Post #490 When in Rome . . .

July 11, 2016 at 12:58 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Partner/Spouse and I watch a lot of TV shows about other countries, and in the early days of our relationship it was a game to see if I’d been to that country or that city.  Sometimes, even to that restaurant.  After dozens of “yeah, I’ve been there”, the game paled a little.  It morphed into “where would you most like to go back to?” and usually the answer was whatever country/city was being featured in the show.  Recently, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about Italy.  I was able to spend several weeks in Italy, first in Naples, then in Rome.

Naples is usually cited as the birth place of pizza, and I ate a LOT of pizza while I was there.  It’s also the city where I was introduced to calamari, fried and grilled, and on a pizza too.  I made myself sick on gelato, and walked dozens of miles each week to see the city and its residents.  I went to small restaurants that had three seats in them.  I went to outdoor style restaurants that looked like a whole village had gathered inside.  I went to street fairs and ate popcorn covered in sugar (didn’t like it.)  I climbed Mt. Vesuvius and looked into the volcano, and visited Pompeii and sat in its amphitheater.  I also learned about the value of letting wine age.

We had an older woman on the trip who spoke a little Spanish which was close enough to Italian that we got in trouble a lot.  One Saturday afternoon, I wanted to get a little ham and some cheese and some bread to have for dinner that night in my room rather than go out.  I ended up with a chunk of ham that weighed 4 pounds, and a block of cheese that weighed three pounds.  And no knife.  And I wasn’t certain if the ham was cooked or not.  I ended up giving it all away, and went out for pizza again.

The place we were working at had a cafeteria and each day you needed to go downstairs to see what the two ladies would be making that day.  It was always freshly made, even the pasta, and all of it was delicious.  If you wanted it, you told them so they could have an accurate amount of ingredients.  There was never any waste.  That’s where I first had pasta and beans and fell in love with that simple dish.  I’ve posted about it in earlier blog posts so I won’t go into it again, but it’s an amazingly flavorful bowl of cannelloni beans and pasta in a sauce created from the breakdown of the beans.  Fresh herbs and a light dusting of cheese, and I’ll eat that for days.

One Saturday evening, a group of us were wandering around and found a plaza behind our hotel and a gelato shop.  I’m not a big ice cream eater, but everyone wanted some, so I bought a small dish.  It was so good, but I paid for it on Sunday.  And I spilled chocolate gelato on my white t-shirt, staining it terribly.  On Monday, one of the local staff told us where a cleaner was, so on Tuesday, along with a coworker, I went to the cleaner and in broken Italian and English we conveyed what we needed.  They weren’t certain my shirt could be completely cleaned, but my coworker’s shirt would be no trouble.  Three days later, we returned, and my shirt was sparkling white again, while his left with the shadow of the stain that was impossible to remove.  I had to listen to him complain about it for days, as though it were my fault somehow.

Rome was a city that seemed to be always on the move.  I’d spent a weekend in Rome while in Naples several years before, so I didn’t want to see the same things I’d seen before.  I was there with a fairly large group of people, most of home were personal friends as well as coworkers.  Several of them were walkers like myself so whenever I went out to walk I nearly always had people with me.  We ate all kinds of things on these walks.  Pizza was a regular consumable, and sandwiches were easy to get.  Made from fresh bread, cheese, and a cured ham, usually prosciutto, then toasted.  The crusts would break your teeth, but the centers were ambrosia.

I didn’t try it, but there was one thing we saw a lot of.  Turkish Ice Cream.  It’s made the same as the ice cream we’re used to, but a couple of other ingredients are added which give it a different consistency.  It doesn’t melt quickly, and it’s very very elastic and stretchy, similar to mozzarella.  Everyone loves it.  The vendors have to keep stretching it to keep it workable.  Some do that with sticks and a lot showmanship, while others use a machine like a taffy puller.  It was amazing to watch and I only wish I’d tried it just once to see what it tasted like.

While in Rome, I eagerly anticipated Thursday nights.  All the restaurants had designated it gnocchi night and not only was it inexpensive, but it was so GOOD!  I’ve eaten potato gnocchi most of my adult life, and here in the States, it’s typically a small potato dumpling, about the size of your thumbnail in tomato sauce or cheese sauce.  It tends to be heavy, a little sticky, but still very good as long as the sauce is good.  In Rome, they were little pillows of fluffy potato dough that seemed like they were full of air.  And the menu had a full page list of various sauces you could have on top of them.  My three favorites were al forno (cheese), al fungi (mushroom), and Bolognese (meat and tomato.)  Al fungi was my favorite, but it was also very popular so sometimes, it was sold out.  The portion size was immense and added with bread and a salad, I walked away from that meal burping.

My favorite dish while in Rome was Cacio e Pepe.  It’s incredibly simple, easy to make, and full of flavor.  It was created by the peasants and shepherds centuries ago, and not much about it has changed.  To get the full experience make sure your ingredients are as fresh as possible, and use large amounts them, but to your own taste.  Cacio e Pepe is spaghetti with cheese and pepper.  That’s it.  Set your pasta water to boil and measure out your spaghetti.  Salt the water as you normally would for spaghetti.  I like it a little saltier, but it’s to your taste.  While the water is heating up, use a pepper grinder to coarsely grind up to a quarter cup of pepper.  That’s a lot, but it’s worth it.  Grate a half cup of pecorino romano cheese.  When the spaghetti is cooked al dente, reserved 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Drain the spaghetti and put in a heated bowl.  Add cheese and pepper and toss until cheese is melting.  Add as much pasta water as needed to create a sauce.  Serve piping hot with bread.  Some people like to add a little butter or oil, but that’s up to you.  And some people use it as a side dish with grilled fish or chicken, but again, that’s up to you.


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