25 January 2016

Che Bellisima-The Food of Rome

Rome isn't all just churches and the remnants of ancient worlds. Like many cities with seeming impossibly long histories (like Istanbul, Cairo, Amman, etc.) the old stands flush alongside the new. So much of what has allowed these places to survive in Rome is the long history of repurposing.

Castel Sant'Angelo

Bridge over the Tiber Castel Sant'Angelo (behind), St. Peter's (R)

Altare della Patria

The Castel Sant'Angelo, completed in 139 AD, was originally a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian and his family and later emperors. In the 5th century it was converted to a military fortress and sadly much of the original treasures and the ashes were lost to Visigoths (there's something so satisfying abut the 'Visigoth') in the 400s. It wasn't until the 14th century that it because a Papal refuge, residence, and even prison. Now it's a museum.

Not quite so respectful to the city's history is the 1925 AD Altare della Patria, also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II, and less respectfully, the Wedding Cake. Built to commemorate the unification of Italy but it's first king (Victor Emmanuel) the base houses the Museum of Italian Unification and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier with an eternal flame. As the construction of this rather ostentatious thing destroyed a large part of the Capitoline Hill and leveled a medieval neighborhood it's not the most beloved site by Romans.

One way to explore a city is to just wander and get lost and I have always been a proponent of that method. Another favorite method: food tours. L and I discovered Trastevere that way with Eating Italy. I would be happy to go back to Rome and do nothing but Eating Italy's tours.

Da Enzo

We met our guide on the Isola Tiberina and crossed into Trastevere to the first of our seven stops. At Da Enzo we were greeted by the owners and a glass of prosecco. Here we had burrata, a fresh (and not easy to find) cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella but the inside is a mix of cream and mozzarella. For my DC peeps-sometimes Dino in Cleveland Park has this. We also the most amazing artichoke I've ever eaten. I can't remember the type of artichoke but basically all the do to it is pop it in peanut oil for a couple seconds then sprinkle it with salt.

Spirito di Vino
Spirito di Vino
Spirito di Vino

While I would happily have just stayed at Da Enzo for the entire evening I'm glad I resisted the temptation because the next stop was not to be missed. Spirito di Vino not only serves up amazing wine and food made from traditional, Roman recipes that date back to the emperors, the building itself is older, OLDER than the Colosseum. Here we ate pork cooked in red wine, apples, onion, honey, vinegar, and spices from a recipe created by Julius Caesar's chef. Whaat?! Yes.


From there we wandered Trastevere's charming and picturesque streets to Innocenti where this family has been baking its cookies since 1920. We were offered a section of biscotti but I believe the resounding favorite was the brutti ma buoni (middle above). These cookies, translated as 'ugly but good' are a meringue hazelnut cookie that are stupid good. Since we lack not at all for hazelnuts in Turkey I may try my hand at making these.

Antica Norcineria

After leaving Innocenti we had a longish walk of about 10 minutes for which I think we were all pretty grateful. We were feeling a bit on the rolly polly side and we weren't even halfway through the tour! Eventually we came to Antica Norcineria, a delicatessen offering amazing cheeses including Parmesan and Peccorino Romano and the city's best porchetta. I deeply love the description of porchetta: a savory, fatty, moist, boneless pork roast. the body of the pig is deboned, arranged carefully with layers of stuffing, meat, fat, and skin then rolled, spitted, and roasted for hours over wood. Every evening the family who owns Antica Norcineria prepares its porchetta which is then sent out for the roasting so its ready to be sold the next morning.

I asked if I could marry into the family but was told there were no sons of any age. Maybe they'll adopt me.

I Suppli

When it looked like things couldn't get any better we arrived at our next stop, I Suppli for Italian street food favorites suppli and pizza. Suppli are a balls of rice that's been mixed with tomato sauce, stuff with cheese, and deep fried. What can go wrong there?! We also had squares of Pizza Marinara which was just pizza with sauce, no toppings. I say 'just' but as soon as I tasted the marinara sauce with its perfect balance of biting garlic and sweet oregano all I wanted to do was dive into a vat of it and eat my way out.

Enoteca Ferrara

At this point, even I was getting pretty full but we still had actual dinner to go!At Enoteca Ferrara we were treated to a dinner or hand-made gnocchi, spinach and ricotta ravioli, and tonarelli cacio e pepe which is the fist pasta dish ever made. It was also my favorite of three.

How we managed to put away more pasta and wine is a little beyond me stuffed as we all already were. However there was no question of not being able to indulge in some gelato at the evening's last stop: Fatamorgana. It was here that I had one of the most interesting gelatos ever which I will try to recreate as soon as I can find enough fresh basil. Yes...basil. Fatamorgana carries a lot of the classic flavors you find anywhere else but they have also their own creations like: black cherry and beer, chestnut and myrtle, banana and lime, chocolate wasabi, Gorgonzola, cream of lavender and chamomile...the list goes on. However my favorite was the basil honey walnut. It was a revelation. Unfortunately I have no picture because I gobbled it down too quickly.

So basically...take at least one Eating Italy tour!

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