Christmastime in Rome

You guys! There are just 12 days to go until Christmas, and I don't know about you, but things have been pretty hectic around here -- on top of the usual Christmas shopping, I've been lucky enough to have friends in town who I rarely see, visiting from Mexico, Denmark, and the U.K. I've been doing lots of baking -- gingerbread, homemade hot chocolate, recipes to follow! -- and I'm looking forward to a much needed break from my current job. All things considered, the weeks leading up to The Best Day of the Year have been darn pretty nice. In the spirit of Christmas giving, I wanted to share a few of my pre-Christmas traditions and activities I've been busy with (spoiler: they're nearly all food related, but you could've guessed that, right?!) For those of you also living in the Eternal City, consider these my suggestions, and for those of you elsewhere, here's a glimpse at the holiday season here in my adopted home. P.S, photo credit for the above photo goes to the lovely Sheza Tariq!

MERCATO MONTI
Located in the Monti neighborhood (not far from the Coliseum)  Mercato Monti is my first stop when I start my Christmas shopping, and should be yours too. In keeping with the artsy hipster vibe of the neighborhood, the market is full of artisans and vendors selling everything from jewelry to scarves to dresses to jackets, not to mention bags, T-shirts, and vintage sunglasses, plus my favorite, the book lamp, a lamp with a bizarre looking light bulb made out of a secondhand book (see below!) If all the shopping makes you work up an appetite, do as I do and stop at Zia Rosetta around the corner for some of the best sandwiches in Rome
Address: Via Leonina 46
Hours: Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00 to 20:00
Phone number: 3381952379



Photo credit for above photo goes to MercatoMonti.



PACIOTTI SALUMERIA
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the best gift is an edible gift, and since my family deserves nothing but the best, Paciotti -- a family run specialty food store -- has been part of my holiday ritual for as long as I've been in Rome. There is no better place to stock up on cheese, balsamic vinegar, wine, limoncello, or olive oil to bring back to my family in the states, and Paciotti will vacuum pack the cheese for you, no problem. My 96 year old grandfather makes out particularly well in this, with enough Parmesan to last him months. Bonus: the staff is incredibly helpful and knowledgeable, and free samples are likely. Remember: don't bother buying prosciutto or any other kinds of salumi to bring back home with you, as it cannot leave the country and will be confiscated at the airport (I learned this the hard way).
Address: Via Marcantonio Bragadin 51
Phone number:  0639733646
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 7:30-20:30

NERO VANIGLIA
Christmas in Italy is simultaneous with panettone, a traditional sweet bread studded with raisins and candied fruit and topped with sugar and almonds. Panettone requires a lengthy preparation process leading up to the actual baking, and I've not yet found the time or concentration to attempt it. No matter -- Nero Vaniglia in Garbatella makes incredibly delicious from scratch panettone, which you can buy whole, or in a mini version, or just by the slice. If you're not in to panettone, no worries - the bakery has all sorts of pasticcini (little pastries) like tiramisu, mont blanc, and croquembouche, small enough to guarantee that you can try more than a few. Bonus points for the cucina a vista, or open style kitchen where you can see whatever head baker and owner Giorgia Grillo is whipping up -- when we stopped by, she was working on homemade cornetti
Address: Circonvallazione Ostiense 201
Phone number: 065780306
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 6:00-2:00. Sundays: 7:00-20:00. 

BISCOTTIFICIO INNOCENTI

Its not Christmas without Christmas cookies! Gingerbread cookies and sugar cookies (holiday staples in the U.S) aren't really a thing here, but I can't say I miss them much, because I have Biscottificio Innocenti. Located in the picturesque, postcard-like neighborhood of Trastevere, this family run cookie shop has staying power, having been run now by four generations of women. They bake up the best cookies in the capital, everything from delicate sandwich cookies (filled with Nutella or jam) to super lemon-y limoncini to feather-light meringues to vanilla cookies dipped in bittersweet chocolate. The cookies at the top of my Christmas list, however, are brutti ma buoni, crispy, chewy, meringue and hazelnut cookies that don't look like much (the name translates to "ugly but good") but are downright divine. If you go around Christmastime, you'll also find torrone (nougat with hazelnuts, almonds, or pistachio!) and the traditional homemade panettone. Picture credit for this one goes to Biscottificio Innocenti themselves -- thanks guys!
Address: Via della Luca 21

Phone number: 065803926

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 8:00-20:00. Sunday: 9:30-14:00.







LA BOTTEGA DEL CIOCCOLATO 
This holiday season, I highly, highly recommend you pay a visit La Bottega del Cioccolato, a tiny chocolate shop located again in Rome's Monti neighborhood. The chocolate assortment here is extensive and impressive -- my favorites are the white chocolate/pistachio chocolates and the hazelnutty cremino -- and a box of these makes a (delicious) gift for colleagues and friends alike, not to mention the perfect hostess gift at your many holiday parties. That being said, you could also do as I do and buy a little bag of assorted chocolates to eat as you stroll through Monti, an early Christmas gift to yourself. Bonus: if you want to eat your chocolate and drink it too, the Bottega sells fantastically rich, deeply dark hot chocolate as well, not for the faint of heart. 
Address: Via Leonina 82
Phone number: 064821473
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9:30-19:30


ST. PETER'S BASILICA
A walk around St. Peter's never gets old, no matter how long you've been living in Rome, but I must say its particularly special around Christmas, when the albero di natale (Christmas tree) and presepe (Nativity scene) are up. Illuminated against the basilica, its a sight to behold, and if this doesn't get you feeling Christmas-y, well, I don't know what will. 
I'll be back next week with some more festive recipes, plus I'll be traveling back to the U.S with a stop in New York City. Posts to follow.





































Gingerbread Cookies

At the risk of sounding Grinch-like here: gingerbread cookies, that super seasonal, quintessential Christmas classic, are just not my thing. They don't quite make the cut for me, cookie-wise; while I like my cookies soft and chewy, gingerbread cookies often tiptoe across the line between crunchy to downright hard-to-bite in to. If you're making them from scratch, the dough has to be chilled, rolled out, and cut out before baking, a process you might not have time for in the hectic days leading up to the 25th. And I know, I know -- your average gingerbread man/woman is pretty adorable, with his/her gum drop buttons and iced-on smile, but still begs the question: is the additional candy and frosting really bringing anything to the table, flavor-wise?! Long story short, I give the classic gingerbread cookie a solid A for effort, but give me a candy cane or a sugar cookie any day. 

But no so fast! Today's recipe is a game changer, one that fixes all the gingerbread cookie woes I've just whined about (you were a good listener). These, ladies and gentlemen, are gingerbread cookies that get it right, cookies that are streamlined without losing any of their gingery goodness. My favorite gingerbread cookies are soft and chewy, reminiscent of  the snickerdoodle, its cinnamon-y cousin; they lose the classic gingerbread man shape, and thus any rolling or cutting, instead going directly from the bowl to the baking sheet; candy decorations and icing are swapped for a dusting of sugar, which makes the cookies sparkly and festive with half the work; and the flavor! We've got cloves, nutmeg, and cinnamon plus the usual ginger, making for a spicy, cozy cookie, gingerbread cookie 2.0, cookies to be part of your Christmas cookie exchange, or given as an edible gift, or baked up to make your house smell awesome, then eaten alongside a mug of hot chocolate. The choice is yours. 

A couple of notes: If you are in Rome and looking for molasses, you can find it at most Castroni stores. Two of my taste testers commented that these were on the sweet side for them, so if you prefer your desserts to be on the less sweet side, feel free to reduce the sugar a bit (I'd say by 1/4 of a cup or so -- taste the batter and decide). Feel free to up the quantity of spices here too -- I added a bit of extra ginger and cinnamon. 

Looking for other gingerbread-y recipes? I've got this classic Gingerbread and these Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Bars. Looking for other Christmas appropriate bars or cookies? I've got these Double Chocolate Chunk Cookies, these Magical, 5 ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies, these Dark Chocolate Coconut Macaroonsthese Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies, this Shortbread, these Chocolate Chip Cookies, and these Peanut Butter Sandwich Cookies. Not in to cookies? I've also got this Chocolate, Pistachio, and Cranberry Fudge, and this Salame di cioccolato, and if we're being honest I wouldn't mind a box of these Salted Brown Butter Rice Krispy Treats either. 

GINGERBREAD COOKIES

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (112 grams) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (65 grams) sugar
1/2 cup (85 grams) brown sugar
1 egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (70 grams) molasses
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda

Extra sugar, for rolling

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (170 degrees Celsius).In a large bowl, beat together the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. 

Beat in the egg, vanilla and molasses and whip 1-2 minutes or until it turns a light brown color. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, spices, and baking soda and set aside.
Stir the dry ingredients into your molasses/sugar/egg mixture and mix until dry ingredients are just combined. Fill a shallow dish with a light layer of sugar. Roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball and coat in the sugar. Place on silicone baking mat, lightly greased cookie sheet or parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
Bake 8-10 minutes or until outside looks cooked but inside is still soft and gooey. Cool 5 minutes on cookie sheet before transferring to cooling rack.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Store in an airtight container until ready to serve. Makes 30-35 cookies.



Recipe from www.laurenslatest.com.