching. All respect to them, but Johnny is not one of them. Johnny Madge speaks with the ease of someone who knows vastly more than they are telling you. It reminds of advice a writing teacher once told me, “Make sure you know everything about the character, and then put none of that in your story.” Once in a while you meet people who are more than the product they sell. The fact that he has a British accent just makes everything he says sound more credible. It’s easy to get a crush on him (olive oil joke).
As I said, the olive oil tasting was a minor part of the day. The whole day was a celebration of good extra virgin olive oil (and the lifestyle that it symbolizes). Johnny Madge has a sensational high rating on TripAdvisor and rightly so.
He will pick you up from the train station in Fara Sabina (a small town about 35 minutes on the regional train line from Rome) in his van which can seat eight. If you drive your own car, you can follow him like the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlin. The whole day had that fairytale feel to it as we meandered the undulating lanes.
You might wonder what could take so long. The pace is set by the lovely small streets along the neat rows of olive trees, the green hedges, and azure sky above gently rolling country. The tour starts in an olive tree orchard. Johnny will tell you about olive trees, the recent devastating fires, harvesting, and other facts about the trees. Did you know that an olive tree can survive a fire? As you walk around enjoying the clean air of the countryside, he will show wild edible plants like wild fennel, and explain other plants if you ask him (I asked about a seed that I found which it turns out inspired Leonardo da Vinci to invent the helicopter). Or you can wander away and sit in the shade of an olive tree. There are no demands that you pay attention and no exam. No stress.
After the orchard, he takes you to visit the largest olive tree in Europe. The tree is famous for being large, but it was comforting to meet such an old tree. It is perhaps 2,000 years old but no one really knows. Olive oil trees hollow out making it hard to count rings. When we were there admiring the tree, the owner came out to chat with Johnny. They were clearly friends catching up with each other.
Then back to admire the vegetable garden. All the while, Johnny regales you with stories and anecdotes, pointing out this and that along the way. As a city person, it’s interesting to see Swiss chard growing like a weed. One could feel the pace of life slowing down to that sweet art of doing nothing (a saying in Italian)… the art of enjoying the sweet life.
Outside the main hangar-size building, there is a metal car scale built in to the parking lot. When the local farmers need their olives processed, they drive their olive-laden cars on to the scale. After the initial weigh-in, the car is emptied of olives. Then the car is weighed again. The client pays by weight. I say client because it turns out that many Italians own a small patch of olive trees and make their own olive oil each year. After the weighing, the olives get cleaned, crushed, and spun. In the old days, the olive mash would be squeezed in reed mats but now, the oil is extracted using centrifugal force. Super high quality olive oil is spun for a mere seven minutes — thus ensuring that minimal heat is created — making it truly cold pressed. Most extra virgin olive oil is spun for 30 minutes. After spinning, the oil is filtered. Olive oil doesn’t need to be filtered but it’s better to avoid the sludge at the bottom of the bottle. Unlike wine, olive oil does not get better with age.
There is also something about what can be called “virgin” and “extra virgin” — the “virgin” olive oil is defective. Shocker. I think that he explained that defective doesn’t mean undrinkable. But I wasn’t paying attention… I guess I’ll have to go on another tour. If you want to geek out a bit, read this newsletter. Olive oil’s quality is not based on color. How deep is that? Professional tastings happen with blue glasses.
The mill has just opened a shop on site where small bottles of olive oil cost 5 euro and large bottles cost 8 euro. I didn’t get a photo of the shop because I was too busy shopping! They also sell flavored oils, but not garlic flavor (Romans really don’t eat much garlic), and spreads like pistachio with pesto. I think I spent around 90 euros… because I wasn’t sure when I’d get back. That said, the mill will deliver and you can purchase online. I don’t know if it was pre-arranged (despite what Johnny said) but when we visited the mill, they gave us freshly made bruschetta, which had been toasted on the olive tree wood barbecue. I’m not sure it gets better than that, in terms of experiential shopping experiences.
From the mill, we could see our lunch destination, across the valley, past neat green fields, impossibly pretty. Can this be real?
Lunch was a leisurely feast of multiple courses including creamy cannelloni beans, crunchy bruschetta with tomato, cheese, golden oven roasted potatoes, yummy lasagne, and not too sweet apple pie. Johnny brought lots of wine to pair, but it was mostly about the olive oil pairings. Every dish had olive oil. At this point, Johnny explained how to taste olive oil and we tried a few straight up. I did not like most of the oil when tasted alone. I preferred the oil on the food. We actually started with olive oil on a chocolate crostini which brought happy memories of my days in El Cacaotal in Lima. I can’t wait to get these food nerds together and watch them nerd out.
To contact Johnny for olive oil tastings, or to feature him in your documentary or to hire him as an expert (he was in Pasta Grannies! Name drop!), here is how to contact him: Johnny Madge, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.johnnymadge.com, +39 328 339 8479. He speaks English and Italian.
The olive oil tour, including lunch, wine, and olive oil tasting, cost 110 euro per person. The train costs 2.80 euro each way. You can also drive there in 35 minutes and leave your car at the train station or follow him around the countryside.
The day out was fabulous. Johnny loves olive oil and after a day with him, you might love olive oil as much as Johnny. Or maybe him.
If you really want to get an idea of how pleasant the day was (I mean, how olive oil is made!), enjoy this video by the mill again.
I end this with a version of the roses are red poem from Les Mis. We did go a-touring in the countryside of Rome where the pomegranate blossoms were orange and I loved, loved, loved it.
We will buy very pretty things A-walking through the suburbs. Violets are blue, roses are red, Violets are blue, I love my loves.
I have also made a video of my own. Nothing compared to the mill’s… but, enjoy the song by Ed Sheeran and Andrea Bocelli. It’s perfect.
In Italy, every coffee bar/cafe, has a different brand of coffee. Why? Because they get their dishware etc. sponsored by the brand. If you only drink a certain brand of coffee, then you have to drink at a certain cafe.
While coffee beans are not grown in Italy, the Italians are quite obsessed with coffee. But it’s not a fashion item. It’s more that they drink espressos all day long, at about a rate of one every few hours. It’s a social event as well so if someone says, “shall we have a coffee?” then they are inviting you to be sociable.
A “caffe” is by default an espresso. One way to tell if you have become a local is if the barista assumes that you mean an espresso when you order a “caffe” — rather than double checking with you that it’s an espresso that you want and not an “americano” (which is an espresso with hot water added).
I’ve had many awful cups of espresso here so far and some are okay ones. I prefer them without sugar so I can actually taste the coffee. Italians almost always add sugar. It’s like the equivalent of a Redbull. A shot of caffeine to get you through the next couple of hours. An espresso has half the caffeine of a cup of filtered drip coffee. The key is to drink the espresso quickly and chase it with a glass of water or a sweet baked item.
Coffee was introduced to Europe through Venice a few centuries ago and the oldest coffee shop, Cafe Florian, is still in business in Venice. The second oldest, Antico Cafe Greco, is in Rome, right by the Spanish Steps.
As for Starbucks, there is one in Milan. Or go to Seattle for them, and enjoy the many types of coffee in Italy when you are in Italy.
For my fruit fetishist friends, I will try many strange fruits. The Sorrento lemon is not so strange. It’s just big and pithy. The rind can be consumed and it does not have a strong taste. The rind is mostly used for candied fruit. The taste of the Sorrento lemon is much like a normal lemon. What is strange is biting into it like one would an apple.
The Campania lemon is rounder with a think orangish rind. It has a strong aroma but is not as tasty as a Sorrento lemon. Sorrento is in Campania so technically it’s also a lemon from Campania but it’s the equivalent of Champagne or sparkling wine.
I find it weird not being allowed to flag down a taxi on the street. In Rome, you must use a taxi stand, telephone, text, or app to get a taxi. This site has great information. The taxi stands are marked with an orange taxi sign and the taxis are always white. Some may be vans and some are in not so great condition, but they are always white. (Uber is only Uber Black which usually a luxury car and very expensive, and as I write this, maybe they have outlawed that as well.) There are lots of taxi stands all over the city of Rome but during these pandemic times, not all have taxis waiting around. The taxis have plastic barriers (well, most do) between the driver and the customers and generally the windows are open to help keep the air flowing. Everyone wears a mask. The base rate is €3 (three euro). Most rides around the center of Rome cost about 5-16 euro. No tipping although you can leave them the change. On regular city rides, the taxi driver will help you with your bags at no extra cost. Generally the drivers don’t speak English. If I can’t explain where I want to go, then I show them on my phone.
If you use an app like ITaxi (Italy Taxi) or Free Now, you can get a taxi anywhere you happen to be. The taxi meter starts when they ACCEPT the ride, not when you get in the car! This is what is shocking to most foreigners. Most of the rides I’ve taken have started at about €4.40 by the time I got in the car. This also means that the taxi will wait for you. It’s on you and not them. So it’s easier for me to get them show up. It is possible to pay by credit card and the drivers never have change for a 50. (Also, they have a color rating system for customers… one day I read the phone screen of the taxi driver and I could see my name and that I was “gold” level.) It is also possible to call or text to request a cab, but I prefer the app. I just wish that I could input the name of a restaurant instead of an address.
Airports: The rates from and to the two main airports, Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport (FCO) and Ciampino International Airport “G. B. Pastine” (CIA), are set to the Aurelian walls of the city. But, then it’s metered so while the base cost is 48 and 30 euro, it will cost you more. Tell the taxi driver that you want the set price so that at least that is a known quantity. From Fiumicino, a taxi ride to the historic center of Rome will probably cost in the 50-60 euro range (ride is about an hour) and from Ciampino (ride is about half an hour), from 30-40 euro. Plus extra for extra luggage.
Although you can walk everywhere in Rome, there are a lot of hills and groceries get heavy… Of course, people do flag down taxis on the street… but you are not supposed to.