Spontaneous Edibles

Whenever I see a leafy green vegetable being sold at the market, I ask what it is. The answer is always “cicoria” (chicory greens in English). I am beginning to suspect that this word is a catchall.

Chicory greens for sale.

Wild greens are quite fashionable these days with trendy restaurants basing their menu around what is brought to them by their forager. Foragers are like superheroes, able to identify edible things in the wild. Ordinary people would class most of the wild greens as weeds, like the dandelion. Dandelion translate to several names in Italian, including dente di leone, tarassaco, and la soffione. Once, one vendor told me that what he was selling was “tarassaco” so I began to suspect that the other vendors were all using a generic world, cicoria, for “greens” or lettuce.

In English, we call these wild greens, “foraged greens” or “wild edibles” but in Italian, they call them “spontaneous” edibles. How lovely is that?

Arugula for sale.

Many of the wild greens look like cultivated greens. Arugula (rocket in British) is also popular here and looks similar to dandelion leaves. A famous Roman salad is puntarelle salad, in which the stems of the leaves are used in a salad. Puntarelle is a type of chicory. As I said, always chicory.

But, maybe in English, we should call weeds, spontaneous plants? Or opportunists? Optimistic plants?

Wine Tours Rome – in the Countryside of Rome

Wonderful wine tasting tour and experience! Sally and Guido and lovely hosts and easy going. They make you feel like friends that they are showing around their magical valley of demi-umbria (the area was part of Umbria at one point). Just 40 minutes by local train outside of the mega-metropolis of Rome, is this secret otherworld of vineyards and olive trees. Book for Sally and Guido for a countryside experience to see how sweet life can be.

Guido speaks excellent English and is engaging to talk to.

Sally and Guido pick you up from the local station and drive you around the countryside, max eight people or maybe ten? One can, of course, drive oneself, but then the designated driver would be… that just wouldn’t be fair! So, get picked up at 10 am at the station, taken for a fun jaunt from vista to vista on the way to a vineyard.

The view from their home.

At the vineyard, you go on a tour of processing, bottling, and aging cellars, before tasting three wines. Guido speaks excellent English and will translate and explain everything. The wine maker, presents all three wines but then leaves you to enjoy while Sally fills up your glasses (no small sip here! If you want/need a full glass to evaluate the wine, you get it!). There is a bit of bread and local olive oil to line your stomach, and so that the wine doesn’t go strait to your head. Then, you have an opportunity to buy the wine, and not just the types that you tried. The wines are very different and some are made from local grapes that you will never have heard of… Even wine nerds will discover new things.

Wine being made…

The wine is well priced at eight to 10 euro per bottle. For DOC! It’s kind of ridiculous how inexpensive it is to buy really good wine. The vineyard does ship (although not to the US yet) but it’s better to take it there and schelp it with you. You will thank yourself later. I bought four bottles of the yellow label wine because it was so zesty and fruity.  A lovely white.

Then, another jaunt through a magical Tuscan/Umbrian/Roman landscape and you arrive at their home for two more wines and delicious local dairy and sausage. Oh, and bread. Yum. Yum. Yum.

As a bonus, we got locally made chocolate.

To contact them, go to Wine Tours Rome or email them at info@winetoursrome.com. Sally and Guido also conduct cooking classes through their company, Convivio, and they have a B&B where you can stay while taking classes. The cost of the half day wine tasting is 79 euro (discount for groups so we paid 75). They also do tours in the countryside and olive oil tasting. Because they have these two companies, it can be a little confusing to find them on Google or TripAdvisor. I will be going again because I want to see the little villages and visit the linen workshop in demi-Umbria, the secret valley of Lazio.

The creamy cheese on the right is called Robiola. It was like butter and ricotta combined.

PS. Yes, Sally and Guido know Johnny Madge and their tours are in the same magical valley.

Restaurant Recommendations from a Roman

These recommendations are from a Roman friend (hence why the plural forms are in Italian), including emoticons. I am working my way through this list so only have comments for those places that I have tried so far.

A maritozzo, a brioche bun stuffed with whipped cream. This one from Forno Monteforte was decorated with berries.

BAKERY Panella – Via Merulana, 53   and   Via dei Gracchi, 262 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹very ancient bakery in Rome, bread, pizza, cakes, dishes, bio, biscuits … yes, I agree. They had lots of variety and items that I had never seen before.

Campo de’ Fiori – Piazza Campo de’ Fiori, 22  πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ‘Œvery nice and noisy bakery to buy warm pizza alla pala, bread, cakes, biscuits … it’s so so so so famous. It does have lots of stuff and they are accustomed to tourists so don’t even try to speak Italian in there.

Forno Monteforte – Via del Pellegrino, 29 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹bread, bar, enoteca, cakes –  very friendly  … my favorite so far. It’s elegant, recently featured in Vogue Italia, and quite delicious.

Monteforte bakery.


DELI

Natura SΓ¬ – Piazza Farnese, 99 -100 only  Bio  food   the store is ok,  but people are  πŸ˜”πŸ˜ž … It is the organic store for Rome.

Castroni – Via Cola di Rienzo, 196/198  πŸ˜€πŸ‘Œplenty of delicatessen, and  sweets, best in Rome … this is an emporium, a treasure land for ingredients and products from all over the world.

Le Sicilianedde – Viale Parioli, 35  all food is typical from Sicily and next door there is  the Gelateria the ice creams and pastries are……πŸ˜πŸ™Š


GELATERIE 

Ciampini -Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina, 29 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹
DaRe – Via Bisagno, 19  5 mn from my home very, very tasty icecream πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹

Gelateria dei Gracchi – Via dei Gracchi, 272 … They do have real vanilla flavor. It’s not glamorous and I wish they would make fresh gelato for the evening.


Pizzerie

Emma – Via Monte della Farina,28 πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹  the best pizza in Rome … I don’t know. The pizza was thin which is the Roman style. The restaurant is a large, but light, cavern underground. Very touristy as it is a stone’s throw from the Roscioli bakery.

Mora – Piazza Crati, 13   pizza and  tuscany restaurant πŸ˜‹


Trattorie

Da Bucatino – Via Luca della Robbia, 84 – very noisy restaurant but the food is fine, typical roman cuisine … I liked this place. The waiter was a bit too fast and not so good at upselling but the food was good. Because the location is in Testaccio away from the tourist center, the crowds are not quite as bad here.

Hosteria Grappolo D’oro – Piazza della Cancelleria, 80   food and fantasyπŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ‘Œ… right near the Campo de’ Fiori. Food was fine but nothing I would go in search of.


Enoteche

Il Goccetto – Via dei Banchi Vecchi, 14 wine, wine and very friendly place πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹

Del Frate – Via degli Scipioni, 122  excellent enoteca and very nice restaurant πŸ‘ŒπŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹

The place of my heart:

Hotel Locarno – Via della Penna, 22   Beautiful liberty hotel from 1922,   with original furnishings, there is small nice garden and lovely roof garden,  the cocktails are super😍😍 and in winter they light the fireplace, also the restaurant is quite nice πŸ˜‹πŸ˜‹


And in the end: Hotel de Russie – Via del Babuino, 9  very luxury hotel,  but don’t  miss visiting the garden is absolutely beautiful and maybe to take a coffee, or cappuccino or even a cocktail, with credit card……πŸ™ˆ

I have other lists so I will publish them later. Eventually, I’ll have my own list of top restaurants, but for now, I’m not sure…

Exotic Fruits of Italy

Speaking of markets, and as I am currently writing a book about fruit, here are some “exotic” fruits now grown locally in Italy. Italy has some famous citrus types (read about popular fruit types here or here), including one which was introduced to this area 23 centuries ago (long before the formation of Italy as a country).

Annona (custard apple): A quick google search brought me to the annona, a cherimoya or custard apple, that is now being grown in Calabria, a southern region in Italy.

Bergamotto (bergamot): I mention this because people may not know that this is the citrus that is used in Earl Grey Tea. Ninety percent of the world’s bergamot oil is produced in Italy. As far back as 1709, the bergamot has been pressed to extract the essential oils, for use in perfume, most famously Chanel No. 5.

Diamante citron in Italian or esrog from Calabria (etrog). This citrus is essential in the Jewish sukkot ceremony and has been grown in Italy since the the third century BCE (before current era).

Cacchi or lotta (persimmon or sharon fruits): Introduced to Italy in the early 20th century, these are grown in Campania.

Orange persimmons behind red pomengranates.

Ficodindia dell’Etna (prickly pear): the fruit of the cactus. The black pits inside are very hard and peeling this fruit can hurt your hands.

Kiwi: This brings to mind that the kiwi is now grown in Italy. Italy is the second or third largest exporter of kiwis. I see kiwis at the market all the time in Rome. They grow them right outside Rome so they are even at my zero kilometer market that I mentioned last week.

Melograno (pomegranate): Supposedly Persephone ate six pomegranate seeds when she was in the underworld. Her mother, Demeter, the earth, made a deal with the god of the underworld to let her go. But because she had eaten six seeds, she could only be above ground for six months of the year, and that is why we have the six months of spring and summer. Pomegranate seeds are like jewels and work well in salads and on meats, but the juice is what most people like. To remove the seeds, one can whack the cut pomegranate with a wooden spoon and the seeds come rat tat tatting out like shots.

Cotogna (quince): The cutest name for a fruit that is so sour. It is better as a jelly or jam to be eaten with cheese. In Latin America, this is often paired with fresh cheese and the fresh milky mildness of the cheese goes well with the brown gummy bear texture of the cooked quince.

Finally, a native exotic.

Nespola (medlar): This is exotic but native to Italy. These strange dried looking fruits are winter fruits that are only ready to be eaten when they are soft and wrinkly. Then you peel them and eat the mushy brown interior. The taste is sort of like a fruit paste or dried figs. Just not as tasty.

The medlars are above the chestnuts. These are not ready to be eaten as they are not wrinkly.

And finally, if you want to read about the “equatorial” fruit growing now happening in Italy, read this article from Euronews.

Pasta Trombolotto

With trombolotto seasoning and “bottarga” which is shaved dried fish roe.

***** Fabio, the owner contacted me and corrected the addresses and explained why his has two restaurants — one is the summer location. Thanks, Fabio, always nice when people improve the information on my blog. *****

Imagine taking the extra large, mild tasting, sweet Amalfi lemons… and serving them with pasta inside. Well, I finally had it. My Italian teacher kept bringing it up as a delicacy that we had to try. I imagined it, an oddity in a lemon. The months went by and due to a pandemic and other such things, it took a while for us to find a date for Pasta Trombolotto!

The restaurant is as picturesque as the rest of the town.

Finally, the date was set. It was October. The restaurant in Sermoneta was reserved and off I went. Sermoneta is a perfectly preserved medieval town about 30 minutes (by train + car) south of Rome. I looked at the bus route to the town, but one really needs a car to get there. Sermoneta (it is named for the vast amount of money paid for the town) is a dying town as all the young people are moving away. Hence why it’s perfectly preserved. It’s often used as a film set. But, the town needs more than that to survive. It needs tourist dollars.

This conundrum between dollars and reality will come up later in this story.

Famous, that’s what they want it to be.

The town is gasp-worthy beautiful. Tourism (as mentioned) has not stained the town with too many billboards and English menus. Even the postcards were non-touristy. Who prints a postcard with an overcast sky in a town of gray stone? That seems like a fail of marketing 101. There is no parking in the town so one enters a pedestrian haven. The town is hilly and cobblestoned so bring good ankles. As we ooohed and aaahed at every archway and turret, we imagined how marvelous this must be in sunlight. Or maybe the veil of night made it more dramatic?

Looking up to the “roof” of the restaurant.

Finally, we went to the restaurant famous for Pasta Trombolotto. The owner, Fabio, is charismatic and undeterred by a lack of comprehension. There are two famous Pasta Trombolotto restaurants in Sermonetta and he owns them both. One is called Simposio al Corso (it is the winter location) and Il Giardino del Simposio (open April to October). We went to the Il Giardino del Simposio located at Via
Conduttura 6. The location at Simposio al Corso which is near the entrance to the town and located deep underground. The summer location, Il Giardino, is a patio overhung with lemon trees. It feels a bit magical.

Close up of the pasta. For Italy, this is a complex sauce.

We had wine, we had appetizers, we had main dishes, dessert, and coffee, but what I recall was the pasta. That’s why we were there. It was the main show. But, it was not served inside a lemon. Frankly, I was torn. Because it was not lemon season (March), our Pasta Trombolotto was not served in a lemon. It wasn’t served in lemon shaped crockery. Not even on a yellow plate. Not that it wasn’t dramatic.

Fabio coddled and seasoned every serving individually in a pan, table side. Trombolotto is a herb and lemon infused oil. It’s good and certainly one of the most seasoned things I’ve had in Italy (remember that simple is the key here), but without the Disney-esque lemon container… well, this is why I was torn. I like that they keep it seasonal and authentic. But, part of me, the marketing maniac, wants them to at least get lemon shaped bowls with lids. Ya know?

Adding the secret spices to the pasta, table side.

The owner is trying to make the town famous for this dish. He is resisting offers to take his show to Rome because he wants people to come out to Sermoneta for the Pasta Trombolotto.

If you are ever in that area, I recommend going. The address for the winter location is Corso Guiseppe Garibaldi 33, Sermoneta. The summer location is at Via Conduttura 6. The phone number is +39 339 2846905 anytime of the year.

And, and, just to add more to this story, the owner will show you an oil that you cannot have… because you are not his grandpa. It even says it on the bottle… like the best of experiences, there is always another story.

All Hallow’s Eve

Today is Halloween, or All Hallow’s Eve, and tomorrow is All Saints Day, a public holiday in Italy, followed by All Souls Day on November 2. The tradition of dressing up and trick or treating is a new import. All Saints Day is part of the Catholic church in Italy. It is also not Day of the Dead which is a big celebration in Mexico.

These are a type of gourd, or pumpkin.

For those who believe more, for a brief time on All Hallow’s Even and All Saints Day, the dead return to this realm and visit with their loved ones who are still flesh and blood. It’s not scary. It’s a sort of reunion. People will visit their dead family members. Read an explanation here. Like all holidays, it’s build on much older ones. And, of course, there’s a bread for that. The second of November is All Souls Day. Read more about some of the regional foods and traditions here.

The idea of pumpkin as the icon of the Halloween season is also a commercial idea. The pumpkins are a food in Italy and have much more flesh so will be very hard to carve. But, they make excellent food. It is hard to find perfectly orange round pumpkins (but I’m sure that will become a common thing soon enough). As you can see from my photo below, I was more interested in the orange persimmons (sharon fruit so some), walnuts, celeriac (celery root), and the pomegranates.

Green pumpkins in the background.

The impact of All Saints Day in Rome is that the stores may be a bit packed and the traffic bad. How is this news?

Happy halloween!

Ten Gelato Places To Try in Rome

So here it is. My list of gelato shops to try in Rome. This is not the definitive list but I’m getting tired of trying gelato…

Gunther, Via dei Pettinari, 43: Gunther has three locations but this is where you will usually find him. He makes the best vanilla (from Madagascar) and his gelato is extremely creamy. He also lets you try lots of flavors until you find the ones that you want.

Gracchi, Via dei Gracchi, 272: old school but go early in the day when the gelato is fresh.

La Romana, various locations: big chain but still good gelato.

Neve di Latte, Via Federico Cesi, 1: two locations, and I’m fairly sure that the staff are hired for their looks.

Banana flavor should be brown as the bananas oxidize.

Come il Latte, Via Silvio Spaventa, 24/26: I have a suspicion that this place was started by an American. Great affagato.

Otaleg, Via di S. Cosimato, 14a: famous place in Trastevere. The name is gelato backwards but the gelato is straightforward.

Frigidarium, Via del Governo Vecchio, 112: located on one of the most picturesque streets in Rome.

Fassi 1880, Via Principe Eugenio, 65-67: Oldest place in Rome. One of my favorites because it’s out of the tourist frenzy.

Gelati Gelati, Via Cicerone, 20: I’m fairly sure that this gelato is made by the gruff guy working here. The pear compote was unusual and the grittiness worked.

Cremilla, Via di Porta Castello, 39: Almost like soft serve. Near the Vatican.

I will probably write another article when I go to more places but as I’ve been to over 30 so far, I’m in need of a break from gelato.

Fassi Gelateria, The Oldest Gelato Shop in Rome

Away from the center of frenzied tourism in the center of Rome, is a large old fashioned gelato shop. Fassi is located in Esquilino near the Termini train station.

It is the oldest one in Rome, started in 1880. This former “palace of frozen delights” is showing her age, but the gelato is fresh, every day.

To one wall is a museum like display of former machines used for making gelato.

Fassi 1880 has so many flavors that it’s hard to find the time to look at all of them.

Whipping cream machine from 1932.

There are tables inside and a drinking fountain for water (the best drink for ice cream).

The best part of this place is the diversity in customers, old and young, immigrants, tourists, and everything in between. It’s the most diverse place I’ve seen in Rome.

Melon flavor with whipped cream.

Like most gelato shops, they serve you two flavors even in a small cup or cone, and you can get whipped cream on top.

Humane Airport Furniture

Let’s be real. People in airports need to sleep on a flat surface. So many airports make this hard to do but Rome and Copenhagen (and maybe others) have furniture that one can lie down on. Thank you.

After all, it’s not like we want to be tired and exhausted when traveling. It just is a reality. If we can rest horizontally for a bit, we will be much better tourists.

The Return of the Tourists in Shorts

Aperitivo of Aperol Spritz (the standard) in front of the Pantheon. It almost can’t get more touristy than this.

The tourists are back. Well, primarily, the German and American tourists. The kind that wear shorts. The Romans are so happy to see them. The waiters are perky and filled with enthusiasm after 18 months of no tourism. The Italian government opened up to American tourists back in May and the start was a bit slow (although I saw some within days of the “re-opening” of Italy). But, now, it’s almost July and kapow! They are back! Not like before 2020, but much more than I’ve seen here in the last six months.

A tour group.

It’s been both enjoyable and sad to have Rome to myself without tourists. I think I prefer it with tourists. Even if I don’t really want to go downtown anymore… until winter.

Golf cart tours and tourists in shorts.

While I know that most tourists come to Rome in July and August, it’s much better in February. The weather is better and the skies are blue. Currently they are gray and overcast from humidity.

Tiramisu Tasting

***** Update July 2021 ****** — I have revised my choice for the best tiramisu as I’ve now had many more and the one at Pierluigi’s still makes me want to go back for more.

This article is dedicated to a friend of mine who suggested I do a list of best tiramisu places (plus, it was recently the golden anniversary of tiramisu). There are over 12,000 restaurants in Rome, and I’d wager that most serve tiramisu, so I can’t tell you which is the best. Of the ones I’ve had over the past few months, these are some that I would recommend.

Before I moved to Rome, I didn’t like tiramisu. I realize it’s because in my experience, usually the tiramisu was a large cold clumpy mass, possibly made with alcohol. I don’t like the taste of alcohol interfering with my sweet dessert. I prefer my tiramisu to be creamy (more on creamy at the bottom) more like a trifle or Eton Mess.

An espresso size tiramisu from 3 Caffe.

Mimi e Coco (Via del Governo Vecchio 72, on one of the most picturesque streets in the center of Rome) serves a super creamy tiramisu in a glass, more like a trifle.

Mimi and Coco made one of the best I’ve tried.

Tre Caffe (Via dei Due Macelli 107, near the Vatican) serves a tiny tiramisu that satisfies.

Fisherman Burger (Via Ravenna 34) lets you eat it as you wish, serving the three parts separately.

Eat as you wish.

Di Qua (Via delle Corrozze 85B, near the Spanish Steps) have a creamy tiramisu that I even ate although I had no more appetite.

Matricianella (Via del Leone 4) also serves a creamy tiramisu.

Two Sizes (Via del Governo Vecchio 88, across from Coco e Mimi) serves tiramisu in two sizes, to go. You can take them as gifts or home to enjoy on your own.

Clear layers from Two Sizes

Many pastry shops and gelato shops will sell tiramisu and every (almost) restaurant will serve it. However, cheesecake and brownies are beginning to make their inroads.

From La Romana Gelateria, an ice cream chain.

A interesting note about saying something is “creamy” — I told an Italian that I liked the creaminess of something and she said, “no, not cream, panna.” The word, “crema” in Italian refers to pastry cream/custard. For whipped cream, one uses “panna” in Italian. There is a lot of whipped cream in Italian food. It’s offered at almost every gelateria to top off your gelato, they have desserts that are stuffed with whipped cream, and even a breakfast bun stuffed with whipped cream. Panna is manna to me. I like it creamy.

As for the best tiramisu… it’s probably the one you are currently eating.

The Fifth of the Four Roman Pasta Sauces

Just as Roman cuisine is famous for using the “quinto quarto” (fifth quarter) of the animal, Rome famous for four pasta sauces — with one that is made from the part of the animal that no one wants to mention — the fifth quarter. Or is it the opposite?

In most restaurants, you order your pasta dish by the sauce as there are traditionally certain pastas for certain sauces. In a few, by the shape of the pasta, although most places will have already decided which pasta they are cooking that day. I find that many restaurants use the large tubular pasta as it fills the plate better. There are officially 350 shapes of pasta but many have different regional names and new shapes are being invented constantly. Italians will tell you that the pasta should fit the sauce so that the sauce sticks to the pasta. Some Romans will tell you that only certain sauces go with certain types of pasta.

A basic thing about Roman cooking. It’s simple with few ingredients and use the best quality that you can afford. Also, almost no garlic or chili. The Italians are sensitive to regional names so even describing something as “like bacon” can be controversial.

Cacio e pepe spaghetti

Cacio e Pepe (catch-ee-oh-eh-peh-pa): Basically it’s called “cheese and black pepper” and that’s what it is. Usually a long string-like pasta like spaghetti although traditionally, tonnarelli (a rougher hand cut “square” long pasta) is used. Spaghetti means “strings.” The cheese used is Roman Pecorino, the sheep’s milk version similar in hardness and age to Parmesan (which comes from Parma), and pepper. One makes the sauce by using hot water that the pasta has been cooked in. There is no cream added. It’s a very simple sauce.

Spaghetti alla carbonara (although the pasta may have been a slightly thicker kind).

Carbonara (cARR-boh-nar-ah): This is the one with the famous story about how the American GIs missed eggs and bacon and so this pasta sauce was made to cater to them. Not true but a nice story. This sauce involves pork jowl, guanciale, fried to bacon bits (they will tell you not to use bacon — but if that’s all you have…), grated pecorino, and an egg yolk. The result is a thick golden sauce.

Tonnarelli in gricia sauce (you can see how the pasta is square).

Gricia (gree-CH-ah): Is basically carbonara without the raw egg yolk. If you like bacon bits but don’t want the cloying creaminess of the carbonara, this is the one for you. It’s often used with tubular pasta like rigatoni.

Tonnarelli amatriciana.

Amatriciana (ah-mah-TREE-chee-ah-na): If you like the pork jowl bacon, you like the Pecorino, but you don’t like the egg yolk, and you wish they’d add some tomato sauce, then get the amatriciana. It’s called that because the pork comes from Amatrice, a town in northern Lazio (the region where Rome is located, south of the famous Tuscany).

And the fifth… is hard to find these days and never on the English language version of the menu (some traditional Roman restaurants will have a printed menu in English for the foreigners and a hand written on for the locals). It’s a dish called “rigatoni alla pajata” and is rigatoni with veal’s intestines (or bowel, as they will say here). It’s that particular part of the intestine from newborn calves who have only had milk. When the calf is slaughtered, the undigested milk is still in the intestine and it looks a bit like a creamy sausage.

None of these are my favorite pasta sauces. I like spaghetti alle vongole/spaghetti con le vongole (spaghetti with clams) and aglio e olio (garlic and oil) with chili flakes, a dish so simple that it’s almost never on the menu in restaurants. Apparently, it’s a drunk food that people make when they come back from being out on the town. Both of these dishes are from Naples. Many of the Italian immigrants to the United States were from Naples so the American idea of Italian food is often shaped by that. This is evident in the New York style pizza which is most like a Neopolitan pizza.

Oh, I also like penne with canned/preserved tuna or salmon. It’s one of the most common things to get in a Roman cafeteria. It’s easy to make and all the ingredients are already in the pantry.